A CEO’s View of Top 5 Engagement Drivers: Part 2 Employee Contribution

If you haven't had a chance check out the last post in this series, please do. It focuses on "Leadership" as a key driver to employee engagement. Today, we move onto the second post of the series. Enjoy!

Why is it every time I ask for a pair of hands, they come with a brain attached? – Henry Ford

ACME is a great organization for me to make a contribution to my field

One of the great shifts of the last few decades has been moving away from the work of the "hands" and closer to the work of the "mind." And a key thing to understand about this shift from low to high cognitive work is that it changes everything we have been taught about motivation and possibility. The opportunity for a highly engaged and productive knowledge worker is to be 10 or 20 times more productive than someone trying to complete a manually repetitive task. And, as Dan Pink points out in his fantastic book Drive (seriously if you haven't read it stop reading this blog post and go read his book right now ...) one of the big things that motivates us is a sense of mastery.

To be truly engaged at work we need to feel we are on a path. We need to feel that we are part of a "craft". This is somewhat paradoxical in the organizational context because it means that to create true engagement you need to foster an environment where people feel they are connected to something much bigger than just your company. At it's zenith you want everyone in the company to feel that "this is the best place in the world for me to be right now to achieve my career goals". If you can achieve that, it is a very, very powerful motivator for people engaging in what the company is doing.

A big challenge for companies is that it's extremely hard to really be more than one thing. In the valley you can look at most companies and see which one's are, at heart, "engineering" companies and which ones are "sales" companies (and increasingly "marketing" companies). Each of these is a craft in it's own right and have their own set of core values and ideas. What is interesting is that if you try to be all three you end up sucking at all of them.

In my experience it takes courage to say "we are an engineering company - that is what we value and what we are about". If done badly this can lead to seriously disengaged people in every other area as they are made to feel inferior to the "golden children" - and it is something you often see when you look at results across the support functions in a company. However, if done right it can actually be quite liberating. When I used to run a visual effects company I once asked my EA what drove her from a craft point of view - didn't she find it difficult being surrounded people that considered pixel obsession the highest art form? She looked at me and said "I like being around people who take their own career seriously - it shows me it is ok to do it with my path too".

That is the core learning that we see time and time again. On one hand you need to create a unique and compelling culture that only you can deliver on, and at the same time you need to create an environment where everyone from the front of house to the most senior engineer feels they are valued for their craft and the journey that they are on - even if they only share that journey with you for a couple of years. Do that and you are halfway to unlocking that bit that comes connected when you hire another set of hands.

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