Forbes Magazine describes the idea of staff engagement as “the emotional commitment the employee has to the organisation and its goals”. And organisations’ desire for that commitment often kicks off a slew of things designed to motivate people and measure how they’re doing.
But those motivations and measures are distant from people’s activity in the moment. And the moment is when ‘I am engaged in XYZ’ shows up. So, simply put, I’m only engaged when I’m doing something.
Shane Parrish from the Knowledge Project highlights the disconnect saying, “Motivation is a trap. We often avoid action because we convince ourselves we need motivation. You don’t need motivation. You need action.”
Yet, when talking to people about others’ engagement and I ask ‘so, what are they doing?” Things get uncomfortable. Because answers circle back to “well, you know, they’re engaged (or not) in their work”. Umm ok. But what does that look like?
A team I’m working with saw their ‘engagement’ score jump from the mid-60s to mid-90s! Their organisation uses one of the many survey tools that track representative factors such as ‘I know my goals’.
But more interesting to me than the increase was the activity that shifted the score. Because that’s where people feel genuinely engaged.
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A quick Tardis trip into the before state sees a team whose roles are new to the organisation and poorly defined. They are fuzzy on how what they do fits the goals. And while they like each other well enough, they don’t have a strong agreed foundation for how they work together. Throw into the mix all this is happening during the rolling restrictions of Victoria’s pandemic response.
Which makes the mid-60s ‘engagement score’ seem more like a swim on a summer’s day than a surprise. Still, they wanted and needed to feel better about their work.
Before I lay out what the team did, let’s quickly dive into ‘flow‘, identified by renowned psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as a cornerstone of feeling engaged in an activity.
“Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity… The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task although flow is also described… as a deep focus on nothing but the activity – not even oneself or one’s emotions.”
If you’re curious, there’s ample study around ‘flow’. And the ideas of ‘energised focus’, ‘full involvement’ and ‘enjoyment in the process’ align with the team’s activity as their engagement score leapt from the mid-60s to mid-90s in under 12 months.
They fully immersed themselves, defining their role’s purpose in a simple sentence to anchor efforts and share with others. They also Identified clear steps for how they work with others and expectations for others to work with them.
They honed each of their capabilities and pushed the edges of individual and collective comfort zones. Asking questions like ‘Can we do this differently, better?’ and ‘What else do we need to consider?’
And they revelled in the process with consistent check-ins. A place to share weekly wins. And time to help each other avoid pitfalls and solve problems.
Of course, holding onto their achievement will require a continuing effort. Elite athletes and others at peak performance will tell you it takes equal energy to stay at the top as it did to get there.
But it’s a different kind of effort. And the team continues to identify a steady stream of pockets and places to improve how they work together. Which is more tangible proof of how engaged they’ve become.
Team lead Kathryn sums up their progress, “The energy shift is so tangible. There’s a clarity we now carry around our work, the part we play and how we need to be for others. And that’s paired with the confidence to be uncomfortable and courageous. To lean into the direction the organisation is heading. As a result, we are now more likely to see opportunities than obstacles!”.
Now that’s a definition of ‘engagement’ I can get behind. When people continually look for ways to improve. And embrace with gusto how they do the everyday unheroic work their role demands.
See you next time.