Training & Development

Engagement? You Need to Help Employees Develop It on Their Own

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Imagine all the people living for today” is one of the lyrics in what I think is one of the greatest songs ever written — Imagine by John Lennon.

I found myself humming this song the other day on my drive to work, which kind of put me in synch with my HR friend Steve Browne, who uses his music list to get pumped up for the day ahead.

Later that morning, I noticed another article in my in box on employee engagement. It was basically written from the same perspective: the organization owns it. But what happened next was a call I received from a friend in the States; yes, she called me here in Saudi Arabia [seven hours ahead].

I listened to her usual patter on the travails of what her company is doing and how they did this and that. She and her friends are so fed up. The company never listens. They could care less about their employees.

It went on and on.

You own it

I found myself glazing out the window as she spoke, and I realized that while organizations should try and connect with their employees and engage them often, you must make the employee value proposition come alive. In the final analysis, no matter our role in the company, it all comes down to owning our own engagement. In the end, we are the ones that are in charge of our being engaged.

If you feel strongly that your organization is not providing the platform that will allow you to become engaged, it may just time for you move on. Self-productivity and organizational productivity would skyrocket if people would seek and find the right organizational connection.

All the self-inflicted dysfunction that inhabits organization would be a thing of the past. Imagine!

Career Development 101

The key to this is to enable people to own their own engagement. We put a program in place during my years at Martha Stewart Living that worked with all new employees working on career development. We had a seminar that tried to get the new recruits to get in charge of their careers.

Our mantra was “do not grow it by happenstance. Get in front and drive it.” Our mission was to show them how to drive it.

The objective was to get them to thoroughly analyze their careers: are they heading in the right direction? What we found was that so many of them came out of college just looking for a job.

Yes, they knew the work they wanted to do, but in a lot of cases, they were on remote control and just going through the motions. These sessions became so popular that even some of the seasoned employees were asking for their own version.

Passing the baton

Our mission was to pass the career baton and empower them to critically think about their careers and the trajectory behind them. We wanted to make sure they didn’t become a victim of their careers like my New York friend. Another key: Never depend upon a company to make your career dream come true.

While this may seem contradictory coming from internal initiatives, in reality, it was not. This program was for new employees who had already bought into the brand and were excited that they were chosen. So this was fertile ground for us. We were preaching to the choir.

Showing them how to navigate a corporate structure and succeed was something these young people had never given thought to. We opened their eyes to a totally new landscape. One of the employees mentioned to me that colleges should add this type of class to their curriculum, because they had never looked at their career and aspirations from this vantage point.

Career development as a benefit

Employee engagement programs are based on the organization to employee trajectory. However the flaw in this design is that the employees in a lot of cases don’t really know what they want. Yes, they will give vague statements, but if you begin questioning those statements, you will find no clarity or road map. In a lot of cases, they have no idea what it is they want.

As you design your engagement model, build in a component that tackles this problem by getting your employees to analyze where they are and where they are headed. We now have wellness/healthy living programs, EAP counseling, adoption assistance, financial advisory counseling and even legal.

So the question is — why not career development?

Now, you tell me from that list which would be more conducive to the development of your employee and the organization?

Imagine all the people living for today!!

Ron Thomas is a Chief Human Resource & Administrative Officer currently based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He formerly was Director, Talent and Human Resources Solutions at Buck Consultants (a Xerox Company) and is certified by the Human Capital Institute as a Master Human Capital Strategist (MHCS) and Strategic Workforce Planner (SWP). He's also worked in senior HR roles with Martha Stewart Living and IBM. Ron serves on the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy. He also serves as a Faculty Partner and Executive Facilitator at the Human Capital Institute. He has received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence by the World Human Resource Development Congress in Mumbai. Contact him at ronaldtthomas@gmail.com, or on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Ronald_thomas.
  • Maureen Healy

    I think Ron is really on to something here. Navigating complex corporate structures is all about forming genuine relationships built on trust and reciprocity. Wouldn’t it be great if more corporations included this as a core competency? Then, both employees and employers would invest resources and attention into building this critical skill. Many of my clients confirm that the skill of building quality relationships is becoming a lost art in the era of instant messaging and digital interactions.