Try this challenge: Keep a count of the number of times the word ‘engagement’ is mentioned in your next three team meetings.

Listening to earnest discussions about engaging staff, stakeholders and colleagues, it’s a good bet your count will get close to double figures.

No doubt the actions from the meetings will confirm that selected people are to be engaged to ensure their company loyalty.

Pause for a moment…Is something missing here?

Is employee engagement really occurring, or is it just being spoken about and conveniently referenced as evidence of good leadership?

The conspiracy

Like any good conspiracy, the truth in this scenario is interwoven with intrigue and coincidence.

So, let’s start with truth:

  • HR data unequivocally links employee engagement to performance
  • Market research confirms that customer engagement boosts retention
  • Alliances succeed or fail based on the strength of engagement between partners.

However, for three extremely compelling reasons, that is not the end of the story.

Reason 1:  Wrong intentions are destroying value

The intention of engagement is not simply to engage; it is to add demonstrable extra value that occurs because of the engagement.

By all means we need to engage people, but the reason we need to do so–the ‘why’–is to get products to market faster, to improve productivity through new work practices, or to build greater trust with partners.

Next time you close off a management meeting, take a few moments to answer these three questions:

  1. Are we clear who we are planning to engage?
  2. What extra value will we gain from that engagement?
  3. How will we measure or observe that value?

Reason 2:  Tokenism is damaging trust

Engagement in many enterprises is not a deliberate and well executed strategy. This is because the difference between communication and co-creation isn’t made clear. Here are some examples of actions conducted by leaders who effectively engage with staff:

  1. Communicate: Sharing basic concepts, plans and information; asking for ideas and aiming to align strategy with action
  2. Consult: Asking for and exploring others’ views, discussing the implications of plans and feeding all ideas back into planning
  3. Collaborate: Creating or finding shared goals and strategies. Developing better ways to achieve goals
  4. Co-create: Envisioning, designing, testing and building together.

Reason 3:  Capability deficits are profound

Consistent, high quality engagement happens when two elements come together:

  • The right engagement platform: Meetings, one-on-one conversations, collaborative software and email
  • The formation of partnering relationships

To build a culture of engagement, both of these need to be working in sync.

Ending the conspiracy

Conspiracies rarely survive a good strong dose of pragmatism, so the window of opportunity is open for you to take decisive action.

Here are three great starting points:

  1. Insist that engagement is measured in terms of value added
  2. Make co-creation the standard for key partnerships
  3. Develop the right engagement platforms and capabilities

The rewards are immense for getting this right. Your role is to create the environment in which that happens.