Employee engagement? It’s not about the employee!

You are the CEO of a successful business.

You’ve built it up from nothing. You got where you are today through your drive and vision. Despite your success, you won’t (can’t?) take your foot off the gas. You drive yourself and your staff to achieve ever better results. But you have a nagging feeling that the business is beginning to plateau. Your passion and vision are no longer enough to keep it rising.

One early afternoon, unusually for you, you decide to go for a walk. It’s a lovely day. You need some thinking time and space. What’s going on in the business? Why is it starting to flat-line? After 20 minutes of fruitless pondering, you step into the cafe across from the office for a drink. The cafe is empty except for two young men on high seats, drinking cola. You don’t recognise them and they don’t recognise you.

After you order you pick up some fragments of their conversation and you realise, with a start, that they work for you. You move to a table close by to listen in to their conversation.

What you hear makes your blood turn cold.

The two young men are joking about how they manage to get through their days doing the bare minimum of work but giving the appearance of being busy. They seem to have this down to an art. You listen to all their little tricks as your emotions go from shock to anger to disgust. The two guys then agree that they’re wasting their lives working for your company and are already looking elsewhere for other jobs.

You decide to confront them – in a sideways sort of way. Without breaking cover you walk up and say: “I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation. What do you think your employer would say if he heard what you had to say?”

One of the men looks you coldly in the eye and says: “I’d tell him he’s wasting people’s lives and needs to turn his company into something worth working for. It’s for drones. Nobody’ll make a decision; nobody’ll have an idea; nobody’ll thank you for going the extra mile; nobody’ll take a risk. Nobody cares. I’m deeply unhappy there but, hey, it pays the rent.”

You wonder whether to reveal your identity and sack them on the spot, but you don’t. He’s told you the truth, unpalatable as it is. You thank him instead.

You walk back to the office, energised by your new mission: To make the working lives of those two young men more meaningful and to improve their contribution to the company. If you can do it for them, you can do it for all your employers.

What can you do? Where would you start?

I’ll give my thoughts next time.


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