Art lives from constraints and dies from freedom. ~ Leonardo da Vinci
Andrew, the manager of employee engagement for an IT firm, is constrained to improve engagement by a lack of budget.
Jill, the VP of HR for a manufacturing company, feels constrained to improve employee engagement because of the union's perspective and perceived threat by her engagement program.
Sonja, the Director of HR for a financial organization, is constrained in doing something about engagement because of the endless multitude of other tasks demanding her attention.
The three of them share in common the experience of being squeezed in their engagement efforts.
The purpose of this post is to encourage you to be aware of what inhibits engagement in your organization and in you, so engagement doesn't get squeezed out.
A solution provided at the end of the post is to ask engaging questions about engagement within the context of your constraints.
The struggle to master the art of employee engagement
We seem to keep getting the message that anything is possible if we just adopt a new social platform, try a new widget, or get someone's buy in. Yet, we haven't witnessed great global success in improving engagement.
What inhibits engagement?
A constraint limits or restricts something or someone. The limitation may be imposed by outside forces or by ourselves, and it affects our ability to increase, improve, or enhance engagement.
Employee engagement constraints have a variety of sources. We may be constrained by:
- a lack of time, money or resources
- others and competing agendas
- a lack of education or training
- fear, culture, values, or beliefs
- existing relationships
- resistance to change
- our current and ingrained ways of working, managing, and leading
Our distaste for constraints may be inhibiting employee engagement
We relish unlimited freedom and the belief that anything is possible. And our very distaste for constraint and the desire of unlimited potential are sowing the seeds of disengagement.
- We agree to add twenty more questions to a 100-item survey even though we know people can't respond to more than six or eight questions.
- We declare how much we want to improve engagement, yet there is no time for anyone to work on this.
- We attach blame to someone else for the lack of success; it's their fault.
If we had unlimited time, unlimited budget, and total commitment to engagement it would be a lot easier to improve engagement in our organizations.
But this obviously won't be occurring at very many organizations in the near future.
How can you turn things around?
We're constrained and we need to be aware of the constraints and work with them to make a difference.
You could even say we need to engage with the constraints as opposed to bemoaning our fate or being fatalistic about making a difference.
Adam Morgan and Mark Barden wrote an intriguing book about constraints, A Beautiful Constraint: How To Transform Your Limitations Into Advantages and Why It's Everyone's Business.
One mechanism they suggest is to develop a propelling question that requires us to find new kinds of solutions found in the tension between our desired result and the constraint. The question is designed to propel us or engage us.
For the purposes of employee engagement, I prefer to call this an engaging question.
5 questions to address employee engagement constraints
Here are five engaging questions to address the constraints surrounding employee engagement.
- What can we do to improve employee engagement by ensuring that everyone is a partner in our engagement endeavour?
- What costs nothing but can engage everyone?
- What do we need to stop doing or remove to increase engagement?
- How can we take the money that engagement earns or save us, and use it to benefit all in the organization?
- How can we use our constraints to give us focus, economy, and efficiency?
Give definition and action to the art of employee engagementThey say that structure is freedom, and in a sense it is. When you're dealing with multiple constraints, you have to figure out what you can get out of that. ~ Demetri Martin
Like an artist, use constraints to give definition and action to the art of employee engagement.