20151104_145251Engagement has more definitions than can be counted in a reasonable lifetime. But most of them tend to have a similar thread. Some kind of alignment with a purpose of some sort.

There is an awful lot of hand wringing or chest thumping about this thing called engagement in organizations these days. A lot of it done by OD people. It seems endless amounts of data are generated on the topic and most of it says organizations suck at engagement and heaven forbid if they don’t get better.

I think most of this focus is at best misplaced and at worst just bullshit. The cause of both has to do with seeing people and organizations as having the same purpose.  In the OD world that purpose will have a strong focus on finding meaning in your work, finding your unique contribution and other things associated with a person being ‘self actualized’ at, in and through work. In other words, some idealized version of an expression of identity. So if you are to be engaged at work, you must be aligned with that purpose.

Given this, and that the data being collected about engagement is focused this way, it doesn’t take a lot of figuring out to recognize why engagement scores are low. Asking an organization to produce high engagement scores (alignment with the purpose of expression of identity) when its fundamental purpose is to be a viable economic entity is like asking me to dunk a basketball. Sorry it just isn’t going to happen. Except with engagement you will be made to feel guilt, shame or blame if it isn’t happening in your organization. This is the misplaced focus of engagement.

Now if you read the dunking comparison above and said well actually I could dunk a basketball if I had a trampoline or someone to lift me up or some other creative ‘solution’ and the organization, and especially leadership of the organization needs to be the trampoline or the ones to lift me up; well that’s just the bullshit part of engagement.

So let’s ask a question about engagement  that is aligned with the purpose of an organization being a viable economic entity.

‘Given that the purpose of your organization is to be viable economically and your job here is to contribute to that economic viability, do you feel your work is aligned with that purpose?

My guess is that if you ask this question, engagement scores go up, simply because the focus of engagement is not misplaced. It matches the purpose of the organization. You might feel a little depressed about the question and its comment on organization purpose but that’s just the remnants of belief in a fantasy about what organizations are all about.

Another thing happens when you focus engagement this way.  You realize that most of what actually contributes to this idea of engagement is 90% or more common sense and good manners! Common sense within the economic reality of the organization compared with other organizations of similar economic realities. And the good manners your parents hopefully taught you!

The real crappy part about this whole engagement thing is that not only are organizations (specifically leadership or management)  expected to deliver on this misplaced focus, but the rest of us (employees) have come to believe that they SHOULD be able to deliver on this misplaced focus as well!

It’s a breeding ground for guilt, shame and blame; and the OD world heaps on the fertilizer by continuing to treat organizations and people as having the same purpose.

So another challenge for the next week.  Just let that question in bold above stay present in your mind as you go about your work. At the end of the week answer that question using the following scale:


Since many results currently measuring engagement are showing engagement levels considerably less than 50%, if you answered You Bet!, Pretty Much or Maybe you probably scored higher in engagement than many studies are showing. And my guess is most of us scored one of those three because our jobs do contribute to the economic viability of the organization!

So now that you know you are ‘engaged’ you can ditch the blame, shame and guilt! How easy was that!


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