I recently read an article about the worst employee engagement strategies ever. Curious about the content, I read the article and immediately knew that people still aren’t clear about what employee engagement is.

Listen, let’s call it what it is. Employee engagement is not a strategy – at all. How could it possibly be? More on that in a second.

Remember the last time that I mentioned Princess Bride and Inigo Montoya, the character played by Mandy Patinkin? Inigo Montoya is my favorite character of the movie, and the quote below is probably my favorite line in the movie; he used it to describe his “friend’s” constant use of the word “Inconceivable!” It’s been several years since I watched the movie, but I can close my eyes and hear it like it was yesterday:

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

When people write or talk about employee engagement, I often recite that in my head: “I do not think it means what you think it means.” For now, instead of defining employee engagement, which I’ve done before,  I’m going to tell you what it is not.

Employee Engagement is not…

  • a strategy
  • a mandate
  • employee motivation
  • employee recognition
  • something that is “done.” (I read an article with a comment about “if employee engagement is done properly.” It isn’t “done” at all.)
  • an organizational competence
  • a morale booster
  • a performance booster
  • performance goals
  • a reward program
  • an investment
  • an incentive
  • a survey
  • trainable
  • coached
  • a training program
  • a management style
  • a party every Friday afternoon
  • unlimited free food and similar perks
  • a plaque on the wall
  • a shirt with your logo on it
  • education reimbursement
  • employee satisfaction
  • employee happiness

Trust me. The list goes on. I’m not making this stuff up! These examples all come from well-meaning bloggers who want to create a quick-fix to engage employees. There is no quick fix! On top of that, a lot of what is written about what employee engagement is really defines the “employee experience.”

I’ve also seen some well-meaning folks talk about who owns employee engagement. No one has a good answer because, well, NO ONE owns employee engagement. Except the employee.

You see, employee engagement cannot be a strategy because engagement comes from within the employee. It’s the emotional connection or commitment that an employee has to the organization that then causes the employee to want to put forth the additional effort to ensure the organization and the brand succeed. What the company can do is build a culture that facilitates employee engagement; and that is where the strategy part comes in. But keep in mind that t-shirts, free food, and surveys do not a strategy make.

Is it semantics? No. We need to be clear that no one can make an employee engaged. When  there’s some confluence of: (1) emotions, commitment, passion, sense of ownership, etc. on the part of the employee about the brand and (2) what the organization does (purpose, brand promise, who the company is and why, etc.) to facilitate and enhance those emotions or that commitment – then we have employee engagement.

To some degree, the factors listed above help drive, support, or facilitate employee engagement. They help to build a culture of engagement. But each one alone is not engagement, and each one alone is not a strategy. In a future post, I’ll take a closer look at building an employee-centric culture that supports an employee’s passion for the brand.

Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion.” -Georg Hegel