Magazine article Talent Development

Engage the Unengaged: Without Engagement, Organizations Are Fostering a Zombie-Like Workforce, Which Can Thwart All Change Efforts

Magazine article Talent Development

Engage the Unengaged: Without Engagement, Organizations Are Fostering a Zombie-Like Workforce, Which Can Thwart All Change Efforts

Article excerpt

Like the movie monsters of the 1950s that held up the mirror to a society afraid that science would create monsters, zombies are our mirror today. Instead of science, the source of our monsters is technology gone too far--to where we yield too much of our thinking, communication, and interaction to what our technology prompts us to do. For many, our world is becoming predictable and routine (almost brainless)--and dare we say it: zombie-like. This is especially true in the workplace.

The good news is that times of change bring opportunity for a "human" resurgence and an opening for great strides in employee engagement. We all pay much more attention and we all think a lot more about what we do during times of change. This is the perfect time for leaders to focus on engagement programs for their team members because they are already engaged--some are trying to figure out how things will work and others are wondering how they can stop the change from happening to them. Regardless, they are no longer zombies.

Consider the following observations.

* The world is changing faster than ever before with increasingly more information coming at us every day.

* The business landscape is changing more rapidly and evolving new products, new competitors, and new models.

* The workforce is the most experienced, well-educated, well-informed, and connected in history--and most workers have been through multiple change and engagement efforts.

* Change is no longer seen as a transition from one stable environment to another, but a constant evolution moving ever closer to organizational agility, speed, and learning.

* Employee engagement is not seen as a bolt-on program to ask employees how they feel or what they want. It is now a way for leaders, managers, and employees to work together for the success of the organization and its partners.

The most successful employee engagement occurs when engaged employees at all levels of the organization are empowered and encouraged to create their own change and are constantly looking for better, faster, and more effective ways to get the results everyone wants.

Employee engagement at all levels

When it comes to spurring employee engagement, many organizations already have taken many of the "big" steps (for example, reorganization, ERP systems, and mobile), and they've found most of the "low-hanging fruit" (for example, lean process improvement, and shared services). Now it's time to shift our attention and look for thousands of little factors--often invisible to people removed from the front lines--that add up and snowball into huge results. This approach relies on employee engagement at all levels.

* Employees everywhere in the organization engaged in being the eyes, ears, brains, arms, and legs who see a challenge or barrier to doing the right things for customers, and take action to make it happen.

* Managers who direct (rather than control), and let employees retain ownership of an idea from inception to implementation while coaching, supporting, and accelerating their team members' efforts.

* Executives who remove barriers and break down silos so that individuals across the organization can connect to solve systemic problems within the organization.

How the zombies win

Let's start by looking at where many employee engagement efforts stall.

Zombies cannot see very far--there is no clear picture of what success looks like for the organization and how an individual's efforts can contribute to that success. Leaders tend to focus on the overall strategy and the large projects they will launch to achieve it, leaving the majority of the organization to focus on the day-to-day until it's time to go live with the change.

Success often is defined in esoteric terms (for example, "Be number 1 in our market" and "Increase profits or margins") that do not connect the strategy to the individual, so employees look at it and think that there's "nothing I can do at my level to help that happen. …

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