This is a guest post from Timothy R. Clark. Timothy is the author of a new book titled “The Employee Engagement Mindset“. I felt his insight was worthy of sharing. You can find Timothy on Twitter HERE.
The Engagement Mindset
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, once remarked, “I light myself on fire, and people come to see me burn.” If Mr. Wesley were alive today, is there any doubt he would take his place among the highly engaged?
His statement was prophetic. For the last five years, my research team and I have been studying highly engaged people in 50 different organizations. Our discoveries are presented in our new book, The Employee Engagement Mindset, which McGraw-Hill officially releases this week. Let me give you a taste of what we found.
First, without exception, highly engaged employees “light themselves on fire.” They don’t wait for the organization to do it. Second, the traditional approach that most organizations take to engage their people is broken. Retention, productivity, and performance are based on the individual investing and reaping intrinsic rewards. Yes, the organization can help, but if it tries to do most of the work, it leads people to learned helplessness, dependency on external rewards, and performance stagnation.
The philosopher, Isaiah Berlin, noted that humans tend to seek “a state of well-ordered, painless, contented, self-perpetuating equilibrium.” And yet humans also want to be anxiously engaged in their organizations. They want to make a difference. That’s the dilemma.
Here’s the question: Does it do any good to idly yearn to be engaged–to wait expectantly for the organization to engage you? Sure. Just expect to wait a long time and keep your expectations low. Engagement and equilibrium are contrary states. You have to choose one or the other.
Now the central question: Who owns your engagement? Many organizations have become contaminated with a patently false concept of engagement that puts the primary burden on the organization. In the 1830s, French nobleman Alexis de Toqueville observed, “The manufacturer asks nothing of the workman but his labor; the workman expects nothing from him but his wages. The one contracts no obligation to protect, nor the other to defend; and they are not permanently connected either by habit or by duty.”
How depressing! Today, great organizations want your full-tilt participation. Amazingly, that’s exactly what most people want to give. But they don’t. Why? Much of the problem lies with an old mindset based on we call the “benevolent organization.”
The Benevolent Organization
Imagine that you work for the most benevolent organization on earth—an organization that believes in and practices fanatical employee support. The organization has anointed you with a big title, a big office, and a big salary. It assigns people to clean your house, do your laundry, and file your tax returns. There are piano lessons for your kids, personal trainers and home decorators, a pet photo contest every year, unlimited spa treatments, extended family cruises, and ice cream socials. Not least, you have a great boss. In the history of the world, there has never been a more successful organization, and you are exquisitely blessed to be right in the middle of it.
Are you engaged? The organization may lavish you with perks, but those perks don’t hold the key to engagement. Feeding the pleasure center of the brain through extrinsic rewards doesn’t engage a person and bring real, lasting fulfillment. At best, it creates security and short term pleasure or hedonic well-being. So how do you light yourself on fire?
How to Light Yourself on Fire
• Release your discretionary effort now. Don’t turn life into a miserly exchange in which there’s a quid pro quo for everything you do. Invest ahead of the organization. The organization may reward you tenfold. It may not. Even if the organization does not fully appreciate your contribution, do your best. You will take your experience with you. No one can strip you of the hard-won lessons you learn and the experience you gain. They are yours forever.
• Eat change for breakfast. Change will choose you even if you don’t choose it. And it always requires two things: the performance of work and the absorption of stress. There are no storm-proof organizations, and there are no sources of competitive advantage that last forever. It’s all ice. The only question is the rate of the melt. The forces of change will come from inside and outside the organization. Compression and acceleration will be the dominant themes. But none of that should surprise you. It’s a given.
• Be grateful and happy. You are not entitled to a crabby, peevish attitude. You have an obligation to be positive, encouraging, and helpful. Even if you have a poor leader as a boss, you’re still better off making the biggest contribution you can. Keep in mind that you’re developing a rhythm and cadence to your life. Don’t let the weaknesses and dysfunctions of the organization set the tone for you. Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” Bring some enthusiasm and see what damage you can do.
• Make things better. Once you have built a personal platform of credibility, you have the right to put something on the table. Challenge the status quo where it makes sense. Manage risk and don’t be careless, but try to make things better. A little swashbuckling can be a good thing. You may not be the most creative and innovative person, but if you simply want to improve things and are looking for an opportunity, those opportunities are more likely to appear
• Be accountable. It’s amazing how long it takes people to stop making excuses. Isn’t it interesting that the human mind has an infinite capacity to rationalize? When reality doesn’t meet our expectations, we can escape to never-never land. We can accept or deny. We can embrace reality or fashion a new version. Because humans hate discord between themselves and reality, they tend to change themselves or pretend to change reality. We can tell ourselves a soothing story. We have become very good at telling ourselves soothing stories, and we tend to spend an enormously long time doing it. In fact, we often wait for the impending crisis to hit before we are ready to throw away our soothing story. It’s a blessed day when we choose to be fully accountable for our own performance.
• Use the delete key. Push it not only for negative feedback that would discourage you, but also for gratuitous praise that would lead you to falsely believe in your own superiority. Both strains of input are dangerous. If you want to develop the courage to be wrong, throw out the sentimental slush as well as the harmful criticism.
What do you think? Any thoughts on Timothy’s guest post?