The Truth About Employee Engagement

Leena
Leena
Dec 21, 2015 · 7 min read

This is the summary of the book with the same title, The Truth About Employee Engagement: A Fable About Addressing the Three Root Causes of Job Misery, by Patrick M. Lencioni.

The book talks about what causes miserable job and how managers can help employees to have a fulfilling job. As usual with the other fable series, this book also has two sections, the fable and the model. This post is the summary of the model section of the book.

The model

The model talks about 3 factors that cause job misery. Miserable job is different from bad one. Bad or good depends upon who you are and what you value and enjoy. A miserable job is one that you dread going to and can’t wait to leave. It's found everywhere — consulting firms, banks, schools, software companies, athletic teams and also exists at all levels from executive suite to the reception desk. And more people are miserable in their jobs than fulfilled by them.

Factors causing Job Misery

The three factors for the Job Misery are Anonymity, Irrelevance and Immeasurement.

#1 Anonymity

All human beings need to be understood and appreciated for their unique qualities by someone in a position of authority. People who see themselves as invisible, generic or anonymous cannot love their jobs, no matter what they are doing.

#2 Irrelevance

Without seeing the connection between their work and the satisfaction of another person or group of people, an employee will not find lasting fulfillment. Even the most cynical employees need to know their work matters to someone, even if it's their boss.

#3 Immeasurement

Everyone should be able to gauge their progress and level of contribution by themselves without depending upon the opinions of another person. Without tangible means of assessing the success or failures, the motivation eventually deteriorates. Yes, the word Immearement doesn’t exist in the dictionary, but the author has created to convey this message in a simple manner.

The benefits of Employee Engagement

The benefits an organization gets by building the culture of engagement are: Increased Productivity, Greater Retention and Lower Costs and Cultural Differentiation. Managers have a huge role in bringing in these in any organization.

Increased Productivity

By finding fulfillment in their jobs, employees are going to work with more enthusiasm, passion and attention to quality because they develop a sense of ownership and pride in what they are doing.

Greater Retention and Lower Costs

Employees hang out as much they can because they know that the chances of finding another one is relatively slim. They tend to attract other good employees to work with, by telling their friends about their enthusiasm for their work. This results in lower costs of hiring, retaining and terminating.

Cultural Differentiation

With employees begin to take great interest in their colleagues and helping them to find meaning and relevance to their work, and gauge their success, a culture gets created which is difficult to duplicate. This cultural differentiation is more valuable, because it requires courage and discipline more than creativity or intelligence.

Obstacles for Employee Engagement

The benefits of having higher employee engagement are clear, but there are obstacles to creating such a culture.

Employee Obstacles

Employees fail to find fulfillment, because the emphasis is usually on maximizing compensation or choosing the right career. Even if one finds the job that is well paid and he or she loves doing [which usually the case with professional athletes or actors], they will still be unhappy because they don’t feel fulfilled. On the other hand, at times people who aren’t doing their dream job and aren’t making a ton of money, find engaged in their job. The difference in the latter case would be the managers, who reduces anonymity, irrelevance and immeasurement in the jobs.

Organizational Obstacles

Usually organizations recognize that they have an employee engagement issue very late, and when they finally do, they address it by focussing on the wrong issues. It is usually identified when people start to leave and the usual fix is found by paying employees more money. Bigger organizations go through a lot of management training on performance evaluations and giving feedback. Instead, what managers need is more emotional and less mechanical, which is directly tied to job satisfaction. And this is where the elimination of anonymity, irrelevance and immeasurement comes into play.

The emotional Obstacle

Even if managers understand and appreciate the importance of three factors, they often struggle to do so because of their own behavioral shortcomings. In order to demonstrate genuine interest in people, a person must have a level of personal confidence and emotional vulnerability. Without it, the managers feel embarrassed, uncomfortable to have behavioral conversations with their employees.

Explore and Address the causes for Job Misery

Let's see what can be done to address each of these factors.

Anonymity

The manager needs to take a genuine, personal interest in an employee in order to increase the level of employee engagement. And the manager is the person who has the most influence by taking such a personal interest in anyone on the job.

What does it mean by having a genuine personal interest in someone? It is about having empathy and curiosity about why that person gets out of the bed in the morning and how you, the manager, can contribute to them becoming a better person. It's not a one time thing either, instead needs to be reinforced and demonstrated again and again. Let's look at some examples here. It's one thing to know that an employee’s like dancing, another thing to know how Friday’s dance recital went. It’s good to know that an employee stays with their parents, it’s another to know their names and ask them when they’re sick.

Let me quote Patrick M. Lencioni, the author, here to convey the importance of anonymity:

I remind you that no one gets out of the bed in the morning to program software development or assemble furniture or do whatever it is that accountants do. They get out of their bed to live their lives, and their work tasks are only a part of their lives. People want to be managed as people, not as mere workers.

If you’re still not convinced that this make sense or that it applies to you, this would be a good time for you to consider resigning your position as a manager and finding a role as an individual contributor. But if you are on board, there are two more fundamental dragons that need to be slain.

Irrelevance

It’s surprising to see why many athletes, actors or rock stars have unsatisfied lives. The blame can be on drugs, alcohol etc. as culprits, but it’s a symptom of the root cause which is a subtle fear of irrelevance.

God didn’t create humans to serve themselves. Everyone ultimately wants and needs to help others, and when they cannot, misery ensues. Human being need to be reminded the fact that they need to know they are helping others not merely serving themselves. A good manager is the one who reminds their employees about this, again and again. As quoted by Samuel Johnson, an English author who lived in 1700s, people need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.

Every employee should understand their relevance by answering two questions.

  • Who they are helping
  • How they are helping

If managers cannot see beyond what their employees are doing and help them understand and answer the above questions, then those jobs are bound to be miserable.

Immeasurement

As mentioned in the beginning of the post, there is no such word existing in the dictionary. But this word is being used to define the third factor of the job misery which is, an employee’s lack of clear means of assessing his or her progress or success on the job. Those who are able to measure this, will have a great sense of engagement and ownership. Managers should help their employees identify those areas where they can directly influence, and then ensuring that these are connected to the person or people they are meant to serve.

It’s better that these measurements are not tied to compensation, because studies have shown that connecting to pay usually decreases the incentive. Instead, it needs to be an intrinsic sense of accomplishment. Great athletes don’t get excited about scoring goals or running for touchdowns because it will have an impact on their contracts. Instead, they do it because they love to compete.

Actions

While it’s true that job misery cannot be completely avoided, but it can be reduced drastically. The book ends with what actions or steps each can take to reduce the same.

If you are a Manager, for honest self-assessment, ask the below questions related to the three signs:

Anonymity — Do I really know my people? Their interests? How they spend their spare times? Where they are in their lives?

Irrelevance — Do they know who their work impacts, and how?

Immeasurement — Do they know how to assess their own progress or success?

Next, do the assessment either to confirm or deny the accuracy of the answers.

Finally, develop a program to shore up the inadequacies around the three causes of job misery through one-on-one meetings or in other ways. Explain the three causes and your plan to the employees, so that it’s clear to the them too.

If you are an employee, or college grad or job hunter — Talk to your boss or prospective boss about this model and explaining the causes for job misery and your thoughts on how to avoid them. If they are not interested in taking it forward, then smile nicely and start looking for a nonmiserable job :)

If you are someone interested in establishing an organizational wide program around employee engagement — Do a short, practical session involving managers to teach them about the model and helping them put together plans for addressing the same.

Parting thoughts

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who considers themselves as “manager”. It clearly explains how can you have an impact on the lives of people working with you.

I would like to change the One-on-One sessions to include self-assessment and evaluate myself to see how much I know my people. As we’ve started OKRs within Multunus, it’s definitely going to help us avoid Irrelevance and Immeasurement. Anonymity is tough, especially if that doesn’t come naturally to you, but can definitely be achieved with practice and genuine interest in people.

Leena

Written by

Leena

Co-founder/CTO @ Good Karma, Bangalore, India. A strong believer of lean principles, an evangelist and practitioner of Continuous delivery

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