The opposite is true: A successful business leads to employee engagement.

The opposite is true: A successful business leads to employee engagement.

HR, for many, is a bundle of re-cycled concepts. Thankfully, or sadly, the number of re-cycled concepts, over the years, has not increased significantly. But, the velocity of circulation has. This is because there are more HR people in HR consulting firms than there are in real businesses.

One of the most re-cycled concepts in HR is ‘Employee Engagement’. Along with ‘Leadership’, this is a gift that keeps on giving to all HR consulting firms that that ever got into business.

The claim is simple and seductive. High employee engagement leads to a successful business.

So intuitive. Almost axiomatic. How could it be wrong?

Sure enough; everyone is chasing engagement scores, focusing on engagement drivers, comparing with global norms and generally finding meaning in life with all kinds of different cuts of data. Ah! How HR longed for a real metric. And, finally found one. One that allows HR teams to continue with their picnics, river rafting and playing ‘trust’ games. Who would not get engaged at an outbound program in an expensive sea-side resort?

Well, it turns that the opposite is true. A successful business leads to high employee engagement.

People value winning more than engagement. Or rather, people are engaged when they are winning. I have never known a person ask for a company’s engagement score before joining. On the other hand, I have always been quizzed by a prospective employee on the current financial health, strategy and prospects of the company. People want to join a company that has a winning idea or product, a company that is out-performing the market, a company whose share price is out-performing its peers, a company that has high brand equity, even if such a company has never conducted an employee engagement survey in all its existence.

On the other hand, there are plenty of ‘happy’ companies that work hard on employee engagement as a route to financial success. These companies tend to become inwardly focused and self-obsessed. Their internal dynamic converts into ‘inside-out’ rather than ‘outside-in’. Their leaders, believing their own narrative, driven by ‘best places to work’ awards, encouraged and felicitated by consultants, spent more time on their employees than on the market and its dynamics.

Such companies have been deserted by the market and eventually by their unhappy employees.

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