Simon Terry

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You Can’t Buy Employee Engagement

We sure have tried.

New workspaces. New technology. Changes to benefits, remuneration systems and more. Great systems to measure and track employee engagement. Generous community, pro bono and volunteer programs. Investments in training & other career support. Programs to improve compliance with HR processes, drive diversity & address key issues of engagement. Lots of expensive communication materials. No end of efforts to make employees feel better about work. 

Mostly, we still don’t have engagement. Some of the above helped, particularly to remove hygiene issues that get in the way. Usually, the impact of these initiatives is temporary. Employees respond only as long as misread the investments above as signalling real change. When the hoopla passes and the bills are paid, the culture of the organisation is still the same.

You can’t buy employee engagement. You lead it. It is not a program. It is work. Hard leadership work.

Engagement is not something your employees do. Engagement is something that they feel. It is a belief that arrives from and is reinforced daily by your culture, your decisions and your conversations. Just as you can’t buy a transformation, you cannot buy this change with a management decision to spend money or work harder.

Employee engagement comes when people feel that they will realise their purpose and potential better in their work. Helping people to experience that takes conversations, your visible actions and their daily progress in their work.

Before you sign off another employee engagement initiative, ask these three questions:

  • Do the organisations daily decisions value your employees’ purpose and potential? Before you reflexively answer yes, when was the last time you changed a management decision because of its impact on employee purpose or potential? How often is that even discussed as a genuine factor in decisions?
  • Do all individual leaders consistently have genuine 2-way conversations about purpose and potential with their teams, collectively and individually? Not speeches, IDP templates or emails. The hard personal conversations. All leaders. Every day.
  • What is the hard evidence that your leaders are advancing individual purpose and potential? Your employees don’t rely on feel good measures. They look for hard proof of your intent. So should you.

Leadership is the technology of human potential. How well you use leadership is what your employees are judging every day. Don’t wait for the next employee engagement survey to decide to do something about it.


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