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5 Reasons Your Engagement Program Isn't Working

posted Sep 18, 2013, 11:55 AM by Lisa Shelley   [ updated Oct 14, 2013, 6:45 AM ]


As a business leader, why should you be concerned about the engagement level of your employees? Given all of the other burning issues you are faced with, devoting time and energy to work on engagement may feel like a luxury you can't afford.

Why Should You be Concerned?

"After all, I'm engaged, my staff is engaged. If there is an issue beyond that, it's nothing that additional metrics won't handle. Besides, our engagement efforts never seem to impact the bottom line."

Have you heard this, possibly even in your own head?  Unfortunately, studies continue to point to disturbingly low levels of engagement within business work forces, 30-40%. Based on the opportunity that these numbers represent, it's probably worth taking a deeper look at your organization. Far from a luxury, an engaged organization is foundational to the long term success of your business.

What is the Benefit?

The benefit of highly engaged employees goes well beyond discretionary work effort, productivity and retention.  

Highly engaged employees also produce higher quality work and bring an enhanced level of creativity and innovation to the workplace. They work more collaboratively with coworkers, and have better relationships with customers, suppliers and partners. Highly engaged employees become leaders themselves, positively engaging all other stakeholders.

Why then, given the opportunity available, do so many efforts aimed at improving employee engagement fail to produce sustainable results?  Have we been looking at it from the right lens?

5 Reasons Engagement Efforts Fail

1. The Wrong Owner. Engagement is, at its core, an output of leadership. Not HR.  Not an outside consultant. A leader inspires and supports the motivation and action of others toward achieving a common goal.

When leaders assume the responsibility for the engagement of their organizations, it becomes a way of operating, as opposed to a yearly or bi-yearly event.

2. Poor Definition of Engagement.  Employee engagement is often poorly or loosely defined.  It is more than employee satisfaction, and you can’t build it by focusing only on performance.  The engagement that matters is the level of sustained motivation your employees have to get things done in support of your business.

Effectively improving engagement requires a comprehensive approach that not only supports an employee’s ability to enjoy work, but also their ability to get things done.

3. Fixing the Symptoms… Lack of System Thinking. There are many employee survey tools available that align employee feedback on the work experience to engagement. These surveys can identify a reasonable list of symptoms.  What they don’t provide is the diagnosis. Treating symptoms without understanding the root cause can yield ineffective actions or actually contribute to the problem.

Before taking action on a survey ask yourself, what are these symptoms telling us about how our leaders and culture are supporting employee motivation? What is the system level issue?

4. Outdated Model of Human Motivation. What do employees need to feel motivated? Many businesses mistakenly believe compensation and advancement are the primary ways to motivate employees.  This approach assumes that work is inherently a chore and the only means to motivate people is extrinsically, through carrot and stick. The current thinking on human motivation is that we perform best and are more creative and innovative when we are intrinsically motivated – when we believe in and enjoy our work.



Maslow provides a simple hierarchical model of motivation, which can be simplified to three basic workplace needs. First is the foundational need to Belong, followed by the need to Achieve, and finally by the need for Meaning.   




Employees need to feel like a valued part of the organization to belong. They need to be empowered and able to get things done to achieve. And they need to believe that their efforts are contributing to something important to find meaning.

How well are you supporting these basic motivational needs for your employees? What do your survey results tell you when you look at them through this lens?

5. Lack of Customization. Your organization is not average. What works in one business, department or demographic, may not be effective for another. Effective employee engagement actions must be flexible and provide options to meet the needs of a diverse organization

How well do you know your employees? What makes them feel valued, what do they need to be empowered and what inspires them?


What Can You Do?

Consider for a moment your own motivational needs.  How important is it for you to feel like a respected and valued part of the organization? To be empowered with the information, tools and resources necessary to get things done? To be inspired to contribute to something you believe in?

Now consider, how well are you supporting these needs for your employees?

Respect. Empower. Inspire.  A simple but powerful framework for effective leadership and highly engaged employees.

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Author:  Lisa Shelley