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The ability to make good decisions regarding people represents one of the last reliable sources of competitive advantages, since very few organizations are very good at it.

– Peter Drucker

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Employee Engagement: Can Do Or Will Do

The Buzz

The research evidence is starting to pour in from consulting firms, companies, and academia: "Increases in employee engagement increase profitability through more employee retention, productivity, and customer satisfaction." Long heralded by the service/profit chain philosophy, employee satisfaction, commitment, and motivation are proving to comprise a competitive edge for sustainable corporate profit in today's global economy. The buzz at business and professional conferences is escalating and many companies are already very involved in designing and implementing engagement initiatives that they believe will lead to greater profits. Employee surveys, (measurement and diagnostic questionnaires) are being re-built to include the broader concepts of engagement and a debate is accelerating around what exactly defines "engagement" for employees. An enormous amount of time and money is being spent by companies to tap what they consider to be the newest potential reservoir of profit drivers. However, a more fundamental question exists – do you have an engageable workforce? Or, more to the point, is your workforce capable of responding to your engagement initiatives?


BHI's experience and research show that many companies are assuming that all (or most) of their employees have the potential to be engaged in their work. None of the conferences or engagement studies (that we are aware of) have dealt with the issue of engagement as a fundamental capacity of the individual and not solely related to how the employee is treated or managed once they become an employee. I am not suggesting that the corporate culture, leadership, and management practices are not extremely important, but I do believe that there are clear differences in individuals' capacity to respond to corporate engagement efforts. Just as each of us has a physical or intellectual limit no matter what the motivation or reward, all of us have limits on our capacity to respond to the work environment. In other words, the "can do" is just as important as the "will do." The separation of the capacity from the motivation is an important component of maximizing the ROI on any new investment in organizational engagement initiatives that use significant resources. We will have little or no return from engagement activities for those that lack either the fundamental capacity to do the assigned job or the capacity to become more passionate and committed to our work.

Drivers Of Engagement

Figure 1 shows the two major factors involved in determining the job attitudes and behaviors of your employees. On the left is the individual with all their accumulated traits, behaviors, values, and expectations that they bring into your company – aspects that we know contribute to the engageability of the employee. On the right is the organization with its unique culture, environment, values, leadership, and policies. This is what the employee experiences when he/she enters your workforce – conditions that can foster an engaged work environment. Both of the factors influence job performance and, ultimately, the performance of the business.

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