By Nilesh Bhagat, CHRP
In a recent article, Ian Cook, BC HRMA’s director of research and learning, cautioned against the popularized concept of engagement, as it relates to organizational performance (PeopleTalk, Spring 2011, p. 44). Engagement is difficult to define, measure, and understand. Does engagement create performance, or does performance create engagement? All too often it’s thought to cause success and it’s becoming clearer that this is a mistaken understanding.
What if we didn’t measure engagement as an outcome of success, but instead built it into the very core of the way we do work? Is it possible to create engagement, from an organizational core? I think so.
Engagement comes from connectedness, which is best met through our fundamental need to belong socially. That is, being accepted by others and working collectively towards a common purpose has a magnetic effect on all at stake. Once people feel like they belong to something bigger than themselves and share this sense of commonality, there is a drive to sustain this type of momentum (for an example, look no further than Vancouver’s favorite hockey team this year). This need is an integral part of Maslow’s hierarchy, which says we strive toward the utopian state of self-actualization. Connectedness and social belonging fulfill our desires to maintain our sense of self; this selfish need paradoxically achieved through social connection. Howard Bloom, in Global Brain, says we are fundamentally wired to connect and belong. So does, David Brooks, who goes onto describe three key properties that give evidence to our social nature. Koch and Lockwood, of Superconnect fame, write that our every opportunity is found through the (weak) social connections we develop, leading to our states of self definition.
It’s feasible to argue that true engagement comes from our fundamental need to belong to groups – to something larger than ourselves – in order to fulfill our never-ending thirst for self-definition.
In the case of HR practice, this means that engagement is cultivated through understanding how an organization helps its inhabitants to define themselves. At its core, this is done by considering the fundamental driver of belonging: the company culture. This means creating a culture of connectivity. For example, creating work groups where people have like interests (perhaps using age as the common factor); or implementing systems of communication, with incentives for use (like internal wikis, blogs and IM features).
This is how I’d go about creating engagement. How would you do it?
Nilesh Bhagat, CHRP, is the membership and CHRP administrator at BC HRMA. After several grueling years in school, Nilesh graduated in October 2010 from Simon Fraser University with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, First Class Honors. He majored in Human Resources Management and tacked on an extended minor in Psychology. He’s a self-confessed nerd (the first step is admitting), likes to read, loves hockey and is struggling with the complexities of learning the game of golf.