Engaging reluctantly

For the last 6 months there has been an engagement committee at work. It was set-up to address many of the engagement issues within the business as highlighted in an annual engagement survey. Basically it reported that general satisfaction was pretty low as a result of poor systems, inadequate communication, and a general sense of being undervalued – all valid complaints in my opinion, and a surprise to no-one except those in their ivory towers.

From a corporate perspective a lack of engagement means poor productivity, no real loyalty, and increased absenteeism. For them it’s all about the bottom line, but they understand if the bottom line is to improve then it must become a happier workplace. Hence the engagement committee was born.

I had the opportunity to put my hand up at its inception, but thought it inappropriate that someone in my position should be involved. I have a lot of ideas in this area and was involved in the review that led to the formation of the committee. As you should know by now, I’m a purist. I believe that a committee such as this should be utterly independent and be run by the people for the people. Such democratic principles mean a lot to me, so I opted out. Of course such principles have little to do in the real world and my direct manager was quick to drive her agenda and influence the outcomes of the committee.

As it happened three of the committee members were quite close to me. A. I need not expound on more here except to say that she was a driven and committed contributor, and that while she was on board the committee had some direction at least. She left when she took a job upstairs.

Another of the members was a knockabout character I’ll spend 5-10 minutes a day yarning too. He’s very efficient and organised, but became exasperated by the running of the committee to the point that he opted out as well.

The third, W., is still a part of the committee and has contributed equally to its limited success and its abject failures. He’s a well-meaning guy driven to make it a success, but with little idea of how to achieve that. His people skills are primitive, and he managed to put offside other members of the committee. He also lacks any imagination whatsoever, essential if you are to capture the minds of the people it’s looking to serve.

The result of all this is an engagement committee that has failed to engage. It runs random and sundry events, none of which really address the issue of engagement. It’s a lame-ass organisation that has caused me no end of exasperation witnessing it.

This guy, W., would speak to me almost daily – including often on the weekends – about what he should do and how things would work. I would give him my advice and he would agree, and sometimes become excited, but then either do nothing about it, or get it entirely wrong. Naturally this made my exasperation even more fierce.

There was a spill of positions for the committee at the end of June. I hoped to take on a new role, or exit the organisation completely, but I was sorely tempted to apply. I discussed it some with A., who encouraged me to put my hand up. Ultimately I did just that.

I only got ratified in the role last week, but we had our first function on Friday night, an awards night. I had nothing to do with the planning except for organising the trophies – which I did previously when I wasn’t a part of the committee. I rocked upstairs 4.30 on Friday to pitch in. I asked the question “when’s the food coming?” and was told by W. that no food had been ordered. I exclaimed. You can’t do that – people will be drinking, and besides, they expect food. Well, we threw out half the food last time was his answer. Well then, let’s just order half as much I said.

Long story short I rushed downstairs and ordered some urgent food, ready just in time for the event to begin. In the end the night was a success, going on much longer than I expected (or hoped for). All the food was eaten.

Going forward I hope to implement some ideas that directly impact on engagement, which I take to include shared purpose and interactions going both ways and creating an environment in which people want to come to work. To achieve that you need a sense of community I think, which includes trust and curiosity and generosity.

Among other things I’m hoping to get a book club going. There are a lot of readers here and it’s an interest that can be shared. We have an online hub now and I’ve got someone to write a monthly book review, and advocating we create our own group within Goodreads and integrate it into the site.

I want us to learn more about each other and want to unearth the unknown stories and hidden talents across the organisation. There are formal, work related commendation systems here, but they’re basically mercenary. I want to move away from financial rewards and move towards a system when recognition is its own reward because we do it for each other. To that end the recognition is not about how good you do your job, but how good a teammate and person you are. I’m proposing an Unsung Hero and a High 5 award – for those who do things selflessly day after day from the goodness of their heart, and for those who go out of their way to help when its needed.

There’ll be more to come, including possibly a mentoring program, and will look at introducing RDO’s. That’s just me and I’m only one member of the committee. I’ll be careful to give everyone their say, but it’s true that I’m the most senior member of the committee and there are others relieved and hoping for me to take the lead.

As I said to W., I didn’t join for this to be a failure.

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