Killing engagement. Post script.

posted by Scott McKenzie

I think Employee Engagement is still breathing this morning.

Last night’s debate at the offices of Baker Tilly helped highlight the fundamental issues at stake.

1. Should we be approaching engagement from a starting point of great HR  systems and processes , or is more about how we build more meaningful, emotional “connections”,

2. Can employee engagement be explicity linked to business results, and even if it can, should it be?

3. Do leaders genuinely want to engage their people? And if they do – do employees really want to be engaged by their Chief Executive as opposed to their line manager?

The panel wrestled with these questions and many more. It seems to me that these are serious questions that deserve more discussion, more insight, more analysis.

My tuppence worth is this: there is a risk that this debate gets stuck on the fringes. We must avoid taking a deeply entrenched position.

For example, are we genuinely saying that we should not have good performance management systems in place? Or that building an emotional connection with employees has no bearing on business results?

We need to be careful that in the midst of heated debate and passionate rhetoric we make some false choices.  It seems to me that there was a lot of expert insight on the panel last night, but not a lot of listening and learning from each other’s viewpoint.

In my view that’s one of the most important elements of engagement. Let’s make sure we do more of it.

Finally, a big thank you to Matt and the team for making the debate happen.



Karen Drury

Thanks for the write up, Scott. I’m sorry you didn’t think there was a lot of listening on the panel – and perhaps I do have an entrenched position. Perhaps that’s because my evaluation of the commercial version of engagement has been done in private, rather than in discussion? further conversation then, as you suggest, would be helpful. Perhaps also the introduction of us as “experts” (“who, me?”) wasn’t helpful as we then thought we had our expertise to defend.



Kevin Ruck

Unsurprisingly, given the complexity of “engagement”, a number of different perspectives emerged from the debate on Tuesday.

However, in my view, the share of “public voice” on employee engagement has, to date, been dominated by HR practitioners and academics. This tends to focus on the individual at work and their role and performance. Important though this is, the wider corporate internal communication perspective has unfortunately been marginalised.

Now, some research is pointing to the importance of other aspects of engagement that go beyond an individual’s role to identification with the organisation. That’s not to say that performance management is unimportant, it’s simply a hygiene factor. I agree with what Sean Trainor said about performance management. Because of the way is done, it more often than not leads to feelings of dissatisfaction and disengagement.

I’ve been reading HR publications and journal articles for many years and I am a CIPD member, so I respect the HR viewpoint, though I disagree with some aspects of it. However, what is exciting in this field is the emergence of a growing specialist body of internal communication theory. It would be great to see more HR people go beyond some of the tried and trusted thinking in HR and embrace aspects of internal communication. Of course, many do this already and enlightened practice is a smart combination of HR and communication theories. But this is not mainstream yet, at least that’s what the vast majority of people who study with me on the CIPR Internal Communication qualifications say.



Scott McKenzie

Thanks to Kevin and Karen for this comments.

Karen – I really enjoyed the debate and found your contributions to be both enlightening and considered. The debate was well set up but inevitably with that kind of format leaned more towards entertainment than discovery. I completely agree with you around further conversation and would value the opportunity to do that over a coffee some time.

Kevin – as you know I have a huge amount of respect for your approach to the subject. My concern is that the thought leadership around the engagement topic is precisely following the artificial “divisions” that we see in organisations. This should not about the HR camp, or the Communications camp… it should be about where the greater wisdom lies.

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