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Jesse Jacoby

We live in a culture of yes. In the business world, we are taught to engage, be assertive and never turn down an opportunity. All of this behavior results in a whole lot of yeses (and time commitments). After all, saying yes is fun; it often feels a lot better than saying no. To further compound the issue, most of us aim to please — our bosses, our coworkers and our teams. There is no …

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What Does Employee Engagement Look Like?

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In his book, Seeing What Others Don’t, Gary Klein retells the story of a seminar attendee. It illustrates perfectly the contrast between what managers should and should not do if they want to be fully engaged with their employees.

The person in question said that when she went into her boss’ office, he was focused on his computer screen; but as soon as he saw that she had come in, he stopped what he was doing immediately, moved out from behind his desk and sat at a table “in the middle of the room” with her. From then on, he gave her his undivided attention.

How did this experience make her feel? “Valued.” The amazing thing, she remarked, was that none of the other managers did this.

If you search Google for the question, “What is employee engagement?” you may see this definition:

“Employee engagement is a workplace approach resulting in the right conditions for all members of an organization to give of their best each day, committed to their organization’s goals and values, motivated to contribute to organizational success, with an enhanced sense of their own well-being.”

This definition pushes all the managerial buttons.

It starts with results.

It suggests that people will do their best and that they’ll be committed, rather than disloyal, and it creates the expectation that they will improve because they’re motivated.


If you have a website, then you’ll at least have heard of keywords. You may even understand their importance in making people aware of it.

If we were going to optimize for this definition, what would the keywords be?

The first one would be approach. Think of this as the angle, the strategy, or the way that you connect with people.

The next one is right conditions. This refers to the environment in which people work. Admittedly, it’s a nebulous expression. What’s right for you is bound to be wrong for someone else.

Then comes give of their best. What does “best” look like? The person giving it may be doing less than you think is possible. This is why coaches can be so valuable. They can encourage employees to do more. When it’s overdone, however, it can also break the spirit of employees.

After that there’s committed. Now we’re moving closer to the results managers want. Commitment refers to stick-to-itiveness.

Followed by motivated. When people are motivated, they don’t need to be prodded to get their work done. It takes pressure off managers to keep looking over the shoulders of their workers to make sure they’re doing what they should.

And finally, well-being. Notice that it may not be the actual well-being of people, rather it’s an “enhance sense” of it. In other words, the definition is referring to perception, whether it’s true or not.

Now, apart from the last one, what do all of these keywords have in common?

What sets them apart from this idea of well-being?

It’s the expectation that employees will deliver first. The onus for engagement falls on them rather than on the managers who are supposed to be doing the engaging.

Ironic, don’t you think?

Two-way street

How could the definition be improved? What one word could you add to it to make it benefit employees from the beginning and shift the responsibility of engagement back to managers where it actually belongs?

The word is mutual.

Here’s how the new definition would read.

“Employee engagement is a mutual workplace approach resulting in the right conditions for all members of an organization to give of their best each day, committed to their organization’s goals and values, motivated to contribute to organizational success, with an enhanced sense of their own well-being.”

When you define it like that, then you lay the foundation for the relationship that’s necessary for engagement to occur.

In Western society, when two people become engaged, it’s by mutual consent. It’s something that they both desire; that they both work toward. They both want the right conditions to promote the relationship, they are committed to one another’s goals and value, and they’re motivated to contribute to their mutual success. And doing so makes them both feel good about themselves.

The last part is so important. It’s the selflessness that each shows toward the other that makes the relationship work; but it’s entirely genuine. None of it is contrived, and it’s certainly not one-sided.


What expectations do you have when it comes to employee engagement? Do you hold to the original definition, or the revised one?

The one you choose will speak volumes about your authenticity.

What do you expect when someone comes into your office? Do you expect him / her to understand that you’re busy, and therefore have to keep one eye on the computer screen or respond to every email or text that comes in as soon as you get it?

You see, engagement is what you might call a “contact” sport. You’re either making contact or you’re not. Both cannot be true at the same time.

If you’re using your meeting time to flip through your phone, and only occasionally looking up to make sure that the person is still there, then you’re not engaged. Instead you have a foot in both camps. You’re sitting on the fence. You’re kidding yourself if you think you’re doing anything else.

So what’s it going to be?

Do you want to engage your employees? If so, then decide here and now to give them your full attention. If you do, you’ll be among the minority who actually get it.

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Jesse Jacoby
The Editor of Emergent Journal and founder of Emergent, Jesse is a recognized expert in business transformation. He and his team partner with Fortune 500 and mid-market companies to deliver successful people and change strategies. Jesse is the creator of the Accelerating Change & Transformation (ACT) model and developer of Change Accelerator and Savvy Transition. Contact Jesse at 303-883-5941 or

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