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We Don't Have a Clue About Engagement!

Updated: Feb 5

I have written about the difference between engagement and motivation and why organisations should focus on motivation instead of engagement. Whoever tells you that they know how to increase engagement is probably telling you a lie. They know how to manipulate the indicators organisations made up around engagement. None of those measure the sense of belonging or the emotional attachment to the company, vision, mission or people. Here is how I understood what engagement is. 

I worked for the same company (on and off) for over 16 years. My love for it didn't come from the number of inductions I attended during the years and it didn't happen overnight either. It gradually grew. These are the things that added to it and the things I found myself saying or doing that allowed me to notice "Yes, I am bloody engaged in here..." 

  • Relationship with colleagues is your emotional glue to any organisation and perhaps it is getting more difficult to achieve as younger generations are increasingly viewing work as a transaction for money. My love for most people I worked with pushed me to work harder. I did things outside of my JD and things nobody has ever asked me to but I did to make life easier for them. I worked for them. So, if you find yourself doing things for others you have a certain level of engagement. 

  • Whilst I never managed to buy into any vision or mission statement I was emotionally attached to our story and our two founders. Once I met one of them who left a good impression on me. I served him a bottle of water in the bar and he asked to pay the bill. When I said, "No it's on the house" he insisted on paying. He then gave me £2 tips and thanked me. Years later, when I moved to L&D I had to learn about our story so I could convey it during inductions. I dived in and learned "everything" about Accor. Where we came from and where we are today. Telling the story over and over again with growing passion created that mental and emotional attachment. When I joined we had around 2000 properties. When I left we had 5000+ and I felt part of the construction team. We built this company and I was part of it. Once I said to someone who didn't represent the company well "Our founders didn't work so hard so you can destroy our reputation." I have always been very protective of our reputation with small things like; when I see a poorly written job advertisement that really makes us look like idiots I would write to the HRD and ask them to correct it. Or, the other day, I noticed a H&S issue in one of our hotels (I went to use the toilet) and I raised it with the duty manager because I don't want anyone to get hurt and also us ending up in the newspaper. Why am I still doing this? I no longer work with them.:-)) So, if you are concerned about the reputation of the company, you are engaged to a certain degree. 

  • I have been through 3 acquisitions and each time I hated the team we bought. I could make it sound nicer but that would not be true. I felt superior to them because "who bought who?" and I hated every moment of integration. They were not us! They were Fairmont, Movenpick and sbe people who came in, to disrupt our well-functioning team and company. I found myself saying things like "Remember we bought you with a $376 million debt because you guys have no bloody clue how to manage the business so I don't think you are in a position of telling us what to do." or "You guys couldn't manage a 100 properties profitably let us show you how it's done." That arrogance, dominance, and territorial behaviour was engagement and not fear of losing my job. We have 5000+ properties there is always a job somewhere. That animosity that companies are desperately trying to eliminate during mergers and acquisitions is sometimes a sign of engagement. 

  • In 2017/18 we rolled out a service program called Heartists. I have never been a big fan of it but hey, you do what you have to do with your greatest fake passion. But then the earthquake in Indonesia happened that impacted our colleagues and their families. At Accor, we always open up emergency funds to help those in need but it always comes from the company and somehow I expect this from every organisation. However, as I was sitting in the corporate office I started receiving emails from hotels wanting to help. Which is great but the way they phrased it made me cry and also very proud of MY people! They said, "We wouldn't be real Heartists if we cannot help them somehow." The training worked! CEOs and leaders, there is your ROI!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We mobilised the region and got plenty of help for our colleagues and their families in Indonesia. From then on, I was bought into the Heartist spirit. 

  • Now about my CEO! Everyone knows that I love him:-)) That love did make me do things I completely disagreed with. Once, I found myself saying this, "I don't know what Sebastien is smoking, this makes no bloody sense, but let's do it. I hope he knows where we are going." And I went on and did the thing he asked us to do. During COVID, watching my colleagues being let go etc. made me feel very sad. My CEO went to the shareholders and negotiated for a fund that meant fewer dividends were paid out to them which was allocated to the employees. That gesture made me love him even more. He thought about us! Was the situation perfect? No! Did I agree with every decision he made during that time? No! But I did say many times, "Guys SB is trying, give him a break. We just need to get through this somehow and nobody knows how." If you are protecting the leader of that business despite things aren't going so well, you are engaged to a certain level. 

  • But, the greatest sign of my engagement came through listening to a podcast. I was listening to one of SB's (CEO) interviews talking about that moment when he had to send out "that email" ordering 5000+ hotels to be shut down with immediate effect. I started crying. I felt that for my colleagues worldwide and I felt it for him. That time, I also knew that I was leaving Accor so I just cried. It felt good and I was also sad but proud. These are my people and I will always love them.

Now all of you engagement gurus out there, do your silly surveys measure any of these??????? I thought so! We have no idea what engagement is, we cannot measure it, and we are wasting money on it. Every data in a human behaviour context i.e. engagement, is unrepresentative, incomplete, and biased because the really important things related to human experience cannot be quantified. Is there anything in this world that could have made me feel this way? No lunch in the canteen, benefits package, team-building activity or other things you guys come up with under the umbrella of engagement would have achieved the way I feel about Accor. Engagement is complex and we have no idea what creates it for Szilvia or for John or how it looks for them. Even when I had the worst managers to work with I used to say to others "It is not the company but these five managers. They don't describe the company they are just negatively impacting our reputation the way they represent us in front of 100s of colleagues. They are a problem for the company, they are the reasons we are losing our people." 

Collecting data related to human experiences must not be used as absolutes and build business strategies on them. Even science disagrees with employee engagement but we in corporations take what Peter wrote and run with it. We should use these data as information that is "good to know to find out things that we don't know yet". 

PS: The most obvious thing I never really paid attention to that demonstrated my engagement is when people behaved "badly" I would ask "Which of our Values are you trying to demonstrate with this?" LOL I am horrible! 

Stick with motivation, employee experience, and wellbeing because engagement is beyond your control.

Exciting news! My second book, "Blind Leading the Disengaged - From Kindergarten to Employee Experience," is dropping in April! It's a treasure trove of solutions and cool ideas to shake up your people management game. But before we get there, let's chat about where we're at now—The Corporate Kindergarten, as I spilt the beans in my first book. Check it out, and let's transform your workplace from a daycare to an awesome employee experience hub!:

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