Is employee engagement the key to successful business transformation?
Change management was always meant to introduce fresh ways of doing things into the organisation. These, it was hoped, would lead to greater productivity, more growth and compliant employees who accepted management’s explanations as to the need for change. Well, it didn’t always happen like that. In fact, let’s be honest, it hardly ever did. Change management simply failed to engage employees in any transformation process, and as a result the change itself often failed.
Engagement can do what change management couldn’t
In fact, employee engagement on its own is capable of achieving much of what the old fashioned change management approach failed to achieve. Engaged employees will themselves be suggesting better ways of doing things, and innovative methods for improving productivity. Instead of the old model of employees as a bunch of passive sheep being reluctantly corralled towards the sheep dip, the new model says the employees are the sharp-eyed sheep dog, and the sheep are the managers who don’t realise the degree of change that is taking place.
Many employees secretly boast that their job became enjoyable once they learned the secret of managing upwards. That’s to say, getting managers who were stuck in one way of doing things, motivated to learn a different way of doing things, or at least not to reject new ideas out of hand. Engaged employees are not going to allow unengaged managers to stand in the way of change, if that change is seen as beneficial to the company or organisation.
Engaged employees motivate themselves - or leave
These people don’t expect to be motivated by anyone other than themselves. They are either motivated to do the job the best way they can - or they leave, to take their engagement somewhere it will be allowed to flourish. There’s been a demotivating idea that engagement is limited to involvement in a communication campaign, and once the change process has completed, it can be quietly dropped.
But the fact is that once the engagement genie is out of the bottle, there’ll be no putting it back in. It changes the way employees see their workplace and their place in it. There’s a wholly liberating effect when people realise that they will be accepted at work for who they are, and their contribution valued for what it is.
You can’t switch this off again afterwards, and it is a million miles from the tick box communication strategies put together by change managers who haven’t yet understood that organisations, employees, businesses, and even change management itself, have all undergone a transformation. The organisation needs to understand that the old top-down, elite group making all the decisions and treating everyone as underlings no longer has any authority or authenticity.
Engaged employees can be your organisation’s strongest asset. On the other hand, they can be its worst nightmare, if it’s a rigid, stagnant structure with no idea how things are changing in the world outside. Engagement makes people question, challenge and propose different ways of doing things. They expect to be empowered to do what needs doing to take the business forward.
Now who does that remind you of? Could it be the change managers of old? Possibly, except that you now have an organisation full of change managers, itching to get started.
Whether that’s seen as a problem or an opportunity may well reveal whether your organisation is going to survive into the future.