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The Enemy of Engagement: A book review by Bob Morris

The Enemy of Engagement: Put an End to Workplace Frustration – and Get the Most from Your Employees
Mark Royal and Tom Agnew
AMACOM (2012)

How to “take effective action to promote high levels of employee enablement and unleash the full potential of your people”

Extensive research in recent years by highly reputable firms such as Gallup, TowersWatson, and the Great Place to Work Institute® leaves little (if any) doubt that there is a direct correlation between positive or negative employee engagement and organizational success or failure. Seven years of research conducted by the Hay Group’s employee research division revealed what Mark Royal and Tom Agnew characterize in this book as “a significant, but often overlooked, threat to both employee engagement and individual and organizational success”: frustration. More specifically,  “a highly engaged employee’s inability to succeed in a role due to organizational barriers or the bulk of her or his talents, skills, and abilities to the [given] job.”

Royal and Agnew have written a business narrative during which fictional characters address real-world issues. The co-authors (1) introduce the concept of workplace frustration, (2) differentiate employee engagement (helping employees to motivate themselves to succeed) from employee enablement (developing their ability to perform effectively), (3) explain the nature and potential impact of “tenure effect,” (4) introduce a systematic review of root causes of workplace frustration and identify “key aspects of the work environment that should be focus areas for managers in understanding current enablement levels within their teams,” (5) then shift their attention to strategies for minimizing workplace frustration, and in the final chapters, and (6) discuss the role of managers as “organizational change agents.”

What sets this book apart from other recently published books on the problems of employee engagement and how to solve them is the focus on employees who were once actively and productively engaged and have either become passively engaged (“mailing it in”) or actively disengaged and, in some instances, perhaps even hostile and toxic. During exit interviews of highly-valued employees before they depart to work elsewhere, they express frustration with working conditions (especially those who supervise them) that prevent them from personal growth and/or professional development.

These are among the subjects that Royal and Agnew examine:

o Why “top performers or potential high performers” leave
o Cross-industry concerns about supportiveness of work environment
o Why high levels of engagement do not necessarily result in peak performance
o A leader’s primary responsibilities
o A manager’s primary responsibilities
o How most admired companies use enablement in strategy execution
o “Realistic” job previews and onboarding
o Self-Assessment for Managers: to identify enablement opportunities
o What drives employee enablement
o Self Assessment for Managers: empowerment, provision of support resources, teamwork coordination

In 1924, then chairman and CEO of 3M, William L. McKnight, observed, “If you put fences around people, you get sheep. Give people the room they need.” Mark Royal and Tom Agnew agree, adding that employees also need leaders and managers who make performance expectations crystal, explain how each individual’s efforts help to achieve the strategic goals of the given enterprise, and provide support and encouragement that empower them, thereby enable them, to succeed.


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