The Workplace Engagement Solution: A book review by Bob Morris

The Workplace Engagement Solution: Find a Common Mission, Vision and Purpose with All of Today’s Employees
David Harder
Career Press (August 2017)

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
African proverb

The problem to be solved is widely recognized and getting worse. The results of major research studies indicate that, on average in a U.S. company, less than 30% of the employees are actively and productively engaged; the others are either passively engaged (“mailing it in”) or actively disengaged (undermining the employer’s success). There are many reasons and they vary in nature and extent from one organization to another.

Add these pieces to the puzzle. First, the results of all major research studies indicate that employees rank “feeling appreciated” in the top three of what they consider most important. Also, companies annually ranked among those most highly admired and best to work for are also annually ranked among those most profitable and with the greatest cap value in their industry segment.

David Harder wrote this book to help business leaders solve the workplace engagement problem by finding “a common mission, vision, and purpose with all [or at least most] of today’s employees.”

I wholly agree with Harder that these two are among the main reasons why that strategic objective has been so elusive:

First, “Engagement only works as a democratic process. It is futile to expect an awakening when we use the old hierarchical model of pushing leaders to become skilled at drawing engagement out of talent. They will not respond to more manipulation. They need and crave personal involvement and individual transformation.”

Comment: C-level executives and other supervisors mull the same unspoken question that almost everyone else does: “What’s in it for me?”

Also, “We need to provide people with the skills to break out of the trance [of indifference]. For years, academics, management consultants, and human resource professionals have discussed the ‘broken employment contract.’ But, as we lost the promises and assurances of the Industrial Revolution, organizations have typically failed in defining what it is that we need to do in order to thrive within the rapid, disruptive, and transformative change we find ourselves in. By extension, much of today’s talent has obsolete work skills and no new life skills. Consequently, they become overwhelmed in simply trying to keep up with the change. We need to help them close these gaps.”

Comment: Harder wrote this book to help business leaders to respond effectively to these and other challenges. They, in turn, would be well-advised to keep in mind this passage from Lao-tse’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know;
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.” `

Near the end of this book, Harder observes: “In moving forward with The Workplace Engagement Solution, Make mid-managers your priority. Remember that they touch everything. And of they leave, remember that tomorrow’s employer will be not be evaluated by how much they paid employees, but rather they will be judged by how much they grew them while they were there.”

In the final chapter, “Getting Started,” Harder stresses a number of key points while suggesting a multi-step process by which to proceed. Keep in mind that it really is an on-going process rather than an ultimate destination. Most change initiatives either fail or fall far below original expectations. Reasons vary from one organization to the next but there are at least two common realities: those who defend the status quo were probably involved in efforts to replace the previous status quo; also, the staunchest resistance tends to be cultural in nature, the result of what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.”

I commend David Harder on the wealth of information, insights, and counsel he provides. Ultimately and obviously, however, each reader must select from the material what is most relevant to their own organization in terms of its needs, resources, values, and goals. However, it is imperative for everyone involved to share and commit to a compelling vision and mission, driven by a common purpose.

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