I continue to give deep thought to employee engagement and am having many discussions with others about the topic.
To best reach a shared understanding, I found myself using an analogy, which I will share here.
On occasion, our cars develop rust. Rust is ugly and mars the sparkle and shine of the car’s exterior look. Not only is it unsightly, but the rust, if left unattended, will spread and cause damage to the car.
Having driven a car with rust, I know I can drive the car for a long time, knowing the rust is there and ignoring it. However, over time it will spread, usually under the surface, and in ways and places I can’t imagine. The destructive power of rust is insidious.
I drove a nice looking Honda a number of years ago, and after having some body work done on the passenger side quarter panel, a couple of dents and associated rust were gone. The car looked sharp. It absolutely sparkled. The body shop did a great job — or so I thought.
When I picked up the car there was no indication of damage or rust. It looked like new.
A year later, I noticed the paint was bubbling. A month or two after that, pieces of paint flaked off. I looked more closely and noticed rust.
Lots and lots of rust. Rust had spread all along the quarter panel, and deep into the chassis and infrastructure of the car. Not good.
When we look at solving for employee engagement, often solutions much like that used by this body shop are deployed. The surface gets covered. We layer on some Bondo body filler and paint and get ready for the next survey.
We cover the rust. We try our best to sparkle for the survey. The results are not great. We wonder why the sparkle doesn’t result in more sustainable outcomes.
Painting over the rust is very short-term. Short-term might be a year or even two years. However, during this time period, the rust, the employee disengagement beneath the surface is spreading — it does not get better just because we don’t see it.
It takes discipline on the part of human resource practitioners and senior leaders to dig for the rust and to cut the rust out. While this hard work is taking place, the quarter panel of my car might not sparkle. I have to choose to drive it while it does not sparkle knowing we are fixing, remediating deep below the surface.
Yes, going after engagement is tough. However, even tougher is making the decisions necessary to allow the deep cleaning, the culture formation, the infrastructure building — being willing to look beyond the survey next quarter and fix that rust for the long haul.
If we do not do that, our engagement efforts will be cyclical — shine it, survey, rust pops out, shine it, survey, rust pops out even more, more shine… you get the idea. Get deep under the outer surface of the car and scrub out the rust.
Are you shining things up in time for the next survey? Have you identified where your rust spots are?
Are you digging deep and using time to eliminate and heal the damage caused by rust?
Are you approaching engagement as a long-term business proposition, rather than a cycle of survey to survey buffing and shining events?