Home Best Practices “Employee Engagement may have been optional in the past, but it’s pretty much the whole game today.”

“Employee Engagement may have been optional in the past, but it’s pretty much the whole game today.”

Fully 70% of American workers are not “engaged” with their company’s mission, vision, values, and purpose.  They will give their company sufficient effort to stay out of trouble and to continue collecting a paycheck, but that’s about it . . . they’re not going to give their company much, if any, discretionary effort.  Dan Pink, a favorite business writer and speaker of ours, talks a lot about employee engagement, but he comes at it from the standpoint of motivation.  In other words, he talks about those factors that motivate employees to be engaged with their company’s mission, and dedicated to its success.  To learn about the three primary motivators that Pink says lead to engagement, please continue reading below.

“Employee Engagement may have been optional in the past, but it’s pretty much the whole game today.”   ~ Gary Hamel, business speaker, author, and consultant

Most of today’s management practices can be traced to the Industrial Revolution when the country was transitioning from an agrarian society to an industrialized one.  The objective of those practices was to take folks coming off the farm and organizing them into productive work units so they would do what we wanted done, how we wanted it done, and when we wanted it done.  In short, these management practices were (and are) aimed at compliance . . . and that was fine as long as the work being done was relatively simple, short-term, and repetitive.  But as our work has evolved into tasks that are more complex, creative, and that unfold over a longer period of time, compliance has become less important while engagement has become more important.

According to Pink, the three primary motivators that lead employees toward engagement are:

  1. Autonomy
  2. Purpose
  3. Mastery

We’ll start with Autonomy and spend most of our time talking about it, not because it’s more important than the other two, but because it requires a bit more explanation.

Autonomy (self-direction)

People crave a level of control over:

  • their time. They want flexibility over how they schedule their work time vs. their personal time.  But they also want some discretion over how they spend their work time.
  • Human beings arrive from the factory pre-wired to figure stuff out for ourselves and to do things “our way.”  If you doubt that, just try to help, guide, or otherwise direct a toddler.  You’ll get an almost instantaneous, “No!  I want to do it myself.”  To the greatest extent possible, tell people the outcome you’re looking for, but let them achieve it “their way.”
  • Your people would like to have something to say about who they work with.  They don’t want to be arbitrarily thrown in with a bunch of people based on someone else’s whim.
  • People want some control over the tasks they’re expected to carry out so they can work on things that make the best use of their talents . . . that allow them to do the things they do best.

If you believe people are fundamentally untrustworthy, lazy, and prone to take shortcuts, you’ll have a difficult time granting them the level of autonomy that would put them on the path toward genuine engagement.  But if you believe otherwise, then you should hire good people, pay them fairly, allow them as much self-direction as you possibly can, and then get out of their way.


People need to know that what they’re doing is important . . . that their work matters, not only to the outside world, but also to the company and to their fellow employees.  From time to time, everyone may wonder, “If I don’t show up for work tomorrow, will anyone notice or care?”  No employee should have to seriously dwell on that thought . . . and with regular feedback and proper reinforcement, they won’t.


When people believe that their work is important and that it matters, they will continuously look for ways to gain mastery over it.  They’ll not only look for new skills to add to their arsenal, but they’ll also look for ways to get better at the things they’re already good at.  When the company positions itself as a place of learning and encourages everyone to pursue mastery over whatever they do, employees will see that as a sign that the company cares about them as individuals and is willing to invest in their professional development.

In summary, if you want a workforce that enthusiastically contributes discretionary effort in support of the company’s mission and goals, Dan Pink offers a pretty good roadmap for how to do it:

  • Give your people as much autonomy as possible.
  • Constantly look for ways to reinforce the notion that everyone’s work is important and has value.
  • Offer the company’s support as people seek mastery over their craft.

Do those things and employee engagement will be inevitable.

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