What's In a Word?
ave you ever known a couple that seemed as much in love as 80-year-olds as they were when they first married? A couple that, despite facing difficulties, still managed to prove time and time again that a marriage can thrive?
My grandparents were this way. Or, they seemed this way to me. They passed away within a couple of months of each other. But I can remember, even in their early 90s, they were concerned about each other. Neither one wanted to be the first to go, because neither wanted to leave the other alone.
They took very seriously the idea of commitment, and "'til death do us part."
You're probably wondering what's got me thinking along these lines. I've been thinking about the word "engagement." I've been pondering whether it is so overused that it no longer has much meaning. And I've been considering whether many among us—in HR, in sales, in various positions of great and lesser authority in our organizations—have actually been practicing what we preach.
What does that have to do with marriage? Well, just as engagement can come in a whole array of colors, beautiful and ugly, so can marriage. And, I think, similar influences can affect the success of the long-term relationship between a couple, or between an employee and the company he or she works for.
We all change over time. If we're truly committed to our partners, we change together. We might find ourselves scratching our head over some of those changes. But somehow we muddle through together, despite all of this.
Similarly, the people working for your organization are always changing. Learning and growing. And at the same time, the organization itself is always changing. Expanding, contracting, launching new products and services.
And, change can be an enormous challenge to continuous engagement. When things aren't stable, people tend to get a little jumpy—and that could mean they're ready to jump ship and head to another job. Or, it could just mean they're a little too nervous to do their jobs effectively.
If you really want to test whether you're doing your due diligence on engagement, just throw a little change into the mix and see what happens. In the face of change, slapdash engagement efforts are unlikely to hold up, just as a marriage in which both partners are not fully committed to making things work is not always able to steer steadily through stormy waters.
What's more, this is not just a one-off thing. You need to be in this for the long haul. You can't just pay lip service to the importance of "engagement," put a few programs in place and then forget about it. Once you've bought into the importance of engagement, you need to commit to it for the long term. And you need everyone else in your organization to get on board with these efforts. When not everyone is rowing the same way, then any initiative you put in place is not going to live up to its full potential.
What this means is, if you really want to ensure your workforce, your customers and your partners are fully engaged with your organization's mission, you need to change your entire culture. You need to cultivate that engagement. You need to sell it up and down. It needs to be a part of everything everyone is doing every day, from the CEO to the sales manager to the customer service rep. You can make it work. But you can't do that in a bubble. And you can't do it alone. You need everyone on board. Pulling their weight. Sitting at the oars and steering in the same direction.
What does engagement mean to you? What does it mean to them? It's worthwhile, I think, to examine the meaning of the concept. Because words are just words—marriage, commitment, loyalty, engagement. It's putting the concepts behind those words into practice that makes a long-term impact.