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Employee Engagement: Myths, Opportunities & The Role Of HR


By Mark Herbert, Principle Mark F. Herbert & Associates, Inc. and New Paradigms LLC

{#/pub/images/EmployeeEngagement.jpg}Imagine a company where employees come to work engaged, determined and committed to support the goals of the organization (physically, psychologically, and emotionally).  95% of the time this is the case when an employee starts working for you; before things get in the way of their enthusiastic engagement. What gets in the way?

  • Unclear expectations
  • A variance in what the employee is doing and what we want them to do
  • Lack of appropriate preparation and/or training
  • Poor management
  • A lack of alignment between the employee’s personal values and goals, and the organization’s values and goals (real or perceived)

The list can go on and on.  As employees disengage, their enthusiasm is muted under the weight of uncertainty, procedures and compliance.  The important point is to understand that the desire to engage exists, but we as leaders and managers maintain a culture that disengages employees.  The good news is that we are just as capable of creating a culture to reengage them, through respect, responsibility, information, rewards & loyalty.  I refer to this transition from disengagement to engagement as moving from compliance to Commitment®.

Creating that kind of environment requires a commitment from all levels of the organization along with a cultural/systemic approach led by company leadership; it is not a series of programs or systems put in place and led by Human Resources.


Overcoming Myths About Engagement

  • Happy employees equals engaged employees
  • Customer “satisfaction” equals engagement
  • Employee “tenure” equals engagement
  • Employee engagement is a human resources program/function

Enterprises or organizations do not exist to facilitate dreams or create employment for their employees. Instead, they have or should have, a value proposition that they are trying to deliver whether that is a return to shareholders or serving a social purpose. If in fact they fall short of that, you have an execution issue.  It doesn’t matter whether you are for profit or not for profit, if you do not achieve the organization’s objectives you are not executing. It is that simple.


Employee engagement is described in a lot of different ways. For me there is only one real meaningful definition and that is represented by alignment.  Alignment happens when employees see a clear correlation between the goals of the organization and their ability to satisfy goals of their own; as a result they execute consistently!

Optimally, alignment is not only with their personal and professional goals, but also alignment with their values. We call this congruency.

When you use congruency as a filter, it refocuses your hiring efforts to look for alignment within the people you invite into your organization.  It does this on multiple levels:

  • Are they aligned in the way they view the activity?
  • Do they believe they have the ability and capacity to do the activity?
  • Are their personal values aligned with that of the organization?
  • Are they willing to do the “work”?
  • Do they believe in the organizational mission?

Having been in and around the human resources arena for over 30 years, it is still pretty alarming to me how few organizations look for this alignment or congruency in their hiring practices, even in organizations who believe they have a very strong value structure.  However, those who understand these principles and can successfully execute on them, create an engaged workforce that generates optimal business results.


Opportunity For Every Business


Engagement is not a project to be relegated to your Human Resources organization. Nor is it a program or a survey that you administer annually or that you simply purchase off the shelf from another organization. Instead, it is a cultural transition that must be led from the top and deployed across all areas of management.


I have been successful in building engaged cultures in a number of organizations representing multiple sectors and organizational cultures. While implementation is customized for each business, the base elements are the same.


Here are some common attributes of organizations that have implemented and maintained cultures of high engagement:

An Appropriate Culture

People join and stay with cultures, not organizations. As leaders you are the guardian of the culture. Notice that I say “join”…They make an affirmative choice to join up or commit to you.

Hire Hard - Manage Easy

My friend and colleague Joseph Skursky of Market Leader Solutions, uses this motto as the basis of his recruitment and selection system. I can assure you through experience that hiring people who align with your culture and values may be difficult, but not nearly as difficult as trying to change someone’s values.

Effective Leadership

It is critical that leadership can effectively communicate business goals and expectations for employees to achieve. Why does our organization exist? What value or purpose do we serve? Do I/Should I care?

Effective Management

Management is different than leadership, period. It is their role to take direction from leadership and make it real and implementable for their own team. 


Context is where we begin to personalize our purpose and make it more relevant to people. Where does my role fit in? Does what I do serve the larger organizational purpose? Is there a clear line of sight for me between organizational goals and my own personal goals?


The Role of Human Resources as Change Agents


As employee engagement is a cultural change led by company leadership, it requires Human Resource practitioners to see themselves in a different context and a different role.  The expectation is that Human Resource Professionals take on the new role as Change Agents, adapting skills to support leadership & the engaged organization. HR’s role becomes:

  • Integrators of key systems like compensation, performance management, and talent management with business systems. Create Alignment!
  • Project management to deploy these systems. Create accountability!
  • Facilitators of key organizational initiatives to drive engagement and congruency. Create capacity not codependency!
  • Technical experts in compliance and related systems. Guide, coach, and refine!


If we can start to change the paradigm and embrace these models we can truly move our organizations forward and create positive change for all of our stakeholders- not just our shareholders.


{#/pub/images/MarkHerbert.jpg}Written by Mark Herbert, Principle Mark F. Herbert & Associates, Inc. and New Paradigms LLC  With over 30 years of managerial, executive, and consulting experience, Mark has authored four books including Managing Whole People-One Man’s Journey; C2C-Compliace to Commitment, A Foundation for Employee Engagement & Building a Culture.  He is a consultant, speaker and facilitator on executive development, strategic human resources, employee engagement, and employment branding on a regional, national, and international basis. 


Do you have a question for Mark?  Please visit our Human Resources Community, he will be happy to help: Ask an Expert


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