In my visits to organisations globally, a lot is spoken of regarding commitment levels of staff to their jobs, teams and their respective organisations. Senior management in these organisations are expecting effort and energy applied appropriately within the business to ensure productivity and results. In many cases, this same management group are even expecting staff to “go the extra mile” and apply additional and discretionary effort to solve business issues and increase turnover, whilst at the same time, reduce cost and, particularly, unnecessary expenditure.

On the other hand, employees are legitimately asking “what’s in it for us”? This is not just a financially-oriented question, as all employees get paid to do their jobs. Many want other aspects of fulfilment – self-development, growth, being part of something that is bigger than themselves, working as a team, adding real value and contributing in decision-making in their respective roles. It would seem that collaboration between senior and junior staff is essential for the combined needs of the above dynamics to be met.

The Corporate Leadership Council defined “employee engagement” as “the extent to which employees commit to something or someone in the organisation, how hard they work as a result of this commitment, and how long they intend to stay with the organisation”. Alinda Nortje, Executive Chairperson of Free To Grow, however, believes that employee engagement is a two-way process that should benefit both the organisation and the employee and therefore chooses to add the following to the Corporate Leadership Council definition: “ … and the extent to which this connection enriches their life and work experiences”.

The role of leaders in generating qualitative engagement with employees cannot be over-emphasised – they need to be equipped with the know-how and skills to be able to enhance commitment. With this in place, the leader’s engagement will then drive the employee engagement levels. Do companies around the world have these leaders?

Bob Nelson said: “You get the best effort from people, not by lighting a fire beneath them, but by building a fire within them”. Employee engagement is not the answer to every organisational issue, but is certainly “mission-critical” for every business that wants staff on board, focused and applying available energy appropriately.

4 comments on “What’s in it for me?

  1. Prof Hamanth kasan on

    True leadership is not only the capaility of taking ordinary people to an extrordinary destination they never dreamt of going to… but rather sustaining high levels of engagement which results in innovation, performance and excellence on an ongoing basis. In my experience employee engagement challenges need to be dealt with by ensuring convalescence between individual and organisational purpose. This is the highest order connection for human beings who essentially seek meaning and purpose. Ultimately human beings seek to make meaning of activities and experiences that are aligned to their purpose. However my expereience is that most human beings are not aware of their purpose . Gallup surveys globally have found that only about 25% of employees in UK are engaged and that the figure is probably lower in South Africa. One wonders how many employees are aware of their own purpose?

    • Jonathan on

      I heartily agree with you, Hamanth. Very few people understand their respective personal purposes, and thus live unfocused lives, and perhaps for some, just trying to survive each day. The same Gallup organisation made the comment: “The leader is the key to an engaged workforce – not compensation and benefits” (Gallup). Could it be that organisational leaders/managers have a profound responsibility to guide staff along the journey of finding their respective purposes? Is this not perhaps a fundamental leadership role?

  2. Patrick Vergeynst on

    Good day to all! Thanks Jonathan for this great blog.

    Adding to the discussion I would like to ask if the key question here is not about “self engagement”: if that does not exist enough ( I mean when you need to practise it, not the “verbal engagement” that one does so easily), how can you get people engaged?
    John Kennedy said “Don’t ask what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”. I wonder indeed how many think about this, how many embrace this?

    I have a deep feeling that this statement is the key to growth, is it personal, corporate or social…

    The last 6-7 years I have been studying “leadership”… I have come to realise how much it’s the key component for a successful “society”: without it, no society can move, it’s the drive that makes things happens (or the negative side of it too: bad leadership-but that is another discussion:).

    A year ago I discovered how much it’s vital that everybody is seen and sees him/herself as a leader. I started to implement “open source leadership” concept into my business… The results were for all I believe enlightening but not successful for the growth of the company (quality and productivity did not increase…).

    I have not given up but too regularly I meet such resistance… I have come to ask myself if many really do not want to “lead”, to embrace their leadership rights and obligations… I feel a majority want to be told what to do and not to do…

    This path is a painful process but I don’t see which other is possible ( I don’t see growth in an authoritarian, constantly directive, bossy management). Any comments welcome how to implement effectively true (open source) leadership?

    • Jonathan on

      Open source leadership requires constant “presence” with staff and continual interaction around leadership issues. Fundamentally, what one is hoping to achieve is for staff to take responsibility for themselves and business development. This is a quest to bring people on to the selfless leadership page, where the focus is on others, clients’ needs and business development as a whole. A sense of ownership is key here.

      It is true that many do not want leadership responsibility and prefer “to be told what to do”. This, however, should not deter the manager from the quest of getting staff to the place where they at least take responsibility for leading themselves.


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