A Lesson About Employee Engagement, Courtesy of that Wild and Crazy Guy, Steve Martin


Readers of a certain age will remember when Steve Martin first turned up on Saturday Night Live as a white-suited, banjo-playing goofball. (And if you don't remember, it's easily findable on the YouTubes.) In one of his bits, Martin would announce, "To prove how much I care about my fans, I will now go down among the people!" Then he would wade into the audience, so clearly appalled at the idea that he kept his hands thrust high above his head as though he were being held at gunpoint, while issuing stern warnings to everyone around him: "Don't touch me!" The overall effect of the attitude struck by Martin—a kind of superficially magnanimous self-absorption—was utterly hilarious.

But if it’s so hilarious, why do we strike such an attitude all the time when it comes to Employee Engagement?  Why do we act like it's such a big deal when we decide to get a little closer to employees through mechanisms like surveys or focus groups or skip-level meetings?  Or by bravely going out to visit them in their native habitat?  Or even by holding a full-up Employee Day, complete with cheeseburgers and rock climbing walls and maybe even a meet-and-greet with a VP or two?

Yes, we do occasionally deign to "go down among the people" and chat them up for a bit. We don't do this too often because it is, after all, a bit untidy—"Don't touch me!"—and besides which, it can distract everybody from focusing on all of those important steps in our finely tuned Pert charts and Excel spreadsheets and process flow diagrams that are so beautifully displayed in our PowerPoint decks. Then we—all just a wild and crazy bunch of guys and gals—sit back and congratulate ourselves on what a good job we’ve done when it comes to engaging our employees.

Kind of a shame, that.  And costly, too.