One of this blog's more popular regular features before it went on its forced 5-month hiatus was “The Worst Employee Engagement Idea of the Week!”  Well, it’s back, and this week’s is a real doozy.

It comes from a website called RIS (for “Retail Information Systems”) News, and it’s an article headlined: “Making the Shift from Customer Engagement to Employee Engagement”.

Calling the content of this article the worst Employee Engagement (EE) “idea” of the week sells it short since it contains such a broad selection of bad ideas that any one of them could have been a finalist for this week’s honors.  In fact, it is so densely packed with bad ideas that were it an element, room would now have to be made for it to be added to the very bottom of the Periodic Table.

First of all, the close coupling of EE with “information systems” should be a red flag.  This is not to impugn the talents and good faith of IS/IT professionals.  But it does run right into the “if all you have is a hammer, then every problem is a nail” fallacy.  Looking to IS/IT as the answer to EE is like expecting meteorologists to “solve” global climate change.  (NB: the preceding sentence is just a bad simile, not a political statement.)

Early on in the article, we read this: “To get a baseline understanding...we asked respondents to tell us where the executive resides in the corporate structure who owns employee engagement in their enterprises.”  So there should be a high-ranking person on an org chart who “owns employee engagement.”  But EE is a psychological state located in employees’ brain wiring, not a list of entries in the to-do column of an EE-owner’s Xcel spread sheet.  By this logic, you should also have an executive who “owns” things like integrity, pride, personal hygiene, and the annoying tendency to look at one’s own shoes while talking to others.

The article goes on to say that “nearly half of retailers say their tools are inadequate –36% say they are weak and 12% say they have no tools to support tracking and managing employee engagement.”  What sorts of tools does RIS have in mind?  “One of the primary weapons in the battle to help retailers succeed with an employee engagement plan is the mobile app, which can be accessible through employee’s own devices. Today, no retailer said its organization has many employee engagement functions enabled through mobile applications and 53% say they have no current plans to roll them out. The top-five mobile and/or online HR functions that are currently supported for store associates are: punch in/punch out (65%), request leave/vacation/time off (59%), check schedule (52%), and approve time card (52%).”

So that's the answer: more tools!  We don’t want people to be trapped in a situation where “all they have is a hammer.”  So let's give them screw drivers and pipe wrenches and band saws and shop vacs so that all manner of other EE problems can be “solved.”

The article ends with some seemingly sensible words: “If you take good care of your employees, your employees will take good care of your customers and your business. No debate there. Retailers now need to find ways to make it happen in their organizations and stores.”

Actually, though, there is a “debate there,” and it has to do with the statement that you need to “take good care of your employees.”  First, that word “your” in front of “employees” is troublesome...patronizing...presumptuous.  Beyond that, though, the things you should “take good care of” are your puppy and your 401K and your ficus tree.  The felt need to take-good-care-of other people implies a hierarchical superiority relative to their innate worthiness, and that’s a notion that will poison any EE initiative.

Here’s a better way for readers of RIS News to come at the challenges inherent in achieving higher levels of Employee Engagement.  Stop thinking of your people as human capital (which is a pretty degrading term in itself) and start looking at them as the free moral agents that they are and whose own psychological state of being is where true engagement resides.



The deadline is February 15th, so there are just 10 days left for you to cast your vote for my book, Otherwise Engaged, as 2015’s “Leadership Book of the Year.”   All you have to do is click here then scroll down and click on the VOTE NOW button.  That will bring you to a page listing all of the nominees.  Scroll down a bit more until you see the thumbnail of the cover of Otherwise Engaged, click on the radio button, and your vote will have been cast, at which time you will have my undying gratitude.  (Is the word “undying” ever used to modify a word other than “gratitude”, “thanks”, or “support”?  Just curious.)