Who’s Responsible for Employee Engagement?

A client recently asked me, “who’s responsible for employee engagement?”  I shared what I’ve written so far – that some of it has to do with understanding leadership and that some of it has to do with what stage of development a leader and an employee occupies.  It’s an equal sharing of responsibility and if both plays his or her role, the results engaged and committed people, working to achieve a compelling vision.  However another, often overlooked dimension is how people choose to show up for work.

“Discretionary effort is the level of effort people could give if they wanted to, but above and beyond the minimum required.  Many organizations manage performance in such a way that motivates employees to do only enough to get by and avoid getting in trouble (negative reinforcement).” Aubrey Daniels International 

People decide how much effort they want to expend at everything they’re doing.  I decide how much effort I want to put forward in writing this blog.  Commitment is believing in something so much that you sacrifice some of your own freedom to achieve it.  It’s a choice, based on our belief that we’re doing work that matters, and we’re either aware of that choice or operating on “cruise control,” oblivious to how we’re showing up.

We often forget that it’s up to each individual to discover purpose, create a compelling vision for their lives, and understand the emotional space they and others inhabit and its impact on others.  Each day, people approach their day in what I see as three, ways:

  • Purposeful
  • Victims
  • Self-centered

To create a framework that could give some insight into how people show up, I combined some of the learning, insights, and understandings I’ve gained.  From a classic Harvard Business Review article, “Beware the Busy Manager,”  I had learned that two dimensions of purposefulness were energy and focus.  This resulted in a matrix that showed people Procrastinating, Distracted, Disengaged, or Purposeful, based on their ability to focus (a leadership responsibility) and their level of energy (an individual’s responsibility). So there’s an equal sharing of responsibility.

From Alan Sieler’s work (“Coaching to the Human Soul, Volume II”), I learned about some basic moods in life, based on our ability to accept or reject what has happened (peace/resentment), what could happen (enthusiasm/resignation) and how we react to uncertainty (uncertainty/curiosity).  Our moods are deep emotional states that we inhabit and which create what’s possible and not possible in our futures.  So our emotional state is the result of the choices we make, and this continues to demonstrate how individuals have a responsibility when it comes to how they show up.

From the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, I had learned that conflict is defined as when what I care about is different than what you care about and that these two dimensions – cooperativeness and assertiveness – produced five basic conflict styles: avoid, accommodate, compete, collaborate, and compromise; and that the style we use is the result of the skill we have in using the different styles and the situation we’re in.  Once again, we have a choice of how we engage in conflict.

Most recently, I learned about the Stages of Development theory where people are at the egocentric, reactive, creative, integral, or unitive stage from  Anderson’s and Adams’ book, “Mastering Leadership” (see my post of 9/28/18).  Their awareness of where they are and their commitment to continual growth allows individuals to continue to grow and see new possibilities.

I began to see connections and patterns and asked myself, “Are these concepts connected and inter-related?” and came up with the following chart: 

Different Ways We Choose to Show Up (Davis, 2015, rev. 2018)

  Purposeful Victim Self-Centered
Importance Committed Compliant Self-Serving
Personal Connection Engaged Involved Convenience
Results  Accountable Finger-Pointing Self-Justification

to Work

Purposefully Serving Reluctantly Obeying Rebelling


Purposeful Procrastinating/ Disengaged Distracted
Mood Accepting, Enthusiastic, Curious Resigned/Anxious Resentful
Predominant Conflict Style Collaborating, Compromising Avoiding, Accommodating Competing
Stage of Development Creative, Integral, Unitive Reactive Egocentric

While leadership and the stage of development are important factors in generating commitment, so is how individuals choose to show up.  By looking at any dimension of the chart, you can begin to get a sense of how individuals are structured and their predisposition to being committed or compliant. You can also begin to help them see what they don’t see about themselves (a concept called “cognitive blindness”).  If they’re not working on the “inner game,” they may be poised for disengagement and lack of commitment and this can lead to conditions that don’t contribute to a meaningful, healthy career and life.  Both leaders and individuals in the workplace are responsible for generating commitment, but how can we engage in the right conversations?

There’s one more concept I’d like to explore in this brief look at generating commitment – the conversations that generate commitment through a proven process, and that’s the topic of my next post.

© Geoff Davis, 10/5/18

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