Friday, 8 July 2011

With David Zinger on Employee Engagement


  On Tuesday I spent the afternoon with David Zinger, founder and host of the Employee Engagement ning community.  I feel David and I go way back as he was one of the few ‘HR’ people blogging when I started up, just over four years ago.  I also started my Human Capital ning group shortly after his, but mine peaked at about 50 people, whilst David’s has over 4000 members!

For David, the path to exceptional employee engagement travels through engagement mythology to the concrete grounding of tactical engagement (kaizengagement)

Debunking 21 myths of employee engagement

David's in-depth research has discovered that employee engagement has a number of myths attached to it (5 of them are here).  My other favourites, some of which I agree are myths, and others which I still believe are true are:


  • We need a singular definition of engagement.  No – I agree this is a myth, and talked about it recently during my presentation with David Macleod and Nita Clarke of the Employee Engagement Taskforce.
  • WIIFM is more important than WIIFU.  Organisations are more than just collections of individuals.  An organisation of engaged individuals who would sabotage each others’ careers isn’t going to be any more effective than a true team of disengaged employees.  We need to be thinking about engagement as a socially developed outcome rather than an individualised one.
  • Data trumps story.  Measurement has a limited role in HCM.  It’s fine for the transactional stuff, but the more important something is, the harder it is to measure.  Look at Gary Hamel’s triangle describing the range of behaviours people can use to involve themselves in their work.  Obedience at the bottom can be measured fairly easily.  Passion at the top is a lot harder, but it much more important today.  It can be measured – but mainly through pictures and stories, not metrics and analytics.



  • Engagement is a noun.  Yes, I think it is.  It can probably be a very as well as long as we don’t start believing we can engage someone else.  But we can engage ourselves.  But in the main, we’re best off thinking about it as a state, an element of human capital.
  • There are ‘drivers’ of engagement.  Yes.  OK, as I note above, I think it’s up to each individual to decide to be engaged.  But the things that we do to them, the environment we put them in, has a strong influence on this.  So ‘influencers’ rather than ‘drivers’ perhaps, but there are definitely levers we can pull.
  • There are external experts of gurus with answers.  Yes, there are.  These answers need to be chosen according to the specific organisational context, and tailored appropriately too.  But engagement (and HCM) is more than simply treating people well.  It’s also about your strategy, the organisational environment, your HR practices and other things as well.  Don’t be afraid to get outside help.


Kaizengagement: 6 tactical engagements

Kaizengagement, a term developed by David Zinger, is a fusion of kaizen and employee engagement.  In the workplace of the perpetual busy we need small, simple, and powerful tactics to continually improve our engagement.

David outlined six simple yet powerful research based approaches to improving employee engagement within an organisation.

  • Engage progress: from small wins to benevolently hacking our work.  Making progress is the biggest engagement driver for knowledge workers. Eg one reason gaming is so addictive is that it’s so easy to monitor progress.  So let people ‘hack’ their work to make more progress. See David’s post on this.
  • Engage co-created relationships: high quality interactions for optimal organisational energy.  The greatest single contributor to energy is high quality connection, even just for two seconds – ie it’s about whether people show up for each other.  Holding people accountable (check in with them, not checking up on them) counts here too.
  • Engage key moments and tactical behaviours.  David didn’t say much about this, but I agree with the point.  Despite what I wrote above, most of the activities covered within management and leadership are fairly straight forward, and apply pretty much the same from organisation to organisation.  People want to be listened to, be involved in their appraisal and to contribute to their development plans.  Get these basic, crucial conversations right, and you’re well on your way to helping your people be engaged.
  • Engage strengths: List, live and leverage your strengths.  Gallup suggest that if a manager doesn’t talk to an employee, there’s a 44% chance they’ll be disengaged.  If they only talk about poor performance there’s a 22% chance.  Ie just criticising them is better than not talking at all.  But if the manager talks about the employees’ strengths there’s just a 1% chance they’ll be disengaged.
  • Engage the community hive mind of organisations.  I think this relates to what I was describing earlier on.  Engagement is a social outcome and people are largely engaged by the people around them, and how well these people are engaged.  Engagement has to be something that people decide to do /to be together.
  • Engage moments and conversations: 45 seconds to engaged performance.  The one minute manager on steroids?  Anyway, it’s a good point.  One of David’s myths for engagement is about the future versus right now.  It doesn’t have to be.


I agree with these points, though I still think there’s more to do.  Engagement can involve big steps and strategic approaches as well.  After all, Kaizen is only effective when it’s part of a bigger approach to TQM.  And I think that given the engagement deficit in most organisations today, we need Total Engagement Management (TEM) too.  I might come back to you on this over the next couple of weeks, so check in again soon.  And I’d be interested in your thoughts (comments) too.


Anyway, a great session and wonderful to meet David irl.

Also see Doug Shaw’s write-up of the session here.

And my other posts on Engagement.



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