"Otherwise Engaged" suggests business owners improve their employee engagement by actively, rather than passively, engaging with employees.
Every employee has been involved in some attempt to improve employee engagement. In most cases, it’s either a PowerPoint presentation from HR (or some other management official), or a handbook that outlines the company’s values and expectations.
If you’re really lucky, you might have a small carefully timed event where you are thrown together with a few people that you may, or may not, know and forced to do something together in the name of employee relations or engagement.
Is this what employee engagement is all about?
John Guaspari would say a resounding “NO!”. In his book “Otherwise Engaged: How Leaders Can Get A Firmer Grip on Employee Engagement and Other Key Intangibles”, he argues that business owners and management have not really taken the time to really comprehend employee engagement.
Understand What Really Engages Employees Before You Engage
John Guaspari’s book provides a critique against the typical employee engagement program with its emphasis on force-feeding information and meetings without considering the relevance of the audience or information provided. In other words, they are passive, instead of active, tools used to engage employees.
Engagement is not a series of set-it-and-forget-it activities, but an active process between employees and employer on a personal level. That process begins and is maintained by developing the intangibles. Intangibles, as the word would imply, are those things which can’t be measured on a scale. But they do have a direct impact on how everyone (internal and external) views and interacts with your company.
To illustrate the point, Guaspari uses a fictional overachieving family as an example to demonstrate his concept. The family is so extreme that they have annual meetings about their productivity and quality. One of their milestones was to improve the dishwasher-loading productivity process. The point, Guaspari makes here is to show that business owners have gone to extremes to measure quality and productivity – while neglecting the intangibles like respect, trust and open communication.
As a result, you get PowerPoint presentations with non-engaged employees who know their contributions won’t matter to upper-level management. As an employee asks in the book, “What’s the point of offering employee suggestions when we know management won’t listen?”
It’s Not What You Plan, It’s What You Do
“Otherwise Engaged” asks readers to reflect on their employee engagement activities as a whole, rather than separate activities that can be dished out as needed. These activities should actually be tailored to the audience you are speaking to.
What issues are actually relevant to the employee you are presenting? Are you actually embodying the activities you have written down as representative of your company? Do you use the same flowery language that every manager does when defining your company’s ideals and goals?
Let’s look at two concrete examples:
- Example 1: Your company lists open communication as one of their key values. Yet employees are scared to report inaccuracies in a manager’s report – because the last person that did was fired.
- Example 2: Your company cancels the annual employee luncheon without notice due to cost concerns – while management gets a pay raise.
Not really engaging examples, are they?
This disconnect forms the core of the book. Employee engagement is something that develops over time, step-by-step through thought and action rather than a one-off project. You can’t force engagement – only foster it. You can’t measure it directly – but you can feel it.
So how do you foster engagement?
“Otherwise Engaged” provides some suggestions. As a manager or business owner, your job is to:
- Communicate your values and why it’s important to your business.
- Demonstrate those values in your actions and policies.
- Listen to your business (the people, policies, and the activities) and be willing to learn from them.
Good for Conversation, Implementation Needs Work
“Otherwise Engaged” offers a strong reminder to business owners and managers that business involves more than what can be measured. Guaspari offers brilliant analogies and real-world examples to illustrate concretely his methods and principles in a way that is entertaining and engaging (for the most part).
It rightly focuses attention on creating conditions for relationships that will improve the tangible and intangible benefits of your business. If your organization is looking to start or re-tool your employee relations or engagement efforts, “Otherwise Engaged” will point your conversation in the right direction.
The book’s examples, however, suffer from a balanced clarity that would help the book easier for implementation. “Otherwise Engaged” does a decent job of demonstrating why business owners should use both their business mind and their “right brain.” But it doesn’t provide a clear way of doing so.
Instead, some examples and a few recommendations are provided. In order to turn this book into a truly powerful instrument for increasing engagement, it could have outlined some of the key principles and provided action steps.
About the Author of Otherwise Engaged
John Guaspari is an author and executive at a management consultant firm. “Otherwise Engaged” will be available on Amazon in February 2015. This book was based on an electronic copy of the book provided by the publisher for review.