Enterprise 2.0 Summit and the employee engagement conundrum


This is a conversation I had together with #e20 super-connector Luis Suarez on Twitter whilst at the E20 Summit.

During the engagement panel, he stated that employee engagement was a problem, an idea you can find in many management books (Year without pants by Berkun or Flat Army by Pontefract are recent examples) articles or talks. Even this blog elaborated on that subject a while back, a post which, in restrospect, might seem a bit shallow.

Most of these resources draw on Gallup study who claims that this costs about $US400 Billion per year to the US economy, which, I agree, is a terrible human and financial  waste.

But I wonder : is this employee engagement a problem or a symptom ? Luis insisted that Social Business will help in fixing this. This is where I come to have a rhetoric issue …

How disengaged is your company ? 

My take on the topic has slightly evolved during the last few years, as I was getting into Lean thinking. Before jumping to solutions (in this case collaborative platforms and online communities) you really want to make sure that you have properly framed the problem, in your own context.

An example : I’ve discussed with Loic Fontaine (who has been kind enough to take this Wirearchy Vs #hypertextual picture feat. my friend Jon Husband) at the conference and his company (Ubisoft) develops video games. Teams are rather literate with these tools, they love their jobs and they don’t have engagement issue. Still they have distributed teams issues, best practices sharing problems etc … How relevant is “the online communities for engagement” motto in their context ?

Five whys

If our teams are disengaged, we may try to understand why. Is it because of a bad manager ? Because of a lack of leadership ? lack of purpose ? Because of bad tools ? bad processes ? Because they are tired of all these new change initiatives that cascade down on them every so often ? And the yearly re-organisation ? Because of an endemic lack of quality and a nobody-cares-anyway attitude ? Because of the new bloated enterprise software they are subjugated by ?

We need to answer this to have an answer to our first why. The we still need another 3 or 4 to find some hypothetic root cause. At that point we can start to properly delimit our own specific problem.

Unless we go on the field in our own organisation to watch what really happens and collect facts regarding the obstacles people face trying to do their daily work, I’m sorry to say that we just have guesses and opinions (regardless if they look good on slideware or not). And driving a business on guesses and opinions may not be the safest strategy : I would not be surprised if it ended up in disengaging our teams …

Lastly, inflicting “engagement” via a deployment of such collaborative tools to team without fully understanding what their core operational problem is, might be one of the reasons why a large number of such initiatives fail.

Does social software fix engagement ?

Let’s be honest here : if you have an executive in a kick-off meeting saying “We know we have engagement issues in our organisation and we have decided to tackle the issue and to deploy ${name_of_enterprise_online_collaboration_platform} to fix it” what would we think ? Let’s pretend the executive is a bit more advanced in his thinking and replace the name of the solution with Internal Online Communities. Still, how would that sound ? Yes : silly.

Last but not least, how do we know that this solution is the best one to fix our teams engagement issue ? There is no way to say unless we do some experiment. There might be alternate solutions which are easier to test, and some who don’t even require technology implementation.

Engagement and adoption

There is still one side where I think engagement is quite relevant : it is the one related to adoption. Rachel Happe made a great talk about this at the conference where she identifies engagement as a key factor to move beyond the 90-9-1 web participation principle (a more meaningful and actionable problem).

She nicely draws on BJ Frogg behavioral model whereby engagement is presented as a function of ability and motivation. The highest the ability to participate, the lower the motivation needs to be.

Business problem solving perspective

Don’t get me wrong : even if I don’t have Luis expertise and 10 years experience in Community Management, I am a real fan of these collaborative tools and the underlying management principles. And yes I do believe engagement is an issue and enterprise 2.0 can help in tackling this.

Yet, I think that we need to raise our game from a business problem solving perspective if we want to help evangelizing these. Focussing on these tools as the mean to scale up collaboration throughout the whole organization seems to me a far more appropriate purpose.


  1. Thanks a lot for this interesting/inspiring post Cecil.

    Of course people are more engaged when they are part of something like a team than when in a community. This is certainly due to the fact that in a team you can make a difference by accomplishing things together and being complementary to the others (satisfaction), whereas in a community it’s often a matter of sharing best practices (some ego there?) that challenges ourselves about how/what we should change (effort).

    Sense of belonging is also much bigger with a team. That’s often by their team that people in larger companies define themselves.

    Disengaging factors and signals are many from the enterprise or the work environment. As long as we are challenged in a positive way that requires all of our potential and feel making the difference for the team, that’s motivating.

    Just “deploying some social software” will not be enough or even may be counter-productive if not experimented for real.
    Because as long as we don’t fully play the game, we just try reproducing what we already do with our current tools, with a new tool that has not been designed to work that way. It has in fact been designed to allow new ways to work that generate new opportunities and allow to take an additional leap forward.

    As everybody will ask “Is it making my life easier?”, even (or especially) with a team collaboration app, the goal should be to collectively play the game in order to let the opportunity to experience individual benefits, as a group.
    Otherwise it may look like trying the service for something it was not designed for. And we’re all loosing our time, lying to ourself, as nothing good will ever happen. 🙂

    Identifying new ways to work and experiencing individual benefits as a group, may finally address individual expectations, make everyone’s work more visible, more aligned with the team and enterprise’s needs… and people more engaged (?).

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