Creating Employee Engagement: Content

August 20, 2010

For me, building engagement is the result of an equation that is the sum of content and context:

Direction (content) + Execution (context) = Engagement

Direction. This is the purpose and mission of your organization. The is the what you are doing and why. It is the content, and includes things like vision and mission statements that inspire and provide a framework for everything that your organization does and does not do, getting down to specific goals and strategic objectives that must be achieved.

Execution. This is the implementation and guidance that addresses how the organization will operate, taking the understanding from the direction and making it real for everyone. It is about getting everyone on the same page about content.

Distilling the content component into a simple, clear, effective message for your organization and the world at large is much more difficult than what the end result appears to be. The content needs to convey a unified purpose for your organization along with excitement and motivation.

This requires a deep understanding of the business and plenty of discussion and thinking along the way. A variety of questions should be explored, examining the purpose and unique value proposition of your business, the delivery and economics of that value, measurements, and the type of organization that you will be, including:
  • What is unique about your business? 
  • What are the competitive, technological, and regulatory forces that you must contend with?
  • What are the opportunities available?
  • What is your target market and what does that market (customers) value?
  • How will you deliver your goods or services?
  • What levels of quality will you provide?
  • How will you measure yourself?
Relating content to engagement, people in your organization need to understand what the organization stands for, what its objectives are, and the time frames are for achieving those objectives. A long-term, visionary future state needs to be distilled into actionable, strategic goals and objectives to help the organization find its way to the vision. Goals need to be concrete and the direction should resonate with everyone. A perfect, classic example that captures everything discussed above is none other than the goal of landing a man on the moon.

Prior to establishing this goal, our collective American egos were rattled by the beeping of the Russian Sputnik satellite. We felt threatened and intimidated, and as a nation we desired to prove to ourselves and the world that we could do anything.

NASA head James Webb and President Kennedy differed on the wording of the goal. Webb had a goal of establishing preeminence in space, arguing that “there is a wide public sentiment coming along in this country for preeminence in space.”

Kennedy, however, wanted a very clear goal, and his response to Webb was, “If you’re trying to prove preeminence, [landing a man on the moon] is the way to prove preeminence…”

As we all know, Kennedy’s goal won out:

"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth." – John F. Kennedy

The difference between the two is dramatic. Kennedy’s goal was clear, inspirational, and specific – including a time frame for achieving the goal – and it effectively guided other decisions that a vague goal like “establishing preeminence” would not. A goal like “establishing preeminence” would require further debate and scrutiny about projects because it lacked a concrete objective. “Landing a man on the moon” was specific enough that anything not related to that objective was clearly a lower priority.

Kennedy’s goal not only established a clear mission, it created aligned engagement. Everyone was crystal clear about the direction – the content.

How aligned is your organization? Here are some content-related questions to ask, taken from The Power of Strategic Commitment.

To what degree do employees:
  1. Have a shared understanding and belief in the direction and objectives of the organization?
  2. Have a shared understanding and belief in the role of their function in meeting the objectives of the organization?
  3. Understand and believe in their personal role in helping to meet the objectives of the organization?
  4. Have a shared understanding and belief in how organizational success is measured?

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