A fascinating argument about engagement has surfaced over the Toyota car recalls. One recent assertion is that all, or most of the cars recalled were made in the west, and those who produced them were less alert in spotting the problem due to their lower levels of engagement.

Whether such an assertion is true or not, the whole Toyota recall saga does raise a useful point about engagement not usually considered. This is less about specific production failures than an apparent inability to react quickly in the light of evidence about a problem.

Putting it more bluntly, were Toyota’s top management so over engaged with their company that they became over protective in the interests of defending their company from adverse publicity?

Dr Patrick Gilbert, a principal and employee research expert at Mercer argues that engaged employees are “those who feel a vested interest in their employers’ success and who perform at levels that exceed their stated job requirements. These employees willingly contribute discretionary effort that helps to drive business performance and establish a source of competitive advantage.”

Sounds good, but can vested interest in fact start to blind people to uncomfortable facts leading to poor decision making? Such vested interest can distort judgement or trigger behaviour that is ultimately damaging in some way. It could be damaging to the individual or to the organisation.

For example, if you are so engaged with your work that you cannot sleep at night or suffer withdrawal symptoms when parted from your Blackberry for more than a few moments then this could be a case of excessive engagement.

A team responsible for a new product can sometimes become so over involved with wanting it to succeed that its high level of engagement starts to prevent it from accepting critical feedback or absorbing negative facts about its progress.

Group think can also sometimes be a result of excess engagement. This is where those involved lose their readiness to express criticism about some proposed decision or action.

It is probably a distraction to worry too much about excess engagement when only just over half of UK employees feel favourable about engagement in their company. Yet clearly excess engagement can happen with damaging results to either individuals or the company.

Video discussion on engagement




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