It’s ironic that for months, nay years, belated rants and pants aplenty about the “engagement movement” clogged up the communication superhighway. Now, like Jnr half an hour after breaking into the Haribo cupboard, folk are seemingly sick at the sight or sound of the word.

I’m not sure whether you’ve ever felt moved to engage with the hype, but seemingly hundreds (!) of gurus were ”kettled” into a process of allegedly corralling engagement “lore” perhaps in the desperate belief that there would seemingly be work for them at the end of the yellow brick road. Yet it would appear that while there have been ”honours” for some, the global employee engagement statistics have continued to nose dive at an ever alarming rate. Try explaining that one to your kids when they ask you what these people do for a living.

I exaggerate (a tad) for engaging effect, of course. But it is ironic that since the start of the global recession, when one would have thought that employee engagement initiatives would be welcomed with open arms, we appear to have experienced a prolonged downturn in the connection between employer and employees while the electronic grapevines are now clogged with complaints about the “standard” approach, patronising discourse and clichéd terminology. Never have I been less pleased to say “I told you so”.

State-sponsored movements (no pun intended) often emit an unpleasant odour for a reason. Not least because they’re often sponsored and administered by seemingly well-meaning, establishment  folk who are well behind the curve. But what happens when it’s the establishment that’s at least a large part of the problem? And let’s face it, it’s tricky to role-model something about which so many have such high expectations yet which can only really be fulfilled one patch at a time in a manner appropriate to local stakeholders.

Sure, there are best practices to share about the component parts of an engagement system ranging from how to set objectives, how to run an internal comms department, how to run events, how to use new media, measure etc. Great! But the over-arching, big, hairy, strategic,  woolly mammoth of an elephant in the room issue is that engagement can only ever be a means to an end (why do so few people GET this?) and can only really be effective if its part of an organisation development strategy with very senior sponsorship from both internal and external-facing executive functions. Without this it’s simply internal PR and, let’s face it, external-facing PR has a bad enough name right now when easily-made promises by slick wordsmiths are so hard to keep.

Improving the engagement landscape in order to help pull this or any other country out of the economic doldrums can only ever be achieved one company at a time. Why? Well that’s because any engagement strategy (or whatever you call it) needs to be fit for purpose for the local market, the workaday people who breathe life into the machine. And like the funky folk I was working with this week, they may just not be inspired by the terminology, the prescribed wisdom or the hype. They may like the principle of an integrated organisation development model, however, they just see the same rose and call it by another, more attractive name, one that works for them and which suits their brand and the preferences of their people.

They don’t like vision or mission or terms like change management much either, mind you. But rather than argue about semantics, they’re getting on with developing their own version of a growth strategy based on energising and mobilising their people.

There may be a lesson here…

“The dew-shower fell on thee, the sunbeam play’d,
As Life is ever made of smiles and tears;
And ofttimes has the breeze of summer sway’d,
And with its mellow music mock’d thy fears;
But now, O wonder, thou art pale and wan,
And there’s a beauty and a fragrance gone!” (A Withered Rose-bud, Walter R Cassels)

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