That’s right. You can’t “get” engagement from employees. They can’t “give” you engagement, either. That’s because “engagement” isn’t a thing to be had. It’s a state of being that you can only foster. Or, as Dov Seidman recently put it in a terrific post in Bloomberg Businessweek:

“The majority of engagement-improvement initiatives continue to treat employee engagement as an end goal. Employee engagement is a condition – manifested by the inspiration an employee unleashes in his or her work when he or she is deeply connected to a mission, purpose, and the values that connect us. …

“We cannot "motivate" engagement (or innovation, growth, or succession for that matter); instead, we must inspire the kind of outcomes we want by rooting ourselves in a set of values, being in the grip of an idea worthy of dedication and commitment, connecting around a meaningful and shared purpose, and aligning around a common, deep, and sustainable set of human, societal, and environmental values.”

I couldn’t agree more. The challenge for HR pros and company leaders is building the construct in which engagement is possible – establishing meaningful values, launching an inspiring idea, creating a shared purpose. And that’s certainly not easy in the workplace. But it is possible.

How do I know? Because I’ve seen several great companies achieve just that. But it’s not something you can impose from above. You can outline the values, but if you (meaning all employees, at every level) aren’t willing to live those values, praise those values when demonstrated by others, and call people out for violating those values with real consequences, then your values are meaningless.

If the idea (mission, goal, strategic objective) is engaging for you alone, and not something that everyone in the organisation is excited to contribute to – because they know their work IS contributing to that idea – then you’ve failed at launching a mission everyone can get behind.

If you want to “increase your engagement scores,” I can’t help you. But if you want to help your employees engage with you in your mission, your strategic objectives, your company values, then you need to create culture in which employees want to engage. And that I can help you with – by creating a culture of appreciation.