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Lack of Engagement - Twice in one week

Pre-COVID as I would meet people for coffee or lunch out in the "real world" and now as we have moved these interactions to video calls, I find myself discussing all kinds of interesting topics. This topic is one that is out there with some consistency, but when it repeated itself twice in a week, it became a post.

"Our folks just are not engaged in the business". That is a paraphrase - I am not sure any one leader has used those words exactly, but this is the sentiment.

In one conversation the leader said the engineers had become focused on all the technical fine points of what they were building, but had no real context or sense of urgency around why the business wanted it built. There was confusion on how this happened and in just over a year.

The teams supporting the legacy products were much more engaged and seemed to know as much about the end customers as the support people directly in contact with them.

On the other hand - the teams building out the new product sets just seemed to flow along - not bad, not really lagging, but without any real excitement or sense of purpose.

In the other conversation, there was again the sense of the divided teams. This was a much smaller organization where all of the engineers did both new development and support of the existing product line.

The division here was discussed as.... The engaged engineers that I can give a green-field approach to building something new, pretty much come to a grinding halt when we need them to support the old. The others can do both, but have very little "excitement" and seem to need a lot of direction for the new items....

When I asked them - "What story did you tell the engineers when you hired them?" - or - "What do you do to ensure they understand the business vision?" - or - "Do your engineers align cleanly with the internal cultural values of your company?" - I got very thin replies.

In most cases, the leaders seemed to be moving toward "hiring engineers who have passion and experience in our industry".

These are both rock solid C-Suite leaders that I respect and would love to work with - but they got caught up in the day to day of hitting the marks and "delivering points". They hired focused on that "blue-chip expert coder" as defined by the technology staff and did not include behavioral hiring. They forgot the basics because we forget the power of the simple - and because the simple (in this case people leadership) can often be very hard.

The "knee-jerk" reaction to getting engagement was that somehow it was tied to a past experience of working in a specific industry. I get it, it is an easy "logical" leap, but the truth is that engagement comes from leadership, not an industry.

If we want engagement, we need to start by hiring for it, maintain it by measuring it and holding all accountable to it.

People will not engage in a paycheck, or a bonus, or a "point" delivered.

People engage with a team of other people.

People engage with a vision.

People engage with a community on a singular mission path that they understand.

Start by identifying those things within your company and then ensure all understand them - great things will start to happen when you have an engaged team.

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