When Employee Engagement Has a Hollow Ring

Jun 08

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to attend the Canadian Library Association annual conference and trade show,  helping out my friends and former colleagues at AIIM in their booth. Booth duty called, so I missed the keynotes, but did have a chance to catch up with many old friends and former colleagues in the library and archives profession.

Face to face interaction matters, particularly as we move into an increasingly virtual and distributed work environment. What has bugged me, however, for the last week is the look on an old friend’s face when she told me what had happened to her earlier that day. She works for a fairly progressive company, one that has allows telecommuting, a degree of flextime, and are early adopters of collaboration tools. They use an internal collaboration site with micro-blog and activity stream features, and employees are encouraged to share their projects, ask for help and provide updates to their peers all over the continent.  We were talking about about using technology to bridge the geographical divide, when suddenly her mood changed.

“You know what really frustrates me,” she said. “Earlier today I commented about how good the show was and how I’ve been having some great conversations with prospects here. I wanted to let everyone know it was a good event and our product was being well received”.  She continued… “But within 5 minutes the VP of sales jumped down my neck and started hassling me for names and lists for followup. I was trying to share some positive news, and felt like I was being beat up for not doing enough”.  “Sometimes I don’t know why I bother”.

Bingo.

This article on TalentMgt.com last month has really stuck with me. There is an awful lot of lip service inside companies about “engagement” and “empowerment” and “collaboration”. But when push comes to shove, bullies still bully. Power-trippers need to have the last word. Companies are throwing thousands, if not millions, of dollars away on empowering collaborative and engaged employees when all it takes is one a**hole with a VP title to wreck it for everyone.

Tools don’t fix bad behaviour. Behaviour change is what organizations need to really embrace the post-PC digital workplace.  I wonder if any of my pals in the technology world has a solution for this one…