A friend I have known for over a decade recently announced her intention to leave her husband of nearly 16 years.  The news came as a shock to even her close friends, as she and her husband seemed to have an outwardly idyllic relationship.


A barrage of closed-door speculations of the cause of the break-up from everyone who knew the couple soon followed the announcement, with many varying theories of the relationship’s demise emerging.  I, in concern more than curiosity, asked her directly what really caused the seemingly sudden split.


Her answer was straightforward and heartfelt.

“I’ve been telling him for years the things that needed to change—and he would try and change and act a certain way because I told him to.  Really, what I wanted was for him to anticipate and do these things on his own—genuinely.  In the end—he was changing his behavior but totally missing the “heart” of the matter.


As I played her words back in my head later in the day, I was struck by similarity of this story to employee engagement efforts in organizations.


We survey our employees to find out how “engaged” they are.  We then analyze each question and low score and try to discern the meaning of the lowest scoring items.  Our next step is to put together action plans to raise the employee engagement scores.  All the while we are making these best efforts and analyzing our “scores”, are we really, like my friend put it, missing the “heart” of the matter?


Perhaps real employee engagement can’t be measured numerically.  Perhaps it is intangible, and has to do with how genuinely connected we are to employees and what they really think and feel.  Maybe breaking it up into numeric values and dissecting the meaning of every line misses the point entirely.


You can’t create genuine connection by being told to do so.  You can’t create an environment of trust if your intention is solely to increase your engagement scores on a survey.  Real trust is earned over time, and real connection is something that is “felt”, not analyzed and manufactured.   I think she used the word “heart” for a reason. We often shy away from that word in the business world, and dismiss it as “touchy feely”.


I consider myself a business-oriented, practical, realistic, and no-nonsense organizational and leadership development professional.  I get the rational, analytical, results-focused mindset and have one myself.  However, after studying human development and behavior and working with organizations for over two decades, I have to draw a parallel to my friend’s assessment of the break-up of her marriage.


When it comes to employee engagement, we are definitely missing the “heart” of the matter.


If you’re interested in some practical tips on how you can increase employee engagement in your organization, check out my new book: “The Cure: Remedies for the 5 Ailments that Plague Organizations”. http://www.amazon.com/dp/0615900577/ref=rdr_ext_tmb


It is an easy to read, practical guide to increasing connection, trust, empowerment, accountability, and energy in your organization and getting to the real “heart” of the matter.