There is much written about employee engagement these days; most of it obvious and some of it useful. However, most indicators focus on outcomes that are at best ambiguous. One leading employee engagement consultancy focuses on what the company does to “motivate employees to go the extra mile”. In some cultures, threatening someone with the sack if they don’t deliver something will result in an employee “going the extra mile”. It’s probably not a sustainable strategy but it will have the desired effect. In other cultures, threatening someone with the sack in this way will result in litigation and inevitably not motivate anyone to “go the extra mile” except the lawyers. My point is that “going the extra mile” is not a relevant measure for employee engagement, it is simply a slogan that describes an outcome which may have been motivated by fear or goodwill.

We need to look through the lens of the employee!

During my 30-year corporate career I observed 3 distinct stages to employee engagement. The first stage is ‘understanding’. We like to call this ‘Do I get it?’: Do I understand the company strategy? Do I understand my role? Can I explain my products? Do I understand what is and isn’t within my authority limits? This is the foundation of employee engagement, giving people a chance of success and of building self-confidence.

The second stage is ‘capability’ which we call ‘Can I do it?’. This is the stage of engagement when an employee asks herself whether she is properly trained, receives good guidance from her manager, is supported by colleagues and has the resources to achieve her goals. In other words, am I competent in my role or at least moving in this direction?

The third and final stage is ‘emotional’ investment which we call ‘Do I care?’. This is the stage where an employee asks himself if the purpose of an organisation is aligned with his own values, is the company reputation motivational and are the leaders taking us in a direction I can follow? Do I work here for more than transactional reasons?

When we designed our engagement system, called ‘EngageQ’, we made sure these three stages of engagement were included in our data analysis. We call them our ‘readiness to perform’ indicators. All three have to be well developed to have any chance of success. If we have emotional engagement without understanding, we have busy fools; if we have understanding without capability, we have frustration; if we have capability without emotional engagement, we lose our talent to the competition!

The next time someone asks you if you ‘go the extra mile’, and if you say ‘yes’, please tell them why…