I got a call from an acquaintance the other day. After exchanging pleasantries, she got straight to the point. Her organization has an employee recognition program where the top performers are rewarded each in a grand town-hall gathering attended by everyone in the company.
But now she had a problem – the CEO had attended some engagement conference was ‘now bugging her’ to change their recognition program to ensure that every single employee was touched at least once a quarter by the program. ‘You are in all this “engagement business” right? Tell me how to make that happen without diluting the message.’ she ranted, clearly upset at having what she clearly thought was an absurd project – a whim of the CEO.
Now that I was in the ‘engagement business’ (as she put it) and the lady was looking for a quick fix over the phone I gave her a brief explanation of how she might consider thinking about each employee as an individual, and not just a team-member subsumed within a group classification. And then I made the mistake of quoting Pink Floyd, and told her – you know nobody wants to be another brick in the wall.
The line went quiet.
A few seconds later, she comes back on and says ‘Look, I do read your blog posts. Don’t give me that brick in the wall line. Let’s be candid – some of the guys in the company are just that – bricks! They want to be hidden in the wall. They don’t want to stand out. Now how do I engage with them? How do I motivate them in the absurdly short time frame my CEO wants me to?’
Now it was my turn to go quiet.
‘Are you there?’ her voice crackled over the line.
‘Louis Kahn said – Even a brick wants to be something.’ I told her.
Taking advantage of the situation, I forwarded her link to the scene of the lecture Harrelson gives his students in the movie ‘The Indecent Proposal’. I haven’t heard back from her since. Maybe she got the message or maybe she thinks I am no good at this ‘engagement business’ but I stand by what I told her.
If as a leader you feel stuck when deciding the engagement strategy for your employees, you need to step back and ask yourself a very fundamental question – ‘Do you truly feel that every single one of your employees is worth the time, cost and effort that it will take to engage them?’ Remember, every single one of those people has ambitions, aspirations and capabilities, even the ‘bricks’. All you need to do is, think of a creative way to make those ‘bricks’ in your organization a part of something awesome.