When I classified Employee Engagement into six models, I made the point that one overriding classification is the binary ‘with the company’ or ‘within the company’. They are not the same.
Employee engagement models that bank mainly on engaging employees with external societal causes (the NGO inside model) assume that engagement with such causes, exercised internally, means employee engagement with the company. It is in fact engagement ‘within’ the company. ‘With’ the company, remains to be seen. ‘With the company’ means with the reason d’etre and objectives of the company, with its trials and tribulations, with its course and perhaps fate.
It does not mean that engaging with an external cause is bad. It’s good in itself. But one has to be clear about the why. A few years ago, I asked a fiend who runs a global Non Governmental Organization in the environmental arena, what was the main source of funding. It took him about 2 seconds to answer: ‘Corporate’, he said. I wanted more. Yes, some big corporate (in fact a big global professional services firm) paid fortunes. I wanted more. Do they really, really, really care about your cause? Now 3 seconds instead of 2. Not really, they do it because it’s very good for Employee Engagement.
Engagement with what?
Since then, after ‘employee engagement’ I always ask: whit whom? What? Why?
And some other annoying questions.
Unless you think that any engagement is good as long as it is engagement (similar argument to being alive is always better than dead) we must not kid ourselves. I am all for charity help, and companies using their workforce to support good causes. But when the good cause is a substitute for the company cause, I feel we are a little bit disingenuous. Good companies practice both, the with and the within. Good leaders do not fool themselves.
Employees? It is certainly possible.