This is model 3 (but the 4th post, confusing!) ‘The Cause’.
Employees join forces to work on a Cause: green agenda, corporate responsibility, a local or global NGO, a civic or societal Cause. The Cause acts as the glue. Cross-collaboration is boosted. An enhanced sense of worth, of noble collective aim, is in the air. Activities take place. The internal (and external) marketing of the Cause is very visible. There may be a collective sense of excitement. Great initiative. Most people approve.
Years ago I, naively, asked a friend who runs a very successful NGO in the anti-pollution (plastics) area, present in many countries, where he got the money from. The answer was straight and given to me with a ‘don’t-you-get-it?’ look. Corporate! I continued to make a fool of myself by asking what on earth ‘Corporate’ could gain from sponsoring (obviously this is not pocket money) a Non Governmental Organization in the anti-plastic area, unless they themselves where in the same area, e.g. they were potential polluters and committed to change, so they asked for his help, or organizations themselves similarly working towards the anti-pollution goals. Surely this is what he meant. He gave me a second ‘you-still-don’t-get-it?’ look and produced a second statement, this time louder: ‘Employee Engagement!’
Please explain, I begged. ‘Well, having the workforce engaged in my NGO activities, many of which take place inside the firm, boosts employee engagement in the company and the Employee Engagement survey scores go up, by a lot. This is worth a lot of money for them’. I asked for an example of ‘them’. I was expecting (again, still a bit fool) a major polluter, or a business with challenging waste management operations. He gave me, however, the name of a Big Consulting Firm whose pollution capacity was only possibly related to the amount of air-miles accumulated by its workforce.
At the time, I did not see the point in continuing the conversation on whether being engaged within the company was or not the same as being engaged with the company (a distinction provided by my always very perceptive partner and colleague Caroline Tierney). But this distinction is surely key.
Pros. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with employees being engaged within the company on a (external) cause. On the contrary, I think this is great.
Cons. The ‘NGO-inside’ model, mobilizing as it may be, cannot be seen as the same as engagement with the company’s own aims and vision. In the extreme, this is another (more sophisticated) version of previous model 2, ‘Happy Cows’ (Panem et Circenses) . It may miss the point completely, although people may become very engaged, indeed, with the anti-pollution idea.
So what? It’s a question of honesty marrying clarity. When you can marry both, societal aims and your own operations, there is clearly a win-win. A good example is the British retailer Marks & Spencer and their ‘Plan A’ (Why Plan A, people ask? Because there is no plan B, they say). The website says: ‘Plan A is a journey towards becoming the world’s most sustainable retailer… and we’re proud of the awards we’re winning along the way’.
They have a series of public commitments in the areas of recycling, waste management, carbon trust etc. I am not quoting M&S from a position of authority on these matters (my authority is zero) but as an example of what seems a blend of true employee engagement, ‘The Cause’ model and the company’s operational objectives.
The world is full of companies offering time for voluntary work, sponsoring great causes and expressing big Corporate Social Responsibility aims. These, many people say, are Employee Engagement per se. I suspect, many are engagement of employees with noble activities. I would suspend judgment as to whether all of them are engagement within the company or with the company. I don’t believe for a second that both are always the same.
Next is model 4, ‘The Investors Metaphor’. Back tomorrow?