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"To win in the marketplace, you must first win in the workplace." Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell's Soup

To win, organizations need engaged employees. But what does this mean? Satisfied employees may be perfectly content showing up and grabbing a paycheck at the end of the week. They're not going to secure the win. Happy employees may enjoy going to work but do little to advance key goals. They're not going to secure the win. It's the employees who exert discretionary effort - who go the extra mile - that help companies pull away from the completion.

A Model for Engagement

In "The Meaning of Employee Engagement," William H. Macey and Benjamin Schneider examine the various definitions of engagement. While it is often regarded as a psychological state or disposition, it also encompasses action. Behaviors. This is where the engagement rubber meets the road.

Macey and Schneider write, "[I]t is common to define employee engagement as putting for 'discretionary effort,' defined as extra time, brainpower, and energy." And, "engagement implies something special, extra, or at least atypical."

We can buy that, right? But the researchers suggest that the meaning of "discretionary" and "giving it your all" is rarely made explicit. Sure, companies want employees who will put in extra effort, brainpower, and energy - but they do not define what effort is and how it can be measured.

Extra - or Different?

Entrepreneur and best-selling author Kevin Kruse writes that engaged employees are committed to an organization's goals and put in discretionary effort to achieve them. "This means the engaged computer programmer works overtime when needed, without being asked. This means that the engaged retail clerk picks up the trash on the store floor, even if the boss isn't watching."

This is extra effort - or is it different effort? Do engaged employees go beyond their counterparts, or do they take a different route altogether. Macey and Schneider argue that this is a "limiting" view if "it connotes simply doing more of the same." It's like working like mad to paddle a boat with a hole in it. Maybe what's needed isn't more paddling, but more patching.

People who are present, committed, invested, and whose personal goals align with those of their job, "bring more of themselves to their work." This may also lead them to figure out smarter ways to do it. "Thus, highly engaged employees might exemplify behavior both qualitatively and quantitatively different from those less engaged."

Engagement as Extra-Role Behavior

Whether it's extra or different effort, what is clear is that engaged employees go beyond what is expected or required. Macey and Schneider explore three types of behaviors that these folks often demonstrate:

Engagement as Organizational Citizenship Behavior (OCB)

And the fuzzy definitions continue! OCB has been described as engaging in behaviors that are essential to organization success but which are not explicitly rewarded and as going the extra mile (the clich of the day). OCB is a facet of engagement - just one of many.

Engagement as Role Expansion

This is a similar concept: here, people make the choice to perform in extra-role tasks - or assist coworkers with their tasks. Macey and Schneider write, "[R]ole expansion implies behavior that is atypical in a comparative sense and has been found to be related to well as autonomy and cognitive ability."

Engagement as Proactive Behavior and Personal Initiative

This facet of engagement relates to proactivity, initiative, and persistence. Again, it's going beyond that which is expected. As Macey and Schneider write, "[A]verage task performance does not (typically) define engagement; coming to work on time does not (typically) define engagement, and doing what one's boss expects one to do does not (typically) define engagement." One has to do more, or different, than expected or average.

There are a variety of facets to the model of engagement as behavior. What ties them together is the theme of putting in discretionary effort and exceeding expectations. People demonstrate engagement when they do more of what's needed, do something different, or both. As a leader, it's up to you to develop a culture that encourages, and rewards, going above and beyond.


Larry Hart

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