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The Power of Full Engagement: Three Important Questions

My work in engagement is expanding. With the first release of the newest ideas in organizational engagement, programs and information that advance our work to include the general attributes of engaged organizations will begin to emerge. This is not to say that the core work of family engagement does not retain its front seat, it certainly does. But as time passes and knowledge is acquired, there is a new world of engagement research that transcends families and speaks directly to the productivity of organizations – any organization – whether it be education or not.

We know for a fact that there are employees who are disengaged from their workplace. Research places that number at about 70 percent. In average circumstances, the percentage of people disengaged from what they do for a living is about 55 percent and the number of people identified as “actively disengaged” can be as high as 15 percent. ( I often define active disengagement as people who are miserable and looking to recruit.) In most organizations, about 30 percent or so of the employees are engaged with what they do.  In education, my work has found the that number of engaged employees is consistently lower than 30 percent. But how can we define this and more importantly, how can you gauge the engagement levels of folks in your organization. Keep reading.

About 15 years ago or so, I stumbled across an organization called The Power of Full Engagement. It was based on the best-selling book of the same title by Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr. (Great book, by the way. I highly recommend it.) In a nutshell, studies were undertaken to determine why professional athletes seemed to be engaged with what they do at a far higher rate than the rest of us. What pushed them to train constantly? What motivated them to push themselves beyond their own perceived limits?  It was really an interesting book and interesting information and I would encourage you to read the book. From those studies, evolved the work in engagement on a much broader level.

Somewhere in my journey with this topic there was “The Engagement Test.” It wasn’t overly scientific but drove the point home about the levels of disengagement in just about every organization. I’ve decided to provide you with “The Engagement Test” here, acknowledging its authors and creators above. I have used this in countless workshops and it never seems to fail…the results are always consistent – eerily consistent and suggest there is far more work to do with the engagement levels of those within the organization before we can even think about engaging those outside of the organization.

So, here’s the simple test. There are three questions. For each question, one must rate themselves on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest. At the conclusion, the three numbers are added together for a total score. The total should be somewhere between 3 and 30, answers outside this range suggest struggles in mathematical concepts.

Here are the questions. If you use this with your organization, tell them to think about these answer mentally and do the mental math.

  1. How excited are you to get to work/school in the morning?
  2. How much do you do for its own sake rather than for what it gets you? (I often add this as a way to help understand this question: Do you work for a passion or a pension? Obviously, passion is closer to 10 and pension is closer to 1)
  3. How closely do you hold yourself to a deeply held set of values?

That’s it. Three questions. I then invite audiences to add up their scores and get the total number in their head. Here comes the interesting part of this exercise. I then ask the audience to stand. I follow the script below:

“If you scored a 25 or lower, please sit down.”

“If you scored a 26 or lower, please sit down.”

“If you scored a 27 or lower, please sit down.”

At this point, note the number of people who are now sitting as opposed to those who remain standing. I then ask a clarifying question to make sure that directions were followed:

“Everyone who is still standing has scored a 28, 29 or a 30, correct?”

Research suggests that those who scored a 28, 29 or 30 are engaged with what they do and that everyone who was forced to sit down are experiencing some level of disengagement. Look closely at the number sitting as opposed to the number standing. Usually, about 15-30 percent of the audience remain standing until the end, meaning that the vast majority of people within the organization are experiencing levels of disengagement. I’ve often pose this question to audiences:  If we are disengaged from what we do on a daily basis, how is it we expect families (or customers, or clients, or the public) to engage with us?  This question is usually followed by, well, crickets.

We also know from research that disengagement ebbs and flows in organizations. For example, asking these questions to teachers in September as opposed to June could elicit significantly different results, but the fact remains: most people in organizations experience disengagement. And when disengagement is present, productivity goes down. Period. Every business in the United States understands this very simple concept. This is an area in leadership development that needs far more attention than it gets. This is not employee satisfaction, this is connected directly to the bottom line of every organization everywhere.

Try the Engagement Test with your organization. See how it goes. Let me know. I would be interested in understanding if your results are vastly different than the results that I have seen in hundreds of educational organizations across the country.