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HR’s Job – Shrinking The Space Between Employee Engagement & Reality



paul hebert[HR’s Job-Shrinking The Space Between Employee Engagement & Reality – from Paul Hebert-Vice President Solution Design. You can read more about him and where he’ll be this year on our Leadership page.]

That headline is a remix of a quote I saw in a blog I follow called “HELLO, my name is Blog!”  The original quote is:

“The space between romance and reality.” 

And while I’d never heard that quote before there was something deep in those words… something that immediately caught my attention and my thinking.  Something very profound.

So naturally I googled it thinking some genius with a philosophical bent like Plato or Miley Cyrus must have said it, yet I only found two references – and they took polar opposites in their interpretation of the quote.

That Space is Negative

In one case they said it was about how photography – specifically family photography, operated in the space between romance and reality;

“Family photographs, while seemingly mere recordings of events in a family’s history, ultimately operate in the same way as any representation. It blanks out what is not represented, and, in so doing, perpetuates myths about what is represented. Photography is never innocent.”

The writer then closes with:

“In this sense the family album is always about the family ‘romance’ and not about actualities.”

Wow – in this instance the quoter (is that a word?) sees the essence of that quote as hiding the truth and presenting a myth.

That Space is Positive

The second place I saw that quote was on another photography web site (I’m guessing one read the other and borrowed it like I am…) but saw the quote in a much more positive light.  On that post the author said:

“So we continue watching the woman we call our sisters move into being mothers…and our children change from babies to boys. And we try to capture it, with our cameras or our pens or with the everyday things…. and we hold on to it in that sweet slow space between romance & reality.”

This author saw potential in that space while the other saw obfuscation.

Employee Engagement and Reality

(Finally – he’s getting to the point!)

I took that quote and substituted the words “employee engagement” for “romance.”

The Space Between Employee Engagement and Reality

It struck me that real employee engagement is somewhere between the “romance” of our relationship with our employees – the increasing happiness scores, higher satisfaction numbers and the pretty face we put on when filling out “the best places to work in America” forms and reality of dealing with difficult people, admitting that last hire was a bad decision, the need to cut costs and potentially cut people.

That is what real engagement is – that space between the Kumbaya meetings with the Executives and the shouting matches on the production floor between supervisor and employee. (click here to tweet that)

It’s the tension between what we “want” to believe and the real truth of our relationship with our employees.  We need to always keep that in mind – that space between engagement and reality.

Engagement scores can either reinforce our thinking and actions proving that the new 401K matching is truly driving greater employee engagement and commitment to the company (I submit 2 very different things) or they hide the real problem presenting wonderful stories that have very little to do with reality.

One more thing…Managers Occupy That Space

The real take away from this is that your middle managers are the guardians of that space between engagement and reality.  They walk that land every day, trying to connect your lofty business goals and mission statements (the romance) to the ongoing day-to-day trials and tribulations of getting TPS reports done and product out the door (reality.)

Managers are the key to making sure you connect those two extremes.  With bad middle managers you will either live the romance (a lie) or live the reality (a problem) – but you’ll never really know what is happening between those to ends of the spectrum.

Take time to connect with your managers – find out what the engagement scores are hiding. Find out what the potential is in your teams and employees.

That ultimately may be HR’s real job – shrinking the space between engagement and reality. (click here to tweet that)


6 Responses to “HR’s Job – Shrinking The Space Between Employee Engagement & Reality”

  1. David Zinger says:

    I enjoyed this article a lot. Great use of space and substitution and the gap between the romance and reality of employee engagement. Well said and creative communication. Thank you.

    • Paul Hebert says:

      Thanks David – appreciate the kind words. I think the hardest thing we have to overcome in the whole engagement thing is to really challenge the fact that doing “something” doesn’t equate with doing the right thing.

  2. Twin31s says:

    John Maxwell said it best: “Engagement is nothing more than a referendum on an organization’s leadership.” That’s both a little scary, and not at all surprising, is it?

    • Paul Hebert says:

      at the end of the day – how employees act, react, behave and believe is always a referendum on the leaders… always. Leaders just choose to ignore it and go to lunch in private dining rooms to discuss stock options and Aspen getaways.

  3. Symbolist says:

    […] HR’s Job – Shrinking The Space Between Employee Engagement & Reality (symbolist.com) […]

  4. […] From Paul Hebert and Symbolist: HR’s Job — Shrinking the Space Between Employee Engagement and Reality […]

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