The engagement failure point: when managers become professionals – Colin Browne

The disengaged executive should be a figure of historical curiosity in an age when companies are rapidly embracing the language of culture. But in fact, the predomination of such people could be the chief reason that language translates so slowly into action …

Last week, while having lunch, I was approached by the HR director of a large organization who came over to say hello. I only casually know the guy, but I always enjoy it when someone makes the time for a quick chat. I asked him how things were going and what the mood was like in his organization. He shrugged and said: “I wouldn’t know. I’ve had my head down in policy reviews for months now.”

It should be an astonishing statement, but unfortunately, it is not. I can count dozens of meetings this year with executives that have left me with the same feeling: when the job of managing becomes the job, it ultimately leads to a loss of, for want of a better word, passion for what we do.

This isn’t a bad guy. But his role is morphing to one where whatever connection he may have previously had to the character of the organization is rapidly evaporating, assuming any of it remains at all.

Executives aren’t entirely to blame. It’s not so much a personal defect of theirs, because the disconnect is so broadly experienced across their genre. Their job isn’t to guide this organization in particular but to create a generic structure, perhaps using formulae learned in their MBA programme.

Their days are spent restructuring using spreadsheets as their blueprints, or reviewing policies that affect the entire organization, in the vacuum of the executive floor.

It’s a big reason for executive ennui. We wonder why our leaders aren’t supercharged innovators with heads full of brilliant sparking matter, when for the most part, their roles don’t call upon them to be. The daily activities of such executives have no link at all to the nature of the specific organization they are restructuring. It is management that is their sole purpose.

This, more than anything, is the point at which engagement fails. Do executives have a taste for a happier, cooler, more charismatic organization? Perhaps. But when they who are most crucial in developing the necessary cultural tenets to achieve those goals, have lost touch with the organization’s purpose, it’s hard to even know where to start.

If executive teams are hoping for better employee engagement in the months and years to come, it calls for a much richer involvement in the physical and philosophical organization than many realise. And perhaps we need different people up top to be able to embrace that.

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