Thursday, April 15, 2010

The "First" Engagement Initiative

The "First" Engagement Initiative: "Those of you who know me know that engagement, true engagement is an area or opportunity that I feel pretty strongly about (sorry Laurie). I think the emphasis is on true engagement. Engagement in my mind is defined as voluntary or discretionary effort that employees bring to their job everyday. True engagement is when that phenomenon spreads to your suppliers, your customers, and your community.

True engagement is accomplished using a number of tactics and strategies, but it is not a 'program', it is a culture that lives everywhere not in HR. You don't accomplish it with pep rallies and reward and recognition programs by themselves. You build the culture and then you live it.

Another area that has intrigued me for a while and is taking on new dimensions in light of the health care debate is the relationship between personal competency and engagement. Personal competency is the stepchild key principle that was embedded into the original constitution, kind of a neglected cousin to personal property. Personal competency was the idea that each of us had the right and responsibility to manage our own futures, that we were not bound by our heritage or lineage. The key is the balance between right and responsibility. In a way doesn't that sound more like a partnership than a hierarchy? Doesn't that kind of sound like engagement in a way?

I have talked about personal competency at length and how to great extent with the coming of the Industrial Revolution a variety of forces combined so that we exchanged our personal competency for a kind of 'corporate feudalism', we gave up our 'equality' for security like corporate or organizational pension plans, health care benefits, etc. The industrialists were all about this model. Dumbing down skill sets and creating structures based on 'compliance' is easier, in the short term. Our Founding Fathers were not real big on the concept of corporations, but that is another story.

When I look at our current situation as it relates to health care I see similar potential issues related to personal competency. I want to go on record as saying that I believe access to basic health care is a right that everyone should have access to, and I do mean everyone. The fact that we have one of the most advanced and expensive health care systems in the world and our morbidity and mortality rates put as at like number 30 is embarrassing to me (think countries like Cuba and Costa Rica). I also believe that access to basic care is good business and good for the overall economy. We are spending upwards of 10% of our GNP on health care on our 'stellar' results and the number is getting bigger, not smaller. A big part of that is that people without access to preventative care get their care in ERs, the least efficient and most expensive way to provide it. Since they can't pay for it the costs get passed along to those who can pay, kind of like shrinkage in retail.

Here is another data point for you to consider. According to the American Medical Association sixty percent of health issues (and therefore costs) are related to lifestyle rather than hereditary. In plain terms that means we cause it! The issue is also that if I have not;
  • Participated meaningfully in paying for the costs of care for me and my dependents
  • Been provided with any meaningful information about what I or my dependents can do to improve my health or reduce expenses
  • Been incentivized to change my behavior
  • Been educated on the impact of escalating health care expenditures on other parts of the business

then the chances I am 'invested' in making changes to my behavior are pretty minimal. No personal competence or engagement here folks!

As a former HR executive I can also tell you that most organizations strategy to deal with the rising costs of benefits is to;

  1. Cost shift to employees through higher deductibles, co pays, etc
  2. Reduce benefit offerings
  3. Eliminate categories of employees from coverage

Is it just me or do these methods seem to miss the root causes as well?

I am not going to belabor that point and make this about health care.

I guess my point is that maybe just maybe the Founding Fathers intended personal competency to be the first real engagement initiative. My personal engagement model is based on five elements:

  • Respect
  • Responsibility
  • Information
  • Equitable rewards
  • Mutual loyalty

Is it just me, or do there seem to be some parallels between that and personal competency? Maybe personal competency and true engagement are both about doing things with rather than to people ?

Were the Founding Fathers really that visionary, I wonder......?


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