Every half decade or so, a new wonder idea comes along in management - for instance, learning organisations, business process re-engineering, total quality management, or - aeons ago - management by objectives.
The idea of the moment is employee engagement: a notion so simple maybe those who developed it must feel at least a little sheepish at stating the bloomin’ obvious.
There is a substantial minority of grumpy people who mumble sulkily that they don’t have time for “rubbish” like giving feedback - it is a diversion from their “real work”
When you have “engaged” employees you have staff who speak enthusiastically about the organisation, who experience work as energising and are willing to go that extra mile.
You attract and conserve scarce talent and therefore improve organisational performance.
The only tiny difficulty is what you have to do to get there.
Essentially this involves soliciting employee opinion and then being willing to act on it; conveying interest in your staff; giving them opportunities to develop; offering frequent feedback; conveying that the organisation is concerned for the health and wellbeing of staff.
Surely it is hardly new or amazing that these are desirable things?
The trouble is that in real life, as opposed to guru fantasy, stuff gets in the way.
A sober little article in a modest journal published by the British Psychological Society describes two large scale surveys, drawing on quantitative 360 degree feedback for 6,000 managers, in both public and private sector organisations, the first in 2006 based on 20,000 anonymous assessments.
The second analysis, carried out in June last year, considered 24,000 additional assessments.
The good news is that raters praised their managers for ability to set challenging objectives, deliver on the task and meet the needs of customers. In one organisation over 85 per cent of respondents thought their manager “exceptional” in this.
The bad news is the picture that emerges of so few managers talking to their staff, giving regular feedback or coaching and listening. This worsened in the three years between the surveys.
Making time to understand individuals on a personal and professional level was rare, with 8,500 people saying this was the most important behaviour they wanted but more than half viewing it as their manager’s least effective behaviour.
It seems on the evidence of this survey that distracted bosses are making a priority of hitting those all important delivery targets at the expense of making time to connect with their people.
A colleague running a series of mandatory workshops on performance management for a large public sector organisation tells me that at every event there is a substantial minority of grumpy people who mumble sulkily that they don’t have time for “rubbish” like giving feedback - it is a diversion from their “real work”.
It is extraordinary to me that these managers believe they have more important things to do in the two hours taken up by the workshop than learning how to manage the performance of their staff.
So maybe the employee engagement revolution is not likely to start any time soon.