Engaged – or involved?

When recently asking a colleague for my team’s involvement at an earlier stage of a project, given their expertise in the area, the (elevated and disgruntled) response was that they had engaged with my team, and that was enough. Despite the evident (and quite tiresome) control issue playing itself out, I couldn’t immediately work out why the answer so concerned me.

Its the difference between engagement and involvement.

Too many definitions interchange the words without considering the gossamer sheaf between them. This may be flawed.

It also, I believe, has some significant impact on the saturated employee engagement debate.

So is there a difference? Here is an attempt.

Engagement is like a non-binding letter of intent. We may commit some emotion, hold conversation, consider to have a stake in the outcome – but we are reserving our judgment, holding something back. We show interest, fascination even. We care about the situation and may voice this. It may be us that has initiated the engagement, or others with us. Either way, a link is created, but a fragile one.

And that’s often where employee engagement is left – at caring. That in itself is considered enough to drive other action, or involvement. But it may just as likely not. Its passivity creates a temporary bond, easily and quickly severed with cause or without.

Involvement goes a significant step further. It is the contractual commitment. Our involvement cannot be undone, wound back and erased. We may remove ourselves from the situation, but the history of our having taken part will be indelible. We contribute our time, energy, views and opinions, or expertise – and often our physical presence.

Engagement can be unrequited – it is easy to dilute, downplay and ignore. We may have no idea it ever took place, it may leave no mark at all.

Yet when we involve others, we have changed things. We leave a mark.

In the situation that caused this consideration, I wanted my team involved, not engaged.

When its all kicking off at the Queen Vic – you don’t hear anyone shouting “Ere Phil, don’t get engaged”. Albeit that might diffuse the situation.

And so maybe in the debate about the relationship between employee and organisation, by focussing on engagement we have sold ourselves short. So much time, effort and resource goes into creating and maintaining fickle and temporal engagement. Yet if we get employees involved, who knows what outcome we may see.

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