The other day a friend of mine asked me “how can I convince my CEO that employee engagement is critical for performance improvement?” He asked, “Are there any performance measures that show a direct connection between higher levels of employee engagement and improved profit and/or improved performance?”
Although there may be many performance measures that show this connection, for me that’s not the critical motivation to improve employee engagement. Rather, there are two global trends influencing the need for employee engagement that leaders need to understand. Leaders must align their environments with these global trends immediately or their competitive edge will begin to disappear.
Organizations Must Become “Social Networks” or Self-Organizing Systems
The Internet and mobile phones are accelerating the development of social networks. Networks are communities of people who have certain things in common and they want to communicate quickly, consistently and frequently. Each Community is connected to other communities through individuals who share those common connections. People love social networks. People feel connected and a sense of belonging when they share their interests, passions, values, priorities, and trust. Facebook is a great example of people who want to stay in touch. LinkedIn is another example of business people who want to network to learn or find jobs
These networks are voluntary, chaotic, complex, self-organizing, and innovative. Organizations who want future success must embrace the paradox of needing to be predictable in product and service while embracing the complexity, voluntary nature, and chaos of a network. Members of networks are naturally already engaged. That is why they opt-in. Organizations that adopt the right methods of leadership will naturally create a network type of environment and that will generate engagement.
Organizations must shift their thinking and behaviors from the old industrial model to the new social network (systems thinking) world to influence more employees to “opt-in.” This means treating employees like volunteers. Chaotic, diverse high change environments that allow flexibility, flexible work hours, mobility, work-life balance, and collaboration are now needed. Most leaders are sorely unprepared to deliver these environments.
Chaos and disequilibrium are necessary for networks to continuously learn. Organizations must get comfortable with this disequilibrium in order to continually adapt to change. Leaders must be expert facilitators of chaotic environments and must understand how to manage trust. Organizations are now social networks whether our leaders like it or not.
Furthermore, vast amounts of knowledge are generated by social networks. Look at Wikipedia as an example. The accumulated knowledge is more valuable than any other asset in the organization. This is why the Huffington Post just sold to America-On-Line for hundreds of millions of dollars. Leaders no longer control this knowledge. The network naturally generates the knowledge.
As a corollary to this trend, individuals now have increased power because they’re connected to communities that have influence and can either promote or destroy a product or service. Mass marketing is out and personalized products and services are in.
Now organizations must customize and personalize products and services in order to influence the social network communities to speak about their products and services. If enough people within the community like and recommend the product or service then company success will follow. This is why Pepsi has 42 different drink brands that they manage.
This also suggests a need for total transparency and integrity by management. Leaders now need impeccable behaviors otherwise people will “opt out.” Opting out in an organization usually means they stay to collect a paycheck but they become disengaged or actively disengaged and therefore productivity suffers. This might explain why only 26-31% of all employee are engaged (depending upon the research you reference).
A Great Need for Talent with Skills for Managing a Social Network
There is a great need for talented problem solvers. Leaders in the networks must be expert problem solvers and facilitators. There’s an increase in the need for talent and an increase in the competition for talent in part because the baby-boomers are aging and retiring. The new social network organization needs talent with different skills.
Most leaders are attempting to attract talent without considering the new skills necessary to manage self-organizing systems and social networks. This is a flawed approach.
Talent alone is not enough. There are specific skills that are critical for engagement and success. For example, Charlie Sheen is a tremendous talent. However, he lost his job because he does not possess the skills necessary to behave properly and to be part of the organization’s team.
The new competencies needed by leaders are problem solving, collaboration, cooperation, ability to create trust with every interaction, process improvement, and creating environments that expand trust and relationships in order to create synergy and innovation. The current performance appraisal process and pay for performance tools are now obsolete in the network model because a leader’s control is trumped by the influences in the community. Leaders must now depend on influencing skills and this means that employee engagement is more critical than ever before.
Employees must be treated as volunteers that opt into the social network. They’re demanding customized services to help them stay loyal and help them to do a better job.
Leaders who can clearly communicate the key interests, vision, mission, meaning, and purpose of the social network organization will be the most effective in attracting the talent needed. Instead of searching for the raw talent and attempting to attract them with extrinsic motivation, the modern leader must instead create the environment that naturally attracts the right people.
Leaders have no choice but to align with these two trends of social networking and creating an environment to attract the talent needed for success so they opt-in. 

Wally Hauck holds a doctorate in organizational leadership from Warren National University, a Master of Business Administration in finance from Iona College, and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania. He is a Certified Speaking Professional and for 15 years his consulting firm, Optimum Leadership, has consulted with dozens of organizations and coached hundreds of individuals in improving leadership skills to boost employee engagement and performance. Wally’s new book, The Art of Leading: 3 Principles for Predictable Performance Improvement, provides three basic principles of leadership that form the foundation of success for predictable performance improvement and employee engagement. 
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