Imagine a Vice President of Human Resources for a Boston-based company who is about to retire.  In fact, it’s his last afternoon on the job.  The days of defined-benefit plans are long gone, so he doesn’t have to worry about running afoul of any of the “do-not-disparage” terms of his retirement agreement.  And he’s already had his 401k transferred over to a privately managed account, so those funds are beyond the reach of his soon-to-be-former employer as well.

In other words, he’s free to say what he really wants to say, and in his final action as an employee, he sends the email below to his colleagues on the company’s leadership team.  If I had my way, it might sound something like this...


TO: XYZ, Inc. Leadership Team

FROM:  Charles Stengel, Vice President Human Resources

SUBJECT:  Do Your Job

When I click on SEND and launch this email, my duties as VP of HR here at XYZ will have been completed.  I’m sending it because of an issue that I haven’t had the courage to bring up before; shame on me for that.  But it’s something that I think you need to hear.  If nothing else, it will assuage my guilt.  So here goes.

By now you’ve probably heard about the tennis-ball-sized rings that the Patriots received in recognition of their Super Bowl win over the Seahawks.  (At least we know that the rings weren’t deflated!)  Standing out in bold relief on one side of those rings are the three words that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick frequently uses to keep his team’s focus where it needed to be during the heat of battle:  DO YOUR JOB.

I bring this up because it’s something I see a lot of you not doing.  More specifically, I see you looking to HR to do some things that ought to be at the very heart of your job descriptions—coming to grips with the people part of your responsibilities. 

There is a logic to this.  After all we’re the human resources department, and your people are humans, so you look to us for help with the people stuff.  Fair enough. Properly understood, though, that help should be limited to things like minimizing and/or offloading the people-related administrative and regulatory load, providing the tools and resources to make you more effective at the people-related stuff, and serving as coach/counselor as you step up to these people-related challenges.

But when it comes to doing what it takes to truly know who your people are—what makes them tick; what their hopes and aspirations are; how their skills, aptitudes, and energies can be channeled in service of XYZ’s business goals—that’s on you.

There’s a similar kind of abdication at work (and make no mistake, that’s exactly what it is) when it comes to the way too many of you look at our brethren on the Communications team.  The folks in Comms are very good at what they do—providing support and expertise when it comes to the mechanical, instrumental aspects of communications.  But the responsibility for truly communicating with your people—for truly connecting with them—is yours and yours alone.

It’s taken awhile, but all of this has finally crystallized for me over the past year or so, and it’s the current hoo-hah about employee engagement that has caused this to happen.  Employee engagement has become a big deal, and that’s as it should be.  The potential ROI to be realized by moving the needle on engagement is probably greater than any other such opportunity before us.

But engagement isn’t defined by a column of action steps on an “Engagement Program” spreadsheet.  Rather, it’s the extent to which our people are moved to become more emotionally and psychologically invested in their jobs, the degree to which they will expend that extra bit of effort and energy on the tasks before them.  That will take knowing who they are and what makes them tick.  It will take connecting with them in a way that ensures that the signal is strong and the noise is damped out.  HR and Comms can help.  But doing the hard, slogging work it takes to truly connect and to achieve real engagement is up to you. 

In other your job.


Fairways and Greens,




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