The latest edition of HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” features a story about the “trophy culture” of youth sports—the awarding of a trophy to any child who participates in an organized athletic activity. Actually, “participates” is too stringent a standard in one Los Angeles youth soccer organization. According to the organization’s commissioner, anyone whose name is on a roster receives a trophy at the end of the season. Interviewer: “They don’t even have to show up for the games?” Commissioner: “No, they don’t.” Why am I writing about youth sports in a space ostensibly focusing on matters of business leadership? Because I see disturbing parallels to the way the topic of employee engagement is being dealt with in too many organizations.



Too many leaders are abdicating their responsibility for actually rolling up their sleeves and doing the hard, slogging work it takes to ensure that their people are more highly engaged.

Imagine if there were someone in a position to be able to say this—directly, unambiguously, fearlessly.  Here’s what such a bold pronunciamento might sound like.

By reducing the Employee Engagement challenge to surveys and project management when it is really more a matter of institutional soulcraft, you run the risk of taking unearned comfort in the illusion of rigor: “This must be valid. There are many numbers, and many of those numbers have several decimal places!” You also run a serious--and ironic--risk of causing them to dis-engage by treating people as resources or capital assets rather than as important contributors to the cause.




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