The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Engagement: I Know It When I See It

No, don’t ask me to tell you exactly what I mean, and definitely don’t ask me to give you a list of competencies, emotional intelligence coefficients or (insert the latest buzz words here) so that we can scientifically define the engaged employee.

What I can tell you is what I see and experience through my interactions with him or her. Here is a partial list …

  • Does she ask questions to help better understand how her role fits?
  • Does he understand that his job description is a framework that is meant to broadly define the role and not outline every possible facet of the work?
  • Does she share ownership of the organization’s goals and demonstrate this in her work?
  • Does he frequently offer suggestions and input that help his colleagues pull the pieces together?
  • Do colleagues cringe at the thought of engaging her and working with her or do they seek her out for advice and collaboration?
  • In meetings within his own department or in meetings that include representatives from other campus departments, does he arrive with a “can do” attitude, or is he frequently the person who throws up roadblocks or has the list of reasons why something cannot or should not be done?
  • Do her employees describe her as a leader and a mentor and know that she is committed to their success, and are they, in turn, committed to her success?

And there’s a big difference between being engaged in the work and being engaged in the work of the organization.

For example, an employee might say, “Don’t bother me with the ‘administrative stuff.’” And my response might be, “I really understand that your doctoral work, the courses you design and teach, and your ongoing research focus your time and talents on the academic discipline that you love. The university fully supports the energy, enthusiasm and commitment that you bring to your work. It shows in your research and in how students interact with you. We now need for you to help us envision and develop an organization that enables us to meet our student needs while also balancing a budget with significantly reduced state and federal funding. We really want your input and hope you have some great ideas that we can implement. Please don’t engage in a no-confidence vote of the provost or president just because they are making tough decisions.”

If an employee says, “But this is my strength and my passion.” The reply might be: “I need to let you know that the other members of your planning committee are very frustrated with you. While I am very appreciative of your efforts to really dig into the data, the other members of the committee have had to pick up the slack on other items that are due. They are concerned that you have spent way too much time on the data analysis. I know that data analysis is your strength and that you enjoy spending hours running multiple analyses. My challenge to you is to continue to use this critical strength but to balance your significant interest in this with the other projects and items on your to-do list. Now, of these 28 spreadsheets you prepared, what are the key data elements we need to focus on to help the planning committee finish its work?”

The bottom line for all of us is that we have to know it when we see it, but it is just as important that we can tell others what we see and what we expect to see from an employee engaged in the work of the organization.

What are some of your examples of “I know It When I See It?” I am very interested to see the more comprehensive list that we can generate here!