Employee Engagement: A Little Book of Big Ideas by Jasmine Gartner (Book Review)
Reading time = 2 minutes and 45 seconds
Susan, my wife, accused me of trying to maim her with tennis balls during our vacation in Punta Cana last week. We played tennis at six o’clock every night. It seemed like the perfect antidote before our evening assault on the all-inclusive buffet line.
Susan played on the side facing the setting sun and was blindly assailed by my lob shots. Finding shelter and solace in relationship she engaged in a dialogue with the couple playing beside us about the stupidity and ineptitude of the resort architect to have the courts face right into the sun, a simple problem that could have been solved by rotating the courts ninety degrees. I did not join them in their castigation of the resort designer because I had just finished reading Jasmine Gartner’s chapter on why companies need to include or inform employees on important strategy and organizational decisions.
How many times have you cursed the decisions of upper management and rallied your peers in bemoaning the blindness of those on top? And if you are a decision maker how many times have you failed to let staff know how decisions were reached and why certain options were rejected while others were accepted?
Like a good chair umpire, Jasmine Gartner, with her education in anthropology, offers excellent insight and judgement on employee engagement with her delightful book, Employee Engagement: A Little Book of Big Ideas. She outlines five spheres of engagement: engaging with the company, the work itself, the team, the network, and society. I will outline how her idea on engaging with the company can save you from employees complaining about what is going on, the perceived ineptitude of leadership and management, and the feeling that senior executives are blindly lobbing tennis ball at employees’ heads.
In discussing the first of five spheres of engagement Gartner admonishes companies who fail to let employee know how they made decisions and the sense of unfairness many employees feel about decisions that affect them. Influenced by her work with Derek Luckhurst, Dr. Gartner encourages companies to engage employees in key strategy decisions either with input, if possible, or a full understanding of how a decision was reached. She stated: “the key is that everyone needs to understand strategy, or the big picture of why the company works the way it does, and everybody needs to feel that change is fair, rather than a personal attack on staff” (page. 34).
Leaders, mangers, and writers banter abstractly about transparency, understanding, fairness, and trust. I applaud the specific advice of Gartner and how her concrete idea brings meaning and meat to transparency, fairness, trust, and understanding. Staff need to understand the process of important strategies and decisions and that includes all the strategies managers considered before arriving at their preferred option. Staff need to know why other strategies were rejected or they will believe that upper management is blinding them with the tandem of ignorance and ineptitude.
Back to my wife, there may have been a very reasonable explanation of why the tennis court was positioned as it was but she lacked information and the information lacuna quickly generated negative stories and judgements of incompetence towards the resort designer. It is possible the designer was ignorant, but it is also possible drainage, the placement of nearby roads, or the angle of the sun during different seasons played a role in the court placement.
So don’t double fault at work. Ensure employees can engage with important decisions and when they can’t be part of the decision making process because of government regulations or confidentiality issues, engage with them about how the decision was reached, what else was considered, and why other options were rejected.
I encourage you to read Gartner’s 100-page book as she serves up some more big ideas including engagement differences between small teams and a large organisation, “the lesson here is that the values that work in a small team can ultimately lead to disaster in a large organisation. Large organisations have a different culture to small ones, and they must live by different values and rules” (p. 67).