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Chapter 3: The Roots of Engagement

What those people have accomplished is a result of “thinking big.” It’s impossible to get people in any organization to think big if they’re constantly asked to “just do their job.” They must understand the big-picture workings of the business and the overall purpose that it serves. Both of these contexts help people realize that what they can achieve with others is greater than what they could do by themselves.

In our experience, the universal joke is that leaders can just “mail in” the “vision-mission-values statement,” because every company needs to have one. And once it’s created, organizations rarely do anything more about it. The beautifully printed document becomes tattered and torn, and eventually is posted on a wall next to the building evacuation plan. This important statement never achieves its greatest potential purpose—to connect people in organizations to something bigger than themselves. This isn’t done by just writing a statement and then hanging it up or passing it out. The vision, mission, and values must be demonstrated by leaders and managers who bring them to life every day with the people they lead.

2. People want to feel a sense of belonging.

When people are truly engaged, they believe that they really belong. They have a sense of meaning or validation when they feel that they “fit,” they’re accepted, they’re one of the group. It’s a sense of association and connection, and they can go forward together because they have something in common. On the other hand, a feeling of being on the outside, or not belonging, can disintegrate into something much worse than disengagement. Consider this story:

From enthusiastic to disillusioned to disengaged.

A little girl wants to play soccer. Her parents sign her up for a team and buy her the shin guards, shoes, and other equipment she needs to participate. They’re excited about her upcoming practices and games. Through all the preseason practices, she enthusiastically does everything that the coach asks. She shows up for the first match, eager to get in the game, but the coach decides to keep her on the bench. Her parents feel bad for her, but assure her that if she tries harder, things will get better. They help her practice every night, working on foot skills and other soccer basics. At the next game, she’s on the bench again. Although they’re disappointed, the parents and little girl don’t give up—instead, they set up a net in the backyard and practice even harder. Saturday comes again, and still she sits on the bench. The parents call the coach. He suggests that she’s not quite ready to play. At the next game, still no action. Then, the frustrated parents talk to others about the coach in terms that are less than polite. When other children play ahead of their daughter, they resent those children and their parents. They secretly hope that others may not show up for a future match—or that someone will twist an ankle so their little girl can play. Over the next few weeks, the parents and their daughter care less and less about how the team does. They are no longer connected to the team, the coach, or anyone associated with soccer. They are actively disengaged. This culminates midway through the season, when they actually cheer for their team to lose.

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