Employee Engagement: Does The Defense’s Case Still Hold Water?


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In concepts, and things in general, words and tags that represent profound differences matter – often a great deal. As emphatically stated by a witness for the defense in “My Cousin Vinny”, a 1964 Buick Skylark could never be confused with a 1963 Pontiac Tempest, despite the fact that both had the same-sized tires and same mint green color. Marisa Tomei knew her cars, and she knew that the defense’s case was wrong and couldn’t hold water.

Where else do significant differences between two seemingly identical, or near-identical, things exist? In the animal world, bonobos are NOT chimpanzees. Caimans are NOT alligators. Sea lions are NOT seals. Zoologists and wildlife biologists certainly know the differences.

In the world of customer experience, recommendation scores are NOT indicators of advocacy behavior, on either a lead or lag basis. In the world of employee experience, it’s important to understand that engagement is NOT commitment, and commitment is NOT engagement. Stakeholder experience practitioners should know one from the other..

To better understand the difference, let’s first ask a basic question: How was employee commitment ‘born’? Originating in academic studies of employee behavior from over 20 years ago, the concept of commitment is about proactive, discretionary effort and level of attachment, reflected in performance, to the employer’s purpose, culture, value proposition and customers. Fundamentally, commitment recognizes and leverages the employee, and his/her behavior, as a highly valued enterprise asset and contributor to business outcomes.

So, how, you might then ask, is employee commitment really distinct from how we typically identify employee engagement? Good question. The principal differences are in the words, and resulting employee behaviors, that, in aggregate, define the concept. An engaged employee is largely considered an enterprise cost and, to follow the accepted range of definitions by HR professionals and consultants, is a fit for his/her role, is aligned with the macro goals of the organization, and is a productive individual. These employees have some potential to impact the customer experience; and there is documented, often incidental, evidence of correlation between the two. But, remember that correlation is not causation.

Here’s what drives the need for an employee commitment focus and accompanying actionable measurement protocol. In part because of today’s greater emphasis on the emotionally-based components of customer experience and customer value delivery, and how this must be an enterprise cultural and operational priority, employees have become center stage in optimizing customer behavior and perceived personal benefit. Key company goals now include building a corps of employees who perform at customer-centric and value delivery levels beyond engagement and satisfaction. These highly committed “employee advocates” have three key and core behavioral traits:

• Commitment to the company – Commitment to, and being positive about, the company (through personal satisfaction, fulfillment, support of purpose, and an expression of pride), and to being an actively contributing, loyal, and fully aligned, member of the culture

• Commitment to the product/service value proposition – Commitment to, and alignment with, the mission and goals of the company, as expressed through perceived excellence (benefits and solutions) provided by the employer’s products and/or services, irrespective of level or function within the enterprise

• Commitment to the customers – Commitment to understanding customer needs, and to performing in a manner which provides customers with optimal experiences and relationships, as well as delivering the highest level of product and/or service value

Additionally, and not unimportantly, these employees are often vocal, online/offline social supporters of their employer and the value its products and services, and fellow employees, represent to stakeholders.

The current, and real-world, EX landscape for all organizations is essentially this: Covid-influenced working conditions have contributed to record levels of employee cultural disconnection, disaffection from a perceived lack of fairness, and even emotional burnout, This has resulted in high, and strategic, prospective attrition rates in many business sectors, i.e. “The Great Resignation”. Employee discontinuity also has both an indirect and a direct impact on customer perceptions and behavior. As viewed by many consulting organizations in their evaluations of the unfolding consequences of low unemployment coupled with employee independence, high attrition, and talent shortages, there are common themes. Namely, more humanistic enterprise culture and reframed corporate purpose seem to be among the most attainable stakeholder opportunities for both reducing churn and enhancing employee performance.

Identifying insights representing emotional and functional drivers of employee positive and negative behavior enables organizations to take both tactical and long-term steps which will help optimize employee connection, contribution, and life cycle. Further, this more progressive approach to EX enables companies to directly link, and intersect, employee behavior with customer behavior. Bottom line: Employee commitment, building from a conceptual base to a suite of actionable tools and applications, has proven to contribute much more directly and consistently to business outcome goals than either satisfaction or engagement.

Words, concepts, and results, matter.

Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC
Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC, specializes in customer and employee experience research/strategy consulting, and brand, customer, and employee commitment and advocacy behavior research, consulting, and training. He has authored seven stakeholder-centric strategy books and 400+ articles, white papers and blogs. In 2018, he was named to CustomerThink's Hall of Fame.


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