Engagement: Why Too Much of a Good Thing Can Be Bad

Engagement is a goal for many organizations. In the January 2018 issue of Forbes, it’s described as a hallmark of successful business, a cultural cornerstone that reduces the risk of turnover while enhancing product quality, process quality, and customer satisfaction. Unfortunately, the same story also cites a Gallup poll from 2017 that found only 32% of workers are engaged — “involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.” The majority are disengaged, a problem that management consultant and bestselling author Tom Peters has also noted.

When developing strategies for engagement, though, it’s important to remember that engagement, too, can go wrong. Enthusiasm for sports teams or political parties can become so driven by passion that judgment is clouded, and intense engagement in online social groups communities of practice can devolve into anger and name calling. Trolls on Twitter, for example, are highly engaged — but this is clearly not the kind of behavior organizations would ideally like to model or promote.

Cult members are also typically highly committed and engaged — in the most extreme cases, this engagement can be life-or-death. Heaven’s Gate in 1997, and Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple in Guyana in 1978, are two of the more tragic examples.

How can an organization protect against “bad engagement”? Evan Czaplicki (creator of the programming language Elm) reflected on this problem in the open source software development community in this amazing hour captured on YouTube. For years, open source has been plagued by highly engaged community members who interact with one another unconstructively, ultimately damaging the feelings of trust and cohesion that would help community members meet their goals.

Some of his recommendations to promote “good engagement” by steering away from the bad include:

  • Limiting the number of characters people have to respond with
  • Limiting the types of interactions that are possible, e.g. upvoting or downvoting content
  • Making it possible for people to express intent with their statements or comments
  • Helping people identify and communicate their priorities as part of the exchange (e.g. simplicity vs. extensibility, freedom vs. community building)

For more hints and tips, be sure to check out Evan’s presentation.

 

Additional Reading:

Czaplicki, E. (2018, September 27-28). The Hard Parts of Open Source. Strange Loop Conference. Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_4EX4dPppA&t=3s

Kappel, M. (2018, January 4). How To Establish A Culture Of Employee Engagement. Forbes. Available from https://www.forbes.com/sites/mikekappel/2018/01/04/how-to-establish-a-culture-of-employee-engagement/#6ddb58de8dc4

 

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