Employee engagement – right brain, touchy, feely stuff. Operational strategy – left brain, geeky, analytical stuff. Miles apart, right? Not as much as you would think. Historically, operational strategy has been an executive role and, since it came on the radar, employee engagement has been relegated – however erroneously – to the likes of HR. In reality, both approaches are woefully ineffective for the organization. It’s perpetuation of tradition because … well, I honestly don’t know why it’s being perpetuated.

The reality is, everyone is responsible for employee engagement – including the employee. Executives are responsible for their own engagement as well as creating a culture that facilitates quality engagement. HR is responsible for working with employees to understand and meet their development needs as well as partner with managers to help give action to these efforts.

Operations and engagementStep into another realm completely and you have the sweat of the brow meetings where mysterious conversations take place behind locked doors until the organizational savior (aka “Operational Strategy”) emerges triumphantly in its cape and form-fitting underpants to vanquish marketplace competitors. Ok. Perhaps I may have taken some dramatic license and embellished a bit on that one, but you get the point. Operational strategy is viewed as an opportunity and employee engagement is viewed as an arduous duty. No wonder they’re treated differently.

At the end of the day, these two unlikely candidates are a marriage made in heaven and are truly an opportunity to embrace. Every organization needs to have an operational strategy. Every organization needs to have quality employee engagement. When operational strategy takes into account the needs of employee engagement efforts, then employee engagement supports and lives out the operational strategy. If they’re developed and operated vacuous to one another, how on earth could they ever support each other? Not to mention, dividing the efforts of a finite pool of talent.

The solution? Use one to support the other. How? Easier done than said.

  1. Measure strategy against culture – If the strategy you want/need violates your culture, you can forget about engagement. Culture drives engagement, so an operational misalignment with culture will undermine the success of your strategy. Disengaged workers don’t fulfill strategy, I don’t care how many behaviorally controlling policies you write.
  2. Communicate “Why” – Whether you believe it or not, you have adults working in your organization. If they are aligned with the culture and the organizational strategy is aligned with the culture, then communicating why the strategy is what it is should be an easy win for engagement. Who knows. Maybe one of those unenlightened non-leadership types will have some great insight (sarcasm intended).
  3. Build engagement into strategy – When you’re developing the strategy, ask how engagement can be built into that process. Reminiscent of a foul and a couple of stones, or something along those lines. You’re already asking difficult questions and doing research to develop this strategy. Piggy-back engagement efforts onto that strategy and you’re setting your organization up for a win.

What other benefits can you see from this unholy union of engagement and strategy?

  • William,

    Great points. If we want the strategy to work, engagement is vital. It is letting team members to develop the “what” to get the “why” done. Engagement needs to be the common thread throughout the process; it certainly helps when delivery on the strategy comes into play.



  • “Developing the ‘what’ to get the ‘why’ done”. Best summary ever. Such an important perspective for organizational leaders to understand. Thanks heaps for your contribution!!

  • I don’t know that I would say operational strategy and employee engagement are a “marriage made in heaven.” I would rather say that employee engagement is the mother of operational strategy, because unless you have it, you can never have the strategic integrity that ensures the operational strategy that sustains success is possible!

  • Interesting points. The point of using the marriage reference is the need to partner and collaborate in order to be mutually successful. I couldn’t agree more on your point “…can never have the strategic integrity…” without healthy emplozee engagement. Thanks for your contribution!