This post was originally published on the Switch and Shift blog. Since it was so popular, we decided to share it here as well.

I’m all for making 21st century business progressive, innovative and a significant step from the draconian approach that has plagued the world for the past hundred years or so. This evolution needs to be thorough, but it still has to remain practical.

levelsNo matter how flat your organization is there will always be a vertical component. Front-line employees don’t have the same functional responsibilities as managers, who in turn don’t have the same functional responsibilities as executives. This is true in every organization, and it gives healthy boundaries as well as manages expectations.

These three groups – Executives, Managers, Individuals – have very different functional responsibilities and engagement fits very nicely into them. Just like you wouldn’t expect an individual to develop a 5-year strategy plan for the organization instead of an executive, there are aspects to engagement that should be assigned to the proper functional group.

If each of these groups assumes 3 areas of responsibility each to facilitate engagement, an organization will thrive.


This group sets the tone of the organization. Of course everyone is responsible for his or her own engagement to a marked degree, but the executive group must facilitate that process while fulfilling their functional responsibilities.

  • Trust – It moves both ways. Executives must trust others as well as prove themselves trustworthy. This is true for everyone, but no other group wields as much influence as the executive team.
  • Communication – The moment your organization views you in an ivory tower, your engagement will suffer. Create and consistently use as many communication channels as possible. When you feel you’re over communicating, you’re getting close to being heard.
  • Culture – You can’t create culture, you can merely facilitate it through the context your leadership creates. You can’t just talk about your culture, your actions must provide stories that reinforce the culture you want and need to be a successful organization. Pay close attention to the emotions your culture elicits – it will determine the quality of your engagement.


Managers flit between the Executives and the Individuals and play a key role in perpetuating the success of the organization. They are in a unique position to be both accountable to the Executives as well as the Individuals. 21st century management demands social skills.

  • Coaching – Long gone are the days where managers simply bark out orders. There is an ever-growing need to meet the needs of the organization by developing the Individual through questions and guidance. Learning how to help people discover ways to meet organizational goals through the pursuit of meeting their own goals is a crucial skill for this group.
  • Relationships – When was the last time you heard the word “fraternization”? Relationships are what make things function. Navigating at arm’s length just doesn’t produce the necessary results. Human beings are social creatures and providing an outlet in your organization for this component of the human condition makes for great engagement.
  • Dialogue – It’s pretty tough to have a healthy relationship without good communication. Dialogue is a key element to communication. Notice it is dialogue and not monologue. Rank, title or position is not an indicator of the quality of your solutions/ideas.


This group determines whether an organization is successful. Strategies are worthless unless there are people making them work. Targets and goals are abstract wishes without individuals taking the effort to reach them.

  • Ownership – I hesitated in using that word because it has been so overused. I’m not talking about the over-zealous buzz word “buy-in” kind of ownership. True ownership in that the individual gets what needs to be done, recognizes how their role has meaning and purpose and chooses to be responsible for that. That is engagement in its purest form.
  • Clarity – It’s pretty tough to engage in anything if you’re not entirely certain of what it is. That is why the Executives need to communicate and the Managers need to be proficient in dialogue.
  • Action – Discussion is great, but at some point you have to do something. Just like it is easier to steer a moving car, it is easier to engage in something if you’re at least putting some effort into it and taking action.