HRM exclusive: Widgets author tells all

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Rodd Wagner is synonymous with employee engagement – his latest best-seller Widgets has been hailed as a “frame-breaking” approach to leadership and his recent Forbes article sparked industry-wide debate about the state of employee engagement.

Here, he chatted to HRM about how leaders responded to that article and what he hopes readers will take away from the new book.

HRM: Organizations are under very different conditions to what they were just 10 years ago – how can HR professionals hope to keep up?

RW: From my conversations with HR professionals at their conferences, I believe a large proportion of them realize they are already behind the curve. That recognition is crucial. Once it fully sets in, one begins questioning the fundamental assumptions.

 Take, for example, the premise that a good employee should be loyal to the organization – not looking to leave for another job. That was a fine assumption in the days when companies kept their employees almost indefinitely and promoted them repeatedly as their seniority increased. Now many organizations simultaneously expect continuity from their workers they can’t give in return. So the implicit message becomes, “Please do not quit before we eliminate your position in the next wave of layoffs.”

 Or take the idea that a company can control much of its reputation through its external communications. Not anymore. When people consider joining a company, it’s now quite easy to find out how people who work there – and people who used to work there – feel about the place.

 There are at least a couple dozen of these game-changers. HR professionals can keep up by first recognizing the game has already changed.

 One of the reasons I wrote Widgets was to put these contradictions in stark relief for leaders and managers inclined to get ahead of the curve.

HRM: What would you say is the biggest – or most common – mistake made by business leaders in today’s environment?

RW: The most serious strategic error by business leaders today is agonizing over the high levels of performance they hope to get from their employees without agonizing over the experience and rewards that will best motivate those people. This flaw ignores human nature, never mind the basics of a solid, two-sided bargain. Many executives expect employees to wrap themselves so tightly in the flag of the company that they forget about their own interests, which is ironic coming from the people who get the largest salaries and option packages.

HRM: Is employee engagement really on the brink of extinction? Why? (Continued...)

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