Goodbye, Productivity. Hello, Engagement.

Here is this month’s piece from Brand Velocity, an Atlanta-based consulting firm that is putting Peter Drucker’s ideas into practice at major corporations.

For more than a decade, our firm has been touting the need to apply Peter Drucker’s principles of “knowledge work productivity” to important reinvention initiatives—efforts intended to help companies generate value by fundamentally restructuring the ways in which they do business (as opposed to simply trying to cut costs and boost efficiency).

But more and more, we’re finding, the term “productivity” is being seen as a negative. Right or wrong, it doesn’t matter. In many minds, the P-word has come to mean anti-work-life balance; instead of plugging away 50 hours a week, we should be raising our output by working 60.

Confronted with this reality, my colleagues and I have started to think about framing our work—and, by extension, many of Drucker’s core principles—in a different way: as a means to lift employee engagement.

Today, only about 30% of employees in America are “engaged and inspired at work,” according to Gallup. At the other end of the spectrum are the 20% of employees who are actively disengaged. The other 50% of workers, meanwhile, are simply going through the motions. “They’re just kind of present, but not inspired by their work or their managers,” says Gallup Chief Executive Jim Clifton. Clearly, this is a huge concern for most corporations.

In this context, Drucker’s core ideas can easily be translated into a path for improving employee engagement—not necessarily as a goal in and of itself, but as an outcome of consistently doing the right things and doing them in the right ways.

Indeed, a Drucker-like company is much more likely than most to be an engaged organization. After all, it will have:

  • A vision that starts from the outside in, with the customer
  • Clear objectives, shaped from the bottom up and aligned with the organization’s overall purpose, that produce high-quality results
  • Excellent management systems and a proven innovation capability
  • Responsible leaders with positive internal and external relationships

It is probably a statement of the obvious that people become disengaged when work isn’t productive—when company practices lack basic common sense and employees get mired down in worthless meetings, countless fire drills, myriad hurry-up-and-wait exercises and energy-draining internal political battles.

Putting the right structures in place so that employees can do their best work is the surest way to improve engagement. As Drucker knew so well, “Those who perform love what they’re doing.”

Jack Bergstrand