Posted by: Professionals In Human Resources Association (PIHRA) | April 3, 2012

Engagement Happens One Person at a Time

Engagement Happens One Person at a Time
by Martha Finney in partnership with the PIHRA Foundation

Abe is a corporate security expert who has devoted his life to his profession. Born in India to a Muslim family, he moved to the United States as a young man, went to school, discovered corporate security, and started a thriving security consulting firm using his birth name, which was immediately identifiable as being Muslim. Then 9/11 happened, and his practice predictably plummeted. A Secret Service agent friend of his took him aside one day and gave him this advice: “You have a choice. Keep your profession. Or keep your name. At this point in time, you can’t have both. Maybe later, but not right now.” Abe chose to keep his profession.

Because he had already converted to Christianity, he felt no religious allegiance to his name. So he adopted his American wife’s Anglo-Saxon maiden name. But what about “Abe?” Why did he choose that name? His answer: “Abraham is the last prophet that Christians, Muslims and Jews together revere. By calling myself Abe, I’m using my name as the symbol of my life’s purpose, which is to unify people according to the values we all share.”

To look at Abe passing you in the hallway, this is what you might see: A smiling, friendly guy, dressed in a suit or business casual, with his laminated employee ID hung from a lanyard and tucked into his breast pocket. He’s just like any other guy you’d pass in the hallway. There’s probably nothing especially deep on his mind, you might assume. He’s just like your other good employees. They show up to work on time. They get the job done reasonably reliably. They come up with good ideas now and then. And they follow the rules. What more do you really need to know about your employees?

But, just like Abe, many of those other employees you’d pass in the hallway have amazing stories to tell about how their work helps them realize their own heroic missions in life. Everyone has a story — a saga, actually — of learning, working hard, pursuing his dreams, finding his life’s purpose, making tremendous sacrifices, beating the odds, saving his family, saving his children, saving his marriage, saving himself. Or even saving the world.

For many of these people, their jobs play an essential role in their saga of personal purpose. Capture some of that passion, and you can use it to fuel your company’s mission-critical objectives.

Give your employees the chance to express the fullness of their life’ saga and talk about how their jobs intersect with their life’s mission. You’ll be amazed at the variety of their points of connectivity. You have employees just like Abe who have amazing stories to tell about how their jobs are helping them make their dreams come true. Every single one of them has some compelling aspect to his sense of self that’s driving him forward. Find out what that certain something is, discover how it links with your company’s objectives, and you’ve got engagement that will out last any paycheck, any promotion, or any awards ceremony.

You actually have to talk to your employees one person at a time to find out what their story is. This is the “voice of the employee,” but too often it gets aggregated into one huge clump of quantifiable opinions that emerge from surveys. Surveys may be important, but they don’t breathe life into the flame of career passion. There are hundreds of books on “do what you love,” but when was the last time you saw a book called, The Survey-Driven Life or Fill Out Those Surveys and the Money Will Follow?

If you want to truly engage your employees, engage them on the level of their passion. If you want to truly engage your employees on the level of their passion, give them the chance to speak from their own hearts, tell their own stories, and inspire each other in the vision that your company is the place that will help them manifest their greatest destinies. One employee at a time.
(Excerpted from the book, The Truth About Getting the Best From People, by Martha Finney, FT Press 2010, reprinted with permission, all rights reserved)

Martha Finney is a speaker, author and consultant specializing in employee engagement and HR career management.  To receive a free copy of her e-book, The 2012 Yearbook: 25 HR Stars on What’s Essential and Inspiring Now, subscribe to her blog at Contact Martha at


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