Are you seeing the phrase "employee engagement" a lot lately? Boy, I am. Along with "collaboration technologies" and "internal communities," the focus of a large number of articles and monographs online appears to be how to enable the people in your company to feel more a part of the work they do and how to enable that. So why is it that many of these same colleagues read these same articles and come away ambivalent about the efforts?

On the plus side, there is the desire to really feel like they have a positive impact in the work they do. Given all the time and effort put into the work, the desire to "make a difference" is sizable.

So many companies and organizations of all sizes have "Our employees are our biggest asset!" somewhere on their web site or internal HR literature. From the front lines, that can feel more like a pronouncement than a fact. Any organization needs to realize that everyone at that organization is an employee and a colleague ... recognition and reputation needs to flow freely up and down and throughout the numerous roles.

Engagement needs to be perceived as an activity, an attitude and a desire that reaches throughout the organization. If that does not become adequately expressed in tangible ways, any program, incentive or messaging encouraging greater engagement or collaboration may be perceived as a veiled attempt to "get more" from the folks on the front lines. Demonstrate "skin in the game"!

What are some ways to do this? First, remember every effort will require a bit of a stretch for each person. The value will become apparent.

Encouraging Passion Strengthens Engagement

A ready example might be the presentation meeting. A colleague is up front delivering a message, good or bad, to the participants. Listen to her. Pay respectful attention, not focusing on the comments you wish to make or the questions you may ask, but absorbing the message, the data plus the passion this person puts into her work.

When asking questions afterward, be thoughtful, acknowledging the work and the good things presented. Restrain any attack behavior. It's not evil to ask precision, probing or contrary questions, but it's counter-productive to create an atmosphere that places the presenter on the defensive or makes her go silent and slink back to her chair. The business is not served and the next presenter is unlikely to be as open about the good or the bad (especially the bad).

All this is to say that one way to grow engagement from others in your company is to treat them always as equals, critically but respectfully, and acknowledge real effort and passion. Positive acknowledgment of passion will fuel that passion further and the company will only benefit.

Encouraging 'Find the Expert' Creates Positive Feedback and Collaboration

Another example involves collaboration and making the workplace a safe place for asking for help. Say I'm working on a project that I have a lot of passion around but have only limited execution experience in, like creating a product launch plan. I love the product! I believe in my company's vision and that this product will not only serve the company's goals but deliver enormous value to our customers.

However, I'm feeling overwhelmed with the actual launch plan. I want it to be as close to perfect as I can make it, but I'm concerned that I will miss something.

In my company we have a directory of rich profiles for each employee, from the company president to the call center. Each profile has sections for verbatim notes from each person about what they feel their strengths are, as well as a taxonomy co-created by the various field teams, HR and management that employees may choose areas of expertise as well as levels for each area.

So my next step is to go to this internal directory and conduct a search for someone who has higher levels of expertise in product launch plans than I do. I'm presented with several names and their profiles. I look through the profiles, identify a couple who could really help with the creation of the plan as well as hitting all the next steps. I reach out to them both and the second one (a product VP, no less!) responds with an offer to meet and go over the launch plan.

That afternoon I mention this to my manager during our regular one-on-one and she commends me for reaching out to the expert, even telling me that she's worked with him before and knows that he will "go the extra mile" with me.

In conversations with team members and colleagues over the next couple of weeks I mention my success in finding the expert and am both regaled with stories of similar successes, a couple of stories where it didn't work out so well, and a few discussions about other projects where finding an expert might help.

Clearly, collaboration is enabled, encouraged and rewarded. The success of the business, the product launch as well as the learning experience I got from this all combine to make me want to do even more.

These are just a couple of examples of how companies can create a climate of engagement across the organization. If the company's biggest asset really is each of us, why wouldn't we engage?

Image courtesy of Maksim Shmeljov (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Read more from this month's focus on employee engagement.