When I look at my history of blogging and talks, I realize that employee engagement is the single thread that ties my perspectives together --  it's a topic near and dear to my heart. I believe that without meaningful change in employee engagement, our efforts to gain value from social business are completely lost.

Last week’s #socbizchat Tweet Jam was focused on employee engagement. I heard a lot about ROI, as we often do. ROI is often the divisive line that separates the technologists from the humanitarians, though it need not be if we're keeping our business goals at the forefront of our strategy.

We saw a variety of quantifiable rationale for the improvement of engagement across the board. From attrition rates, onboarding/out-processing costs, recruiting impressions, customer satisfaction, employee sentiment to even quantified connection to other employees (though I hear that as follower counting and scratch my head).

The Naked Truth

The key point is, organizations -- especially large ones that experience great turnover -- can hemorrhage budget when it comes to people issues. In many environments, this hit is just a part of doing business as usual. But isn't that hit a symptom of something bigger?

People issues can be hard to talk about and even tougher to address. Most have an opinion about it, as well as a finger to point, and that approach can be a non-starter. Engagement, like social tools, can mean that we're stepping into the open and exposing ourselves to those opinions and fingers. Which is precisely why it is so important.

We're at an inflection point in the world of work. We're gazing into a future of "empowered" employees who have different expectations than the thirty-year uni-tasker employee of the past. There is a huge pool of talent whom are no longer working for the weekend. They are working for meaning, for a chance to do something more than grab a paycheck and become an employee ID number.

The enterprise is dabbling with the simpler tasks at this stage, BYOD, offering social tools for the masses, work from home, etc. These and many others are good efforts, but they are not the be all and end all. We can’t buy a pill to make it all better. Hierarchical leaders must participate and engage in a meaningful way, with an eye on real business goals and outcomes as they relate to their people.

A Cultural Change for Good

What does this mean? It means a shift from broadcasting leadership direction to participating in a relationship and leveraging tools to help do that at scale. It can mean seeking feedback openly within a social platform, including employees in requirements gathering for solution seeking, engaging in a lifecycle of two-way communication when deep change is happening, letting the best leaders lead, and addressing poor leadership as it is happening. In some cases it may mean stepping up the hiring game so that we can treat our colleagues as trusted partners in business rather than a workforce to be driven like cattle.

Organizational culture is a juicy topic with a massive history of study behind it (as well as a consulting industry to match!), and anyone who’s spent time as a member of an enterprise can tell you, there’s the internal communication team’s perspective of culture, and then there’s the “real” culture, or cultures. Until those realities are recognized within a strategy for change, there will be little success in social business.

We have a real opportunity to help steward this change and I hope these conversations help bring more reality and less confusion when it comes to treating humans with respect.

Editor's Note: This isn't the first time that Megan's written about employee engagement, and we're betting it won't be the last. See her The Real Opportunity of Employee Engagement: Resilient, Agile Organizations