Archive for the ‘Engagement’ Category

I recently and gratefully stumbled across Fathom, a new online magazine. In particular, I deeply resonate with their vision:

Fathom wants to sink deeply into the Christian faith. And we think curiosity and conversation are just the things to draw us into the depths. We ask questions, express wonder, linger over ideas, listen to opinions, and hear people’s stories.

Indeed, curiosity is the theme of the inaugural issue and in the lead article Beautifully Unsatisfied, Brandon Giella writes:

At Fathom, we want to listen. We want to listen to you who agrees, to you who disagrees, and to you who are “very different from us, who say things we don’t get and believe things we don’t understand,” because this is a trustworthy space “for us to get curious in an attempt to understand.” This is a place of conversation, of both listening and responding.

Shouldn’t this describe our church gatherings? A space/place of “both listening and responding”? And yet, most Christians would rather seek refuge in certainty and answers without the process of exploring the questions and being open and curious to the possibilities. Of course, there is a time for settling on some answers, however tentative or tenuous, but we shouldn’t rush the process:

We want to be a place where we can get lost in the cave together, but not forever. An open mind is the same as an open mouth—it’s meant to close on some things.

We want to ask questions and find answers. Though we may not find much—many questions don’t have answers—the swimming is as important as the finding.

Let’s go “swimming”!


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When we view church from an organizational perspective — which we can and must, given our current operating model of church — in my previous post, I asked “How well we are collaborating together for the spread of the gospel and the edification of the body?” I might ask a more fundamental question: “Are we functioning as a command-and-control organization or collaboratively?” We may profess that we are a family, a fellowship of brothers and sisters, but in practice, we operate as a business, and as such, let us learn from business thought leaders.

Burkett asserts that:

a truly collaborative environment involves all organizational levels and is a part of the organization’s cultural identity. When organizations consistently apply collaborative approaches to improve cross-functional connections and break down silos, even in a limited manner, they have achieved many sustained benefits, including:

  • fully engaged workers eager to take on new projects
  • improved organizational agility and flexibility
  • more productive, energized meetings
  • competitive advantage attracting top talent
  • higher retention rates
  • improved performance and profitability

Of course, some may be uncomfortable with applying some of the language (e.g. profitability) to church, but we can adapt the principle accordingly. Indeed, I invite the reader to consider each of the bulleted items in relation to their church and reflect on how and where improvements can be realized.

She realizes that there will be resistance on the part of some leaders and employees and therefore, we need to grease the wheel by considering three vital factors:


As one can discern from the image above, trust is the key ingredient needed for “creating an environment where employees can feel free to take risks and openly express concerns, fears, and differences of opinion without reprisal or retaliation.” Is our church marked by a culture of trust?  Are we able to express our doubts and disagreements in a spirit of love?  It’s important to keep in mind that “trust is built through small moments of consistent, daily interaction rather than grand mission statements or sweeping proclamations.”

Needless to say, many problems, be it in our personal, business, or church lives, have their source in poor communication. Burkett writes that the “majority of leaders fail to clearly communicate their strategy through the organization, which slows down projects, hurts performance results, and hinders engagement.” A large part of the problem is failing to listen carefully to concerns and being too far removed from employees (or church members). As Burkett notes, “Listening to and inviting diverse input brings in more valuable information, builds bridges of trust, and promotes shared accountability.”

 Finally, it is a common sense truism that “people want to feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves” by sharing a common purpose. Yet, why is it that in most churches, a significant majority of the members are just pew warmers?  The answers are varied, but certainly one reason is that members are not encouraged to ascertain and use their spiritual gifts for the mutual edification of the body; i.e., they need to be taught how to “collaborate” using their gifting.

Collaborative skills are often incorporated among the following professional development skill sets:

  • how to ask for input from others
  • how to listen for understanding
  • how to reach consensus
  • how to provide constructive feedback
  • how to share information with others
  • how to use negotiation skills
  • how to lead change

When teaching collaboration, it’s also important to encourage healthy debate, creative tension, and constructive criticism.

Needless to say, most churches seem unable to engage in “healthy debate” without ending in denunciations and division. Again, there a number of reasons for this, but part of the problem is a lack of biblical literacy and discernment that are prerequisites for wise decision making (“how to reach consensus”).

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For the past 2 weeks, in my spare time, I have been setting up Office 365 for our church. In my email exchange with one of the pastors, I wrote: “Yes, I am quite excited about the possibilities!! So many things to discuss with you re: vision and value of using this platform to enhance and enrich communication, connection and collaboration!”

At noon today, I was reading Learning for the Long Run: 7 Practices for Sustaining a Resilient Learning Organization by Holly Burkett, in which she describes the 6th practice as “Foster Collaboration, Connection, and Community”, words that never fail to generate longing and excitement in the deepest recesses of my heart and soul.

We live in a truly connected world. … 

Changes in traditional hierarchical structures reflect these increased demands for connection and collaboration. In today’s knowledge economy, where the half-life of knowledge progressively shrinks each day, it’s become even more important for organizations to design structures and processes that enable fast and free information flow across boundaries.

If this is true in the business world, is it not also true when we consider the organizational aspects of churches? Hence my desire to implement Office 365 for our church – as a way to foster communication, connection, collaboration and community. Not that technology is the answer, but it can certainly support the structure and streamline processes for increased efficiency and effectiveness.

Social learning experiences and peer-learning networks have gained prominence as effective ways of enabling employees to quickly connect with others to solve problems and focus exactly on what information they need, when they need it … At its core, social learning is about sharing knowledge, information and experiences through interactive discussion and peer collaboration.

At the church I last attended before embarking on my “sabbatical”, I encouraged the teaching elder (pastor) to try a more participatory approach to the usual monological sermonizing, what some have called interactive preaching. The experiment was enthusiastically received and overwhelmingly positive, but for whatever reason, it was to be the first and the last time. So much for “peer learning” …

Landmark research from a 2006 Gallup study with nearly 8,000 business units over seven years showed that business units with higher connection scores experienced higher productivity, profitability, and customer satisfaction, as well as lower employee turnover and fewer accidents. … The bottom line is that connection plays a critical part in improving organizational performance …

The need to connect is powerful. In recent years, neuroscientists have discovered that connection reduces stress levels, provides a sense of well-being, and makes us more trusting. An organization with a high degree of connection has employees who are more engaged, more productive in their jobs, and less likely to leave the organization for a competitor.

Given that the Sunday morning worship is the central (and for many Christians, the ONLY) event of the week where church members come together, and given that the bulk of the time is spent as a silent spectator, how are we going to connect with each other and put into practice the many “one another” commands we find in the NT? Is this lack of connection what makes it so easy for some Christians to just get up and leave at the slightest stirring of disagreement or dissatisfaction?

While social technologies play a vital role in enabling the speed and access of connections, the real value of effective collaboration and networking does not lie in more robust project management tools or advanced technology. These are simply means to an end—a collaborative and connected culture ultimately resides in the social fabric of organizations and how people do their work. In a truly collaborative environment, everyone has a voice, can contribute, and understands how their contributions fit with strategy and purpose.

A key cultural challenge is that many senior leaders continue to view collaboration as a skill applied to a single project or activity. When collaboration is focused solely on teams or a single level of an organization, it is extremely difficult to sustain and benefits are fleeting. Learning leaders must help organizations move beyond this narrow definition to redefine collaboration as a cultural value that should be embedded as part of an organization’s DNA.

I have no illusions that our church’s O365 implementation will suddenly lead to nirvana, because “a collaborative and connected culture ultimately resides in the social fabric of organizations” and, I might add, in a more biblical model of how we function as the body of Christ. And what Burkett calls “collaboration”, which she defines as a “process governed by a set of norms and behaviors that maximizes the contribution of individuals by drawing on the collective intelligence of everyone involved” (emphasis mine), is what I am going to call “one anothering with our spiritual gifts”. How well are we collaborating together for the spread of the gospel and the edification of the body? She notes that “[c]ollaboration requires the understanding and application of key behaviors that are increased through learning and practice.” (emphasis mine) Where and when are we going to practice our “one anothering with our spiritual gifts”?

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Career Crossroads

I get a kick out of reading academic articles as the conclusions of their studies often seem to be just plain common sense. For example, one such article I recently read is:  “The relationship between career plateauing, employee commitment and psychological distress: the role of organizational and supervisor support” (International Journal of Human Resource Management, Vol. 20, No. 5, May 2009).

Here’s a remark made early on in the article: “plateauing may have harmful consequences for both the employee and the organization”.  Gosh, really?! 😉   Yeah, I know, academic research has to be rigorous and all that. But still.

I’ll summarize some of the article’s key points and then offer some of my own observations and opinions.

The authors note that employees who have plateaued in their career are generally still solid performers.   Therefore, “managers, because of their limited resources, tend to concentrate their attention on the organization’s rising stars and problem employees.  As a result, most plateaued employees, who generally continue to perform well at work, are pushed aside.”  And though it may not be intentional,  “the resulting sense of abandonment could be a source of declining motivation and psychological distress.”

They go on to describe two forms of career plateauing: structural (or hierarchical) plateauing, when an employee has low likelihood of vertical advancement (and possibly horizontal as well), and content plateauing, “which occurs when individuals have mastered their work and feel it no longer offers opportunities for learning or challenge.”  Then they state what to me seems obvious, that “plateauing has generally always been associated with negative consequences. Among other things, it has been linked negatively to employee satisfaction at work, affective commitment to the organization, work performance and psychological well-being.”  In other words, if you feel you’ve hit a plateau in your career, then you’re going to be a stressed, unhappy, emotionally disconnected and disengaged employee.  Surprise, surprise!

They hypothesize that career plateauing (structural and content) are negatively related to employees’ perception of supervisor (manager) and organization support. In other words, generally speaking, an employee experiencing plateauing perceives less support from his or he manager.  He or she may blame the supervisor for unfair performance reviews or preferential treatment of other team members. As well, “employees experiencing hierarchical or content plateauing have often been left out in the cold by the organization” (or so they feel).  In this case they may blame downsizing or company policies (e.g. outsourcing) for example.

I would suggest that in addition to content and structural plateauing, we might add what I’ll call compatibility plateauing, which can result from the first two. That is, an employee who finds herself stuck in her career because she feels there’s no chance of upward mobility or that her current job is stagnant and  has “become routine and no longer offer opportunities or challenges”, may opt for a lateral move (often without fully thinking it through) to a new role in the company because of the desire for change.  (The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. 😉  Then over time, she realizes that her real interests and passions actually lie elsewhere.

When faced with career plateauing, what can an employee do?  What factors enter into their thinking and ultimately, their decision-making process?  This is outside the scope of the article, but there are some obvious considerations such as age,  internal and external opportunities, willingness to retrain, etc.  For me personally, my (positive) relationship with my manager and team has a strong weighting (i.e. commitment, loyalty) on any decision I would make, which unfortunately, only adds to the stress.  My wife reminded me of another factor: how much self-definition and significance do I derive from my career? Especially in relation to family, friends, health, volunteering, hobbies, etc.  A good question that I can’t give a simple answer to.

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In Pink’s book (see previous post), he discusses 3 elements of “true” motivation: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Interestingly, the concept of passion for one’s job is not mentioned (not even listed in the Index). Shortly after reading Pink’s book, I decided to follow up by reading some of the sources he cites in his book, and in the course of doing so, stumbled across an interesting article, “A Tale of Passion: Linking Job Passion and Cognitive Engagement to Employee Work Performance”, by Violet Ho et. al. (Journal of Management Studies, 2009).

Here’s a broad overview of some the main concepts explored in the article:

Click on image for larger view

The authors argue for a “more rigorous definition, conceptualization, and operationalization of the job passion construct” and also provide empirical evidence to validate their ideas.

First, the authors give a more nuanced definition of job passion as “an attitude that comprises both affective and cognitive elements” that can be distinguished into two distinct forms, harmonious and obsessive passion.  They then hypothesize the relationship between passion and performance, proposing that “cognitive engagement is the mediating mechanism” through which this relationship coheres.

Based on their conceptualization of job passion, for my current role, I cannot say that I am passionate about my job, since I would have to have a “strong, intense liking for and enjoyment of the job” and that the job is very significant to me, to the point of defining (to a large degree) who I am.  They then disambiguate their definition of passion by arguing that it is related to, but distinct from such concepts as:

  • intrinsic and extrinsic motivation (Deci and Ryan, cited by Pink)
  • flow (Csikszentmihalyi, cited by Pink)
  • work-related attitudinal constructs such as job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and job involvement and identification

They also distinguish obsessive passion from workaholism in its various forms, noting that most researchers view workaholism as “an attitude that encompasses high work involvement and drive but low enjoyment“.  (I’m not so sure I see the distinction, but oh well.)

Drawing from psychology, specifically, role investment theory, the authors note that “employees will invest their cognitive attention and time in a role they find important and pleasurable (i.e. a role that they are passionate about), because it provides them with a source of self-esteem and self-actualization”. Furthermore, “based on the utilitarian perspective, people tend to invest more time and effort in roles that they find enjoyable and pleasurable because of basic hedonistic tendencies”.

The authors postulate 4 hypotheses which they then go on to validate with empirical research:

Hypothesis 1a: Harmonious passion is positively related to cognitive absorption.
Hypothesis 1b: Harmonious passion is positively related to cognitive attention.

Hypothesis 2a: Obsessive passion is negatively related to cognitive absorption.
Hypothesis 2b: Obsessive passion is negatively related to cognitive attention.

Hypothesis 3a: Cognitive absorption is positively related to work performance.
Hypothesis 3b: Cognitive attention is positively related to work performance.

Hypothesis 4a: Cognitive absorption and attention mediate the relationship between harmonious passion and work performance.
Hypothesis 4b: Cognitive absorption and attention mediate the relationship between obsessive passion and work performance.

Based on their findings, the authors note some practical implications. First, because “a core characteristic of harmonious passion is employees’ valuation and voluntary internalization of the job, one way to develop harmonious passion is to increase employees’ interest in and valuation of their jobs, which in turn can be accomplished by fostering conditions that make workers feel that they and their contributions matter. For example, previous research suggests that some of these conditions include empowering workers to make their own decisions, designing work to be meaningful and stimulating, and offering positive feedback about the import of the work they do and their contributions to the firm”.

The first suggestion they make, “empowering workers to make their own decisions”,  relates to Pink’s Autonomy.  In my current role, I think I have a decent measure of freedom as far as decision-making w.r.t. my day-to-day tasks.  As to their second point, “designing work to be meaningful and stimulating”, I’m not sure that’s always possible. I can’t say that the work I do in my current role is all that “meaningful and stimulating”.  Finally, to their last point, which is of special interest to me, since I am volunteering this year to be part of a team to help improve employee engagement, specifically with respect to recognition.  The authors note that:

positive feedback that is unanticipated and is an indicator of one’s competence would enhance the employee’s valuation of the job, implying that it would enhance harmonious passion. However, if positive feedback comes to be an expected outcome of the employee’s job and a focal reason for the employee to continue doing well, this could instead lead to a pressured internalization of the job and, in turn, the development of obsessive passion, where the job becomes valued not because of its inherent characteristics but because of outcomes and rewards attached to it. Hence, while the provision of positive feedback is a potentially effective strategy in developing employees’ passion for their jobs, we counsel against its indiscriminate and excessive use.

In other words, recognition shouldn’t given in a trite fashion or for trivial accomplishments.  More could be said about recognition, but that is the subject for another post.

In summary then, the article clearly demonstrates the link between passion, engagement and performance.  Not exactly surprising, but it is a nice supplement to Pink’s book, addressing a factor that he omitted.

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What Motivates You?

Recently, a group of us at work received a copy of Daniel Pink’s most recent book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, with the idea that we would meet to discuss the book after everyone had read it.  Unfortunately, that idea seems to have fallen by the wayside.  I was going to write a brief review of the book, but after watching this video again the other day (I had originally seen it before I read the book), I’m not so sure that I could add much to what was covered in the video:  it really was well done!  Check it out:

I may post a few additional comments or questions, however, once I skim over the book again (it’s been almost 2 months since I read it).

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