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Loyalty and engagement - two peas in the same pod? Or apples and pears?

Updated: Jul 23, 2018

As consultants, we find it easy to be loyal to some clients, and far harder to feel the same way about others. Clients who treat us as partners, rather than suppliers; clients who take us into their confidence about future plans, clients who involve us in solving with them their knotty problems, clients who engage us in events to help us meet their colleagues…..not surprisingly, for these clients we go the extra mile.

For leaders, the broader question of engagement with employees, customers, regulators, interest groups, consumers – and how best to do that - is central to achieving business and people strategies. The assumption, and much research backs this up, is that engaged people are likely to be more motivated, have increased commitment to the organisation, be more productive, happier and….loyal, so that they’ll do the right things, do things right and get the results you want. Maybe.

If we look closer, we find some flaws in this logic…..

  1. First error is that everyone is equally valuable: they’re not. We’re not all equal employees when it comes to what our organisations need – hence high potential groups, scarce skill groups and key worker categories. Some people are essential to the functioning of the business, others are necessary and still others are useful.

  2. Second error is that all employees mean the same thing about being engaged in their work and organisations: they don’t. Some want engagement for career reasons, others because they have affiliation needs which work satisfies and still others who just want a secure job which will support their families or lifestyle.

  3. Third error is that the people you most want to stay, will be the ones that do: if you want them so badly, chances are they’re valuable elsewhere too. Giving them the stretch that helps personal and professional growth, the projects that broaden their capabilities and the feedback that helps them know how they are doing.

As we move from the knowledge economy to the connection economy, engaging with the wide spectrum of loyalties represented by your people is more likely to build engagement, than hoping or imagining everyone comes to their work with the same loyalty and engagement DNA.

Use the following questions to explore what YOU think about loyalty and engagement…..and get a better handle on what people around you may need from their work.

Loyalty’s discretionary, isn’t it? Loyalty is often described as ‘non-contractible effort’. We want to know that the people who come to work with us will be loyal about, but we can’t mandate it or write it into their contracts.

  • What assumptions do you have about how you build loyalty?

Does loyalty to your organisation need people to feel useful and worthwhile? Or just get well paid for what they do? In the 19th century Dostoevsky wrote: "If one wanted to crush and destroy a man entirely, to mete out to him the most terrible punishment, all one would have to do would be to make him do work that was completely and utterly devoid of usefulness and meaning.”

  • What‘s the kind of loyalty most people bring to the place where you work?

Loyalty or competence: what’s the choice Larry Ellison’s hiring practices for his senior executives at Oracle were well known for favouring loyalty over competence; he also hired people who would be dependent on their jobs as a way to continually ensure their loyalty.

  • If you couldn't have both, which would you choose?


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