Hierarchy of Engagement

There is no greater advantage that can be gained than with engagement of knowledge workers. Neither process nor product nor patent.

Peter Drucker was alluding to this notion in 1999 with his article Beyond the Information Revolution when he said: “…the key to maintaining leadership in the economy and the technology that are about to emerge is likely to be the social position of knowledge professionals…”

A further tribute to our media and management oracles is when Marshall McLuhan coined the term “Global Village” in the early 1960’s. I doubt (with reluctance) that he could have imagined the bazaar of economic and social interaction that would take place. McLuhan said in his book Understanding Media (1964): “As electrically contracted, the globe is no more than a village. Electric speed at bringing all social and political functions together in a sudden implosion has heightened human awareness of responsibility to an intense degree.”

These references to an information revolution and the ‘position of knowledge professionals’, or electric media and the ‘heightened human awareness of responsibility’ both reinforce a simple construct: information is no longer bestowed upon others exclusively by people in positions of authority, privilege or academic credential. It is everywhere all at once, widely accessible and bringing us together in a village of human endeavour. In this universe of data, our ability to assimilate, apply and act-upon it is what makes the difference.

In this post-revolution Big Data marketplace, ideas and innovation are the currency. Speed and agility are the differentiators. Learning is the new work. Adaptiveness is the basic skill for survival.

If engaging knowledge workers is the only real competitive advantage, then an organization’s fundamental purpose becomes one of generating unique expertise, experiences and cultivating talent– maximizing the potential contributions of people. We’re all in the “human capital” business.

To get engagement we must first square-up the single most misrepresented aspect of human endeavour. A fatal assumption about people that their individual ambition or motivation is externally-governed. Consider accepting this radical notion, at the expense of all those peripheral motivation and compensation schemes: people want to do good work, be competent, succeed, develop, be responsible, take-on and accomplish more. These are intrinsically truly human conditions. We are genetically predisposed to pursue our self-actualization. People are not the limit to organizational achievement, it is the organization that gets in the way, often (unintentionally) by design.

Our ambitions are accelerated in an information-rich environment because it causes us to have a greater awareness of what is possible and a greater sense of purpose in our work and life. It feeds our natural desire to reach higher levels of achievement and actuality. The Greek philosopher Aristotle called this “potentiality”.

In an organizational structure, having anything less than an adaptive place of learning, mentorship, growth, development and advancement actively accelerates disengagement. It stifles potential. We are creative beings who will engage in unproductive behaviour to feel competent and accomplished.


Engagement is Proportional to Responsibility™


Matching individual capability with complexity of a role is what engages people in the performance of their work. Parallel to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, your Hierarchy of Engagement recognizes that people have intrinsic motivations, aspirations and basic needs at all levels, all operating at the same time with varying intensity and priority. The order in which potential is realized and experienced, begins with the most fundamental requirements to the highest order of personal mastery:

LEVEL 5 – Actualization
LEVEL 4 – Advancement
LEVEL 3 – Achievement
LEVEL 2 – Authority
LEVEL 1 – Accountability

Accountability is the most basic need. The foundation of it all and the first level of organization. It sets the who-to-whom relationships. Contrary to popular opinion, accountability is not something you can “be” nor “be held to” nor “share”, see: Myths of (In)Effective Workplaces. It is simply the relationships. There is no structure without clearly drawn, singular accountability (the Matrix is an illusion). It is the basis for defining individual roles and contributions.

Authority is akin to being secure in one’s place or position and role– decision rights, access to resources, discretion, control and empowerment. A lack of true authority is a barrier to achievement.

Achievement elicits a sense of purpose and belonging. It is the level of accomplishment, completion and expression of competence that encourages greater ambition and aspiration.

Advancement is the personal and institutional recognition of capability and potential contribution. This can be interpreted as both moving ‘up’ and moving ‘forward’. Taking the next step and taking-on more responsibility or complexity in a role.

Actualization represents that elusive state of mastery. This is the “potentiality” between where we are and who we perceive ourselves to be– a lifetime pursuit. This is the level where people attach meaningfulness to their work. It defines our work in relation to who we believe we can become. The pursuit of self-actualization is what pulls performance higher and higher.

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