Employee Engagement…What’s in a Name?

Last summer I was spending a lot of time at the hospital.  My husband had had a serious stroke and so my days were spent largely going to and fro, admittedly in a bit of a haze.  I didn’t have time to notice too much of anything outside the small sphere of my personal concern but there was one thing that stood out, one thing that I noticed each morning as I walked past.  The Hospital Human Resources Department had changed its name to The Employee Engagement Department.

Now, four months later, my husband and I go back to the hospital from time to time.  Each time I see that sign, I wonder what they might be doing differently now that they weren’t doing when they were called The Human Resources Department.  And it started me thinking.

It is easy to change a name but not so easy to live up to it.  In the case of the hospital employees, I wondered what their experience was like working under the newly popular umbrella of Employee Engagement. Did they feel more engaged or involved?  Were they happier?  Were their issues and concerns being heard more than before?  Were their opinions being sought out more often?  Were their teams more functional and productive?  Did they feel more energized and valued?  Were the hospital’s costs better managed or the patients’ experience enhanced?

Of course I don’t know the real answers to any of that except to say that my short observation of this particular hospital staff led me to believe that not much had appreciably changed in the way they went about their daily work life.

And perhaps that’s the point.  You can change the label on something but it won’t make the substance of it any different unless you a do something differently or introduce something new. Simply calling it something else just doesn’t get the job done.

So maybe there are a couple of ways of looking at this.  Do you change the name first to create a mental visual around what you want to achieve? Or, do you re-label only when you can be satisfied that what you have to offer bears a reasonable resemblance to the name you give it?

I’m kind of leaning to the latter here.  After all if you take a cherry pie and label it “apple”, it may resemble an apple pie from the outside but unless you change what’s inside, it’s going to stay a cherry pie no matter what you call it.

What do you think?

P.S. If you really want to know more about employee engagement you should check out David Zinger’s blog.  He provides lots of good and useful information to those who really want to  inspire people to bring their “A” game to work.



Filed under Building Relationships, Change Management, Employee engagement, Establishing Direction, Learning, motivating & Inspiring, Uncategorized

13 responses to “Employee Engagement…What’s in a Name?

  1. I think that very many renamings of this kind are intended give the impression that something is better—neither more nor less.

  2. If – and I say IF there is a large change program in place – I can see the name change.

    In some cases that change may be to shed some past baggage.

    To get people to cut the cord on that past and look towards a new future. A new symbol or story of how the future will look and feel different than the past.

    But – as you say: “if you take a cherry pie and label it “apple””

    Well, all the name changes in the world won’t help you!

    Regards and thank you!


    • Gwyn Teatro

      You make a good point, Elliot. Sometimes you just have to create a different kind of visual before you can move away from what isn’t working.
      However, once you create the visual, then you have to follow through because if you don’t, the danger is that you make things worse than they were before.

      Thanks for coming by 🙂

  3. Ginny

    Good post Gwyn and thought provoking as always!
    Over the years I have worked for many different companies and have been a part of this name change game. One place I worked for it was a way for management to move people around/let some go. Change the name of the department and the people working there no longer fit the bill and new persons came in that fit the new name, a restructuring of a sort is what they called it. In my experience it was not a positive thing. Another place I worked it was a more warmer and fuzzier moment. The name was change to a more positive name sorta like at the hospital. This time, no one was moved or let go, and the work was pretty much the same. It just sounded different!

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Ginny,

      Thanks for sharing your experiences. Regrettably Name changing can indeed be used as a tool to justify actions for which there can be no other justification. That’s why I lean more to re-labeling after a change rather than before. It seems much more honest somehow.
      Thanks for coming by! 🙂

  4. You have me thinking about what truly gives the labels we assign to things their meaning. Gorbachev breathed an expansive meaning into a word “glasnost”. He infused an existing word with new and highly relevant meaning that represented a compelling possibility for the Russian people. It became the context for a major transformation.

    When people change the name of a department like this I think they are attempting to change the context. But the context doesn’t live in the words, it comes alive in the things we say and do to give those words meaning and credibility over time. It is no different with a vision or values – all too often those things are created only to end up in various documents and visual displays. But until the words and ideas make it into everyday conversations they will make no difference.

    In fact I believe these kinds of surface level attempts at change can backfire by fueling resignation and diminishing the credibility of the leaders who believe they are actually facilitating change.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      “the context doesn’t live in the words, it comes alive in the things we say and do to give those words meaning..” I think that pretty much nails it.

      I think too, that it is the hardest thing to do to take an organization, already firmly entrenched in one culture, and attempt to change its perspectives and behaviour to create another.

      So many attempts are met with failure simply because the name given to something is not backed up with the context you speak of.

      Thanks, Susan, for making that point and for contributing to the discussion!

  5. Gwyn, thats a very astute observation, but I am sure you know that people are easily fooled. I was driving home the other day when I heard on NPR that someone had done an experiment where they dyed white wine red and then given it to “experts”, who then raved about its various flavors and nuances, all of which related to red wine!! So changing a name will fool some of the people, some of the time, or maybe more than some!

    In this field (employee morale and engagement) one has the wonderful opportunity to separate the BS from what is real, via the survey process. Ask the employees about each of the company’s stated values, for example, as to whether they are lived or not…..its amazing, the results you get back. Talk, of course, is cheap. Doing something in this area, dealing as it does with the human psyche, heart and soul….is more difficult.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi David,

      Your story about the wine made me smile and it also made me think that even though the “experts” were initially fooled, at some point in time they would have found out about it and that very likely would have made them feel embarrassed, angry and resentful. So too, I think it is with people in organizations. By re-labeling something, you can indeed create the illusion you want without having to actually change anything, at least for a short period of time. And then, when you get found out(and you will), your efforts to achieve some kind of connection to the new concept and the people you were hoping to influence, pretty much have to be doubled to even hope for a successful outcome.

      To your point, asking employees for their opinions, whether through surveys or other means is a good place to start. And, it is what you do with the information you get that counts most.

      Thank you for taking part in the discussion. Your contribution is much appreciated! 🙂

  6. Hi Gwyn, nice to get your reply! One thing I noticed that I want to comment on. You said:

    I would back up a bit and say its how you collect the information that counts first! After all if the information is not valid, no matter what you do, you are flying blind. An employee survey is the ONLY method of collecting numerical data in this area, of doing so confidentially, of giving everyone a chance to participate (100% “census”) and of giving an organization a chance to compare to previous results or to look at quantitative diferences between groups. You can run focus groups (and believe me I have run hundreds!) and you dont have any of this. That degrades the information you have. Surveys are a super-powerful tool, they look simple but their power is undeniable. If well done, of course!

    all the best, David

    • Gwyn for some reason this didnt pick up my quote from you…..it should read:

      You said:
      And, it is what you do with the information you get that counts most.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Thanks for your added comment, David. I know what you mean about the importance of ensuring the quality of the information being gathered. and your experience in ensuring that quality far exceeds anything I might be capable of. My only further comment actually affirms your last remark and that is, there are surveys and there are surveys. Done well, they are a powerful tool. Done badly, they can be a pretty lethal weapon.
      Thanks so much for “playing” with me here!

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