Workforce Enablement: Get Engaged and Go with the Flow


by Roy Atkinson
August 31, 2016

Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult to get their work done.
Peter F. Drucker

What science knows and what business does are 2 different things.
David Johnson

Engagement + Enablement = Effectiveness
Tom McMullen

What if management wasn’t a roadblock? What if management’s job was to clear the way and provide the tools necessary for people to do outstanding work? (We all know that’s what management’s job is supposed to be, but often isn’t, as Drucker observed.)

What if management wasn’t a roadblock?
Tweet: What if management wasn’t a roadblock? @HDI_Analyst @ThinkHDI

Employee engagement is a property of the relationship between an organization and its employees. An "engaged employee" is defined as one who is fully absorbed by and enthusiastic about their work and so takes positive action to further the organization's reputation and interests. ——Wikipedia

In general, workforce enablement operates with the belief that, given the means and opportunity, engaged employees will do good, efficient work.

As the Wikipedia article cited above states, however, “Defining employee engagement remains problematic.” Rather than wade into those waters, most organizations have been measuring employee satisfaction—a related metric and one usually calculated based on employee surveys.

There are roadblocks to employee engagement, and one of them is to fail to enable the engaged employee. Consider the plight of an employee who believes in the company mission and vision, is a solid worker, and who has great ideas to share, but is shut out of relevant meetings and conversations. Worse yet, consider the frustration of that employee when she/he is told that the tools they need to use are not available or accepted or that they cannot proceed because of organizational constraints.

A few years ago, Forrester analyst David Johnson wrote about the work of Daniel Pink and that of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the originator of the concept of flow, the mental state in which workers are completely engaged and do work without watching the clock. Flow is characterized by intense concentration, and Johnson says that its conditions are autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

In the world of the support center, discussion of the state of flow may seem out of place. The work—consisting largely of responding to unhappy users and customers—is frequently described in terms like mind-numbing or even depressing. Many people do seem to thrive in this environment, however, and remain productive, loyal employees for years. In the HDI community, there are stories of people who have been offered positions outside support that were considered better jobs and turned them down.

If people actually turn down jobs that are considered advancement, then there must be something intrinsically motivating them in their work. This seems to run counter to most of the thinking on this topic, which is centered on work that is considered—to use the right word—engaging.

Consider, however, how those three elements of flow that Johnson identified—autonomy, mastery, and purpose—might be played out in a support scenario and what obstacles might prevent support staff from becoming truly engaged with the work.

Shifting left (i.e., bringing more complex work from Level 2 and 3 support down to the front line while simultaneously moving the simple, repetitive work out to Level 0) requires the front line staff to do far more than read scripts verbatim and ask people to reboot. Troubleshooting and problem solving are indeed engaging types of work and can be very rewarding when they succeed. This speaks to autonomy and to mastery. The staff members are semi-autonomous in that they are not bound by scripts, but rather challenged to find the correct solution and update or create the appropriate documentation. Mastery comes from continually improving both personal skills and the knowledge used in the work, often through the KCSsm methods of Use it, Flag it, Fix it, Add it.

As for the third element of flow, purpose, that’s where the leadership capabilities of the support center management come in. The support center should have a mission and vision that are aligned with those of the larger organization and should be acting on the mission every day.

Again and again we talk about the three pillars of the industry: People, process, and technology. If the staff has engaging work to do, the boundaries in which to do it, and the tools to get it done, the ideas of flow and the support center are not very far apart after all.


Roy AtkinsonRoy Atkinson is HDI's senior writer/analyst, acting as in-house subject matter expert and chief writer for SupportWorld articles and white papers. In addition to being a member of the HDI International Certification Standards Committee and the HDI Desktop Support Advisory Board, Roy is a popular speaker at HDI conferences and is well known to HDI local chapter audiences. His background is in both service desk and desktop support as well as small-business consulting. Roy is highly rated on social media, especially on the topics of IT service management and customer service. He is a cohost of the very popular #custserv (customer service) chat on Twitter, which celebrated its fifth anniversary on December 9, 2014. He holds a master’s certificate in advanced management strategy from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business, and he is a certified HDI Support Center Manager. Follow him on Twitter @HDI_Analyst and @RoyAtkinson.


Tag(s): workforce enablement, supportworld, leadership, employee engagement

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