About 6 years ago I wrote a post for Fistful Of Talent entitled: HR Plays Too Much Defense”

The gist of the post was that HR sees their job as “protecting the company.” That HR is in the “prevention of problems game.” Unfortunately, the way you win that game is to not lose. And the way you “not lose” is to make sure you don’t have problems.  Your goal is to “fix” what is wrong. You look for things that aren’t working – or potentially may not work – and you fix them. You’re constantly on the lookout for gaps between where you are – and where the average is – where safe is. I think that post is still on point. HR still plays defense.

And maybe that is why the whole employee engagement thing hasn’t really panned out like everyone thought it would. Meaning – because the people that are typically tasked with engagement efforts in most companies are the same people that play defense for a living. Maybe we’re approaching engagement from that the same perspective.

Stay with me here…

Many (I won’t say all – there are always outliers) engagement efforts seem to be focused on fixing the things that are highlighted as shortcomings in the annual engagement survey. Better food! Done. Better benefits! Done. Better parking spots! Done. More foosball! Done.

So much defense.

Trust me on this – as long as you run a survey (and I count even those worthless pulse surveys) your respondents will highlight something you need to fix. #Fact. If you manage and plan your engagement efforts based solely on survey content you will ALWAYS be playing defense. And it is extremely rare to win any game playing defense. You need offense to win. You need to score points. Defense keeps things from getting out of hand but it doesn’t pull you ahead.

This whole defense/offense idea came back to me the other day when I read an article about Walmart that said (and I’m paraphrasing):

“Walmart needs to focus on giving people reasons to love them than trying to address the people that hate them.”

Let me ask you this… how much of your employee engagement plan is focused on making sure your employees don’t hate you? I’ll guess a fully 80% of all the work you’re doing on engagement in your company is focused on fixing problems. Playing defense.


Take a different approach. Play some offense.

Ask: “What would make our employees love us?”

The answer to that question is rarely “have a better coffee machine” – even if it is the #1 problem on the annual survey.

Now – go win the engagement game. Stop trying to not lose.