When I was in the fifth grade, my schoolmates and I used to say we were "going steady" when we decided to spend time with someone of the opposite sex. Far from being a serious commitment -- because really how serious is anything when you're 10 -- "going steady" meant that you'd give a boy your undivided attention for about 2 weeks or so until both of you got interested in someone else.
Everybody is chasing the holy grail of "engagement" these days. Since many of us started using the term in the late 90s to describe the act of deeply involving people in communication and other activities, others have jumped on the proverbial bandwagon and started to define their jobs, their consulting firms and their organization's success in terms of how well they "engage" a whole range of stakeholders.
In general, I say "Bravo." I am sincerely happy to see people focusing on how they can "engage" people in meetings and events or "engage" customers with a brand instead of just trying to tell them things all the time.
What does concern me, though, is the tendency I've seen for some people to define "engagement" as simply encompassing short term involvement. For example, "engaging" people at a meeting might mean that we simply get people to push a few buttons on an audience response system or "engaging" customers might simply mean that we get them to post a response on our blog.
The reality is that real engagement goes beyond simply keeping people amused or entertained or getting them to participate. Real engagement is about results. Real engagement is about execution. And real engagement is about real work.
The next time you're about to use the word "engagement," stop and think. Is what you're doing going beyond simplistic attention-grabbing schemes? Will your efforts to engage people have long term impacts on your organization? How will you leverage the input from the "crowd" that you "source"? Are your efforts at engaging people through social media really producing results over a substantial period of time?
In short, are you really "engaging" people or just "going steady"?