“Four Forms” of Engagement Model Published by Leading Employee Engagement Personality

My innovative “Four Forms” model of Employee Engagement, which identified four distinct types of employee-employer relationship:

  • The engagement of the “rifle”—battle: active opposition
  • The engagement of the “mat”—wrestling: active disagreement, but within a productive context
  • The engagement of the “gearshift”-mechanical: productivity without resistance
  • The engagement of the “ring”-mutual, heartfelt, emotional commitment
  • was recognized recently by one of the engagement movement’s leading practitioners, David Zinger.

    Zinger has posted a full article on the four forms on his own blog last month, and led off the piece with the following exchange between us:

    “Mike Klein is an original think around employee engagement. He joined the Employee Engagement Network recently and I asked him about his nonlinear view of employee engagement and employee engagement seen as a moral virtue. He wrote a comment on my network page that really got me thinking:

    Engagement is non-linear: The short answer regarding my non-linear view of engagement: I think the idea that the path between employee hostility and helpfulness as a straight line called “engagement” is total rubbish.

    Rather, I see “engagement” as a willingness to connect through some sort of relationship, which can either be hostile or helpful, passive or active, possessive or bereft of long-term commitment, and solitary or collective.

    As for my background–while I have more than 10 years of internal communication experience, mainly in Europe, I managed political campaigns in the US for 10 years as well, where I saw other patterns and models of engagement emerge around candidates and issues. That background gives me some perspective around the whole “engagement as moral virtue” piece–for it is impossible for anyone actively in a relationship to be disengaged, whether they are hostile, helpful or hopeless.

    Ultimately, I think this issue has been horribly mispositioned in the communications and management press, and that professionals need access to new models and vocabularies that don’t treat engagement solely as an employee issue, and solely as a matter of right and wrong.

    This whetted my appetite to learn more from Mike about employee engagement or engagement and I received his approval to reprint the blog post below. I have made a few slight changes to make it easier to follow but the post is directly from Mike.  This is not a short blog read but I believe your will gain much if you focus on the engaging metaphors that Mike presents.”

    The full posting can be found at:


    Leave a comment


    1. Jon Weedon

       /  08/01/2010

      I’m not sure that I understand the purpose of what appears to be a semantic argument about the meaning of the word engagement.

      In the context of employee engagement what every employer should be seeking to do is create a climate where employees have the intellectual understanding of what the company stands for and is trying to achieve and an emotional commitment to contributing in a positive and productive way to both.

      Defining true engagement as “hostile or helpful, passive or active, possessive or bereft of long-term commitment, and solitary or collective” may be semantically accurate but how does this help us to make a positive contribution to the bottom line?

      A ‘willingness to connect’ can be applied to any number of dysfunctional behaviours – stalkers, football hooligans, graffiti artists, wife beaters to name a few.

      An employee consistently behaving in a hostile, uncommitted, solitary and even passive manner is certainly not what I would call an engaged employee.

      Am I missing the point here?

      • Hi Jon–welcome to the Intersection.

        Are you missing the point? I’d more say that you disagree with my point than are missing it. I’m not sure from what you’ve written whether you’ve read my place explaining some alternative forms of engagement. Let me work on persuading you in any event.

        1) The whole matter of long-term commitment has taken a beating in the last 18 months. But much of the existing “employee engagement” thinking is built around an implication of long-term commitment. In your own definition of employee engagement, you speak to “employees having the intellectual understanding of what the company stands for and is trying to achieve and an emotional commitment to contributing in a positive and productive way to both.” Yours is a one-way definition, and the implicit return expectation has been around the company in turn providing a long-term (if unstated) commitment to the “engaged” employee.

        2) The kind of engagement organizations most desperately need at the moment, in my view, is not one based on emotional loyalty (even if such engagement is possible in most places now), but one based on the productive expenditure of emotional honesty. It’s a jungle out there. Financial models are screwed, communication and marketing channels have been fragmented into millions of little autonomous bits, and stakeholders are demanding their respective pounds of flesh from the corporations that remain. Most execs don’t have a clue about social media and it’s commercial, organizational and political implications, and if the answers are to be found within, the are unlikely to be found within the C-Suite alone. There will be a place for dutiful performance–but organizational survival may take pre-eminence in some cases.

        3) Conversely, for many employees, a clear, clean, transactional relationship that does not encourage excessive emotional investment may well be appropriate–and better both for the employees and employers. The current “employee engagement” thinking does not see this as legitimate or fair–yet it is likely to guide most relationships involving commoditized or commoditizable work. Delegitimizing it doesn’t help.

        4) Hooligans? One thing about hooligans is that they care about something–a lot. They bring a lot of energy to the game as well. They may not be worth the trouble to sort out, but chances are, there is a reason why they care. If you can address that reason effectively, you may bring them on side. In the US Civil War, the expression was “turn the cannons!” In this environment, turning the cannons may be very useful indeed.

    2. Mike – I agree that engagement is not linear. Instead, it might be more like an EKG — as long as it’s going up and down, your organization is living.

      Aside from a very few organizations, no one will be happy at work all of the time, particularly as the social compact between management and labor relied for so long on ever increasing pay and benefits for the worker coupled with guaranteed lifetime employment. This was obviously unsustainable, and management discovered that fact in myriad industries, notably in manufacturing in the more-developed world.

      Companies exist to create wealth for their owners, and if treating employees exceptionally well leads to exceptional returns, companies will do that. When the returns start to decline, companies make different choices that maximize owner return at the expense of other constituencies. It’s a very rational choice, especially as technology, automation and productivity make it possible to do more work with fewer people.

      This presents a classic conflict of interest. Research is forever trying to determine what, short of lifetime employment guarantee and ever increasing pay and benefits, will motivate employees to loyalty to the organization — and the expression of discretionary effort in support of the business.

      The engagement data (in particular, Gallup’s)seem to focus on the social experience of work — asking about whether one has a best friend at work, strong positive communications with one’s supervisor and peers, etc. But for the millions of Generation X and Y (Millenials) workers, their sense of identification isn’t primarily with the workplace.

      When I worked for Goodyear, it was stunning to learn of the astonishing array of services and activities that were available (even in 2003) to employees. Hunting and fishing, a private park with a lake, a band, a tournament level basketball gym. And that was half of what they used to have when 10,000 employees were on the HQ campus — theater groups, annual holiday events — you could share a ride with a colleague, work out in the gym and socialize with your fellow Goodyear families. A totally self-contained world (kind of like the US Military).

      The reward was nearly fanatical loyalty, if not outstanding productivity. As the tire business changed in the 1970s and 1980s, the company needed to change — expenses needed to be reduced, businesses sold, productivity increased, and all of this shocked and disappointed that loyal workforce. A brief unified front emerged in the mid-80s when the company fought off a hostile takeover (James Goldsmith, who wanted to break the company up). In the end, however, the company did take the actions necessary to bring the company into the 21st Century. It’s now a better performing company with truly innovative and exciting products that people want to buy.

      All this has happened in an environment that the Gallup folks would say is moderately disengaged; in your model, they’d be somewhere between Mat and Gearshift and struggling to capture the best of Mat to improve the company. (Or were — I’ve been gone from there for 2 years)

      There is no magic potion that will bring “engagement” (however we define it) — but we can adopt the long, slow, painstaking process of rebuilding some modicum of trust by encouraging organizations to be more open and less top-down. A goodly proportion of employees will shift the gears willingly; it’s the leadership and management team that needs to be raving fans.

      • Hi Sean!

        Welcome to the Intersection–and thanks for the excellent real-world example.

        I think the question about encouraging organizations to be more open is a very interesting one at the moment. For years, leadership and management had nearly total discretion about how open and hierarchical they wanted to be. With the changes taking place in the communication, computing and commercial worlds, it will be interesting to see how the extent to which this is no longer their choice has an impact on leadership, management and organizational behavior.

        That also talks to what I bring to the table as a practitioner.

        Stay tuned,


    3. Jon Weedon

       /  20/01/2010

      Hi Mike – I read your original article with great interest and admire the level of thinking that has clearly gone into the creation of your model. Where I struggle with it is that in the context of our professional lives, what use is employee engagement if it is not aspirational?

      I find dissecting the word ‘engagement’ as useful as dissecting the word ’employee’. I have been seeking better terminology for years but at the end of the day does it really matter what you call it? What matters is that you recognise it when you see it (so you can try to infect others with it) and equally, when you don’t (so you can do something about it).

      How does arguing that there is no such thing as disengagement so long as an employee has some form of contact with the organisation help us as Internal Communicators get better at what we do?

      I understand the academic argument in what you are saying, however on a practical level in my day job I’d say that engagement of the rifle, mat and gearshift all represent varying degrees of employee disengagement and all require some form of intervention.

      Engagement of the ring also represents a form of employee disengagement if that’s all it is. Blind faith, loyalty, and infatuation has little value if it is not accompanied with an intellectual understanding of what the company is seeking to do, as it can result in loose cannons enthusiastically racing around creating merry havoc.

      I suspect that you and I are far more aligned than my comments suggest. I too see employee engagement as non-linear, little to do with morale or staff satisfaction, in no way exclusive to employees, and most certainly cannot be delivered top-down in a one-size fits all manner.

      Long term commitment does not come in to the equation either. Truly engaged employees can move from company to company, transferring their levels of engagement with them as they go. While they work for you, so long as both parties maintain their sides of the contract, moving on should never be seen as a lack of loyalty or engagement.

      The world’s greatest sportsmen and women get it – even if many of the fans don’t!

      • The problem that I have with the term “disengagement” as commonly heard in the “engagement” discussion is that it’s a generic catch-all for any kind of negative behavior.

        Worse than its generic nature is its disparaging tone–if you want “engagement,” (and all businesses should because engagement is a moral virtue [as the common thinking posits]) then “disengagement” is bad and needs to be fought at all costs.

        This use and tone of language is counterproductive, in my view, because it devalues energy that, while not being used productively at the moment, can be used productively if properly diagnosed and channelled (stimulating ‘engagement of the mat’ to drive innovation and process improvement, and perhaps enfranchising and engaging those in ‘rifle mode’ in the process). It also disrespects good, solid work being done in “gearshift” mode by people whose productivity in their tasks may well exceed their enthusiasm for the organisation.

        If I were to create a full-on, non-linear model of engagement, it would have–in addition to the four forms of engagement (rifle, ring, mat and gearshift)–four main drivers:

        Two ongoing drivers:
        * Enthusiasm–zeal and passion
        * Friction–propensity to challenge

        Two time-sensitive drivers
        * Time commitment–long-term vs short term
        * Learning appetite–willingness to acquire new skills and knowledge

        Looking at those drivers, you can actually see a range of different engagement types–perhaps an “engagement of the dance”, which resembles a top footballer playing his all for Man United…until Real Madrid comes calling. Or perhaps an “engagement of the mission”, someone with high enthusiasm who takes on a long-term challenge in an overseas market without much need for organizational infrastructure.

        These are examples–the main thing is that we communicators/engagement people want to come up with simple, effective, and powerful solutions to the challenges our organisations face. Rather than sticking with an oversimplified if popular definition, I’ve chosen to challenge it to produce something more flexible and useful.

        And I too think we are pretty well aligned–in terms of enthusiasm for the subject, the time commitment worth putting in to it, and the learning appetite. It’s just the friction bit that needs to get worked out.

        All the best,


    4. Jon Weedon

       /  22/01/2010

      Hey Mike – I trust you mean friction á la rifle/mat as opposed to healthy dialogue between two grim faced and hardened old communicators 😉

      You are so right about the word disengagement – it would certainly be disparaging if you were to use it in the wrong context. In academic or high level strategic discussions I think we can get away with it but at work I wouldn’t dream of using it outside the boardroom.

      Actually, I find the word engagement equally problematic when it comes to describing one’s intentions in the workplace. It’s one of those words like ‘culture’ and ‘behaviour’ that I try at all costs to avoid in my day job.

      You are certainly off to a bad start if you announce to the company that you are launching a program aimed at increasing levels of engagement; or change behaviour; or improve the culture. It’s a massive turn off.

      I prefer to use language like: we’re starting a program to make the company an amazing place to work; or cut down on the red tape around here; or make it easier to find all the things you need to make your job run smoother.

      I have met people over the years that have job titles like ‘Head of Employee Engagement’. Surely that’s the CEO isn’t it? Doesn’t everything that goes on at work have an impact on staff engagement?

      Friction still bothers me. OK, so one of the worst things you can have in a company is a culture where fear prevents people from having their say. Surrounding yourself with ‘yes men’ will always end in tears. Encouraging people to speak up and push back and question things is very important. It’s how you arrive at good decisions.

      What you don’t need however is staff/managers openly questioning executive decisions that have been well made in an open and inclusive manner. And I cannot help feeling that looking through the engagement of the rifle/mat lens you may be inclined to see virtue in this kind of behaviour.

      Whether you describe such behaviour as a form of disengagement or engagement of the rifle/mat, it does not change the fact that the same approach needs to be deployed to fix the problem. And that approach cannot be prescribed; it can only be identified by taking into account the unique set of circumstances both inside and outside the organisation.

      One thing is for sure, I don’t think I would ever advocate removal or elimination of the source of the problem. I have found that your most influential allies are often those that originally spoke up loudest against you. Turning a detractor into an advocate is a very powerful weapon when fighting in the trenches of disengagement.

      Keep up the great work! BTW, have you seen the work being done on new brand tribalism? It’s very interesting! http://www.newbrandtribalism.com/


      • You nailed something on the head–when an organization has a “Head of Employee Engagement”–it’s symptomatic of the phenomenon we’ve been discussing all along–the idea that “employee engagement” is effectively some magical excess an organization can squeeze out of employees without any systemic, tangible, or truly senior commitment on its part.

        With regard to the issue of friction, it highlights another addition I need to make to the model–that of productivity itself.

        Three ongoing drivers:
        * Productivity–actual levels of performance
        * Enthusiasm–zeal and passion
        * Friction–propensity to challenge

        Two time-sensitive drivers
        * Time commitment–long-term vs short term
        * Learning appetite–willingness to acquire new skills and knowledge

        Low productivity friction is essentially the “rifle” territory, while more productive friction moves into “mat” territory. Interestingly, this highlights some other types–like unproductive enthusiasm–cheerleaders who do little actual work–and happy obsolescence–workers who are productive and enthusiastic and have no desire to learn and adapt.

        Personally, I think the more we can segment and target the benefits and deficits of each of the kinds of engagement that exist in our respective workplaces, the more effective will we be as communicators and as leaders charged with supporting these efforts. Embracing pseudo-scientific tools that effectively incentivize enthusiasm above all other factors and encourage the beating up of competent but less zealous staff, on the other hand, is the road to ruin. More articles to come.


    1. Semantics « Riding the ripple
    2. 2010 in review | Mike Klein–The Intersection

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