ATD Blog

Taxonomy of Engagement: Employees Need Membership, Opportunity, and Meaning

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The first post in this blog series introduced a taxonomy of engagement—a hierarchy of Equity, Membership, Opportunity, Meaning, and Service that links workplace interactions to engagement. While it is not absolutely required to gain awareness of higher levels of the hierarchy, unresolved lower levels will subvert individual, cultural, and organizational effectiveness. 

Most experts agree that engagement pivots on well-being and trust. With this as a foundation, organizations can build and support relationships and meaningful work. Without Equity, however, suspicion, skepticism, and cynicism will become prevalent, making it impossible to achieve the interior hierarchal constructs of the hierarchy: Membership, Opportunity, and Meaning (See Figure 1). Let’s take a closer look at these three levels. 


Level 2: Membership 

Moving up the hierarchy insists that the best interests of all shareholders must be in the hearts and minds of leaders. Organizations can achieve this through a purposeful symmetry of accountability and inclusion. Consequently, authentic membership is a catalyst for autonomy, experimentation, initiative, innovation, learning, and creativity. 

Additionally, the quality of the work culture reflects the quality of relationships. Growth, communication, inclusion, and friendships will help cultivate optimal performance of employees. For example, Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” selection criteria, which is based on a “Trust Index,” includes camaraderie. In other words, feeling like a member of a group. 

Likewise, Membership repeatedly surfaces as a high-impact variable in research by Bersin. In this instance, Membership is nested in relationships, buy-in, contribution, positive employee environments, coaching, and community building. 


For Membership to flourish, each individual contribution accents collaboration. Moreover, communication and membership are symbiotic. Communication, when highly valued, functions as the foremost hallmark of trust building and includes authentic input process for decision making. 

For instance, when I help groups develop an engagement strategy, I often hear the same sentiments: “We wish leaders would share more often” and “I learned something from a different branch or client that I should have already known.” Miscommunication and a failure to offer timely updates will devalue Membership. Bottom line: proper and complete communication leaves very little room for distrust, suspicion, or disenfranchisement. However, inadequate communication breeds distrust and vice versa. 

Membership is easily translated in everyday practice. Intimacy matters. Ask this question: How regularly do I, as a leader, take time to talk and share with employees, peers, leaders, and influencers where they work? If your answer if “often,” then you truly subscribe to an open door policy—and are a steward of Membership factor of engagement. 

Level 3: Opportunity 

Building on Membership, Opportunity enables the confidence and self-esteem that employees need to soar. Opportunity—and successive responsibility—follows workers who are respected and grow. While Membership is typically a product of the right hire, Opportunity produces mastery. 

In essence, Opportunity is an invitation to initiate something more, something new. Autonomy and room for error increase opportunity and drive. For example, mistakes approached as means to excellence, rather than as imperfections, lead to growth and mastery. Micromanagement, conversely, cripples mastery and impairs opportunity. Confidence and self-esteem interconnect with effective processes, training, and non-threatening feedback to drive optimal performance and foster a desire to seek new challenges. 


How is Opportunity seen in everyday practice? When your immediate supervisor or coach comes to your office and says:

  • “Take a minute, I’d like you to come with me to this meeting…”
  • “Take a look at this article and tell me what you think?”
  • “What would like to know more about our operations?”
  • “Would you like to learn more about X to do Y better?”
  • “I’d like you to cross-train or shadow with Z?” 

Level 4: Meaning 

While autonomy and mastery—two of three engagement drivers identified by Daniel Pink—are accommodated through Opportunity, finding meaning in one’s work and organizational citizenship are derived from shared values. Purpose, which is the third driver identified by Pink, requires Membership, from which Opportunity follows and meaningful contribution resides.  

In reality, rewards (promotion/raises) follow Opportunity; and Opportunity follows Equity and Membership. In this way, work has more Meaning and passions flourish when a worker is able to move away from the need for validation, rewards, position, and external stimuli (Think: what’s in it for me, paycheck, corner office) to making an impact (Think: giving). 

Why do employees leave the workplace? Three variables typically vie for first place: poor quality of supervision, few growth opportunities, and salary. Money, which has no long-lasting effect on performance, is usually stated as a motivator only when equity, relationship building, and growth have not been served and work has no meaning. 

The last part of this series focuses on how service is integral to commitment. Stay tuned.

About the Author

Vincent Miholic serves with the Louisiana Division of Administration’s OHR Organizational Learning and Development Team. His doctoral studies were conducted at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. Prior to his current role, he has served in wide-ranging post-secondary and secondary administrative and teaching roles.

Be the first to comment
Sign In to Post a Comment
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.