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Don't let your work be a "limited engagement only"

(MoneyWatch) When it comes to your real level of commitment to your work and the people your work touches, are you and your employees putting it all out there, or just phoning it in?

Lots of things go into making a great employee (and of course great employees make great companies), and high on that list is engagement. An employee's true connection to her work, colleagues, customers and others has enormous impact, and the range of degrees of engagement cuts a wide swath.

In my years as an employer, and in dealing with countless people at countless companies, I've typically seen four general levels of engagement -- or disengagement, as the case may be. Although every day is different (and everyone has their off days) chances are that in the great scheme of things most employees fall into one of these categories:

1. Removed: Pretty much just showing up. Doing what they must to get through the day and through the job. More companies than not, particularly larger organizations, have some percentage of people in this ambivalent category. Depending on the job, at best they might be relatively harmless, at worst toxic. But in general they're a drag on the business. Whenever possible, people who are removed should be removed.

2. Attached: Employees who do their jobs and care enough to do them at a basic, acceptable level, but typically don't offer a whole lot more. They might be described as "dutiful" or "decent," but never stellar. For many companies, these are the folks who are essentially thought of as "good enough to keep around," but an organization that wants to be extraordinary must minimize or avoid basic attachment. At the very least, watch this group carefully -- it is often easier for them to slide down than jump up.

3. Engaged: Fully on board, dedicated and attentive to their work, genuinely concerned about colleagues and customers, motivated to do whatever needs to be done. They range from good to great and generally have upward mobility potential. If attached employees are at risk of devolving to into the "removed" variety, engaged employees are prime candidates for hopping up to level four.

4. Passionate: This is where you will find the superstars. They truly love their work, the projects, products or services in which they're involved, their associates, and certainly customers. Without exception they take pride in what they do. They are tireless and true, and are the ones who always understand the importance and value of individual effort to the success of the organization, no matter how big or small.

Again, no one's perfect, and for sure no one is all rainbows and unicorns every single day. In fact it's possible for the most passionate person to have a bad day and sink to being removed now and again (the converse, of course -- a removed person periodically soaring to passionate -- is unlikely).

Excepting some traditionally removed industries and occupations, I think the average employee with responsibility and accountability hovers somewhere between being attached and engaged. But exceptional performance always lives in the top two categories, so the ideal is to keep your baseline well up in engaged/passionate territory the vast majority of the time.

If you believe, as I do, that the quality of an organization is first and foremost determined by the sum of its human parts, then any company that aspires to greatness must be sure those parts are fully engaged.