When You Define Employee Engagement, Culture ImprovesBy Maddie Grant

When you truly sit down to define employee engagement, you find the culture challenges you’ve been having change.

But it’s not as easy as that, unfortunately.

According to research from Gallup, most organizations have been operating for the last decade with only a small percentage of their workforce truly engaged at work.

The most recent global numbers have about 30 percent as engaged and giving their discretionary effort, while 20 percent are so actively disengaged, that they are intentionally sabotaging their own organizations.

Think about that.

Your Team is Not Engaged

Those numbers haven’t changed significantly in a decade, so for 10 years, only a small number of your employees have been giving it their all, and they have been almost cancelled out by the people who seem to be rowing in a different direction.

It’s a wonder that we’ve accomplished as much as we have in our organizations!

Can you imagine where we’d be if those engagement numbers were higher?

Can you imagine what you could accomplish if you really could define employee engagement for your organization?

This potential, of course, is what has spurred many organizations to start measuring engagement and working to improve overall employee engagement.

But there’s a problem.

When we define employee engagement, we typically look for some version of “satisfaction” or “happiness” among employees.

And it’s true, the deeply engaged certainly like their work, but by measuring happiness, we then set out to improve happiness—not engagement—and that’s where things go wrong.

Define Employee Engagement for Happiness

Based on their engagement scores, organizations design programs they think will make the employees like their work more.

Too often, however, the scores actually decline, because they set up to define employee engagement the wrong way and is not something you can improve directly like that.

Engagement is a result, not a variable.

It is a natural byproduct of a deep alignment among four things:

  1. The employee;
  2. The work he or she does;
  3. What is valued internally; and
  4. What drives the success of the organization.

Those last two are your culture, and most organizations fail to see how important that is to engagement.

Define Your Culture

If your culture is not clear—and clearly linked to what drives the success of the enterprise—then engagement is much more difficult to achieve because employees don’t know how to truly fit in.

The companies we studied in our book, When Millennials Take Over: Preparing for the Ridiculously Optimistic Future of Business, have intentionally designed their cultures not to make employees happy, but to be clear about what is required to be successful.

That attracts people who are aligned with that purpose, and the absurdly high engagement numbers follow.

These companies have employees who say things such as, “I can’t imagine working anywhere else,” and if they do end up leaving the company to try working somewhere else, they frequently come back.

So if you want to improve, set out to define employee engagement by getting a clearer understanding of your own culture and why it works (or doesn’t work).

This is not about coming up with a pretty values statement or plopping down a foosball table in the break room.

Then Execute

It’s about laser-sharp clarity about what you value internally and why you value it, and being able to translate that into specific behaviors and processes that support those behaviors.

Our own culture assessment starts with simply measuring what’s valued—not by the leadership and what they say should be valued—but by everyone simply describing how things get done along four key dimensions.

Higher employe engagement is definitely within reach, but only if you define employee engagement and focus on culture.

photo credit: Shutterstock

P.S. VERY IMPORTANT! Wish Maddie a very happy birthday!

Maddie Grant

Maddie Grant, CAE is an expert digital strategist who has helped hundreds of organizations engage with their customer base and build capacity for using social media and online communities to achieve business results. In addition to her work through her consulting firm Culture That Works, Maddie is Editor of SocialFish, one of the most visited and respected blogs written for nonprofit and association executives. She is an accomplished speaker and author and has written several books, including the 2012 hardcover, co-authored with Jamie Notter, titled Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World, and When Millennials Take Over: Preparing for the Ridiculously Optimistic Future of Business, out in March 2015.

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