Why Culture and Engagement Trump Everything

Culture and engagement issues have always been a priority, but today they are more essential to business health going forward than ever before.

Employee engagement is now widely viewed by most companies as an important driver of productivity, retention and results. As a result, from perks to incentives to training, organizations have been searching for that ideal mix that will keep employees motivated, inspired and willing to give it their all.

It could be that they’re viewing the issue from the wrong lens.

The annual Deloitte Human Capital Trends study found that one of the biggest challenges organizations are facing today is a need to improve “employee experience.” Not only did 84% of survey respondents rate the issue as important, 28% said it was one of the three most urgent issues their organization is dealing with.

One clue about why organizations continue to struggle on both the engagement and experience fronts lies in another pair of statistics from that study: Only 53% of respondents said their organizations were effective or very effective at creating meaningful work, and only 45% thought that they were effective or very effective at delivering supportive management.

Employee engagement efforts, although centered around the employee, have been primarily top-down initiatives that “relied on the organization’s hope that employees would choose to engage with the company’s ideas, culture, work, and results,” Deloitte notes. Employee experience, on the other hand, though bottom-up in concept, still focuses primarily on the work itself.

User-friendly processes and workflows and well-designed office environments are great. So are perks and rewards. But as Deloitte points out, none of these addresses the human side of work. What people want from the work is meaning and opportunities for growth. They want to find purpose in what they’re doing and a connection to the mission. And that’s why it takes an organizational effort to significantly improve engagement and experience.

The Power of Purpose and Engagement

Getting this right matters. Gallup estimates that actively disengaged employees cost companies about a third of the disengaged worker’s salary in lost productivity. And when those employees are checked out, you can bet that’s impacting the customer experience as well.

In fact, culture and engagement have a ripple effect. Another study by Deloitte, focusing on cultures of purpose, found that when employees feel like they’re working for something greater than pure profits, their companies are more successful. These high-performing companies, which are committed to creating a meaningful impact for everyone, define their values by the success of their customers.

The bottom line is that people buy from companies they like, and those tend to be the companies that place an importance on mission and purpose. Their people not only understand the organization’s broader mission, values and purpose, they feel connected to them and have aligned their own behaviors around them. When that happens, customers notice.

So, what are you doing to build that culture of meaning and purpose? Here are 3 steps to consider:

  1. Focus on aligning for value: It’s not enough to have a great mission statement. Embedding the mission, values and purpose into the culture requires alignment of people (talents and traits), processes (skills and tools), support (leadership and coaching) and commitment (employee attitudes, beliefs and values).
  2. Turn managers into coaches: But not just any coaches. Managers need to have the mindset as well as the skillset to see the potential in their employees—even if their employees don’t yet see it themselves. They also need to help employees discover what motivates them personally. It’s a necessary part of the process of finding meaning in the work and connecting it to the company’s purpose.
  3. Remember, you’re developing peopleAside from the fact that tools like sales scripts and rote-based training aren’t effective for changing behavior over the long term or building customer loyalty, they discount the reality that people are individuals. They have unique attitudes, beliefs and values, all of which affect how they view the company, its products and services, their job, and ultimately, their performance. A values-based approach, linked to your corporate mission and purpose, is a win for all sides.

It takes more than a few HR policies and environmental tweaks to improve the employee experience and create a highly engaged workforce. Employees at all levels want to know that what they’re doing is making a difference. Is your culture aligned in a way that will inspire your workforce to achieve more?



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