Got Purpose? Employee Engagement and Its Link to Culture

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How do you create engaged employees in an organizational environment where change is constant, competition is high, and finding the right talent is challenging?  As companies focus on profitability, where does employee engagement fit in?  What are some common threads in highly successful organizations with empowered employees?

Tie your culture to your business strategy.  Consider the role model for employee engagement…Zappos.  Their culture is their strategy.  They embed their culture into the customer service strategy by trusting their employees and empowering them to use the right judgment to delight their customers.  It’s critical that your core beliefs and values are not only communicated frequently throughout the organization, but they are tied to job tasks, rewards, and process in every organization. Whether its performance reviews, training plans, product strategy, customer service strategy or marketing, you need to reward and advocate for processes and actions that tie culture to business strategy.

Focus on more than compensation as a driver of engagement.  Focus on Purpose. Many surveys, including the Deloitte Core Believe and Culture Survey, have found that the intangible elements of regular and honest communication and access to leadership are key elements of employee engagement.   When I look at my teenagers and other millennials, it’s clear that money is not one of their primary motivators. It’s about working for a company with purpose and connection to the community.  If an organization puts purpose before the financials…they may be able to inspire and engage their employees, which in turn creates high levels of employee engagement, which boosts productivity and profitability.  Profit is an outcome of purpose, not the other way around.  I am not convinced that putting ping pong tables in the workplace as well as having parties or after work drinks does anything for employee engagement.  Employees are engaged with organizations that have a purpose that employees understand and believe in.  An example of this is Southwest Airlines.  According to Fast Company, “Founder Herb Kelleher has made Southwest’s purpose absolutely clear: to democratize the skies and this purpose is woven into every aspect of Southwest Airlines.”

Your Actions Must Speak to the Company Values. Communicating your company values, your company purpose is just one small part of creating a culture of employee engagement. Leadership must embrace it into every action they do.  It cannot be just words.   Management needs to both believe the values and embed them in their actions.  Employees look to management to demonstrate company values and purpose. For example, if you have an organization that sponsors a volunteer day yet no managers participate, employees realize that the stated company values are mere words.  Employees notice what management does and does not do in relation to the values that they espouse.  For example, the CEO of the Boston-based Market Basket grocery chain regularly visited all of his stores, knew employees by name, and attended events such as weddings and funerals of the employees.  When the board forced him out this summer, his employees went on strike to restore him and protect the company culture.  Furthermore, customers honored the picket line and rallied behind the employees.  The show of worker solidarity and purpose was widely covered in the press and customers flocked back to the stores once the long-standing board room dispute was resolved.  The CEO understood that his employees and the community were stakeholders in the success of Market Basket.  The core value of connection to the community was part of his everyday job.

To remain competitive, retain and hire the best talent, be profitable, and tie your strategy to your culture to your purpose to your company values.  They need to be looked at as a whole, to truly inspire your workforce.