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Employee Engagement: using Organizational Culture

  • 15 November 2010
  • Posted by Marcella Bremer

Calling customer service, you immediately hear whether they really care or whether they feel indifferent. Intuitively we all know the importance of employee engagement. And research confirms it. In a study of professional service firms for instance, it was found that offices with engaged employees were up to 43% more productive. I'm a much happier customer when the service employee cares about my problem and puts in maximum effort to solve it...

The engaged employee is engaged in the work, their co-workers and the workplace. This is what employers and executives are looking for: People who are committed and participate, who think about improving, changing and so on. They have this magic "ownership" that is crucial for successful change. They have intrinsic motivation and feel responsible. They supply energy and ideas and will go the extra mile. At least, if you don't frustrate them unnecessarily and give them a chance to participate.

Old school leadership?

This is not easy for all executives and managers. Old school leaders are unilaterally educated in control and focused on figures. But management is really very social "people" work. Good leaders like to work with people. They respect and deal with the emotions, surprises, creativity, moods and basic human needs. Employee engagement is a nice theoretical concept, but in practice it means that you actually have "to let people in". Have them participate, hear their opinions, acknowledge and appreciate them, even though you can't have a full democracy at work and the ultimate decisions are still a management prerogative. There must be an area of influence for employees to engage in. Otherwise it's just a pro forma obligation to have an employee survey every two years.

Professionals need some freedom

In the database collecting everyone's anonymous scores on the Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument, the majority of respondents desire more freedom, flexibility, meaning and people-oriented collaboration at work as opposed to control, sticking to procedures, competing and having to achieve your targets no matter what. People need engagement, meaning and acknowledgement. They're educated professionals most of the time. They know their profession. They don't want industrial era management and control from their leaders. They'd prefer assessment and feedback from professional colleagues to get better. They want to give their best when the context is right. Other research confirms this: The biggest motivators once you earn some money to pay the rent, are Autonomy (doing things your way), Mastery (learning skills and overcoming challenges) and Purpose (contributing to the world, beyond making profit for your firm).

Employee Retention

Another interesting fact is that research about employee retention shows that people leave because they don't like the climate at work, but above all they leave their bosses. Those bosses made a career because they thrived in the current organizational culture: They fitted in and met the prevailing criteria for success somehow. Those bosses might be "old school" executives who learned to keep an eye on the dashboard and check if targets were met.

Undercover Boss and Workplace Culture

That's why it's great to work with corporate culture to enhance performance, including true employee engagement. Of course, management, the board or executives, must be willing to do this. To see and appreciate the people instead of just the figures. Just like in Undercover Boss, where the boss always cries out: "You are working so hard, I had no idea! I just get reports with targets and figures." And then they fix a few things for their employees...

Measuring, whether it's the annual employee survey or the Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument, is only the first step of employee engagement. The important part is starting to work with the results. It's a step-by-step process and an art to enhance employee engagement: combining the "happy people part" with "hard business objectives".

But it can be done using OCAI-methodology. One of the strengths of this approach is that it's involving and engaging in itself, allowing employees to participate in changing their cultures and work to meet their personal goals and the business targets. They can come up with their own proposals to improve results for instance. Leaders get to understand how their staff is feeling and how they could adapt their style and improve people skills and more. The classical contradiction between "personal happiness" and "work goals" can be melt into an energetic, empowering environment where people collaborate on the challenges of change and really engage.

Taking people seriously is not charity or social work. It is a must to keep your employees aboard and engage them, utilize their expertise and creativity, to build a thriving business.