Creating and maintaining a thriving company culture really boils down to one thing: employee engagement. You must really take a look at your organization and answer a challenging question: Are employees committed to the company and to their work?
With 20+ years of leading HR and training functions under my belt, I believe that employees are most engaged when they have a strong sense of purpose and feel that the work they’re doing is making an impact and delivering real value. I can attest that when employee engagement is high, productivity and results are riding the same wave.
The employee engagement levels of any given company are a direct result of the company’s leadership. It is not enough for a leader to have a clear vision – a leader must also effectively convey that vision to their team and consistently rally the team around the goals that will bring that vision to life.
It sounds easy, but even the most successful companies fail in this area. A recent Gallup poll found that only about 32 percent of employees in the United States are engaged – which translates into about $350 billion in lost productivity for the U.S. economy every year.
In order for your team members to do their best work, it is imperative that you cultivate a sense of purpose and exemplify the type of culture you want to build for your organization. And remember: Your actions speak louder than your words. If you walk the walk, then over time, you will start to see that your team members are more energized when they come to work each day and more fulfilled at the end of each week.
Want to improve employee engagement at your organization? Follow these six tips:
1. Know Who You Are and Why You Exist
Define your company’s vision, align corporate goals around the vision, and communicate the vision and goals early and often via a consistent elevator pitch. Each person in the company should know the elevator pitch, and they should all be able to effectively communicate that pitch with internal team members and external partners.
I remember, at a startup I used to work with, the CEO sent a company-wide email out. The email contained the elevator pitch and explained why it was so important for us to be aligned with the company’s overall mission and articulating that mission constantly. At our monthly all-hands events, the CEO would randomly call upon individuals to ask them to pitch the company.
This may have seemed like an intimidating approach, but it really drove home the point. Employees soon understood the importance of really being able to evangelize the company’s vision.
2. Don’t Just Talk About Culture – Live It
If you want to build an amazing company culture, you first have to realize that a culture is not a list of values, words on a coffee mug, a sign in the conference room, free lunches, or various perks.
At its root, culture is people; it begins and ends with their behaviors.
As leaders, our behaviors set the tone for the behaviors we want emulated throughout the company. Our employees look to what we do and what we don’t do. Our actions become guidelines that our employees use to steer their own successes.
For example, if you are notoriously late to meetings, I guarantee that your employees (even the ones who currently attend meetings on time) will start showing up late to meetings.
As leaders, the beacon shines even brighter on ourselves, and we must not just talk about culture – we must live it in every way. Your teams may remember what you say, but they will certainly pay attention to what you to do.
3. Don’t Be the Squeaky Wheel
Once you accept that team members are watching you, it’s time to take a look in the mirror and reflect on how engaged you are at work. To build engagement in others, you must first be engaged and committed to the company, your work, and your team. It’s really hard to build commitment within your teams when you are feeling less than committed yourself.
Remember, you are an employee before you are a leader, and that is what makes being a manager a difficult job. Your ability to build commitment in others starts with your own commitment. When you feel yourself becoming cynical about the company or not aligned with management decisions, you must take accountability. You must address the situation, perhaps by speaking with other leaders at the company or your own superiors (if applicable).
The outcome of your discussions should help you build your own personal commitment to your job and company. If you find yourself complaining, then you have become a “squeaky wheel” – an employee who is in “victim mode,” rather than the leader you need to be to build commitment in others.
4. Make It Personal
Building a trusted relationship with your employees is a key component to building engagement. It is very important for each manager in your company to learn about their team members – who they are, what they want to achieve, what their passions are, etc. When your employees feel important, they’re more likely to value the company and their roles in it.
The best way to build such relationships is by establishing weekly one-on-one meetings with your employees. Let them drive the agendas for these meetings – but make sure you talk about “how” things are going, not just “what” they are doing.
Once each employee feels important, you’ll no longer walk into work and see six individuals at their desks – you’ll see a passionately engaged team.
5. Be Selective – Talent Is the DNA of Your Company
We all want to hire the best and brightest in our respective industries – but skill sets are not the be-all, end-all of good hires. A super-talented and highly skilled candidate may not be the right fit for your corporate culture.
We have all heard the tales of an incredibly talented hire who came in to a new company, delivered great work, and single-handedly destroyed an entire department. Great leaders and managers realize that you have to be very selective. Hiring the right people at the right time means making sure each hire’s skills, personality, and temperament align with the values and behaviors that the company holds dear.
At the end of day, if you want to improve engagement, you need to hire and nurture the right people.
6. Build a Path Forward
Let’s assume that you have a very engaged team. The next step, then, is to keep them engaged. Once again, it all comes back to leadership.
Employees’ personal lives and careers are always evolving, and it’s your responsibility as a leader or manager to build a career path for each of your employee. Keep them challenged, motivated, inspired, and, of course, engaged.
Career pathing in today’s best organizations is less about upward progression and more about helping employees learn the skills and abilities they’ll need for increased career mobility in whatever directions they desire. The more you help employees move along their career paths, the more engaged and committed they will remain to the company’s success.
I have found that every company is different. What works for one may not work for another. Building an engaged culture requires you to strike a delicate balance between being a manager, a coach, and a leader – all at the same time.
There is no guaranteed method for building an engaging company culture, but no matter how you do it, you’ll need commitment and great leadership.