Culture and engagement go hand-in-hand

Several years ago, while I was working in a Fortune 150-sized organization, an email arrived in our inboxes to complete a survey. The subject line was “Engagement Survey.” Back then, this was a new concept, now old hat for us. Fast forward a few months, and the results came back, and like a well-functioning HR department should do, some changes were implemented. HR created a SharePoint site, and posters were printed and put up at all locations with the URL of the “Engagement Site.” We, as employees, were directed to the site so that we could find resources and engage. The executives patted each other on the back and congratulations were issued in the next newsletter for a job well done. We were dubbed an “engaged organization.” You can guess the ending.

Engagement is a simple concept for executives, yet surprisingly difficult to implement. The question is why. Why, after all these years and billions spent on engagement initiatives, multitudes of books/research and courses/classes, and limitless available webinars, is employee engagement still lackluster at best for many organizations? The answer is again both simple and complicated; as executives, we must understand the nuances, or we will continue to tread water and fall behind organizations that get it: Culture and Engagement go hand-in-hand.

Indra Nooyi, former chair and CEO of PepsiCo., is among those who’ve stated, “Culture eats strategy for lunch.” Here is why she is right: Every organization has a culture. The culture will either be created by senior leadership and flowed down through the organization, or it will be created at the bottom and shoved up. You know what this means; we are responsible for the culture of the organization, by our actions, lack of actions, or flawed actions. Tough pill to swallow. The good news is that we can impact the future by our present actions. What kind of culture do you have and what do you want? Either way, we get what we deserve.

There are three main drivers of employee engagement — relationship with immediate leader, faith in senior leadership to steer the ship in the right direction, and belief in the organization’s mission. More simply put, “Do I feel valued in this organization?” As the senior leaders, we own all of these. There I was at my desk behind my mahogany furniture reviewing reports when an employee arrived at my door holding the annual report with tears in her eyes. “I can’t find me in here,” she lamented. I/We had failed her. So where do we start?

There are some initial actions we can take as executives to begin to make real strides in culture development through employee engagement. The first is to find out where we are. By “we,” I mean the senior leadership in the organization. The first instinct is to launch an employee engagement survey. That is a mistake. CEOs need to understand where their team is before even thinking about the rest of the organization. For instance, is there alignment in the senior team? We need to be aligned in purpose and direction. Everyone knows the annual goal. Do they all agree how to get there? That is your starting point. ●

John Glaneman is President of Dale Carnegie Training of Northeast Ohio and Western PA

John Glaneman

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