Culture Chat

And other musings on humanizing the workplace
Delivering on the Promise of Employee Engagement

Delivering on the Promise of Employee Engagement

February 20, 2017
Jamie Notter

I have some bad news that we need to confront: organizations in the U.S. alone spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year on employee engagement efforts, yet our overall measures of engagement are not going up.

Let that sink in, because that’s a LOT of money for no results. Frankly, if I were the CEO, I’d be pissed. And if I were in HR, orchestrating those employee engagement surveys year after year, I’d be nervous.

We have been collectively selling the idea that engaged employees are more productive, more effective, more efficient, etc. for a long time. And personally, I think that’s true. We’ve all seen it in action, at least anecdotally. We remember being around those people who were totally “in the zone” at work and doing great things. So we naturally want more of that.

But we are not delivering on that promise. We are running around, with the best of intentions, trying very hard to improve engagement, and it’s not working. And I think I know why.

Engagement, in isolation, is impossible to influence.

Let that one sink in, too. I know it’s ironic, but if you focus only on engagement, you’ll never change it, because engagement is a result, not a variable. If your car doesn’t go fast enough, you don’t fix the speedometer. You modify the exhaust system, the air intake, etc. You change the system to produce the results you want. You can obsess over the result metrics all you want, but until you change the system, you won’t see any improvement.

In organizational terms, that means obsessing less with engagement, and working more on intentionally shaping your workplace culture to carefully align it with (a) what drives your success and (b) what makes sense to the people you have working there. When either of those are out of alignment, engagement stays flat or declines.

This is precisely why we created the Workplace Genome. When you can see your workplace culture at the “genetic” level, you can make tangible changes to what it’s really like to work there that move the needle on that alignment between the work, your success, and your people. The engagement will follow naturally. Change the system, get results. 

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