Immediate managers certainly impact their direct reports’ engagement, but when it comes to creating a company-wide culture of engagement, it must start with leadership. Why? Two reasons.
- Employee engagement efforts can be derailed without a demonstrated commitment from the top, and
- Sustainable cultural change requires leadership, not just management, to create the energy needed to overcome the many obstacles to change.
Creating a Work Culture of Engagement Is Not for the Faint of Heart
There are good reasons employee engagement rates haven’t moved much. It isn’t easy, it’s complex, and it requires the discipline to make employee engagement a daily priority on the part of managers from the front lines to the C-suite. And, perhaps most challenging of all, it takes time—something none of us seem to have enough of.
Yet the Payoffs From Having a Strong Employee Engagement Are Significant
Employee engagement continues to be a top management initiative because it promises impressive results. Organizations with fully-engaged employees:
- Increase Productivity by 17%
- Boost Profits by 21%
- Lift Sales by 20%
- Cut Turnover by 24%
Your organization can do it, too.
By creating an incentivizing culture where employee engagement becomes part of the everyday language and the “way we do things around here.”
8 Steps to Creating an Engaging Work Culture in Times of Change
For over 80 years, Dale Carnegie has been teaching people how to build extraordinary interpersonal relationships whether on a personal or professional level. Engaged employees are just one more manifestation of the effective application of those timeless human relations principles. These are core skills that managers need in order to do their part.
But it doesn’t happen in a vacuum and good work by individual managers can be diminished or amplified, depending on what’s going on in the broader organization. Leaders need to make a deliberate decision to make employee engagement an essential part of the company culture. In Leading Change, John Kotter’s highly-influential work on organizational change, he lays out an eight-step process for creating sustainable change. His approach, in a nutshell:
- Establish a sense of urgency. Complacency at any level doesn’t cut it. Let urgency—not anxiety—spark the added effort needed to drive people out of their comfort zones. For employee engagement to work, everyone needs to see it as the only way to succeed.
- Create a guiding coalition. Assemble a coalition of powerful people with great reputations, strong relationships, relevant expertise, and a capacity for leadership to drive the pursuit of fully-engaged employees. Make sure there are plenty of C-suite veterans on the team.
- Develop a vision and strategy. Paint a picture of a fully-engaged workforce and the benefits of attaining it. The vision not only points your people in the right direction, it also aligns them to the tasks that matter. Vision is what Chip and Dan Heath in Switch (How to Change Things When Change Is Hard) call a “destination postcard.”
- Communicate the change vision—over and over again. Successful change requires effective communication that breaks through the onslaught of daily organizational messages. To be effective, communications to employees at all levels must be simple, clear, and direct.
- Empower broad-based action. Change won’t happen if the guiding coalition is the only group on board with the vision. Employee engagement must be an issue for each and every manager. Create a shared sense of purpose that enables them to eliminate obstacles to engagement whether structures, skills/training, systems, or supervisors (aka non-believers).
- Generate early wins. Don’t count on wins to materialize on their own. Create visible, unambiguous wins quickly to provide evidence that employee engagement rates are increasing and the benefits of fully-engaged employees are being realized. Celebrate milestones and progress toward the vision to keep the momentum going.
- Consolidate gains. Be prepared for the long haul. Change doesn’t come easily and may require more effort and resources once the initial blush of success wears off. If your workforce is like most, about 30% are fully-engaged; about half are partially-engaged; and the rest are actively disengaged.
- Anchor the change in the culture. Make sure that employee engagement is a daily priority for every manager before claiming success. It has to stop being just “another thing on their to do list” and become an integrated part of the way they accomplish their core work every day.
As organizations experience rapid and uncertain change today resulting from the global pandemic, maintaining an engaged workforce through a strong and positive corporate culture is critical.
Involving leaders at all levels of the organization is essential and supporting their efforts in leading through change will not only build commitment and resilience, but will prepare the organization to adapt to future changes that are inevitably around the corner.