It’s easy to find business leaders actively formalizing their company’s strategy for success. Determining how best to grow profits and achieve market dominance are core to executive job descriptions.
Far more rare, however, is finding business leaders paying sufficient attention to their organization’s culture and internal engagement. Despite countless articles, research studies, case studies, TED talks, and Harvard Business Reviews proving the impact of highly engaged workforces on a host of organizational performance metrics, most business leaders inappropriately neglect this area.
Employee engagement scores across most industries are at all-time lows. Poorly engaged workforces cost companies multiples of billions of dollars in lost productivity annually. Even more alarming, leadership apathy towards internal engagement has led to an increase in the number of “actively disengaged” employees – meaning staff who are so disenfranchised they deliberately cause harm and sabotage corporate plans.
Stop paying lip service to the issues causing internal discontent and sub-optimal performance, and move employee engagement to the top of the C-suite agenda.
Most firms assemble talented teams of high performing professionals to develop well funded product development and marketing plans to achieve competitive advantage; yet, rarely do these same organizations devote sufficient attention - or dollars - to people strategies aimed at the human capital required to bring those plans to life. Or, if leaders are actually paying attention, they too often rely on under-qualified, and poorly resourced HR managers. Those managers, in turn, often assemble ad hoc “Culture Committees” and task them with implementing superficial events like holiday parties, summer BBQ’s or work anniversary celebrations.
This is wildly inappropriate.
Employee engagement is far too important to delegate to improperly trained HR Managers or ragtag teams of volunteers who are better at creating distractions than solving tough issues associated with under-performing organizations and disenfranchised personnel.
Business leaders, wake up and step up! Properly address internal challenges that are hindering your company from achieving its full potential!
Senior executives have five main responsibilities. Only one of those –maintaining relationships with financial stakeholders (like banks, private investors, or Wall Street) to ensure a healthy balance sheet - doesn't directly affect internal engagement. The other four duties do. Those include:
Ensure your organization has absolute clarity about the company’s vision and mission
Provide an operating model, and organizational structure, that is optimized for success
Create an environment (Policies / Workplace / People Strategies / Training) that attracts and retains top talent and allows them to do the best work of their lives
Help every person understand how they personally contribute to the organization’s goals, and then hold them accountable.
Business leaders who focus on these four areas have a tremendously positive influence on employee engagement and can improve the health of even the most dysfunctional corporate cultures.
How to get started?
Start by disbanding superficial Culture Committees. Instead, call upon properly trained professionals with legitimate expertise in the space - professionals who are capable of understanding how your organization’s purpose, points of differentiation and strategic plans are enhanced by nurturing a high performing culture. Whether you hire in-house or outsource, treat talent management with the same importance as you would any Asset Manager tasked with protecting your most firm’s most cherished intellectual property.
Secondly, accept that fact culture cannot be forced or faked; rather, it is built over time by consistently managing specific beliefs and behaviors of all internal stakeholders. Pay particular attention to how your people interact with each other, and how people within your organization respond to change. Also, seek out internal influencers – regardless of formal title or authority – and bring them into your inner circle for help. And remember, perks and parties may temporarily improve morale, but proper talent management tools, communication protocols, and staff engagement metrics improve how your people function, thus improving how your business operates.
Lastly, just like any other core focus for your business, culture requires a framework that results in clarity for your employees, and consistency in execution. Any decent internal engagement plan must formalize processes relating to:
1) How decisions are made
2) What behaviors are rewarded or punished
3) How talent is sourced and on-boarded
4) How information is communicated
5) How leaders are taught how to lead
Ignore at your peril.
Overcome your doubt or suspicion. Too many senior leaders inappropriately consider culture conversations fluffy. Topics like role clarity, departmental morale, employee feelings, manager misbehavior, or staff conflict resolution may not – on their surface - seem on par with other commercially hard-nosed topics that C-suites prefer to discuss. But ignore these issues at your own peril.
I suggest you table an agenda item at your next executive meeting to clarify who is accountable for employee engagement issues. That person must have NOTHING to do with the next company party. Instead, he or she must be highly empowered and have unquestioned credentials. Understand that employee engagement is directly co-related with customer engagement, and any decisions and actions he or she implements will impact your customer experience, brand reputation, and can become a significant competitive advantage (or disadvantage).
Chris Kneeland is the CEO of Cult Collective, an audience engagement firm helping clients maximize profitability by maximizing productivity from properly engaged staff.