I always cringe when I hear the word “engagement.” And it’s not because I’m scared of commitment. Quite the opposite! Those engagements are pretty cool and I’ll forever be impressed with the ingenuity and creativity people employ just to trick someone else into putting up with them for an entire lifetime.
But when it comes to the workforce, engagement has become a dirty word. It’s lost the impact and importance it once had. According to HBR, organizations are spending millions – almost billions of dollars – on engagement initiatives. Apparently unimpressed, employees routinely report shockingly low levels of interest at work. That’s because organizations are chasing the wrong problems.
Last month, I had the pleasure of sharing my thoughts in an Inc.com piece with Gene Hammett who did a great job of capturing the interview. One of my points I thought would be helpful to expand upon is about engagement and why organizations must come to an understanding about it.
CULTURE is more critical than engagement.
You cannot expect and will not see any improvement in employee engagement without first addressing gaps in your corporate or team culture. At the very least, you have to start with culture before moving on to engagement.
In my experience working with organizations, teams and individual leaders, a poor culture gets routinely misdiagnosed as a lack of employee engagement. That’s because it has all the typical signs you’d look for with a lack of engagement: under performing results, low morale, employee’s unwillingness to go the extra mile, etc.
But once you dig deeper, the overwhelming majority of situations driving low employee engagement start with inconsistencies or a misalignment in culture. You’ll find these by looking critically at scenarios in the workplace and asking yourself the following:
Do employees trust leadership?
When it’s time to share information or announce new policies or strategies, are those announcements met with trust or is the skepticism palpable? No amount of free coffee or forced fun will overcome scenarios where employees don’t trust their leadership. Speaking of forced fun……
Are you creating forced fun at work or do employees take ownership?
A strong culture promotes an environment where fun happens organically. I believe people inherently want to have fun and enjoy their time. If you have to force it, you’ve got a culture which is holding your employees back from their natural behavior.
Are employees empowered to be themselves every day?
You’ll never create engagement if employees need to put on their “work face” every day. Employees should be allowed to be themselves and the culture should provide an environment where that’s possible. When those two are at conflict, a lack of engagement is sure to follow.
In any of these situations, the key to turning around culture in a positive direction starts with conversation. Leaders must be vulnerable enough and willing to seek feedback from employees on what’s impeding the desired culture. Over time – and after employees see active progress – you’ll be in a spot where the culture can thrive, engagement efforts can start and your organization or team can take flight.