While it is a little dated, The Deloitte University Press Global Human Capital Trends 2016 report has probably the most useful definition of culture and engagement that we’ve seen. The report notes that “Culture describes the way things work around here, while engagement describes how people feel about the way things work around here.”
That simple statement explains why a Denison Consulting study found that organizations with thriving cultures have a 72% higher engagement rate than those without.
What’s shocking, given that 85% of the 7,000 plus executives Deloitte surveyed ranked engagement as a top priority, is that fewer than one in three executives reported that they understand their organization's culture.
If you want to move the lever on engagement, you must address culture, but how?
Here are eight things that leaders can do to start changing “the way things work around here.”
1. Make Organizational Culture a Priority
We’ve heard executives say they don’t spend much effort on the organization's culture because it is “squishy.” There’s not an easy way to measure it. You can’t analyze it in a spreadsheet, and it isn’t straightforward to prove an ROI on the methods that have been traditionally used to improve company culture.
That thinking is a problem because organizations have a culture, whether it’s managed or not. Norms and expectations develop, and new employees conform to them.
How people approach their work and how they feel about it makes all the difference in results. It impacts quality, productivity, turnover rates, recruitment, customer support, and more.
What could be more worthy of executive attention?
2. Align Goals
People can make better decisions about how to do their work, what to prioritize, and how to solve problems if they understand the organization's overall goals. We don’t just mean the annual financial goals. We’re talking about the bigger picture of why the organization exists. What are the most critical priorities in the next three years?
The significant shift comes when individual goals and the organization's key objectives are aligned and when people know how the work they do fits into the bigger picture. Successful organizations cascade goals from the top down to each person with a clear link at every level.
3. Train Leaders in the Art of Respect for People
Most people become managers because they are good at getting stuff done. That’s important, but a workplace is not just the sum of what it produces. It is a place where people will spend about a third of their time every day. So it is a big responsibility to be in charge of that environment.
Anyone who supervises others should be taught the importance of respect for people and given the tools to demonstrate it. Managers should be trained on how to coach rather than dictate. They should understand how to build the skills of their team and how to encourage innovation.
One excellent method of showing respect for people is a Lean technique known as a Gemba Walk. During a Gemba Walk, leaders or supervisors go where work happens and ask questions about why operations are performed the way they are. Working with team members, the leader can then consider opportunities for improvement.
4. Empower Bottom-Up Improvement
Employee engagement increases when people feel an emotional connection to the work at hand. One way to encourage this is to empower people to improve how work is done.
The people who operate processes that work directly with customers are best positioned to suggest and implement positive change. If culture is the sum of how things are done, encouraging people to find ways to do their best work surely impacts how they feel about it.
5. Stop the Blame Game
When something goes awry, it is easiest to point to the person closest to the problem and come up with a list of things they did wrong. Not only is this a terrible way to encourage engagement, but it’s also not productive. Most failures are the fault of flawed processes, not deficient people. Blaming process operators only masks the root cause of the issue.
If mistakes are made, the best response is to find out why. Was the worker poorly trained? Were the proper process inputs available? Is the work environment suitable for the task? Is there a way to error-proof the procedure? If you work with process operators to dig deeper (usually about five levels), you’ll solve the problem and increase engagement.
6. Measure Cultural Health
We mentioned earlier that many executives think that culture is impossible to measure. But if you believe that engagement reflects culture, you absolutely can measure, and therefore, manage it. So how do you measure engagement? Ideally, by using a platform to provide structure for what we like to call “discretionary effort.”
How many of your employees are going beyond the job description to make improvement suggestions? What teams or departments are actively working to implement incremental changes that drive better results? Is the pace of improvement across the organization accelerating or slowing down? These measures all give you insight into the health of the culture and can serve as cultural performance indicators.
Pulse checks or surveys are an excellent way to measure employee engagement. A Pulse check is a short, targeted survey used to capture employee feelings about work and the workplace. They usually include 1-5 simple questions and take less than five minutes to fill out. Unlike a complete employee engagement survey, which is generally done only once a quarter or annually, pulse checks can be done as often as every week. Questions can be as simple as, "How happy are you at work this week?"
7. Consider Flexible Work Options
The pandemic has forced many employers to embrace remote work. Employees have appreciated this new way of working, and according to HR consultant Mercer, 70% of employers plan to retain a hybrid workforce post-pandemic. Of course, not all employees can perform their functions remotely, but remember that remote work is not the only way to offer flexibility. Options like flexible schedules, shorter workweeks, and employee control of scheduling can be a significant differentiator in this challenging labor market.
8. Broadcast Every Success
The last suggestion is to be sure to celebrate every win, no matter how big or small. Sometimes too much focus is put on massive projects or goals, and people feel their efforts are insignificant in comparison. Don’t let this happen. It is essential to recognize and reward the behaviors you want to encourage. Success broadcasting is an excellent approach to team building.
There’s no breaking news in any of these suggestions, but maybe they can be a reminder of some of the things that are easily pushed aside when day-to-day challenges arise. Don’t let that happen in 2022. Tony Hsieh of Zappos said it best, “At Zappos, we really view culture as our No.1 priority. We decided that if we get the culture right, most of the other stuff will just take care of itself."