A friend of mine recently said that he wants to change the culture at his company. He’d been talking with one of his co-workers and they both agreed that they wanted to banish the negativity in the workplace, and boost efficiency. In effect, they wanted to increase engagement. He asked me how he could do this without getting management involved. My answer: “You can’t”. I was only partly wrong.
The fact is that culture change needs to come from the top. A group of committed employees, hungry for growth and engagement, can indeed make a difference, but it will be too small to affect the whole organization, as well as too short-lived. They’ll start an effort, strive to rally support, and wind up taking one step forward and two steps back the whole way. Management ultimately sets the tone for the organization. If your CEO, president, operating manager or Whoever’s-In-Charge has an attitude that employee’s are not the company’s greatest asset, then so will the next person in the chain of command, and so on. Managers, supervisors and team leads can definitely have an impact on their department or team, and the impact may spread – but unless it reaches the top, it won’t spread company-wide. As one of my favorite old-school children’s television hosts would say, you don’t have to take my word for it.
In an article by Gallup, “Leading Engagement From the Top,” (the title says it all, right?) researchers point out that engagement isn’t about happy-fuzzy feelings; it’s an integral reflection of the overall health of the company, right down to the bottom line: “Workplace engagement is the core of the unwritten social contract between employers and employees. It also serves as a leading indicator of financial performance.”
Here’s a healthy excerpt from the article, which has a lot of other great info, too:
“Engagement comes from leaders. People look to leadership to set the tone and expectations.” says [Sangeeta Agrawal, a Gallup consultant]. “If executives don’t set the stage and practice what they preach about engagement, it’ll be harder for others to follow”… The numbers support this. Managers who are directly supervised by highly engaged executive teams are 39% more likely to be engaged than managers who are supervised by executive teams with below-average engagement.
Bill Scott, a partner in Innovation Partners International, generously provided me with the following facts about the current state of employee engagement:
- Only 29% of the working population is fully engaged in the work that they do
- The American economy loses an estimated $350 Billion of productivity each year to unengaged workers. This figure comes from the Department of Labor
- Only 47% of senior leaders – the people who presumably have the most control over what they do – say they are fully engaged in their work
- Business units with engaged employees (1) average 27% less absenteeism, (2) are rated 12% higher by customers and (3) are 18% more productive than their competitors
These statistics are scary, and should be viewed as a call to action. The good news? According to another Gallup study outlined in the article “How Strengths Boost Engagement,” even in a situation where not every employee can understand and fully utilize his own strengths, there is a significant boost in team engagement when a manager receives coaching (typically a one-hour coaching conversation, according to the article,) on understanding and using his own strengths, and developing the strengths of others. A huge boost, in just one hour of coaching time.
Further, the concept of accountability tells us that we must each accept responsibility for our part of the problem. So if, like my friend, you’re not yet a CEO and you want to boost engagement in your workplace, what can you do? While it’s true that without the support of upper management, you will not be able to change the culture of the whole company, you can always change your own attitude and perceptions. Here are a few suggestions for generating your own sense of engagement:
- Find ways to use your strengths, even if your primary job function does not rely heavily on them. If possible, develop a “pet project” that can make use of your strengths – to make sure you get management buy-in, first ensure that all your “regular” work is done, and then make sure your boss understands how your pet project aligns with personal and company goals
- Choose to have a positive attitude
- Look for other ways to get involved in your company – is there a company-sponsored sports team, or a committee that you can join? Maybe you can start one (talk to HR about it)
Don’t give up trying to create a culture of engagement. There are always solutions to the problem before us – we just have to look for them – and if we don’t find the best solution, we must make our own.