I used to spend hours upon hours chatting with my grandmother. One of the fondest memories I have of my youth actually. We would talk about everything from t-shirts to politics and back around again. A common theme that seemed to permeate our conversations carried a sense of longevity. Not from the perspective of longer life, but how people governed their lives. There was a focus on how it was typical for people to work at the same place for the majority of their lives. In the same vein, customers would buy from the same brands out of loyalty and familiarity.

When I think about those conversations I’m reminded of how different things have become and continue to change at a rapid rate. There is a sense of what I call organizational agnosticism that has become a ground swell among most people. The word agnostic is often ascribed to a religious context, but I want to offer another perspective. The basic premise of agnosticism is that the essential nature of things (religious or not) are unknown and unknowable. In short, human knowledge is limited to experience.

When this is applied to purchasing habits and employment preferences, it puts people in a place where the experience dictates reality and their worldview. The only brand loyalty among customers rests in their most recent experience, coupled with the history of experiences with that particular company.

Employees aren’t much different. Employers have been in a unique position over the past few years in that the economic downturn has discouraged people from leaving their current employer due to lack of opportunities elsewhere. Some employers have developed a warped and inaccurate view of themselves because of this. The experiential driven agnosticism among employees will eventually manifest itself in action. What is important for organizations is in understanding that employee sentiment is a leading indicator of customer sentiment.

How can you respond well to organizational agnosticism?

  • Have a purposeful culture – A default culture is a negative one. When left to its own devices, culture becomes ruled by the deviant few. Make sure your values are clear and build your culture around them. Let your daily language and decisions reflect your values. Culture is not an easy thing to build, but its impact is unmistakable on employee and customer retention. Culture is the culprit for what people “feel” when they interact with your company.
  • Engage your employees – If you’re still on the fence about the importance of employee engagement, you’re in big trouble. Over 2 decades worth of studies prove it is more than some trendy fad in management practices. There are hard numbers that show how engagement positively affects your bottom line and all contributing factors to your bottom line. Employee engagement doesn’t mean you have to spend a ridiculous amount of money. If you consistently take steps to understand your employees and see how you can connect with them, and have them connect with the organization, engagement becomes almost a by-product of these efforts.
  • Focus on quality leadership – Many organizations promote people because they are good at getting tasks done. Leadership is so much more than task accomplishment. Don’t set your people up to fail. Understand what good leadership is and let that be as important, if not more, for promotion consideration as is task competence.
Leadership drives culture. Culture creates an atmosphere for quality engagement. The best leaders are engaged employees. You can’t change the reality and existence of organizational agnosticism, however you CAN minimize its impact on your organization.
What are your thoughts?