For the sake of making solid business decisions, there has been much effort to weed emotion out of the business world. It has developed emotionless phrases like, “Nothing personal, it’s just business” or “Don’t let emotions make decisions for you”. These phrases have validity and value, but only when placed in the proper context. This idea is not, and should not become, a vanilla paint that gets slathered on every aspect of life within an organization.

Most executives understand the value in having a quality organizational culture. Thanks to Peter Drucker’s work and near infamous phrase, “Culture eats strategy for lunch”, the message has sunk in. What hasn’t fully sunk in is what comes next. Culture drives engagement and there is a clearly defined relationship between culture and engagement. It is emotion.

EmotionsWithout emotion, engagement cannot exist. It is the emotional connection to a vision that engages employees. It is the emotional connection to contributing to something bigger than self that calls forth that discretionary effort which cannot be demanded by a job description. It is the emotional connection to that sense of those leading you putting effort into your own professional development that makes people find solutions that current processes tend to hide from view.

In the context of culture and engagement, healthy emotion should rule the roost. The operative word is healthy. I have been in many organizations where emotion ruled the roost, but because of a poorly managed culture those emotions were borderline psychopathic – more info on psychopathic culture here. Lying, manipulation, fragmented relationships, blatant disregard for established norms and other deviant behavior seem to be the catch of the day…every day.

Harnessing healthy emotion via your culture as a way to improve engagement is vitally important. Here are a few tips on how to make emotion work for your engagement.

  • Define healthy – Every organization will have a slightly adjusted definition based on their organizational DNA. Whatever healthy means for your organizational values, vision, and strategy is the exact prescription for creating this definition. Alignment. Alignment. Alignment.
  • Determine important emotions – Choose which emotions will serve organizational goals the best. Make a list of 5-10 emotional aspects that will serve the goals and focus of your organization. Don’t try to cover every scenario, just grab the the real impact-drivers.
  • Check for alignment – The first point was aligning the definition of healthy. This point is aligning the chosen emotions with your values. This is a precarious place where a mixed message can throw a culture off kilter and actually disengage people. Make sure the definition of healthy, regarding the chosen emotions, line up well and help communicate your desired culture.
  • Explore opportunities – Tease out how an atmosphere can be created that will facilitate and encourage each one of these healthy emotions. Look to existing mechanisms – i.e. processes, systems, communication tools, etc. How can these healthy emotions not only encourage engagement, but reinforce the culture your organization needs? That’s where the magic happens.
  • Set targets – None of this really matters unless you have a way to recognize success. This shouldn’t be dogmatic in nature. Set some guidelines for recognizing the right emotion, but give yourself some flexibility to allow the expression of that emotion to be determined by people in your organization. Understand the nuances of sub-cultures (IT will have a different cultural expression than the sales team) and give enough latitude for them to be authentic to their sub-culture. Once it’s obvious, then adjust the target based on success. Don’t base success on an arbitrary target.
  • Rinse and repeat – Don’t view this process as a one-and-done. This is a process-oriented way to lead your organization. Let this focus become a part of how you view your competitive advantage. Culture is always important and engagement is always necessary. Never forget that.

What are your thoughts? How else can we make emotion work for our organizations through culture and engagement?