In this series I have covered the role of leadership and culture in helping humans flourish as a means to improve business outcomes through better performance. I talked about how leadership creates a context through how it chooses to “show up” in the organization, and how out of that context a culture develops. I also dug down on the usual suspects for culture development, but also added processes to that mix. In the final bits of my last post, the topic of emotions was brought into the fray and how the culture elicits certain emotions based on met or unmet expectations. And that brings us to the third and final organizational influencer in this framework – employee engagement.
Engagement has been studied, poked, prodded, knitted, and pearled within an inch of its life. For the past 15 years or so, there has been an entire industry created around proving its direct connection with the bottom line, and how best to view, measure, and respond to those measures in order to increase your performance. There has been a concerted effort to identify the common drivers of engagement. Everyone has a unique way to communicate what these drivers are. There are some slight nuances due to linguistic preferences from a psychometric preference or perhaps a slight difference in methodology through their studies. Some of it could be for market distinction or to make an alliteration work.
I tried to stay away from all of that and distill the guts of what everyone seems to be saying. Most of it is good science with only minor variations, but at the end of the day its about what drives us as human beings and that is predictable and rarely changes over time. We are creatures of habit, although each unique, and it is that commonality that makes sciences like psychology, sociology, and anthropology even possible.
So, without trying to re-litigate the case for what makes for a true driver of engagement, below is my list of distilled outcomes from the plethora of studies conducted over the past decade or two.
Key Engagement Components for Business Outcomes Through Human Flourishing
Confidence in senior leadership – To be clear, this points more to the executive team than a director. Do people believe that the executive team is aligned with the vision, aligned with one another, and are truly trying to do what’s best for the organization as well as the people within the organization.
Appropriate total remuneration – Most drivers are broken out into compensation, benefits, bonus structure and the like. At the end of the day, does that remuneration package make someone who is financially responsible have an easier or more difficult life? Simple question; tough to calculate for a large organization with many levels of workers.
Colleague relationship quality – Some may ask if they have a “best friend” at work. In my experience, a colleague doesn’t have to be a bestie to have an optimal impact on engagement. The relationship must be of high quality, valuable to both people, and mutually satisfying (read meeting expectations/needs)…that’s it.
Meaningful work – Does the work you have people do provide purpose and meaning to the individual? I believe this is becoming easier as automation enters the workplace more and more. The work has to provide meaning and value for both the organization AND the person doing that work.
Life balance / blend – Some folks get worked up when the phrase life balance is used and they prefer life blend. From a cultural standpoint, language matters. Whatever provides appropriate meaning to the humans in your organization, use that. People have work, kids soccer/swimming/knitting class/whatever and being able to manage that is great for their psychological well-being; if you don’t think this has an impact on your organizational performance, you may want to re-evaluate that position.
Recognition – Don’t view this as some program that gets spread across the organization like peanut butter. I mean peanut butter is great, but not everyone likes it. Make recognition more about authentic gratitude than a program. Start there and your engagement will look quite different after that.
Connection with vision / mission – How does every person’s job contribute to the vision of your organization? How does the janitor help bring the mission to life? Are you a urinal biscuit manufacturer, or do you contribute to global health by improving hygiene in every bathroom across the globe? See what I did there?
Manager relationship quality – This is similar to the colleague relationship quality. Managers don’t have to be best buddies with everyone on their team. They need to have healthy, supportive, leadership-driven relationships that are meaningful to both the manager and the direct report and produce quality results. There is no magic formula. Start with showing concern for the human in front of you and a desire to help them flourish. Go from there.
Autonomy – Your leadership team is not called babysitters because you didn’t hire infants to do the job. Trust your people already. You hired an adult to do adult work. If you feel the need to not give them much autonomy so you can “monitor” their progress, perhaps you need to revisit your hiring criteria. You hired someone for their genius; get out of their way.
Sense of feeling valued – This is not the same as recognition. I can recognize someone for their hard work and success on a project. That doesn’t always translate into feeling valued. Recognition is based on what a leader says or does. Feeling valued is based on the perception of the other person. You can’t help someone feel valued until you get to know them well enough to know what they value…on a human level. Leadership is an exercise in humanity – never forget that.
General well-being – This includes physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual. Do you make room for these things in your organization? Do you cultivate and foster these things within your organization? This hinges on the behavioral norms, as well as processes expressed by your culture.
The emotions elicited by your culture will set the tone for how people view and approach these 11 drivers of engagement. If angst is the emotion created by your culture, what do you think that does to the quality of the relationship one might have with their manager? What if your culture elicited the emotion of shame? The idea of feeling valued would be lost on that person. That would lower their engagement and their performance would suffer.
Emotions provide magnitude for engagement. Negatively perceived emotions lessen that magnitude and performance follows engagement downward. Positively perceived emotions increase that magnitude and performance is driven up with engagement levels. That is why it is critical to understand how leadership, context, culture, emotions, engagement, and performance are fitted together and why I developed this framework. This is true for any organization. Performance (read business outcomes) are a direct output of engagement, but are influenced by all of the other elements preceding engagement.
Attempting to address only one of these issues in isolation will affect the others whether you see it or plan for it or not. Some of this is change management (the logistics of the change, as well as the people side of the change); however, this is larger than change management. It is about understanding how the human part of your organization organically operates, no matter what you want it to do. This happens by default, so knowing it becomes a tool that allows you to be a more effective leader and better performing organization.
The final post in this blog series will tie all of the first four posts together on how you can use this framework in a meaningful way for your organization. The framework is quite simple to understand, but requires long-term dedication and resilience to execute well. It is a bit messy and almost always an iterative process that never really ends but becomes a way of operating. More on that in the next post.
The goal is to optimize the performance of the talent within your organization as a means to achieve business outcomes. Again, the focus is on helping the human to flourish as a catalyst to facilitate the flourishing of the organization.
I would love to hear your thoughts on either this post or this blog series and if you are thinking of using this framework to achieve better business outcomes through human flourishing. Feel free to leave a comment below.
If you would like to have a more detailed conversation about how this framework can help people flourish and improve the performance within your organization, click here to schedule a chat!