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Culture and Engagement are Top Of Mind
Large consulting firms survey CEOs regularly to better understand what is top of mind. And year after year, the story is the same. The executive ‘to-do’ list is focused on building stronger organizations through workforce development.
- The Conference Board’s 2016 survey lists six top initiatives, and five of them are related to people and culture.
- Deloitte’s 2017 ‘Global Human Capital Trends’ highlights talent acquisition, employee experience, and “building the organization of the future” as key priorities.
- Bersin’s Human Capital Trends 2017 predicts that “culture and engagement will continue to be the top priorities”.
Still, executive teams struggle to operationalize their efforts. Employee engagement scores remain frustratingly stagnant at most organizations. No other wide-ranging business challenge has proven so hard to tackle.
of CEO’s anticipate that their company will change significantly over the next 3 years.
– KPMG’s 2016 Global CEO Outlook
of CEOs concerned that skills shortages could hinder growth.
– World Economic Forum 2017
plan to hire more employees over the
– World Economic Forum 2017
A Relatively New Leadership Competency
In part, the lack of progress can be explained by the fact that most senior leaders did not grow up in the type of work environment that is needed to be successful today. Time and again we hear from executives and senior leaders that they are taken back by the expectations of today’s workforce. Also there is no established, proven, one-size-fits all best practice around fostering workplace culture.
Most leaders learned about business process, finance and operations in business school. But culture? Engagement? This is a new paradigm and a new skillset that is required. For most senior leaders this is outside of their comfort zone.
3 Key Challenges to Improving Engagement
Even when senior leaders see the value of engagement, progress can be elusive. At WorkplaceDynamics, we’ve identified three key challenges:
Key Challenge #1:
Senior leader alignment, insights, and focus
All leaders have a decent instinct around how to get local team members engaged. But instinct alone doesn’t support a strategy that can be shared and scaled up. To be effective, every leadership team needs an engagement strategy — one that they’re aligned on, and one that gains has support from all stakeholders (including investors, unions, the HR team, managers, and employees).
Key Challenge #2: Overcoming the communication challenge
Employee engagement efforts rely on effective communication. Yet, employees already struggle to focus between email, social channels, meetings and IM. Without communication tools that are fit-for-purpose, it is very difficult to bring the whole organization along. Furthermore, feedback received from the entire employee base can be very difficult to synthesize effectively, making follow-on action more difficult.
Key Challenge #3:
An aligned leadership team and the right communication platform in place is a great foundation. But engagement is a hand-to-hand exercise, and each employee’s situation is unique. To truly align and engage the entire workforce, managers must invest time working with each and every team member to bring skills and interest in alignment with the organization’s needs.
Top Workplaces: Bucking the Trend
Despite the challenges faced by most organizations, there are some that have achieved employee engagement levels more than double the U.S. average. Through the instincts of their founders, or the commitment of senior leaders, they’ve prioritized employee engagement as a foundation for business success.
To learn from these standouts, WorkplaceDynamics launched Top Workplaces project in 2006. Now more than a decade later, the award program has reached more than 45 regions across the United States, attracting over 7,000 participating organizations companies a year.
The solutions WorkplaceDynamics provides — and the expert guidance we offer — don’t address pain points. Rather, we help you to put in place the foundation and best practices we’ve learned from our extensive research of Top Workplaces organizations.
The Engagement Maturity Curve
WorkplaceDynamics has surveyed more than 40,000 organizations — across all sizes and sectors — and invited more than 14 million employees to tell us about their experiences. Stacking up workplaces based on employee feedback, we’ve seen a progression in the thinking and the maturity of an organization’s approach to engagement. We call this The Engagement Journey, a continuum with broad phases:
Lost at Sea
There are still many senior leadership teams that not only fail to prioritize engagement, but have a downright skepticism or suspicion for the topic. Such old-school managers believe that adversity is the best test of grit, and that those who make the grade will stay while the others can fall to the wayside. In other words, the cream will float to the top.
Leaders in the Lost at Sea phase are often blind to what is going on inside their own organization. Employee surveys — when conducted — highlight key issues related to individuals feeling valued, managers who are kept in the dark, and a lack of new ideas and innovation.
Engagement levels fall below 40%. Retention is the result of golden handcuffs: the organization is paying a disengagement premium.
Prognosis: Lost-at-Sea organizations will struggle to change and innovate. Retention may be ok, but engagement will remain low. Attracting new talent is a challenge. Typically, it will take a change at the top of the organization before any real progress is made.
Islands of Effort
In the absence of a coherent company approach, some isolated managers do the best they can.
Despite the lack of support, many managers understand instinctively that engagement is their responsibility at the local level. While there may be no formal effort, Islands of Effort may appear. The leadership team may recognize the progress being made, but fail to scale this up. The general belief is that “this is how Jane manages her team, but each manager has his or her style…”
Prognosis: Status quo. While the individual managers will continue to see strong results, efforts remain isolated.
Shallows of Despair
Early efforts to improve culture are thwarted by a lack of senior team support and belief the company can truly change.
In organizations that are a little more progressive, we find leaders who remain skeptical of the impact of engagement efforts. Nonetheless, they want to be seen as embracing new ideas, and they typically delegate the task to the HR champion (who may be the sole advocate for prioritizing engagement efforts). Oftentimes, we find some members of the senior leadership team who candidly admit they expect efforts to fall flat. And generally speaking, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Lone HR champions are left to go it alone, and without senior level support, will find managers do not embrace what is now understood to be just an optional “nice to have”.
Prognosis: It’s possible for organizations with obsessive HR champions can make it through the shallows. It takes an entire senior team to lead a ‘people strategy’. Sceptics will say, “I told you so.”
Shores of Enlightenment
Often an enlightened senior leader, change of ownership, or major crisis will lead to a realization that engagement truly is the underpinning of performance and success. From here the journey begins...
Once the senior leadership team decides to put employees at the center of their strategy, there is still a lot of work to be done. The strategy needs to be articulated, accountabilities clarified, managers equipped, and supporting tools put in place.
Meanwhile managers and employees may be sceptical about the leadership’s intentions or commitment. Is this the flavor of the month? Will managers truly be recognized based on this approach to improving the performance of the organization? Many will take a wait-and-see position.
Prognosis: A committed leadership team will have to overcome doubt and competing priorities to keep engagement on the agenda. Those who remain committed through this phase will have a shot at the summit.
Ascent of Success
Progress will be steady and deliberate, but perseverance pays off.
While results never come quickly enough, a deliberate approach to shifting the culture takes hold. By maintaining a steady course and sticking to the fundamentals, organizations can see progress within a few short months. Key KPIs such as customer satisfaction start to reflect the new energy in the workforce.
Managers and employees start to see tangible changes and are persuaded the effort is genuine and here to stay. Time and budget commitments are sustained.
Prognosis: Methodical and deliberate leadership teams see returns on their investments in culture, bringing others along.
Summit of Sustainment
Sustaining altitude is easier than the climb. As culture becomes a competitive advantage, leadership teams need to cherish and protect it.
After a prolonged period of deliberate effort, best practices will take root. The organization sees tangible returns on the effort. As employees see leadership’s commitment, discretionary effort increases. Collaboration and feedback flows freely. More ideas are put forward and acted upon.
The organization is now a desirable workplace. Many candidates apply hoping to work there, and the leadership team can be more picky about who they bring on board.
While a high-performance culture tends to be more self-sustaining, it still requires careful grooming. Being clear on values and living them every day ensures top organizations do not go astray.
Prognosis: Maintaining altitude is always easier than climbing the slope. Now that high performance is part of the culture, it’s a key competitive advantage. Still, leadership teams should never take it for granted. It’s critical to tender the garden every day.
4 Key Relationships that Drive Employee Engagement
Placing Employees at the Center of Your Thinking
While there are differences in process and approach, the real factor we see emerging as organizations work their way up the maturity curve is the mindset of senior leaders.
Top Workplaces believe that the success of an organization is dependent on its workforce being engaged with the mission and goals. Leaders of Top Workplaces therefore instill an employee-centric culture where four key relationships are given careful attention.
Key Relationship #1:
First and foremost is an employee’s relationship with the work. We all look for work that is reasonably compensated with decent benefits. But that’s not all. We also seek work that is interesting, meaningful, and that provides reasonable work/life balance. If an employee is bored, overly stressed, or frustrated by the immediate work, no other factor in the work environment can salvage the situation in the long term.
Key Relationship #2:
The second key relationship is between the employee and manager. After all, it is only in working in a close, trusting partnership with their immediate manager that employees can find the best possible match of skills and interests — and keep those aligned to the needs of the organization over time.
Key Relationship #3: Team
Third is the relationship with the team. This refers to the broader human ecosystem in which an employee operates. So the term ‘team’ may include colleagues, but also refer to customers, suppliers, and outside providers. We derive a strong sense of camaraderie and community from those we interact with — or perhaps a strong sense of frustration and stress when we fail to relate to them.
Key Relationship #4:
Finally, each employee has a certain relationship to the company, and by proxy to the senior leaders of the firm. Does the organization align with employees’ values? Is the firm headed in the right direction? Do senior leaders instill trust and communicate openly? They inherit the culture that they behave, and employees respond accordingly.
The Workplace Engagement Platform
The WorkplaceDynamics engagement platform aims to provide today’s organization with a suite of solutions to support the employee-centric approach that’s needed for success.
Through the Workplace Survey, organizations give employees a voice while conducting a deep-dive analysis on the key factors that drive employee engagement. Built on ten years of research and learnings from neuroscience, the survey equips executive teams to rapidly transition from data to action thanks to AI guided insights and department-level reporting.
Thanks & Culture Wall
Workplace Thanks and the Culture Wall is an easy-to-use solution for social recognition. Employees value the appreciation they receive from colleagues, and the organization gets to see — in real time — the interactions between teams.
Looking to the Future
The Engagement Platform from WorkplaceDynamics is a robust foundation for your engagement strategy. It is also rapidly expanding, and our development roadmap is being informed by the insights from our Top Workplaces program. Look forward to many more modules and capabilities being deployed in the weeks and months ahead.