Is your organization struggling to improve employee engagement? If so, you’re not alone. Some organizations have become so frustrated that their efforts are failing to produce results that they’ve given up entirely on engagement.
When it comes to employee engagement, programs won’t do it. Something more is required. That something is culture change. But mention “culture change” and people immediately think it will take forever to see a tangible difference. What can be done?
- Begin with Connection
Engagement is primarily driven by connection to people and to a pro-social purpose. You can see this by scrutinizing the most popular employee engagement survey, Gallup’s Q12. The Q12’s questions are all about connection. It includes questions that determine whether you feel connected to your supervisor, such as does someone at work care about you as a person and care about your development, do you know what is expected of you, are you in a role that fits well with your strengths and helps you learn and grow, do you have the resources you need, do you have conversations about your progress, and does your opinion matter? It also includes questions on whether you feel connected to your colleagues, such as do you have a best friend at work, do your colleagues care about excellence and have you recently received recognition and praise? Finally, it assesses whether you feel connected to your organization’s mission or purpose.
In our book Connection Culture, we describe five benefits from having connection infused in the culture: 1. People perform better in terms of decision-making and creativity when they feel connected versus feeling disconnected, left out or lonely, 2. They give greater effort, 3. They align their behavior with the leaders’ goals, 4. They communicate more so that decision-makers have better information to make optimal decisions, and 5. They engage in creative conversations that fuel innovation. These benefits add up to a powerful source of competitive advantage.
- Implement Attitudes, Language and Behaviors that Connect in Context
Culture can be a confusing term to many because they see the word used in different contexts in which it has different meanings. For example, the definition of culture in anthropology is different than the definition of culture in the context of organizations.
In the organizational context we define culture as “the predominant attitudes, language and behaviors of a group of people” (be it a team, department or overall organization). Attitudes are feelings or ways of thinking that affect behavior, language is the system of words or signs that people use to express thoughts and feelings to each other and behavior is the way people act.
For more than a decade, my colleagues and I have been collecting examples of attitudes, language and behaviors that connect from a range of organizations we’ve worked with and studied. Download the 100 Ways to Connect ebook to see many of them. Have your leaders follow the directions in the ebook and the exercise will give them practical and immediate actions to get started creating a Connection Culture for the groups they lead.
- Create a Feedback Loop and Mentors to Support Development
No one gets great alone. As human beings we have a considerable propensity for deceiving ourselves when it comes to our own performance. We need feedback loops to give us objective guidance on how we can improve the culture we are responsible for leading. Employee engagement surveys provide this and help leaders learn their strengths and areas that require help to develop. We learn and grow through relationships so establish supervisor and/or peer mentors to provide guidance and encouragement.
Presently we are validating two new Connection Culture assessment tools with units of two of America’s leading healthcare organizations and we plan to make these assessments available for other organizations later this year.
- Name It and Claim It so that It Becomes Part of Your Organization’s DNA
Finally, to make Connection Culture stick, it must be driven into the organization’s identity. One example of how to do this is provided by Texas Christian University (TCU). Victor Boschini, TCU’s Chancellor, regularly references “TCU’s Connection Culture” and describes how it differentiates the university of 10,000 students. He tapped Ann Louden, one of his senior staff, to create the TCU Center for Connection Culture and be its director. The Center conducts a wide range of activities that raise awareness of TCU’s Connection Culture, and provides workshops and consulting support for areas of the University that request it. The Center reports to the Chancellor and is funded by his office to reinforce that it applies to the entire university. Organizations in higher education are taking note. Recently, Stanford University communicated the need to create a “culture of connection” and cited our book Connection Culture as a source.
If you are presently disappointed in the level of employee engagement in your organization, don’t give up, and don’t dismiss culture or employee engagement as irrelevant. Instead, shift your efforts to create a Connection Culture and make it part of your organization’s DNA. Doing so will boost organizational outcomes that provide a competitive advantage and lead to sustainable superior performance.
More From Michael Lee Stallard
Michael Lee Stallard, president of E Pluribus Partners and cofounder of ConnectionCulture.com, speaks, teaches and coaches on leadership, organizational culture and employee engagement. He is the author of Connection Culture and Fired Up or Burned Out. Follow him on his blog, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or LinkedIn.