Your culture can be positive, empowering, poisonous, passive-aggressive or anything in between.

Successful companies invest in building a purposeful culture where engagement is a daily priority and shared responsibility of individuals, managers, and executives!

© BlessingWhite 2012

A number of years ago I became concerned about what I saw as the opportunity costs of employees who were coming to work and either withholding or not being given an opportunity to fulfill their responsibilities at 100%.

Because by nature I am an optimist, I subscribe to the theory that better than 95% of employees show up at work, at least initially, wanting to do the right work and to do it well.

Things get in the way. Those things can come in a lot of different forms -

  • Unclear expectations
  • A variance in what the employee is doing and what we want them to do
  • Lack of appropriate preparation and/or training
  • Poor management
  • A lack of alignment between the employees personal values and goals and the organizations values and goals (real or perceived)

As you have probably already concluded, I could go on for pages and pages about what causes this variance between capability and actual performance. The point is it exists.

I had the opportunity early in my career to work with at that time were considered emerging concepts; things like Total Quality Management, Quality Circles, Gainsharing, etc. (I know I am really dating myself). What I saw was that when you created opportunities for alignment between organizational and individual values performance and productivity increased across the board. As a result of that I decided to experiment with and develop my own model which I call c2C or moving from compliance to Commitment®. My system is based on five fairly simple elements -

* Respect
* Responsibility
* Information
* Rewards
* Loyalty

I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t tell you that there are a number of sub-elements to my system or that my system is the only effective way of creating and sustaining engagement, but it is pretty simple and easy to understand. A quote I found in a book written by Ken Matejka, called Why This Horse Won’t Drink, framed what I have made it a goal to create for my clients and employers -

“Commitment is the act of being physically, psychologically, and emotionally impelled. It means that employees gladly give up other options.”

I remember the first time I saw that quote thinking wow, can you imagine what it would be like to work in an environment where essentially everybody shows up physically, psychologically, and emotionally impelled to support the goals of the organization.

Creating that kind of environment requires a commitment from all levels of the organization and a cultural/systemic approach rather than one which is systematic or merely a series of programs.


I figure if you have stayed with me this far you might be asking some questions like-
* What is so great about engagement?
* If it is so great why aren’t more organizations doing it?
* How do we do it right?
Where we are – (from a 2012 Survey performed by Forbes/Gallup)
• Of employees surveyed 23% of non- management employees (less than 1 in 4) described themselves as engaged or highly engaged
• 65% of those employees evaluating themselves as non-engaged indicated they would change employers for a pay increase of 5%
• 80% of employees who have issues or don’t feel supported by their immediate supervisor describe themselves as disengaged
• 39% of those surveyed do not have trust and confidence in senior management in their organization

The U.S Department of Labor estimates that employee turnover costs our economy $5 trillion every year.

The American Mental Health Association estimates that the direct and indirect effects of presenteeism, employees who come to work but are not fully productive because of lack of job fit, personal issues, etc. costs the economy another $200 billion annually.

Another study concluded that although we spend over $100 billion annually on training, the retention or skills transfer rate measured out 18 months is less than 10%.

We spend more as a percentage of our Gross Domestic Product than any other industrialized society on delivering health care and managing health yet our outcomes are no better than mediocre.

I like to think that these numbers present a pretty compelling case financially at least for why we might want to examine this. To me at least $5.3 trillion dollars annually that could be recaptured and redeployed into our national economy seems like a pretty significant number.

The other alarming thing is that over the last decade or so the engagement profile of organizations worldwide, but especially in the U.S. and Europe are either remaining flat or moving in the wrong direction - down rather than up.

I don’t want to be a complete Debbie Downer so I also think it is important to share the upside of having a workforce that is engaged or even better highly engaged-

  • Hay Group studies show that high engagement can improve revenue growth by 250 % and reduce turnover by as much as 40%
  • 70% of organizations with high engagement exited the downtown with higher levels of employee motivation than pre-recession.
  • 90% of the Fortune Magazine Worlds’ Most Admired Companies have developed and maintained an explicit employment brand.
  • The World’s most admired companies incorporate building human capacity, teamwork, and customer loyalty into their performance rewards and management programs.

    Another study conducted by Rhoads and Whitlark in 2010 reported-
  • 84% of highly engaged employees feel that they can positively impact the quality of the organizations product or service versus 31% of disengaged employees.
  • 72% of highly engaged employees feel they contribute directly to improved customer service versus 27% of disengaged employees
  • 68% of highly engaged employees feel they can directly impact costs versus 19% of their disengaged counterparts.

These engaged employees feel like they are meaningful partners in achieving the organizations goals.

Engagement has become important enough that Gallup stated in 2011 that the most predictive indicator of an organization’s long term sustainability is employee engagement, and that high employee engagement has a direct and indirect positive correlation to every key performance indicator. The United Kingdom has actually launched a national initiative to address it!

So at this point you are asking (I hope) if engagement is so important and yield such significant results why aren’t more employers embracing it?

Several reasons-

  • Historical context
  • Poor or conflicting definitions of what engagement is or isn’t
  • Poor execution

Companies have a hard time distinguishing between the cost of paying people and the value of investing in them.
Thomas A Stewart

Historical Context

In many organizations the prevailing model that still exists is embedded in scientific management. Scientific management was born out of the Industrial Revolution, it basically embraced the premise that some people lead and others follow and that the way to optimize productivity and profitability was to break work down into repetitive tasks that could be repeated over and over again and didn’t require a lot of skill.

People couldn’t be trusted or expected to make good decisions. We needed to dumb things down. This was the advent of white collar- those who think, and blue collar- those who do.

When I entered the workforce I was surprised at the things we didn’t or wouldn’t talk to employees about. We rarely invited them to participate in decisions about how we did things.

We didn’t talk to them about how we made decisions about the business, about their pay, or other related matters. It was on a need to know basis, and we had decided they didn’t need to know or didn’t care.

We have not captured the energy and commitment of the American worker. We have used technology and systems in many cases against rather than on behalf of people. In short we have disengaged them.

Our management and leadership models do not appropriately value and reinforce the importance of relationships and people.

In organizations, real power and energy is generated through relationships. The patterns of relationships and the capacity to form them are more important than tasks, functions, roles, and positions.

Margaret Wheatley

Defining Engagement

Myths” About Engagement

  • Happy employees equals engaged employees
  • Customer “satisfaction” equals engagement
  • Employee “tenure” equals engagement
  • Employee engagement is a human resources program/function

Enterprises or organizations do not exist to facilitate the dreams or create employment for their employees. They have or should have a value proposition they are trying to deliver; whether that is a return to shareholders or serving a social purpose. If in fact they fall short of that you have an execution issue. It doesn’t matter whether you are for profit or not for profit, if you do not achieve the organization’s objectives you are not executing. It is that simple.

Employee engagement is described in a lot of different ways. For me there is only one real meaningful definition and that is represented by alignment. Employees see a clear correlation between the goals of the organization their ability to satisfy goals of their own and as a result they execute consistently!

 Optimally not only is there alignment with their personal and professional goals, but also alignment with their values. We call this congruency.

When you use congruency as a filter it looks for alignment with the people you invite into your organization on multiple levels-

  • They are aligned in the way they view the activity
  • They believe they have the ability and capacity to do the activity
  • Their personal values are aligned with that of the organization
  • They are willing to do the “work”
  • They believe in the organizational mission

Having been in and around the human resources arena for over 30 years it is still pretty alarming to me how few organizations look for this alignment or congruency in their hiring practices, even organizations who believe they have a very strong value structure.

Poor Execution

Engagement is not a program to be relegated to the Human Resources organization. It is not a program or a survey that you administer annually or that you simply purchase an off the shelf product from another organization. I have been successful in building engaged cultures in a number of organizations representing multiple sectors and organizational cultures. While the base elements are the same the implementation is customized to each of them.

There are some common attributes of organizations that have implemented and maintained cultures of high engagement. They include:

• Creating an Appropriate Culture- I have spent the last fifteen years refining my model – Moving from Compliance to Commitment™. It is composed of five elements: respect, responsibility, information, rewards and loyalty. My premise is simple; people join and stay with cultures, not organizations. As leaders you are the guardian of the culture. You notice I say join up. They make an affirmative choice to join up or commit to you.

• Hire Hard- Manage Easy- my friend and colleague Joseph Skursky of Market Leader Solutions, uses this motto as the basis of his recruitment and selection system. I can assure you through experience that hiring people who align with your culture and values may be difficult, but not nearly as difficult as trying to change someone’s values.

• Good Leadership- good leadership is critical, but what is it? I like Marcus Buckingham’s definition-

“Effective leaders don’t have to be passionate. They don’t have to be charming. They don’t have to be brilliant…They don’t have to be great speakers. What they must be is clear. Above all else, they must never forget the truth that of all the human universals…our need for clarity is the most likely to engender in us confidence, persistence, resilience, and creativity.

Marcus Buckingham, The One Thing You Need to Know: …About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success (Free Press 2005)

• Effective Management- management is different than leadership, period. Richard Rumelt, a professor of Management at UCLA describes the role of management this way-
“The most important role of any manager is to break down a situation into challenges a subordinate can handle. In essence, the manager absorbs a great chunk of the ambiguity in the situation and gives much less ambiguous problems to others.”

Richard Rumelt

Strategy’s strategist: An interview with Richard Rumelt 

• Clarity - Clarity to me is the foundation of effective leadership. 
- Why does our organization exist?
 -What value or purpose do we serve?
 -Do I/Should I care?

•  Context - Context to me is where we begin to personalize our purpose and make it more relevant to people.

- Where does my role fit in?
-  Does what I do serve the larger organizational purpose?
- Is there a clear line of sight for me between organizational goals and my own personal goals?

The role of human resources as change agents

A recent post from Bloomberg/BusinessWeek contained the following-

If you ask a CEO “What does your HR leader do?” he or she is likely to say: “You got me. I just know I need to have one.” We expect our HR execs to look after employee records, hire and train people, administer performance reviews, and see that comp and benefits practices chug along. Beyond that, the mission can get fuzzy, fast. Most CEOs I know don’t have a ready answer to the question “How does your HR leader help your organization compete?” nor do they have a handy list of must-do activities for an HR exec charged with boosting the organization’s competitive mojo.

I would challenge Human Resource practitioners to see themselves in a different context and a different role -

  • Integrators of key systems like compensation, performance management, and talent management with business systems. Create Alignment!
  • Project management to deploy these systems. Create accountability!
  • Facilitators of key organizational initiatives to drive engagement and congruency. Create capacity not codependency!
  • Technical experts in compliance and related systems. Guide, coach, and refine!
  • If we can start to change the paradigm and embrace these models we can truly move our organizations forward and create positive change for all of our stakeholders- not just our shareholders.

If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the immensity of the sea.”     

~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Let’s stop teaching people to gather wood….


Back >