Monday, April 27, 2009

Culture and Engagement - Our Time To Act by Joe Gerstandt

Culture and Engagement

Still reflecting on the topic of organizational culture, and its importance, and it is probably worth taking a look at employee engagement. If you have been paying any attention to anything in the world of human resources, talent management, organizational behavior and organizational development during the past decade, you know that engagement matters. It matters a lot.
There are a number of definitions out there, a growing mountain of research (and pricey consulting services) all related to the issue of engagement. Choose the research, framework and definitions that work for you, but for me engagement is primarily about the deployment of discretionary effort. A person that makes the extra effort, that sacrifices and does more than what is technically required of them is engaged.

It is getting a bit dated, but I still like the information in Driving Performance and Retention Through Employee Engagement that was released by the Corporate Leadership Council in 2004. It can be found in this larger piece on engagement (pages 2-13). They define employee engagement as "the extent to which employees commit to something or someone in their organization, how hard they work, and how long they stay as a result of that commitment." So their definition sounds fancier than mine, but I like it, and I think it is probably important to include the idea of an employee's intent to stay.

So they did one of their big ass surveys of over 50,000 employees at 59 global organizations and came up with some insights regarding employee engagement.

It IS really important - engaged employees perform 20% better and are 87% more likely to stay. An analysis of both rational and emotional forms of engagement reveals that emotional engagement (emotional commitment to job, to organization, to team, to manager) is four times more valuable than rational engagement in driving employee effort. Most important among the 25 highest-impact drivers of engagement are a connection between employees' job and organizational strategy and employee understanding of how important their job is to organizational success. Also critical for increasing engagement levels are numerous manager characteristics and cultural traits, such as good internal communication, integrity, a culture of innovation.

The Top Five most effective levers for increasing engagement were:

Connection Between Work and Organizational Strategy
Importance of Job to Organizational Success
Understanding How to Complete Work Projects
Internal Communications
Demonstrated Strong Commitment to Diversity

What sticks out to me about the insights from this study is that are pointing towards things that have a lot to do with organizational culture. i would say that all five of these are in some way connected to an organizations culture, some more than others.

In my first post on organizational culture, I said that it could act as a force-multiplier for us and I think that employee engagement is an example of exactly that. If your culture is one that is highly engaging for employees, you are going to outperform groups that have similar resources with lower engagement....remember engaged employees perform 20% better and are 87% more likely to stay. Your organizational culture can help make this happen.

I don't want to beat a dead horse here, but organizational (and team, and community) culture is really important and potentially really powerful. It is a key factor in the longevity of your organization, as well as employee engagement and retention, your ability to innovate and more.

So. What is your culture strategic plan? What kind of resources are budgeted for architecting your culture? How many meetings, how many conversations are specifically about organizational culture? Do you have goals? Measurements? Maybe not. And so here we have this really powerful thing that we can use to make our organization really powerful and it is simply adrift at sea. We are in many ways absentee landlords when it comes to our organizational culture.
But it is simple to start. You can start by just making a few notes for your own consideration, to help develop your understanding of your current organizational culture.

Describe your organizational culture (either in narrative format or with a list of attributes), here are a few questions to help spur your thinking:

How do meetings work in your organization, are they very formal/ structured/rigid or are they a free-flowing exchange of ideas? Are they common or rare? Are they high-energy or low-energy? Productive or not?

How are questions viewed in your organization? Are they welcomed and embraced or do they result in defensiveness / debate posturing?

How are mistakes and risk-taking treated in your organization? When something does not work out as planned it is used for shared learning?

How are new ideas viewed in your organization? Are new ideas judged on their merit or are they judged based on who they come from?

Are conversations open/honest/candid? Are there undiscussables? Are there topics that are off limits?

Who determines the culture?

Now think about whether this organizational culture that you have started to describe matches with what the organization claims to be (mission statement, public perception, etc.)...and why or why not?

We are going to look at some more focused and research based tools later, but I think these are some good questions to reflect on to start wrapping your hands around what your organizations culture is and what that means for its success and for its future...and what it means for you.

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