When I work with organizations that are trying to improve their employee engagement I often hear something like "well it's tough to keep people engaged here because there's not a lot of opportunity for advancement". Relatively flat companies don't feel like they have enough carrots in place to keep people motivated, committed and bringing their best to the job day after day. The truth is, though, that you see fully engaged flat organizations all the time. Take a look at Zappos where almost everyone is a call center employee manning the phone and yet they are known more for their highly engaged atmosphere than for the shoes they sell. Ever worked in a startup or smaller company where virtually everyone was on the same level but all working long hours trying to build something amazing? What about a not for profit like Habitat for Humanity where people show up for free and work side by side doing manual labor? While advancement is a part of the engagement equation, it's only one factor and even if you have relatively low paying jobs and a flat organization you can still create a fully engaged high performing business. Here are the 3 critical things that drive employee engagement and commitment, no matter how your business is structured.
It's defined a million ways but everyone knows a strong effective culture when they are part of one. It's often described as "how we do things around here" and I think of it as organizational influences that guide individual behavior. No matter how you define it, it is a critical driver of employee engagement. People want to show up and work in a place where they can contribute, make a difference, and enjoy the work. I'm not suggesting that there isn't some segment of the population that will just want their paycheck no matter where they work, but the right culture quickly causes them to look elsewhere. With the right culture, your identity becomes a business filled with fully engaged teams and leaders, and people will quickly realize that the bar here is high and you have to bring your best to be part of this team. Your people help you recruit others like them because they don't want people there who aren't a good fit with the culture. Most problems self-correct without the involvement of "management" because the people around the situation address it before it becomes a bigger issue. When you build a culture where only fully engaged people get to participate, then you only have fully engaged people. It's not easy or quick but it can be done and when it is, the culture causes engagement, you don't have to.
It has been said that people don't leave jobs, they leave bosses. The research bares this out. Recent research by the Corporate Leadership Council indicates that high potential employees with an effective manager are up to 35% more likely to be fully engaged. The managers in your organization have a tremendous effect on employee engagement and yet we often settle for mediocre managers within our businesses. They must become effective coaches and developers of people if you want to have people that show up looking to contribute, rather than just put in time. If your managers aren't developing their capability to coach and lead teams effectively in a sustainable way (violence is the quickest way to behavior change, it's just not sustainable) then you have no shot at creating an organization of highly engaged and committed people. If you do create great coaches at every level of your business, you can reach your goals, adapt to change, build teams that are accountable and completely change the game.
Connection means two things as it relates to an organization. It means connection between their personal goals and what they do every day but it also means a connection to the mission of the organization and the people in it. If people feel like they are contributing to something that matters, making a difference, and have a sense of satisfaction at the end of the day because they have accomplished something, then they are much more likely to stay with the company and remain engaged. If they are doing it with a group of people that they like, that help them get better, that challenge them and that support them those odds go up even further. What does your organization stand for? Do you have a vision that people want to be part of, that attracts people who can and do make a difference? In many cases when I first engage with an organization, people in the business can't even tell me what the vision is, much less feel connected to it in some way. It can't be just something you wrote down and put on a poster either. It has to become who you are as an organization and people have to be able to align what they want to accomplish personally with who you are as an organization. It won't fit for everyone, but by declaring it, you will find more of the people who connect with it.
These three things obviously are not mutually exclusive. Show me a business with great coaches and leaders at every level and I will show you a company with a phenomenal culture. Show me a place where you have a great culture and you will find people who are connected to being there and want to make it even better. What's interesting, though, is that very few businesses use these things as their critical performance indicators. They might look at calls per day in a sales organization or client satisfaction scores or something else, and these things are important, but they are outcomes. If you want to build a business with fully committed people, start focusing on and measuring things that cause it to happen. Have a meeting every month where culture, coaching and connection are on your scorecard and commit to making them a part of how you evaluate your business. When you do, your people will be more engaged, more committed, and more accountable, no matter how flat your organization is.
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