Employee engagement is now a metric measured annually in many corporations.
At its most simple, it is an indicator of 'stay, say, strive' - the likelihood that employees will stay with the organisation, speak well of it to others, and put in their best effort. The word 'engagement' speaks to commitment to each other. In short, engagement describes how employees feel, which can be considered the 'climate' of the organisation.
What is the relevance of culture to an organisation that is focused on engagement? Firstly, culture is not engagement. Culture relates to behaviour, engagement (or climate) to motivation. Culture is the patterns of behavior that are encouraged or discouraged over time. These behaviours will either facilitate business performance, or they will hinder it. They will either be aligned to values that will build your brand and reputation, or they will not. Certain behaviours are more critical for certain strategies. For example, a strategy to win market share through being first to market with new products will require a culture which encourages innovation, fast implementation and the ability to correct fast. Engagement is a measure of how motivated people feel. But what type of people, and motivated to what end?
For sure having people motivated is better than having them demotivated. But what if the people who are motivated are slow moving and conservative. How will this help your new strategy? It can happen that when an organization adopts a new strategy, and demands a new culture, some people who fitted with the old ways actually need to leave, and these people may feel quite disengaged.
When you actively manage your culture in service of an intended business outcome, the people who you most need will become very engaged (in this case the innovators). So high engagement is an outcome of the right culture.
In the Walking the Talk methodology, we have one of six cultural archetypes as People-First. People-First cultures have made the decision that by placing 'caring for their employees' at the very top of their values hierarchy, they will best achieve their business outcomes. For these organizations, engagement is a perfect indicator of their culture goals. But for other organisations, Achievement, or building a more accountable and outcome focused business might be the most important culture goal. It is hard, however attractive it may sound, to focus on more than one cultural attribute at a time. So you need to consider the key communication message and area of focus that is most relevant for your business imperatives right now.
By focusing on this culture goal you will achieve high engagement as an outcome, but you will also achieve a whole lot more. Specifically the business outcome for which certain behaviors are critical. Be interested in your engagement scores, because they are a good indicator of your organisation's health. But invest the majority of your effort in building the culture you need to achieve your business goals. When you look up from this process, you will find that the employees you really need will be highly engaged, and the rest will either be striving to change to fit into the new culture, or go.
To offer a slightly different perspective, here is an article on culture and engagement by Hewitt, who own one of the most commonly used engagement surveys.
Carolyn is the CEO of Walking the Talk and author of 'Walking the Talk: Building a Culture for Success' (Random House).
Twitter @walkingourtalk or LinkedIn.