Walking the Talk Blog

Your key to staff engagement may not sit where you think…

[fa icon="calendar"] 06-Jul-2017 14:02:01 / by Jerome Parisse-Brassens

Are you in one of the following situations?

  • Your engagement scores are plateauing or they have started to decrease
  • You have implemented many initiatives to increase engagement but they are losing steam and achieving little
  • Business results are starting to be impacted by the lack of engagement

 If you answered yes to one of those three questions, you may need to look at your organisational culture. This is where the key to unlocking engagement issues may be sitting.

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Here’s what I found at a client of mine.


This organisation provides services in the human services sector, with many staff facing clients on an everyday basis and caring for them.


The chief executive was feeling that something was not quite right. Results were great but the growth rate had started to decrease. In the corridors, she could hear people complaining and employee turnover was on the increase. One day she showed me the engagement scores: they had been flat for a few years, despite many initiatives underway and the most recent perks. I suggested that a study of the culture could reveal what was the root cause of the problem, and how it impacted engagement. We conducted an assessment of the behaviours present in the organisation, as well as the values and the beliefs driving those behaviours.


It did not take long to identify the problem. The organisation was publicly listed, and because of the pressure on results from the board and from shareholders, leaders had developed a strong drive for healthy commercial results and for efficiencies. Field staff, on the other hand, worked in the business because of the meaning they found in their work, the services they provided to customers and the human touch that meant everything to them. Over time, staff had built a belief that leaders valued profit instead of the human dimension they treasured, and they resented this. It was however not the truth: the leaders valued what they offered to the community, but they were too busy running the business to spend time with staff and share the human value they had in common. Because of this perceived disconnect, behaviours suffered, and engagement scores went down.


The simplicity of the issue was surprising and it was easy to fix: Reconnect leaders with staff, lead a few conversations, implement some symbolic changes that demonstrate how much leaders value the essence of what the organisation is about. Working on engagement had not uncovered the problem, because culture was the key.


What a measure of your organisational culture can do is to unlock engagement. Understanding what drives people to do the things they do is critical. In a way, engagement is an outcome of culture, so to change the outcome, you need to change the drivers.


When assessing your culture for engagement, here is what you need to look for:

  • Look beyond systems, processes and perks
  • Identify the behaviours adopted by the organisation, in particular those that have become habits and assess whether they are helping, or playing against, implementation of your strategy and achievement of your mission
  • Compare leadership behaviours with others and check alignment
  • Identify the values, beliefs and assumptions driving the behaviours and isolate those that are self-limiting
  • Finally, if you have engagement data, identify the elements that are aligned with the culture data and those that aren’t. Dig a little in those that aren’t, this may bring a new light to your engagement score

I believe in a balanced view of the world. What this means in relation to this blog is that I believe that you need to measure both culture and engagement. Engagement will give you a measure of the outcome, but culture will help you to measure the extent of the underlying issues. As your doctors will say, you can always treat symptoms, but they will persist if you don’t attack the root cause of the problem.


When did you last measure your organisational culture? Did you uncover interesting facts about engagement? 

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Topics: Engagement, Measuring culture, Research, Behaviour, Jerome Parisse-Brassens

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