The Employee Engagement-Corporate Culture Connection

 In Corporate Culture, Employee Engagement

If you are struggling to build a corporate culture that engages, you are not alone.

It’s one of the top challenges we hear from clients across companies of varying size, industry and geography. They often describe the ‘symptoms’ of an unengaged work culture – everything from failing to integrate Millennials and struggling to retain top talent, to lack of leadership, teamwork and innovation.

How People Feel About the Way Things Work Around Here

Companies with unengaged cultures cannot move strategies forward. That’s why they’ll spend significantly to address these symptoms, albeit often on a surface level with little lasting impact. It turns out that building a culture of engagement is not as easy as bringing ping pong tables into the employee lounge.

But again, you are not alone: “Culture” and “Engagement” also ranked as the third and fourth highest priorities in 2016 for more than 7,000 leaders and HR teams from 130 countries!

That’s according to the 2016 Global Human Capital Trends Report, an annual study published by Deloitte University Press that details 10 trends on the design and execution of talent, leadership, organization and change programs that enhance an organization’s performance through people.

At the Crossroads

In addition to identifying these priorities, Deloitte’s report draws an important line between the two, stating that “Culture” describes “the way things work around here” and “Engagement” is “how people feel about the way things work around here.” These definitions are spot on, but they also leave each organization with the important tasks of defining their own culture and finding right-fit employees who will be engaged by it. Both are moving targets that are also challenged by the changing dynamic of the way work gets done today.

While it can be difficult to address these priorities on a meaningful level, they cannot be ignored. Thanks to a socially connected workforce, research on any company is as close as their mobile phone, as is the ability to weigh in instantaneously. This can help you or hurt you.


Shape Culture, Drive Strategy

The good news is there are ways to cultivate a culture that aligns with your core values and business strategy, and when it’s done authentically, it attracts and engages the very employees who can move your organization forward.

You need to start by understanding what already exists at your organization. No matter what “formal” statements and policies are in place, you’ll need to look under the hood to assess the way things work when no one is looking. These beliefs and behaviors are embedded at every level of the organization, from the experience of walking through your front door, to how meetings are run remotely, to who and what gets rewarded, to issues that crop up between people and teams. All of these will have some common ‘vibe’ that exists despite any policy introduced at orientation.

In Deloitte’s 2016 survey:

  • Fewer than 12% of companies believe that they understand their organization’s culture; and
  • More than 50% are working to change their culture to meet new market demands.

Are you part of the statistics above? In either case, what are you doing to enhance understanding or guide that change?

Most importantly, do you have the courage to hit the pause button on other initiatives to make the business culture a priority in 2017? Or is there an urgency embedded in your culture that forces you to plow ahead with M&A activity, recruiting programs and organizational redesign which may be bound for lackluster results?

Transforming your company’s culture has the potential to strengthen your sense of purpose, elevate your brand, and attract and engage top performers who can move you ahead. To start you need to understand the gap between what culture exists today and what values you need to adopt to compete in the future. By identifying the gap, you can create strategies to shape the change. Learn how the CultureTalk for Organizations Survey can help you do just that. It provides a human, story-based framework for talking about culture and its evolution.

Employee Engagement, Always On

That brings us to the engagement side of the equation (how employees feel about the culture) – which will determine the effort they are willing to put in day-to-day. There is plenty of research about the importance of engagement; and without it, there’s a huge drag on your bottom line that looks like low performance, lousy customer service, lack of innovation, compromised teamwork and high turnover.

One of our CultureTalk Advisors, Bob Kelleher of the Employee Engagement Group shares his latest thinking on engaging the WHOLE employee through both their employment experience, as well as their personal life in his latest video – Why is your Boat Still Sinking?


According to Deloitte’s report, the focus on engagement has a lot to do with hiring Millennials who are notoriously less committed to a particular organization as they seek meaningful mission-based work, near-constant opportunities for development and growth, and a transparent work environment in which they can trust in leadership. Deloitte’s survey shows that only 4% of respondents believe they are doing a good job engaging Millennials! Check out our blog on Creating a Culture where Millennials Can Thrive.

Measuring employee engagement is not a new trend – the Engagement Survey has been around the block. But newer approaches take an always-on approach that recognizes the constantly changing nature of today’s organization. We have a global and diverse workforce that accomplishes work through a special-forces approach of fluid teams that often include remote employees with creative, evolving careers. Given these circumstances, it’s pretty tricky to keep employees empowered and give them a sense of ownership for their jobs – key engagement factors!

A new generation of “pulse” surveys have been adapted for this reality, allowing employees to evaluate their experience in every situation and giving leaders a real-time analysis into engagement. The result is the ability to address issues as the crop up (including cultural ones) and adapt quickly, even building reward and compensation models around individual engagement motivators.

Engaged Employees Stay

There’s one group of employees who can comment on both engagement and culture – your long-term top performers. While exit interviews are common, how often do you have a deep conversation with employees who remain committed to your company? They will have an experience that’s worth exploring – being able to weigh in on both how things work around here – and how they feel about it.

Make 2017 the year to get the Culture-Engagement Connection in synch and successful!

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