Don’t build an Employee Engagement Program, Engage People

Entrepreneur Magazine recently published an article entitled “5 Inexpensive Ways to Create a Company Culture like Google’s”. The pieces lives up to its title by providing a ‘quick hit’ list of fun office challenges, a weight loss/health initiative and celebrations as the missing pieces building a great culture.

The article is a great reminder how many people think employee engagement and great culture is a byproduct of a new mission statement and better birthday parties for employees.  If engagement is that easy, every company would have incredible culture, engaged employees and no one would want to leave their job.  But that is not the case, in fact according to a recentGallup survey; only about 29% of US employees are actively engaged in the workplace.

Think about your own company.  If you had company events that are more fun and a better health initiative would you start performing more like Google?  Would people feel more engaged because birthdays are celebrated with a little more fanfare?  Would you?

Tactics are meaningless without a thoughtful strategy and they will most likely fail (and fall on deaf ears) if not inclusive and thoughtfully implemented. Because, as this example is meant to illustrate, there’s a lot more you need to do to drive employee engagement besides throwing a great party – good hiring, giving people a voice, nurturing personal relationships in the workplace and strong vision and leadership that is well articulated to employees are all critical elements.

Les McKeown, president and CEO of Predictable Success describes engagement programs this way, “…when you do identify a business where the employees are genuinely happy and productive (a real business that you personally know, not some case study in a book or article) that one thing will be missing. There’ll be no employee engagement program… people aren’t engaged by programs; they’re engaged by people”

So if you’re investing in employee engagement programs, where do you start?

Ask your employees. And not with an incredibly monotonous 100-question survey they fill out at some regularly scheduled interval. Many of our customers spend huge amounts of time and energy on survey administration and analysis that produces occasionally actionable insights.  As fast as the market evolves, what is the point of data that takes three months to process?

Instead of getting answers to lots of questions over a long period of time, imagine if you could know the answer to a handful of questions in near real-time. How happy are my employees and how does happiness correlate to productivity? This is by far one of the coolest things we’re starting to answer for our customers.

Often the process of culture defining says as much about the culture of the company as the outcome itself. And in my experience, inclusiveness (which by definition requires asking your employees) is successful vs. top-down culture change. Does it represent the people in the company or what we want to tell ourselves (and our investors) what we are?  If technology exists to give people a voice in a process, why would you not use it?

Pop surveys, or similar types of rapid engagement, also create the potential for real-time feedback – sharing a summary of information collected with employees.  This lets people know their input is valued and having influence, it also serves as a great way to continue discussion and further the investment in the outcome.

You can’t build a company of engaged people if you’re not engaging them in the process to do so. 


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