Article originally appeared in Entrepreneur, November 1, 2016
Leaders usually do a better job of telling employees what they do wrong than championing the behavior they want to see.
Having worked for a global corporation, a university, a local government, a nonprofit and several startups over my 20-year career, I’ve noticed one thing in particular that’s increasingly clear: Company leaders can have very different ideas of what constitutes success.
Some focus on maximizing profits or advancing technology over building a great culture. Others are more mission-focused, working to solve societal problems.
However, no matter what they’re striving toward, most agree that success begins and ends with a highly engaged workforce. So, why, then, are so few employees engaged?
Not because companies don’t care — they spend billions on wellness, engagement and professional development programs. Forward-thinking managers at Deere & Company even measure their teams’ morale and motivation every two weeks.
You probably don’t need to survey that often to reap the rewards. But looking at — and acting upon — engagement metrics is as critical to success as the analysis of any financial or production data. That’s why, for so many companies, conducting and then ignoring these surveys represents a gigantic missed opportunity. The reason: Keeping teams engaged requires a dynamic approach and close attention to this data.
Strong-willed leaders, in fact, devote as much energy to building a sound culture as they do to driving performance. As an entrepreneur leader, you should emulate their example.
Which came first: performance or engagement?
Although employee engagement is tied to culture, many leaders struggle to understand how to use engagement data to grow a sustainable business.
In The Living Company, Arie de Geus wrote that the average life expectancy of a corporation is less than 20 years. A preoccupation with profits over people leads companies to die prematurely — they calcify culturally by focusing too heavily on financial metrics. And while, certainly, a well-managed, incentivized sales team is critical to the success of any company, it is no more so than the other parts of the organization.
The roots of the engagement problem are key: They may well extend beyond management to the investor marketplace and to boards that are heavily pressured to push revenue. While short-term financial performance may result, it’s often at the expense of long-term (and often more significant) gains.
Companies can reach their full potential only if leadership values all people.
Thriving organizations value all members
Some companies defy the 20-year lifespan de Geus described. Recognizing that fact, de Geus identified a key characteristic of those that thrived for decades or even centuries: Each completely altered its business portfolio.
Take 200-year-old DuPont, for example: a manufacturer that started out making gunpowder and gradually evolved into specialty chemicals. Mitsui is even older. It began as a shop selling drapery, became a bank, operated mines and eventually went into manufacturing. The products and even the types of businesses these companies offer have continued to evolve.
But what these companies have in common is that they value people more than assets; and that’s an even more important concept now than it was centuries ago. In a digital, knowledge-based economy, technology and processes are commodities. People are the competitive differentiator.
Here are five ways to effectively engage your own employees and see positive returns on the investments you make in your company’s greatest resource and asset: its people.