Engaging and Retaining Top Talent Is an Ongoing Battle
As companies struggle to maintain their competitive edge, each year more employees who take our best places to work employee engagement survey report feeling adrift because they have lost the sense of meaning in their work.  How can leaders help employees find more meaning at work?

The Role of Meaning at Work
While “more meaningful work” sounds like another fluffy HR-feel-good idea, employees need more than a paycheck and good benefits to stay engaged at work.  In fact, over 500,000 employees per year consistently rank pay and benefits as having the lowest correlation to employee engagement and retention.  And when asked, “What makes you stay at your company?” the number-one answer, according to a study by the WorkHuman Research Institute, was, “I find the work meaningful.”

We know that employees who feel their work has purpose are more fully engaged and more productive.  They work harder, are more collaborative, and put forth their best ideas and effort.  Though many leaders try to cascade the company’s strategy and fundamental purpose to their employees, our own engagement research tells us that the message is not getting through.

  • Less than half of employees clearly understand their organization’s strategy and purpose
  • Almost three-quarters of employees are not enthusiastic about their work
  • Over one-third of leadership teams are not aligned on their own strategic priorities

What’s the Missing Link?
How can leaders be more effective in communicating the corporate strategy and purpose to their employees?  We believe the missing link between workers and the broader meaning of their work is simple.  Workers do not find more meaning at work because they do not feel personally connected.

Four Steps to Help Employees Find More Meaning at Work

  1. Focus on Customers
    Who we work with and how we work with them is as important as what we do. The more you can reduce the distance between your employees and your customers, the more connected your employees will feel.  Encourage your employees to develop close relationships with customers, meet customers in person as often as they can, and to become deeply invested in their success.

    Customer centric cultures provide employees with meaning by providing the freedom to know their customers’ personally and professionally, anticipate their emerging needs, and include their feedback in the continuous improvement process.  The more freedom employees feel to inject their work with personal meaning, the more engaged they become.

  2. Make the Impact on Customers Visible
    Give employees the opportunity to experience first-hand the impact their contributions at work have on customers, their team, and the company. First, give employees the chance to understand who benefits from their work and specifically why it matters to their customers.  Secondly, whenever possible, connect that work and impact to a greater cause.

    You will know that you are on the right path when people feel that showing up every day makes a difference.

    One client had great success by instituting on-site customer visits for all employees.  Not only did employees appreciate how what they did benefited others, but they also better appreciated different company roles and had more suggestions for improvement and cross-functional collaboration.

  1. Recognize Great Work
    Our engagement research also found a direct correlation between recognition and meaning. Workers who received recent recognition reported almost 30% higher levels of meaning at work compared to those who were not recognized.  When employees are noticed and appreciated, their work simply becomes more meaningful.Be aware however that extrinsic motivation has a shelf life.  The key to consistently higher performance goes deeper – it’s intrinsic.

    Meaningful work creates the intrinsic motivation that drives employees to perform because they want to, not because they have to.

  2. Reinforce the Organization’s Higher Purpose
    More leaders are beginning to recognize the importance of a higher purpose at work, but few truly use purpose and meaning to define how work gets done and how decisions get made. The most impactful way to connect employees to the company’s grander vision is to actively involve them in defining the organization’s “raison d’etre”.  When they believe that what they are doing matters, they will be more motivated and committed to the enterprise.

    While higher meaning is easy to deduce for biotech companies, nonprofits, and healthcare organizations, it is not easy for many others.  But imagine a company that makes cars whose purpose is to help people to get to where they want to be. Or a company that makes watches that helps people to better balance their lives.  Or a company like Patagonia that aspires to deliver the best product without creating unnecessary harm to the environment.

The Bottom Line
Meaning and performance tend to go together.  Employees want their work to have meaning.  Leaders want their employees to make an impact.  While you can’t choose what matters most to each individual employee, you can certainly create the right environment for employees find more meaning at work.

To learn more about how to help employees find more meaning at work, download Employee Engagement Mistakes: Are You Aimlessly Engaging Your Employees?

Growing Your Business Faster
How often do you scan your business for growth opportunities?  If it’s not something you do systematically, you have lots of company.  Most executives admit that they do not regularly analyze the best way to grow their business.  Unfortunately when they do focus on growth strategies even the best solution sellers and sales leaders can fall prey to the pervasive sales growth myths.

Three Main Ways to Grow Your Business
There are three major paths to growing your business:  through (1) Creation of new products or services, (2) Investment in potential growth areas, and 93) Performance through improved operations.  Which is best for your company?

Three Sales Growth Myths to Overcome

Sales Myth #1 – Creating New Customers, Products, and Services Is Always Best
It’s tempting to always lean toward winning new customers, creating new products, or offering new services to grow faster.  New client wins are motivating, and executives get excited to introduce something new to the marketplace.  But the facts and experience tell us that creation is not always the best business strategy for growth.

New customers are typically not as profitable as current clients and new products and services can require massive investments, take time to come to fruition, and are fraught with risk.

Instead, high growth companies most often utilize the other two paths of Investment by ruthlessly identifying and reallocating resources and by improving Performance at current customers – sometimes even combining them in their overall strategy for growth.

Sales Myth #2 – If It Isn’t Broken, Don’t Fix It
It is not uncommon for successful leaders to become complacent and to subscribe to the idea that if it worked once, it will work again.  But if you really want to keep growing over time, you often need to anticipate where the market is headed and adjust how you sell and serve your target clients.

Especially during times of success focus on gathering and assessing customer feedback for ways to continuously improve approaches and wisely shift investments toward areas with greater potential.

Sales Myth #3 – High Growth Is Not Possible in Our Marketplace
Don’t handicap your business by believing that growth can’t be achieved in your industry.  In fact, top growth organizations can be found in every industry from high tech to basic materials.  When your company is strong and you have aligned your sales culture with your sales strategy, you can experience significant leaps in growth, regardless of industry.

In fact, one of our clients grew revenue 48% while their industry was declining by 10 percent per year.

The Bottom Line
If you want to scale and grow your organization faster, be sure you don’t fall into preconceived ideas around how to grow that have been proven wrong

To learn more about how to grow faster, download 4 Steps to Ideal Target Client Definition to Accelerate Growth

HR’s View of Workplace Culture Needs to Change
Can you honestly say that your workplace culture supports your business goals?  If not, it’s time to take a second and thoughtful look at your culture and treat it as a business challenge.  In our opinion, HR should view workplace culture as a strategic imperative to improve business performance.

Unfortunately, many HR executives continue to take too narrow of a view of culture.  They tend to think of culture as tied solely to values and organizational health and as peripheral to tangible business success.  This narrow view is exacerbated by the fact that many business leaders already ignore or minimize workplace culture because they don’t believe it has a quantifiable impact on business performance.

But culture at work is much more than simply corporate values and employee engagement.

The Definition of Workplace Culture
We define corporate culture as the way work truly gets done on a day-to-day basis.  Smart leaders know that organizational cultures exist by either design or default. In other words, in every organization there is a combination of assumptions, practices, and behaviors that define the collective attitude of a company’s workforce.

In some organizations this combination has been carefully crafted over time to best execute a coherent strategy; in others it has reactively evolved without ensuring that it is helping to move the strategic priorities of the business forward. High performing cultures help to accelerate both business and people strategies.

The Problem with Many Corporate Cultures
A recent study by Gartner found that 69 percent of HR leaders do not think that their organizations have the necessary culture to drive future business performance.  The same study also found that most employees were not clear about the needed culture, did not believe in the current culture, and did not observe behaviors consistent with the desired culture.  It looks as though there are many opportunities to improve cultural clarity and alignment.

The Importance of Workplace Culture
Culture-savvy organizations and leaders understand the importance of culture and leverage their culture to outperform their competition.   Top performing HR Executives know that a misaligned culture is a mistake.  And the research backs them up.

  • A recent Harvard Business School research report described how an effective culture can account for up to half of the differential in performance between organizations in the same business.
  • Our organizational alignment research shows that cultural factors account for 40% of the difference between high and low performance in terms of revenue growth, profitability, customer retention, and employee engagement.

What Culture Do You Need to Improve Performance?
Your strategy must go through your culture and your people to be successfully implemented.  Once your strategy is clear enough and agreed to by all key stakeholders, your next steps to get aligned are to:

  1. Understand Your Current Culture
    To create high performance, your culture must be healthy enough and aligned enough to accelerate and not hinder your strategy. That means that you must assess your current culture to know where you stand in the eyes of both the executive team and the rest of the organization.
  2. Define Your Needed Culture
    Once you understand your current culture, it is time for leaders to define the culture that is required to best execute the strategy across ten key cultural dimensions. While values and employee engagement initiatives can, and should, often be led from the bottom-up, we believe that the needed culture should be defined by the same people responsible for crafting the overall strategic direction.
  3. Prioritize the Cultural Gaps
    Once your current and needed cultures have been identified, it’s time to identify the top 2-3 cultural shifts that will have the biggest impact on people and business performance. As with any change initiative, it’s important to select changes that are possible within your unique situation.
  4. Create Workstreams to Close the Gaps
    Once you have defined the culture priorities in terms of the behaviors and norms that drive key business practices, it’s time to form project teams to make sure that current systems, processes, practices, policies, assumptions, behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs change to create a healthy and aligned workplace.

The Bottom Line
For culture to make a difference to the people and to the business, culture must be purposefully crafted and nurtured to align with and support your unique organizational goals and priorities.  Done right, shifting to a purposeful, well-designed culture that aligns with your overall corporate strategy is simply good for people and good for business.

To learn more about how HR should view workplace culture, download The 3 “C’s” Required to Create a High Performance Culture

What Corporate Culture Is
Do you know how to design a high performance culture?  Culture is your organization’s unique approach to how it executes strategy. If strategy is “what” you want to accomplish and “why”, then culture is “how” you execute it on a day-to-day basis.

For example, let’s say your organization wants to grow market share by 10% to meet growth targets. To accomplish this, what approach to the market should your organization take? Should it be more of a market adopter, focused on improving existing offerings (like KIA)? Or should it be more of a market leader, creating brand new offerings (like Tesla)?

The answer informs “how” the employees of the organization collectively drive strategy execution in terms of market approach. Because strategy must go through people and culture to get implemented, choices like this represent your organization’s culture.

What Corporate Culture Is NOT
Corporate culture is NOT about having fun. Every workplace and office should have fun, but it doesn’t make your organization unique.  Culture is NOT about corporate values. Values are important, but almost every organization in a 10-mile radius probably shares the majority of your corporate values.  Culture is also NOT about employee engagement. Engaged employees are critical, but employee engagement is simply an aspect of organization health.

The Point
The point is that none of these set your organization apart from others. Everyone wants to have fun, be value-driven, and have highly-engaged colleagues.  Organizational health is a just a ticket to play the game.  But your workplace culture is your organization’s unique approach to “how” work gets done – it’s what makes your organization different from all others.

Culture is how things are truly accomplished in your organization and can be measured by understanding the way people think, behave and work.  Our organizational alignment research found that cultural factors account for 40% of the difference between high and low performing companies in terms of revenue growth, profitability, customer loyalty, and employee engagement.

Don’t Build Your Corporate Culture – Manage It
The good news is that your corporate culture already exists. Your workplace culture (“how”) emerged as soon as the organization had strategic goals (“what”) to pursue. The bad news is that most leaders don’t know how to measure and manage their culture in a strategically purposeful way.

4 Steps to Design a High Performance Culture
How leaders define and shape their corporate culture however can make or break their strategies.  To align your culture with your strategy:

  1. Define the Needed Culture
    Conduct a facilitated conversation with strategic decision-makers. Because they set the strategic direction, they are best positioned to determine the specific culture required to achieve key strategic goals.
  2. Measure the Current Culture
    Survey employees to measure the current culture to identify key gaps between the current and desired culture.
  3. Prepare People Leaders
    Once the major gaps have been identified, it is time to prepare your people leaders to share survey results and lead the cultural shifts required to ensure smooth strategy execution.
  4. Set Up Ongoing Support
    As with any organizational change, people leaders will experience obstacles and need support. Identify and train select culture champions to help track progress and provide support.

The Bottom Line
Cultural alignment is about ensuring that your culture helps, not hinders, strategy execution. Done right, your culture should create a unique competitive advantage.  To achieve a high performing culture, you do need to proactively measure and shape it.  Are you aligned?

To learn more about how to design a high performance culture, download The 3 Levels of a High Performance Culture that You Must Get Right

What Is Business Strategy?
In chess, strategic moves are made according to an overall plan to get the opponent into a checkmate.  In the military, it is the plan that sets up an operation for success.  In the corporate world, business strategy design serves as the guide to win over the competition; it considers all the influencing factors of the business and outlines the way to secure future success.  It encompasses the strategy answers that employees must have.

Designing a Business Strategy
It’s one thing to define “strategy”; it’s another to design one.  How do you separate a complex set of circumstances into factors that can become part of a winning strategy?  Leaders must analyze the current situation and put together a meaningful plan that will get the job done.

The Top Ten Strategy Answers that Employees Must Have
Here are ten strategy answers that employees must have if they are to successfully and consistently execute the business strategy.  Once they are fully answered and clear to all key stakeholders, your teams can fire on all cylinders.

  1. What Is the Current Situation?
    Until you know where you are, it’s impossible to create an effective strategic plan to get to where you want to go. To set your strategy up for success you need to gather and share enough market, industry, customer, employee, financial, and competitor information to feel confident in making tough strategic choices.

    Often resulting in a SWOT analysis outlining major Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, it is critical for all key stakeholders to be on the same page about the current situation.

  2. What Are We Really About?
    Once everyone understands the current situation, the next step is to ensure that everyone understands and commits to the company’s strategic drivers – the vision, mission, and values. The strategic vision represents what the company hopes to become.  The company mission statement defines the organization’s fundamental purpose.  And the corporate values are the core beliefs that guide key decisions and behaviors.

    Sound strategic drivers provide employees with a sense of meaning in their work that provides the foundation for a healthy organizational culture.  You will know you are headed in the right direction when everyone can articulate and buy into your strategic drivers and the rationale behind them.

  3. How Will Strategic Success and Failure be Measured?
    People, especially high performers, like to know where they stand. Once the strategic drivers are clear, the next step is to ensure that everyone knows how success and failure will be measured and shared at the individual, team, and organization levels.  Done right, clarity about success and failure creates the high levels of transparency, certainty, decisiveness, accountability, and alignment required to build a high performance culture.

    You will know you are headed in the right direction when it is clear what constitutes high and low performance in terms of both desired results and expected behaviors.

  4. Who Are Our Ideal Target Clients?
    We define the ideal target client as the profile of the target market, segment, and buyer where you should win and succeed most of the time. Ideal target clients don’t just buy your stuff; they passionately buy and use what you have to offer.  They do not just need what you offer; they feel they must have what you offer.  They are not merely satisfied with what you offer; they are thrilled with what you offer.

    These attributes create repeat business, referrals, and testimonials to help build your business.  For employees to successfully execute your strategy, they should be crystal clear on who you are trying to satisfy and serve.

  5. What Sets Us Apart from the Competition?
    After you identify your target clients, employees need to understand your unique value proposition. Companies typically differentiate themselves in the areas of “better, faster, or cheaper.” Regardless of what you call it and how you frame it, it is worth the time and effort for employees to understand what specifically makes you better (from your target customers’ perspective) than your competition (and the other available alternatives).

    You will know that you are on the right path when employees can explain why specifically (from the client’s point of view) your offering is better than other alternatives.  And why your customers fundamentally want and need what you have to offer.

  6. What Are Our Big Bets Over the Next 12 to 24 Months?
    Now that you have set the strategic context with the current situation, strategic drivers, success metrics, target clients and value proposition, it is time to lay out your critical few strategic priorities for the upcoming year. We define the strategic big bets as the critical few 2-3 strategic initiatives that deserve topmost priority because they have the greatest comparative correlation to success. Together, they should account for 50% or more of the probability for strategic success, command the greatest attention, and receive all of the necessary resources.

    The big strategic bets should be at the top of your strategic dashboard, monitored weekly, and directly tied to your performance management, workforce planning, and compensation plans.You will know you are on the right path when every employee can describe the 2-3 strategic priorities that matter most and why.

  7. What Is the Action Plan to Get There?
    Once the strategic priorities are clear, people need to know what actions are necessary and in what order. Make sure that you break each strategic priority into specific goals, roles, and steps required to get there.

    You will know you are headed in the right direction when employees can describe each goal and outline a realistic plan to achieve the goals with agreed-upon and clear objectives, deliverables, tasks, sponsorship, scope, timeline, responsibilities, interdependencies, resources, and budget.

  8. How Will We Track Progress and Hold People Accountable?
    It is difficult to successfully implement a strategy across your company if employees do not know how they are doing along the way. Be transparent about who is accountable for each step in addition to how and when they will be held responsible for successful completion.  Add in enough flexibility for managers to have some autonomy as to how they handle their jobs and for the ability to adjust to changing conditions.
  9. What Are the Consequences of Failure?
    While many companies go to painstaking detail to describe what success will bring, few are clear about the consequences for underperforming. Our high performance research experts found that high performing cultures have clear definitions of failure and significant negative consequences for not meeting predetermined performance standards.

    For them to be effective, make sure that all strategic consequences and accountabilities are known in advance, fair, proportionate, timely, accurate, transparent, and meaningful.

  10. What Are the Benefits of Success?
    Now the fun part.  While the consequences for failure provide clarity about what you want your team to avoid, the benefits of success provide clarity about the intrinsic and extrinsic rewards and recognition that are available if you meet your targets.

    For them to be effective, make sure that all rewards and recognition are known in advance, fair, proportionate, timely, accurate, transparent, meaningful, and delivered with a clear cause and effect.

The Bottom Line
Turning strategic plans into reality isn’t easy, and certain leaders and companies are more successful at it than others.  According to recent research by McKinsey, the top two factors for successful strategy execution are clarity and ability to focus on priorities.  Our organizational alignment research agrees.  Make sure your employees have the strategy answers that employees must have.

If you liked the Top 10 Strategy Answers that Employees Must Have, download 3 Big Mistakes to Avoid When Cascading Your Corporate Strategy

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