Employee Engagement and Company Culture
The link between engagement and company culture is not hard to find.  We define culture as how and why things truly get done in an organization.  We define employee engagement as the strength of the mental and emotional connection employees feel toward their places of work.

Employee engagement is NOT the same thing as happiness, satisfaction, or well-being, and company culture is NOT the same thing as employee engagement.

Why Engagement and Culture Matter
Employees that are engaged, understand their job, and have positive feelings toward their manager are two to four times more productive than other employees.  They are also twice as unlikely to be looking to leave.

Our organizational alignment research found that healthy and aligned company cultures account for 40% of the difference between high and low performing organizations in terms of profitable revenue growth, customer retention, and employee engagement.  In fact, culturally aligned organizations with high-trust return 286% more value to stakeholders than low-trust organizations.

The Link between Engagement and Company Culture
There is a strong link between engagement and company culture.  We believe that there are three levels of a company culture that have a direct link to employee engagement.

  • Little-C of Culture – Organizational Health: The first level of culture, the Little-C, measures the values and behaviors across an organization. Organizational health can be measured on a good-to-bad scale in terms of employee well-being, ability to function effectively, adaptability, opportunities for growth and utilization of resources. This is where levels of employee engagement fit with company culture.Every company wants to be healthy and every employee wants to work for a healthy organization.  Organizational health creates the foundation for high performance by actively engaging employees.
  • Medium-C of Culture – High Performance Environment: The second level of culture measures how to get the most out of your people once you have created high enough levels of organizational health. We believe that it is a leader’s job to create the circumstances to consistently get the most out of their people in a way that is fits with the organization’s core values, behaviors and strategies.   Companies with high performance cultures provide clear performance expectations, use fair methods to measure performance, and create meaningful motivation to perform.It is difficult to create high performance with a disengaged workforce.
  • Big-C of Culture – Strategic Alignment: The third level of culture measures how aligned your culture is with your business strategy. In our experience, strategies often fail because organizations have a highly fragmented (and often hidden) set of underlying belief systems which determine how to interpret and accomplish strategic goals.  These overly complex and often conflicting sets of beliefs can severely undermine strategic progress.It is difficult to change underlying belief systems unless you have healthy levels of employee engagement.

Four Steps to Achieve Higher Levels of Employee Engagement
Without high levels of organizational health and employee engagement, it is difficult to create a high performing and aligned company culture to help move your company’s strategy forward.  Take these four steps to set the foundation for both people and business success.

1. Identify the Role Engagement and Retention Play in Your People and Business Strategies
Ambiguity is your enemy here. Be crystal clear about the relative importance of engaging and retaining top talent compared to the other strategic initiatives on your plate.  This will set the stage for the next three moves.

2. Focus on Implementation First, Then Assessing Engagement
Ensure that you have the desire, time and ability to take meaningful action based upon any employee engagement survey results. Too often companies jump first to selecting “the right engagement survey” without thinking through the strategy, culture and talent implications of the potential actions required to measurably improve employee engagement.

3. Use an Engagement Survey that Provides Strategic Insight and Enables Immediate Action
While they may be good for a consultant’s bottom line, standardized or abbreviated engagement surveys typically provide leaders less than half the information needed to make decisions and take action. The key is to use a validated and customizable engagement survey that is action-driven rather than curiosity-driven.

4. Make an Employee Engagement and Retention Index a Key Performance Indicator
Your engagement index is the equivalent of your company’s market capitalization for your employees, and it should be used to evaluate all human capital programs looking to improve employee advocacy, discretionary effort and retention.

The Bottom Line
A high performing and aligned company culture go hand in hand with a proactively engaged workforce. Remember…Organizational Health (the Little-C) engages employees. It is the “ticket to play the people game” for any well run organization. Your Performance Environment (the Medium-C) creates the circumstances for your people to thrive and know where they stand.  A Purposeful and Aligned Culture (the Big-C) engages the business strategy by focusing on how the strategic work gets done.  This is how you establish the link between engagement and company culture.

If you want to learn about research-backed ways to improve employee engagement, download The Top 10 Most Powerful Ways to Boost Engagement

Roles of Trust and Conflict in Commitment for Team Dynamics
The roles of trust and conflict in commitment of your team members are critical and should be well understood.

First Comes Trust
In his best-selling book on team-building, Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni famously describes the lack of trust as the primary reason that teams fail.  Trust is defined by Merriam-Webster as “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.”  Without it you can’t depend on your co-workers to be ethical, capable, strong or truthful.

It is almost impossible to build a winning team when there is an absence of trust.

The Inevitability of Conflict
Whenever there are people gathered together, there is bound to be some level of disagreement.  Even on high performing teams, there are diffe

Unhealthy Conflict
Unhealthy conflict impedes people’s ability to perform.  It most often occurs in situations where teams are lacking in trust, have unclear roles and are deficient in emotional intelligence skills.  This causes too many disagreements to get emotional, personal, abusive and accusatory.

In unhealthy conflicts, sides typically walk away without coming to a mutual understanding and they make inferior decisions. In our opinion, no team can withstand unhealthy conflict for long because resentment grows, trust disintegrates, and employee engagement suffers.

Healthy Conflict
Different than unhealthy conflict, there are productive ways for individuals and teams to disagree and positively contribute to success.  When coworkers trust one another, they are not fearful of expressing their opinions and offering new ideas.  They are respectful of one another as they disagree, question and challenge.

Why?  Because they trust each other and the process enough to uncover a fair and equitable solution.  Healthy conflict is fundamental to a team being able to explore viable alternatives and reach its full potential.

Healthy Conflict Leads to Strong Levels of Commitment
At some point in our lives, most of us have made a half-hearted commitment.  At work, weak commitments deeply undermine high performance cultures and often arise when open debate is minimized and the full ranges of concerns are not adequately addressed.  Without healthy conflict, it is challenging for people to buy into changes, make difficult decisions, solve complex problems or agree upon new directions.

The Bottom Line
As a team leader, are you afraid of being vulnerable or of having disagreements on your team?  If you truly want the kind of follow-through commitment to team goals, you need to support an atmosphere where constructive debate is welcomed.  Trust first, healthy conflict next, and true commitment will follow.

To learn more about the roles of trust and conflict in commitment, download 29 Ways to Build and Maintain Trust as a Leader

Competitive or Collaborative Culture in the Workplace
When designing the ideal organizational culture to best execute your business and people strategies, what is the best balance between healthy competition to motivate performance and smart collaboration to ensure that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts?  As a leader, how do you know when a competitive or collaborative culture is better?

The Benefits of a Competitive Workplace Culture
Some of the most successful companies are known for their hyper-competitive cultures that put results first.  At Accenture and McKinsey the motto is “up or out.”  You either continue to perform and advance or it is time to go.  At GE, Jack Welch famously created a performance culture that weeded out the bottom ten percent of employees each year.  Amazon’s culture is often described as “Purposeful Darwinism” where only the most relentless and high performing survive.

Many leaders and employees tell us that this competitive approach to workplace culture is compelling because it seems to motivate, fine tune, and increase employee performance through clear performance standards, rewards and consequences.  Don’t we all want to work with “A” players striving to perform at their peak?

The Downside of Competitive Workplace Cultures
There are downsides to hyper-competitive cultures associated with negative workplace stresses, ethical breaches in ethics, and increased risks.  For example, many competitive cultures use stacked ranking to compare the performance of employees against each other.  In these environments, employees report that they tend to focus on individually winning at all costs instead of on the best interests of their co-workers or for the organizations as a whole.   Employees also report that competitive cultures encourage a belief system where results too strongly outweigh desired corporate values and behavioral norms.

Just look at what happened when:

The Benefits of a Collaborative Workplace Culture
A collaborative corporate culture encourages individuals, teams and functions to work together to achieve common goals.  These collaborative workplace cultures are typically characterized by high levels of trust, empowerment, healthy conflict and learning.

In fact our best places to work employee engagement research, tells us that collaboration and teamwork continually rates in the top quartile in terms of improving employee advocacy, discretionary effort and intent to stay.  When collaboration is embedded into a company’s or a team’s fabric, the results can be amazing.

The Downside of a Collaborative Workplace Culture
While most of us have been taught that working in teams is the best way to get the job done, our clients continue to lament the difficulties associated with working on teams to get important tasks done.  While high performing teams can be game changing for everyone involved, most teams report struggling to deliver extraordinary results in the way they originally intended.

It can be highly disengaging for high performers to get bogged down in dysfunctional team dynamics due to unclear goals, roles, success metrics, and processes.  And as teams get larger, the levels of frustration, duplication of effort and underutilization of capabilities seem to grow exponentially. In other words, when collaboration works, it can be extraordinary.  But when it doesn’t, the results can have widespread negative affects at the personal and company levels.

So, Is a Competitive or Collaborative Culture Better?
It depends on how work needs to get done to execute your strategy and if you are willing to do what it takes to fully align your desired culture with that strategy.  A competitive culture works for companies like Amazon because the culture and strategy are fully aligned to deliver customer excellence.  On the other hand, if your strategy calls for teamwork across functions, individual competition may hinder your ability to execute your strategy.

The Bottom Line
First, as a leader, be clear about what constitutes strategic success at the company, team and individual levels.  Then ensure that you define how you expect those results to best be achieved in terms of behaviors, values and beliefs.  Finally, align your performance management and reward systems with the cultural norms you need to live to achieve your strategy.

To learn more about the nuances of a competitive or collaborative culture, download The Science behind How Much Leaders Should Push for Higher Performance

Strategy Design is Only the Beginning
Designing a clear and compelling company strategy is only the first step.  To truly meet strategic targets, your plans must be understood, committed to and implemented by your employees.  Unfortunately, there is often a measurable gap between strategy design and implementation in too many organizations.

  • 90% of top executives surveyed by the Economist Intelligence Unit from 500 multi-national companies with yearly revenues of at least $1 Billion cited poor strategy implementation as the number one reason for missing their targets.
  • Our own organizational alignment research found that strategic understanding, buy-in and commitment decrease 50% outside of the executive leadership team.

Closing the Gap between Strategy Design and Implementation
What about the 10% of leaders who manage to effectively execute their strategies?  Further study shows that there are some common practices that successful leaders follow to better close the gap between strategy design and implementation.

1. Ensure Strategic Clarity – The “What”
High performing leaders know that strategic clarity accounts for 31% of the performance difference between high and low performing companies. They start by actively involving key stakeholders in creating a clear game plan that outlines compelling choices about where to play and what specific actions to take. Done right, a successful strategic plan sets a company up to perform beyond just the sum of its parts.

2. Create Organizational Health – The “How Well”
Once a clear and meaningful direction is set, high performing leaders ensure that the organization is healthy enough to execute the strategy. Organizational health is important because it serves as the foundation for engaging and retaining the top talent you need to implement your plans through solid leadership, well-earned trust and aligned organizational capabilities.

3. Build Cultural Alignment – The “How”
Strategies must go through culture and people to get implemented. Workplace cultures must be purposefully aligned with the business strategy to set the stage for high performance.  If “how work gets done” does not fully align with the “work that needs to get done” to move the business forward, there will be problems.  Just imagine an engineering-driven culture getting in the way of strategies to move into new customer-driven markets.  Or a sales-driven culture (i.e. Wells Fargo) sabotaging a strategy to increase customer loyalty.

4. Maintain a Continuous Process – The Ongoing
Leaders that are successful in executing their strategy do not consider strategic planning and strategy implementation as separate steps. They actively involve all levels of the organization from beginning to end and empower teams to define goals, success metrics, roles and actions that are aligned with the overall direction.  Strategy implementation is a day-by-day effort and actively engaging employees in your strategy is different than communicating your strategy to employees.

5. Have Consistent Monitoring – The Accountability
Successful strategy implementation requires clarity, transparency, communication, and accountability. High performing leaders ensure that people know what is expected of them, consistently do what they say they will do, and create teams that can depend upon each other.  They also hold frequent meetings to track progress toward goals and share lessons learned.

The Bottom Line
You must be as committed to strategy execution as you are to strategy design.  Actively involve key stakeholders in both strategy design and strategy delivery if you want to be one of the leaders who consistently hit their targets.

To learn more about closing the gap between strategy design and implementation, download Do You Have the Right Culture to Drive Your Growth Strategy Forward?

Managers Can Make Better Decisions
One of the most important, and yet one of the most challenging skills for new managers, is the ability to make effective decisions.  New managers, especially, often struggle with making decisions because their decisions now affect other people, are more visible and are often more complex.  The good news is that managers can make better decisions.

Which Is the Right Way?
Often the “right way” is not at all clear.  Decision making can be fraught with obstacles.  Yet, managers can make better decisions if they learn to avoid the following five decision-making traps:

1. Short- versus Long-term
New managers report being so anxious to appear decisive that they often chose a course of action without properly weighing the potential long-term consequences. While a quick decision may feel good initially, it can have significantly negative ramifications in the future. Good decision makers carefully consider both the present and the future before determining the best path forward.

2. Predisposition
Having an unacknowledged preference, or confirmation bias, can lead you astray. Many new managers are apt to interpret information in a way that supports their current beliefs rather than analyzing things objectively.  Managers who are good decision makers solicit input from a variety of perspectives, are open to different options, and consider multiple aspects.

3. Arrogance
Even new managers can occasionally be guilty of over confidence. They remember only the good decisions they made and tend forget the bad. Those caught in this trap need to seek input from others – especially those who have different opinions and perspectives. To make better decisions, new managers need to check their egos at the door and be open to diverse thoughts and points of view.

4. Over Reliance on a Single Factor
Placing too much importance on one piece of information, a decision making anchor, can send managers off in the wrong direction. Let’s say you are to select a team member to lead a major project.  You might be tempted to choose the person who led the last project successfully.  But there should be many other factors considered before you make the decision.  What is the nature of the project?  What competencies will be needed to achieve the project objectives?  Who has the time and the commitment?  The key is to look at the whole picture.

5. Following the “Tried and True” Path
Solving problems well requires a broad viewpoint. Doing something just because that’s the way it’s always been done does not always pay dividends.  Norms are meant to be challenged; alternatives meant to be offered; opinions and new ideas freely put forth.  Don’t be afraid of including your team in brain storming sessions. Who knows what creative solutions might be shared?

The Bottom Line
If you want to succeed at management, you need to hone your decision making skills.  Broaden your thinking, slow down, and avoid traps that negatively narrow your choices.

To learn more about how managers can make better decisions, download 3 Steps to Set Your Team Up to Make Better Decisions

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