Cultures are either created organically or through deliberate and consistent planning and action. The best organizations understand their culture and take careful steps to manage and promote it effectively. How would employees describe the culture of your organization?
Employee engagement is much more than ensuring employees are “satisfied” with aspects of their jobs, including compensation, benefits, and basic work conditions. Engagement refers to the passion and energy employees bring to their work—the discretionary effort they put forth as a result of the quality of the employee/employer relationship.
Meaning is the first “key” in the ENGAGEMENT MAGIC® employee engagement model. What is Meaning? It’s a very real and personal connection between what you value and the work you do. Your work is something of value—something of worth. It is a major part of your self-identity, or at least involves a connection between who you are and what you do. In order to be engaged at the highest level, you must see the significance of your work and how it allows you to contribute to a greater purpose. You must personally connect to the mission of the organization, and see a clear intersection between your role and your values.
What is the source of a person finding Meaning in their work?
For one of my clients, the director of Emergency and Trauma Services for a successful regional hospital system, the meaning is clear—anyone who receives an email from him sees, as part of his signature line, the following quote:
“Is nos operor, sic alius may ago” “This we do, so others may live”
For him and his staff, the meaning is inherent in the work they do. In this high-stress, fast-paced environment of emergency medicine, they are able to face the daily job challenges with the knowledge and conviction that they are, quite literally, saving lives. As the daily pressures pile up, that connection between what they do and what they believe is apparent. This leader ensures meaning is never lost. Each team member finds meaning in what he or she does, and each knows the importance of his or her role in driving the mission of the organization.
But what is the relevance to you and me? Are we clear about the meaning of our own work? What if our work isn’t about “saving lives?” And what if the connection between our personal value system and the day-to-day work we perform isn’t as obvious?
Meaning: A Key to Employee Engagement
In order to find meaning in our work, we must clearly see the connection between what we value and what we do. For some, assembling a piece of equipment connects with a love of technology. Or it may connect to an innate desire to provide superior customer service by providing the best technological solution. Or, perhaps that piece of equipment is a pacemaker, which may be used to save the life of a father of two. That meaning is different for each of us. However, if we don’t see the link, our engagement is not as high as it could be. We might need our leaders to make the link between our hands and our hearts and minds—the connection between our work activities and how we think and feel about them.
Leaders must help employees find meaning in their jobs.
If leaders want to maximize employee engagement, then they must take an active role in connecting the work with a higher purpose. Steve Jobs wanted to “make a dent in the Universe,” and his most engaged employees wanted to help him do just that. They had the sense that their effort (and, under Jobs, suffering) was worth it because their efforts would change the world.
Jack Welch helped employees, from the top of the organization to the bottom, to see the link between their efforts and “winning,” and he wrote the book on how to do it. As a result, GE employees typically see themselves as unflappable winners who are always ready for the next challenge.
What have you done, or what have you seen leaders do to make the “meaning” connection for employees in your organization? What advice do you have for making a strong connection among hands, hearts, and minds? What results have you seen in terms of employee engagement?
In our blog, “Are Your Employees Engaged or Just Satisfied,” we reviewed some of the differences between employee engagement and employee satisfaction. Satisfied employees operate under a transactional relationship—“Because the company gives me X, I am willing to give X worth of effort.” As Herzberg would say, these elements are “hygiene factors”—they must be present, but do not necessarily result in engagement. Such elements include appropriate compensation, safety, basic recognition, and appropriate working conditions, to name just a few.
On the other hand, engaged employees go beyond a transactional exchange and are willing to give discretionary effort. They bring their hearts, hands, and minds into their jobs. The term “discretionary” implies that there is additional effort available on the part of the employee that he or she can CHOOSE to apply. However, the choice to apply this effort is something not stated in the satisfaction contract; it’s up to the employee.
What do employees need from a job to be engaged?
Based on over two decades of research and a database of over 50 million employee survey responses related to the employee experience, we’ve identified five keys of employee engagement. We have grouped these under the acronym “MAGIC” to make them simple to remember:
Your work has purpose beyond the work itself. What I do must have some significance to me; it must mean something to me personally, and on more than just a surface level. To me, my work is something of value, something of worth. If I focus only on a paycheck, I am willing to put in as much work as is commensurate with the paycheck. However, when my work has meaning to me, what I do has greater purpose.
The power to shape your work and environment in ways that allow you to perform at your best. Do I have the freedom and empowerment to perform my job in a way that I do best? While Autonomy is not anarchy (we must still operate within acceptable boundaries), it does involve a degree of self-governance. It allows me, as an individual, to create or shape my role and environment in a way that is best for me and for the organization.
Being stretched and challenged in ways that result in personal and professional growth. There was a time years ago when one could maintain a base set of skills or level of development, and that base could carry that individual throughout his or her career. However, our internal speed of change and growth must match (or exceed) the external rate of change. Particularly with rising generations, the ability to develop, grow, and progress in a job provides challenge and excitement that benefit not only the individual but also the company.
Seeing positive, effective, and worthwhile outcomes and results from your work. Have you ever worked for an organization where employees give their all, only to face each fiscal quarter with a dismal report of their business performance? The adage “nothing breeds success like success” holds true here. When employees give their all, yet have little impact on the organization’s or team’s success, engagement is difficult to cultivate. On the other hand, if what I am doing is making an impact (on the company, the world, students, patients, etc.), I am often willing to go through tough times if I hope to make an impact. This is also where recognition and feedback fit in. I need to understand what kind of impact I am having; feedback from a customer, peer, boss, etc., will help me understand that level of impact.
The sense of belonging to something beyond yourself. This factor is clear throughout many of our employee engagement surveys. Quite often, one of the highest-scoring questions on the engagement survey is related to a version of the following question: “I like the people I work with.” Employees need to feel a connection to those around them. Similarly, my connection to the organization—whether or not I feel a part of the organization—will often dictate my level of commitment.
Notice that the above “ENGAGEMENT MAGIC®” is not something tied to adding more expense. Employee engagement is not based on a transactional relationship. While both the employee and the employer have a role in engagement, it is not dependent upon a number of transactions; it involves discretionary effort—a choice—not an obligation or debt repayment.
So, next time your organization embarks on another “Employee Engagement initiative,” ask yourselves this question: “Are we really addressing employee engagement, or just depositing more money into the employee satisfaction account?”
What does your company stand for? Better yet, what do you—as an individual—stand for? Identifying and understanding the values and beliefs that define you (or your company) is a critical step in solidifying personal or corporate branding.
To put it simply, company values define culture, and a company’s culture determines how employees act. At DecisionWise, our team came together and defined our values—what we as a company, and as individuals, believe in and stand for. Here’s what we came up with.
Vitality—Be alive; be strong. We thrive on physical, intellectual, and emotional health and energy.
Authenticity—Be honest and real. We share our true selves and expect others to do the same.
Drive—Own the outcome. We embrace challenge and relentlessly deliver results.
Expertise—Know your stuff. We achieve mastery in our work and are the recognized authority in what we do.
Care—Think beyond yourself. We have genuine interest in our team, our clients, and the communities in which we live and work.
Family—Personal relationships matter. We refuse to believe that work and personal life cannot coexist.
To reinforce these values, our recognition team developed an internal peer-to-peer reward program to catch people living our values. At different times throughout the year each employee receives five tokens representing the values.
Having an internal recognition program with our core values at its foundation helps us all remember who we are and what we stand for and strengthens our engagement. Being able to redeem the tokens we earn for prizes makes the program even more enjoyable.
Think about your company values. What do you stand for? What makes your company different from its competitors? How do you measure success? Do your company values drive employee engagement? If you already have a well-defined set of values in your organization, that’s fantastic! Keep engaging your employees in a value-driven workplace.
What are you measuring? Is your drive for results and the attainment of the metric getting in the way of success? As a manager or coach, are you causing others to fly ineffective (and even dangerous) “sorties,” all in the name of getting the immediate results?
Strict focus on the goal, versus the end objective, tends to prompt all-or-nothing thinking; I am so focused on the immediate goal that I forget it is primarily a step in getting closer to the desired end result.
Feedback is a vital part of performance, growth, and development. Understanding ourselves and how we interact with others helps us to understand the impact we have on those around us. The perceptions of others within our circle of influence, whether those perceptions are accurate or inaccurate, determine our level of success. Regardless of the accuracy of these perceptions, our interaction with others both influences and is influenced by the perceptions of others. This is where 360 degree feedback enters into the picture.
Based on the philosophy that individuals should receive a full 360‐degree picture of performance by gaining multiple perspectives, multi‐rater feedback gathers input about an individual’s performance and behaviors by soliciting feedback from those stakeholders impacted by that individual. Similar to the 360 degrees of a circle, an individual is figuratively at the center of that circle, and feedback is gathered by way of a survey from those in positions to observe that person in action: supervisors, direct reports, peers, customers, etc.
The use of 360 degree feedback, has increased dramatically over the past two decades. Some estimates suggest that as many as 90% of all Fortune 500 firms use some type of multi‐rater feedback with their managers. However, the success of 360 degree feedback programs varies greatly. The question that rises to the surface is, “what makes a 360 degree feedback program successful, versus one that fails miserably?”
In studies conducted by DecisionWise researchers over the past decade, we have found some interesting facts about making the 360-degree feedback process more effective. Two areas stand out more than any others: Coaching and Goal Setting.
RESEARCH STUDY #1
The first DecisionWise study regarding the effectiveness of 360-degree feedback was conducted in a two-year study with a group of 345 managers from a large multi-national technology consulting firm. Each of these managers had participated in a 360-degree feedback assessment earlier that year. A total of four different 360 feedback surveys were used for this group, meaning not all completed the same 360 feedback instrument. However, on each of the assessments, these managers received feedback from supervisors, direct reports, and peers.
Six months after completing the 360-degree feedback survey, DecisionWise asked these managers via an online survey to self-evaluate their perceptions of the survey effectiveness. They were asked to rate the degree to which they agreed with two overall statements:
Overall, I feel that the 360-degree feedback process is effective.
I have made meaningful positive change as a result of the 360-degree feedback I received.
They were also asked to rate various elements of the process, such as whether the administration of the survey was simple, whether they received coaching, and if they had set goals based on the survey. The results of this research were very telling:
92% of those that received coaching reported that the overall 360-degree feedback process was effective. In contrast, only 34% of those who did not receive coaching felt the process was effective.
For purposes of this study, the concept of “coaching” was left to the interpretation of the manager being rated. For some, this meant a simple debrief in which he or she sat down and reviewed the results with his or her supervisor, peers, mentors, or and outside coach. For others, the idea of coaching was deeper, and included more extended coaching sessions. This was intentionally left to their interpretation, as the desire was to allow the participant to determine the level of coaching needed in order to get the maximum benefit from the assessment.
RESEARCH STUDY #2
A follow-up to this study was conducted two years later and nearly identical results were found. This study went one step further, and asked a number of raters (those providing the initial feedback on these managers) whether they had noticed changes in the managers’ behavior and performance after the 360 assessment. An analysis of the results of the raters’ responses showed a clear correlation between the self-reported effectiveness (the managers’ ratings of the process and their subsequent improvement) and the change noted by these managers’ raters. These correlations provide further support to the theory that coaching and goal setting dramatically improve the outcome of a 360-degree feedback process.
Further analysis also showed that when participants had set specific goals to address areas of their 360 feedback, it was far more likely that their 360 feedback showed significant improvement the following year than when goals were not set. This finding added additional weight to the theory that goal-setting is key to improvement.
The research yielded some additional interesting insights:
92% of those who responded positively to “I received sufficient coaching” answered positively to “Overall, I feel the 360 process is effective.”
87% of those that set goals felt the 360 process was effective.
94% of those that received coaching and set goals felt the 360 process was effective.
Conversely, only 34% of those who did not receive sufficient coaching felt the 360 process was effective.
Less than 40% of those that did not receive coaching set goals based on their 360 feedback.
Just half of organizations provide 360 feedback coaching
One interesting note—despite what we clearly note in these studies, we find that less than half of the organizations using 360-degree feedback today emphasize coaching and goal setting as part of the process. These studies leave little doubt as to the importance of coaching and goal-setting in making a 360 process more effective, and appear to indicate that a large number of organizations conducting 360 assessments could dramatically improve the return on their investments.
So, do you want to ensure your feedback process is effective? Add goal setting and coaching. The research seems to clearly point out that these two factors make the difference between 34% feeling their multi-rater feedback was helpful, and 94% saying the process was effective.
Leadership coaching has become one of the most effective and important activities for developing leaders in organizations. In fact, a recent poll conducted by ATD found that 47 percent of all respondents ranked coaching and feedback as most critical to their organization’s success in the next three years.
Many organizations recognize the need and value of providing coaching to leaders as part of a leadership development process. Research shows that people that have used a coach indicate that it is the single most valuable leadership development activity they have experienced. So, what is holding so many organizations back from providing their employees with the value of leadership coaching? You guessed it: cost and time. We also find that many organizations don’t know what coaching is, who should receive it, and how it should be done.
What type of coaching?
There are many different types of organization coaches: career coaches, life coaches, performance coaches, and so on. For our purposes, we are going to focus on the role of a performance coach used for leadership development.
Performance coaching is about helping individuals to set and reach goals for both personal and business development. Most times this is an ongoing process where the person meets with the coach on a regular basis (weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.). During these meetings the coach helps the person set goals and overcome obstacles for success. The coach provides accountability and support so that the person can reach individual goals. This process is often aided by using a 360-degree feedback assessment, where employees are able to get a well-rounded view of their performance.
Who gets coaching?
Effective coaching can benefit everyone, but most organizations need to be able to focus their development resources where they have the greatest impact. For this reason, many companies provide coaching to their executive and senior leaders, high potential leaders, and some of those key players that might be exhibiting poor performance or ineffective behaviors.
Who does the coaching?
Coaching can be conducted by an outside coach, an internal coach, a supervisor, or a peer. The following are some examples:
Outside coach Many organizations choose to use an outside coach to work with senior leaders. Often, an internal coach is not in a position within the organization where he or she could be considered a legitimate coach, or there may be confidentiality concerns about using someone inside the company as a coach. When using an outside coach, it is important to find those that have extensive coaching experience and relate well with the individuals being coached. Using an outside coach is also quite common with, for want of better words, “problem children.”
Internal coach Internal coaches are often effective with mid-level managers in the organization. These coaches need to be able to establish a relationship of trust with the participants so that there is no concern that what is discussed will be used against the participant. Leadership coaching skills do not come naturally to most people. Internal coaches should be skilled at providing coaching and developing others. These abilities are often the result of solid training and practice.
Boss as coach Certainly, a person’s boss should also be his or her coach. Unfortunately, the boss may not have the skills or the time to be effective. Supervisors should play an important role in any coaching scenario by providing support and follow-up to ensure that progress is taking place. As with other internal coaches, a supervisor’s coaching effectiveness can be greatly improved through training.
Peer as coach Peer coaching can be very effective and economical. The idea is that leaders are paired up to provide coaching to each other. They take turns playing the role as coach and help each other reach development goals. It is important to create the right pairing, provide training, and set proper expectations. These groups also need follow-up to ensure that coaching is happening on a regular basis.
You may find that you are using some or all of these leadership coaching methods in your organization. To get the greatest value from the process we recommend that you use a 360-degree feedback assessment, set a development plan (think SMART goals), and make sure that your coaching process is consistent and ongoing.