Podcast: Employee Engagement Survey Action Planning

Teamwork is the way to success.

Feedback Survey Process Graphic

After the employee engagement survey results come in, you have all of this information. What do you do with it? The temptation is to try to tackle everything. So it’s important when doing an engagement survey, that you have a plan for what to do with the information.

Download Employee Engagement Survey

When action is not taken—or when plans are disjointed and not cohesive, a company runs the risk of showing no improvement, and in some cases engagement dropping from one year to the next.

So it is critical that high level results are looked at, analyzed and acted upon by leaders in the company.

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Podcast: ENGAGEMENT MAGIC Five Keys To Unlock Power Of Employee Engagement

MAGIC: Five Keys to Unlock the Power of Employee Engagement

David L. Mason, Ph.D.

Listen as David Mason, Ph.D. discusses the five essential ENGAGEMENT MAGIC keys (Meaning Autonomy Growth Impact Connection) that managers need to cultivate lasting employee engagement with their teams.

These keys are taken from the book, ENGAGEMENT MAGIC: Five Keys to Unlock the Power of Employee Engagement.

Download your employee engagement survey right here.

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Warning! Is Your New CEO a Square Peg in a Round Hole?

Manager showing digital tablet wit executives in office

DecisionWise - Square Peg Round Hole

In the corporate world, the revolving door for CEOs is constantly spinning. The same seems to be true for coaches of any sport, whether it is soccer, the NBA, or college football. Change is good. Too much change, however, is frustrating; not to mention disruptive and often counter productive.

Why, then, are fans and shareholders often anxious to replace the incumbent? The answer lies in the fact that a change at the top is the fastest way to modify, or even reset, an organization’s contract. Which contract? I am referring to the culture-defining contract that exists between the organization and its employees. This contract is so critical that when we talk about it, we use a capital “C.” An organization’s success is built on the Contract, and the organization’s chief executive officer is primarily responsible for building, maintaining, and modifying the Contract. This is item number one on the job description, and it’s the one aspect of his or her duties that cannot be overlooked.

The Contract is built on the unique relationships that exist between the organization and its employees. Some of those relationships are explicit (e.g., you work these many hours and the organization will you pay you for your services). Yet, like an iceberg, the explicit agreements communicate only a small portion of the story.

DecisionWise - Iceberg

Like the ice under the water, it’s the implicit agreements (the psychological contracts) that represent the bulk of an organization’s Contract. When built and managed correctly, an organization’s Contract is foundational in creating great products, great values, great customer experiences, and great returns.

Hopefully, it is self-evident that it’s a risky proposition to hand this crucial obligation over to someone who is new, let alone to someone who is an outsider. Yet, when the wheels start coming off the bus, our instinct tells us that something is wrong with the Contract. And, instead of taking the time to diagnose and find the source of the problems, our knee-jerk reaction is to place the blame on the CEO’s abilities and look for someone new to manage the Contract. Forget about mending the Contract; everyone starts looking for someone new that has an established brand and brings with them a whole new Contract – one that is shiny and fresh.

But, is an outsider always the right decision? Sure, there are notable success stories. Steve Jobs’ second tenure at Apple immediately comes to mind. Nick Saban, the American college football coach who led challenged teams to three national titles, is a demigod in the state of Alabama. The problem is that success stories like these are outliers. They’re not the norm. Because they are wildly successful, popular media makes them a story, which then reinforces the public’s belief that choosing an outsider is the right approach. This is a classic example of the availability heuristic—the phenomenon that explains why our most recent memories impact our decisions1. Likewise, looking for a new CEO, coach, or leader can be neurologically rewarding. Participants experience the thrill of the hunt, secure in their belief that the next “big one” is right around the corner.

Endorphins are everywhere. The potential rewards seem enormous.
Yet, statistical averages tell us otherwise. Remember that most of us are average, and, by definition, half of us work for businesses that are underperforming. Why do we expect the list of game-changing leaders to be long enough to save all the companies that need help? There simply aren’t that many Phil Jacksons to go around to save every team in the NBA.

While choosing the right leader may be the shortest path to success, a CEO change is no guarantee of success. Consider Marissa Mayer’s tenure at Yahoo. Most believed the “wunderkind” from Google would surely save the tech giant’s future. After all, an executive-level Google pedigree is enough to turn any company around, right? The scorecard, however, for Ms. Mayer is incomplete, and there are signs that Yahoo still lacks focus and discipline2. Patience is a virtue that receives more lip service than practice. With the hype and intrigue associated with a new CEO, shareholders, analysts, and boards of directors seem reticent to give the newcomer the time he or she needs to tweak, or even rebuild, the company’s Contract.

Marissa Mayer Yahoo CEO

When deciding on how to find the best candidate as your next CEO, you might consider the following before you choose. First, remember that an outsider may be at an immediate disadvantage. Expectations will already be too high. As such, a newcomer may not be afforded the time frame required to understand and define the changes that need to be made to the organization’s Contract. Second, an outsider might be set in their ways and too beholden to what worked at predecessor companies (i.e., forcing a square peg into a round hole). Or, third, statistics will rear an ugly head, and give you a candidate that is no better suited to the task than the three or four internal candidates that are available (and, quite possibly, have already developed a turnaround plan through an in-depth knowledge of the organization).

Extra care should be given when selecting an outsider. Can an outsider be successful? Absolutely! But for every Marissa Mayer, there is a Mary Barra. Mary Barra CEO GM

Ms. Barra has been with General Motors for years, starting her career with GM as a co-op student when she was 18 years old. She moved through the corporate ranks to become GM’s first female CEO in January of 20143.

Recently, she has been praised for how she dealt with GM’s ignition scandal, and many have suggested that Volkswagen should follow her lead as they deal with their current emissions quagmire4. Success can come both ways – from the outside and from the inside. But, before the allure and appeal of an outsider clouds all judgment, it’s also important not to overlook what may very well be within the walls of the organization. Sometimes, an outsider really is the right option. But, bringing on an outsider also carries a good deal of risk. And it’s precisely that risk that many companies overlook in their quest for the next organizational hero.

Employee Engagement Survey

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Availability_heuristic
[2] Nicholas Carson, The New York Times Magazine, December 17, 2014 – http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/21/magazine/what-happened-when-marissa-mayer-tried-to-be-steve-jobs.html
[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Barra
[4] Jonathan Chew, Fortune, September 23, 2015 – http://fortune.com/2015/09/23/volkswagen-ceo-mary-barra-gm/

INFOGRAPHIC: 8 Employee Engagement Myths and Facts

Sherlock Holmes

With more organizations becoming aware of the importance of engagement, the media coverage of the topic has become widespread and more scholarly. This, however, can be a double-edged sword. In a September 3, 2011, opinion piece in the New York Times titled “Do Happy People Work Harder?” Harvard professor Teresa Amabile and researcher Steven Kramer shared some of the results from a project in which they collected more than twelve thousand diary entries from 238 employees at seven companies.

Download: Sample Employee Engagement Survey
They found that about a third of the time, the workers were unhappy, unmotivated, or both—but that on the days that they were happy, they were more apt to have new ideas. Amabile and Kramer write:

“Managers can help ensure that people are happily engaged at work. Doing so isn’t expensive. Workers’ well-being depends, in large part, on managers’ ability and willingness to facilitate workers’ accomplishments—by removing obstacles, providing help, and acknowledging strong effort. A clear pattern emerged when we analyzed the 64,000 specific workday events reported in the diaries: Of all the events that engage people at work, the single most important—by far—is simply making progress in meaningful work.”1

Articles like this create a compelling and data-driven case for the importance of engagement and the role that engagement plays in performance. However, they can also confuse readers who don’t understand the concept of engagement. For many, words and phrases like happiness and work harder create confusion and fuel misconceptions about what engagement is and isn’t. Is engagement about feeling happy? Is it about simply getting work done? Not quite. So let’s take a look at some of the myths surrounding engagement and the facts behind them:

Infographic - 8 Employee Engagement Mythbusters

Employee Engagement Survey
Do you like Infographics? Here are a couple more for your enjoyment:

INFOGRAPHIC: Employee Engagement vs. Satisfaction. What’s the Difference?

INFOGRAPHIC: 5 Personal Employee Engagement Wins

INFOGRAPHIC: Where Do You Land on the Employee Engagement Spectrum?

1 Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, “Do Happier People Work Harder?” New York
Times Sunday Review, September 3, 2011.

Do Your Employees Grow or Go?

Lack of opportunity for personal growth or career development is the number one reason that employees leave a company. So what’s it like in your organization? Have you implemented growth into your employee retention strategies? Do your employees grow or go? According to a survey by Glassdoor and Harris Interactive, more applicants—52 percent—wanted to hear about growth opportunities when interviewing for a job than about any other perk. The same survey also found that one-third of employees left a job because of—wait for it—lack of career growth—than for any other reason. Only 8 percent left because of their managers.105

Download employee engagement survey.

When professional growth opportunities are absent in a retention strategy, you get stagnation, boredom, and finally attrition. People work on autopilot. They aren’t present; their minds are not on their work. Errors happen. Quality drops. Indifference sets in. Work becomes routine. It may still get done—how many times have you driven a familiar route mindlessly, only to end up safely at your destination with no memory of getting there?—but nothing new happens. Innovation grinds to a halt.

We analyzed survey results from over twenty thousand employees who had left a large biomedical company and its subsidiaries during a period of five years. We compared attrition numbers with engagement scores, and the results were intriguing. Typically, employees enjoyed a high level of growth during the first six months of employment. However, at the nine-month mark, these companies experienced much higher than average levels of attrition, and engagement levels plummeted. What was happening?

Upon further investigation, we learned that during the first six months, these employees were constantly learning. This made sense; the job was new to them. However, at about the nine-month point, employees had learned the basics of the job and were no longer as challenged as they were during the first six months. At that point, their levels of engagement dropped sharply.

What was even more interesting was that once employees hit the fourteen-to eighteen-month mark, engagement and retention increased again until the two-year mark. What was happening at each of these points in time that impacted both engagement and retention? Simple—it was about growth.

Employees were learning and growing the first six months, but at about the nine-month mark they stopped. They also had little concept of where to go from there. They couldn’t see any growth opportunities awaiting them. They felt stagnant. Those who stuck around for fourteen to eighteen months suddenly began to be presented with further growth opportunities, such as new assignments, promotions, and different team roles. They were, once again, growing. Engagement increased.

This pattern remained constant until the two-year mark, at which time employees began looking outside the organization for new opportunities and challenges. Some of those who remained fell into the same patterns of stagnation and disengagement.

For these companies, the solution was clear: Step up efforts to create growth opportunities at the nine-and twenty-four-month marks. Employees, in turn, had to choose to take advantage of these opportunities. Those who did showed clear levels of engagement. Those who did not generally left the organization. That, reasoned these companies, was “good turnover.”

Among some organizational leaders—executives and managers alike—there’s a great deal of fear that by helping employees develop professionally, they’ll only be preparing them to leave for greener pastures. It’s the “help them grow and watch them go” syndrome, and it’s simply not valid. As Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni write in Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go,106 career development has become the “killer app” of employee engagement, which in turn leads to higher revenues, greater profitability, increased innovation, and a host of other happy outcomes.

Giving employees an environment where they can elect to develop professionally is very much the lesser of two evils. Is there a risk that by doing so you’ll merely train your best people to leave for better jobs? Of course. But consider the alternative. Would you rather have unmotivated, unskilled people, numbed by routine, at the heart of your company, interacting with your customers?

Doesn’t it make more sense to help your people develop skills that make them worth keeping—and then hold on to them by creating a culture in which they have the autonomy, respect, and freedom to see how far they can stretch without fear of failing? Based on our research, it’s not even a choice: While some growth-minded employees leave, most engage and stick around, and the organization benefits.

Employees in hip office space

A growth-positive workplace is especially important to Millennials, who will form the next-generation workforce. A 2012 survey of nearly eight thousand college students conducted by Achievers and Experience, Inc., showed that the most important factor to them in choosing a place to work was career advancement opportunities, beating salary 54 percent to 51 percent. Also, “interesting and challenging work” tied with salary, 51–51, as the most important factor.107

Clearly, while pay and other hygiene factors need to be there, employees want growth and development not only to advance their future career prospects but also because it makes work more enjoyable and rewarding. Human beings are curious individuals who want to learn, adapt, and evolve; the circumstances don’t matter as much.

Even hourly employees want to be challenged and grow through their jobs. In a 2012 study of 2,743 employees in an international manufacturing company, our team found significant differences between the attitudes, beliefs, and values of hourly versus exempt employees. For example, only 51 percent of hourly employees felt that they had a voice in the organization and could speak up without fear of retribution or negative consequences, compared to nearly 70 percent of exempt employees. Only 39 percent of hourly employees reported receiving counseling in their careers, compared to 54 percent of exempt employees. Yet consider how important the role of the typical hourly employee is to a company’s well-being:

  • Hourly employees often represent the majority of customer-facing roles.
  • They are directly involved in production.
  • They directly impact quality.
  • They are advocates of safety.
  • They know where the problems are, and how to resolve them.

When was the last time a manager in your organization worried about training an hourly employee so well that he became too employable to stay?

Yet by denying growth opportunities to all workers because of this irrational fear, some managers are preventing some of their most valuable people from getting better at their jobs. It doesn’t make sense.

These days, we’ve noticed a trend we call the “tour of duty.” A person comes to an organization, finds tremendous opportunities for professional and personal development, becomes more valuable, and leaves. However, because management encouraged his growth and gave him what he needed to get better, the relationship remains strong. A few years later, he comes back for a second tour, occupying a higher rung on the corporate ladder and often bringing with him an even better skill set.

That’s why the “grow and go” mentality is self-defeating. In the end, growth leads to engagement, and employees who find deep, satisfying engagement in an organization are more likely to form mutually beneficial long-term relationships with that organization . . . even if they’re working somewhere else.

105 Glassdoor, Harris Interactive, “The Age of Social Recruiting.”

106 Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni, Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go:Career Conversations Employees Want (New York: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2012).

107 Jacquelyn Smith, “What Employers Need to Know About the Class of 2012,” Forbes, April 3, 2012.

Where Do You Fit On the Engagement Resistance Curve?

Gears and cogs

Employee engagement begins with the individual employee. If the organization, corporation, not-for-profit, university, sports team, what-have-you—is the entire organism, then each employee is like a single cell. Change may appear on the scale of an entire organism, but change begins at the level of the single cell. Let’s look at the process of growing a more deeply engaged organization by looking at the role that you, the employee—play in your own engagement.

Download employee engagement survey.

At this point, your position and title are irrelevant. Even if you occupy a glass-walled office in the C-suite, you are first and foremost an individual, working for the benefit of a wide range of stakeholders: your colleagues, shareholders, customers, and family members, to name a few. Even if you are at the managerial or executive level and have the power to shape and set organizational policy, your greatest impact on the level of employee engagement within your organization will be how engaged you are personally—how strongly you find ENGAGEMENT MAGIC®, meaning, autonomy, growth, impact, and connection in where you work and whom you work with.

To that end, it’s worth reiterating a critical point about employee engagement: Being engaged is a choice.

Even if you are the policymaker, engagement doesn’t just happen. Remember, the organization’s job is to create the conditions optimal for its members to engage with their work, their mission, and each other. Once that fertile soil has been laid down, it is each individual’s responsibility to say, “Yes. I will trust, I will commit emotionally, and I will embrace opportunities to flourish in my organization.” It’s important to remember that engagement involves hearts, spirits, minds, and hands. This means that you must choose to both feel and act.

While some of the keys to engagement are based on innate qualities that are not always under your conscious control—you probably don’t have complete control of what you will find meaningful—how you choose to act on those stimuli is very much a conscious choice. That’s why, in any organization, all employees fall somewhere along what we call the, Engagement Resistance Curve.

Engagement Resistance Curve

Some individuals engage more easily and eagerly than others due to both innate personality characteristics (autotelic personality, high self-esteem) and learned behaviors (high levels of trust, past positive workplace experiences). Others engage grudgingly, if at all, due to the same factors, from poor self-esteem and cynicism to issues like undiagnosed anxiety disorders.

Simply put, some people are wired for engagement, while others aren’t. Most of us, however, fit somewhere between these two extremes. We choose to be engaged (or disengaged) based on the environment we are in and where we find the ENGAGEMENT MAGIC®—meaning, autonomy, growth, impact, and connection—in that environment. It’s a 50-50 proposition. The organization builds the ball field, and we choose to bring our hearts, spirits, minds, and hands to the game.

Most of us approach employee engagement with varying degrees of resistance. The engagement resistance curve doesn’t rank people’s current levels of engagement, but their propensity for becoming engaged. It looks like this:DecisionWise Engagement Resistance Curve

  • Auto-engaged (5%): This employee is innately inclined to find meaning, purpose, connection, and fulfillment in almost any work. She quickly and easily embraces organizational efforts to increase levels of engagement. She tends to be optimistic, confident, self-aware, and enthusiastic. In short, she will be engaged in nearly any environment.
  • Engagement optimal (20%): This employee does not engage as instantaneously as the auto-engaged employee, but he does not require a great deal of encouragement to do so. He will respond positively to organizational opportunities to engage, provided they are authentic and promises are backed by action. He also tends to be optimistic, confident, self-aware, and enthusiastic, if not on quite the same “walking on sunshine” level as the auto-engaged person.
  • Motivationally engaged (50%): Most of us will fall into this category. These employees are willing to engage if their motivational and satisfaction needs are met—if they are paid fairly, given appropriate perks, feel emotionally safe in their roles, shown potential paths of advancement, and so forth. They are not cheerleaders, nor are they saboteurs. They are potentially effective employees who can fully engage and deliver excellence under the right conditions.
  • Engagement hesitant (20%): This employee would rather not engage, but is not opposed to it, either. She is likely to regard her job as something that pays her expenses and nothing more, and she is likely to regard efforts at engagement with a jaundiced eye. Relationships with organizations are transactional—quid pro quo. She will respond to engagement efforts only if they are persistent and personal, and she tends to step in and out of engagement. She tends to be naturally somewhat jaded and pessimistic about work.
  • Auto-disengaged (5%): These are the lost causes, the people who are unlikely to engage regardless of what the organization does. This employee cannot view work as anything more than a paycheck, and he is likely to hold an adversarial view of his employer, whether that attitude is justified or not. He is likely to be cynical, suspicious toward his employer’s motives, and a negative, indifferent clock puncher.

Sometimes, if the conditions aren’t right for an individual to engage, that also means speaking up and saying, “This is what I need if I’m going to engage.”

So where do you fit on the Engagement Resistance Curve? Remember, you are responsible for your ability or inability to engage, regardless of your position within your organization or your organization’s efforts to “get employees engaged.” Engagement may be a 50-50 proposition between employer and employee, but the individual has as much power to drive employer engagement initiatives as the top decision makers do. Don’t wait for your employer to come to you, because doing so presupposes that your employer (1) understands engagement; (2) realizes that you and others are not engaged; and (3) knows the unique factors that will engage you, the individual.

Do you simply knock on your superior’s door, complain that you’re not feeling engaged, and demand (whether implicitly or directly) that he do something about it? Of course not. The process begins with YOU, not your employer. So where is your current engagement level? To find out try taking this online ENGAGEMENT MAGIC® Self-Assessment. It’s completely free and you will surely gain insight into how engaged you are, you’ll also have a much clearer idea of how engaged you wish to become and what to do about it.
Employee Engagement Survey

Is it the End of Employee Engagement?

Who Cares About The Employee Experience

Could it really be the end of employee engagement? I was evaluating some technology the other day that is designed to help individuals achieve their goals.  The “app” I was looking at provides a user with a variety of ways to ensure that a habit will become imprinted on the test subject – I mean the user. Rather than coming away excited, I felt troubled. I began to wonder whether we spend too much time trying to “program” the human brain. Is the brain just a biological computer, where inputs and outputs are readily configurable? My experience tells me no. And, I think many of you are like me: you feel uneasy when anyone claims to know the precise levers to pull in order to make significant behavioral changes. Most of us believe the human brain, and its attendant quirks, is much more than a grey-matter motherboard that runs on cellular respiration. While we cannot describe its scope, we certainly feel its complexity.

Download employee engagement survey.

Let’s keep that thought in the background while we turn to the concept of employee engagement. DecisionWise Employee EngagementRodd Wagner is a well-known journalist and consultant that focuses on employee engagement. He recently proclaimed that “[t]he age of ‘employee engagement’ may be nearing its end.”[1] Wagner’s primary point is that because companies and practitioners have failed to perfectly implement the ideas that underlie employee engagement, it’s time to try something else.

Could Wagner be right? Maybe. But, it depends on whether you are looking for something new to talk about or whether you are truly interested in furthering the science of organization development. When commentators like Wagner predict a change on the horizon they do so to sell a new way of looking at things. They attempt to make themselves relevant. I suppose we sometimes do the same thing at DecisionWise. The problem is that when practitioners unveil a new model or theory, we implicitly send the message that organization development is an ever-changing field, constantly discarding the old in search of the new. It’s as if we are searching for our own social “string” theory to consistently explain and predict the universe of human behavior.[2]

As noted above, however, the human brain cannot be programmed with punch cards. It cannot be cajoled into submission. It has produced the greatest works of art while also committing unspeakable atrocities.  Humans are incredibly complex and powerful; more complex than the multitude of dimensions contemplated by modern theoretical physicists. As such, there will never be one unifying behavioral theory. Similarly, imperfect humans will never perfectly implement models that, in the end, are designed to make them better.

At DecisionWise, we do not claim to have the sine qua non of organizational effectiveness. We understand that organization development is a soft science, and while we use scientific methods where possible, this is truly as much art as science. Critics like to find flaws in contributions. Certainly, they exist.  But our discipline has yielded scientifically-validated insights and recommendations, and good consultants are able to help organizations and individuals make meaningful changes that are both substantive and measurable.

As human beings, our innate urge is to make things better: our homes, our crops, our tools, our lives, our relationships, etc. As long as this yearning exists, there will be a need to study and promote the concepts that underlie “engagement,” even if we are not perfect in implementing our discoveries. As individuals and organizations try to find order and meaning in their lives, they will seek out others with experience for suggestions on how to achieve these ideals. Consequently, organization development will continue to be an important field of study and research.

We know that labels and paradigms will come and go, as there will never be a single, successful theory for a subject predicated on the human brain. We also know that even though human and organizational behavior is exceedingly complex, that’s no reason to give up on ideas that are proven, and have merit. To do so would be to ignore the decades of research and practice that have contributed greatly to the success of both organizations and individuals. With the innovation-at-all-costs mindset, sometimes organizations and individuals discard the practical for the creative. DecisionWise remains committed to providing our clients with the best professional advice possible in order to help them make their human interactions better, both at home and in the workplace—and it works. That doesn’t always mean searching for the newest theories or practices, just to sell a new way of looking at things. Good change helps us progress. Bad change sets us back.
Employee Engagement Survey
There will always be those that look to abandon the “tried and true” in search of the “untried, but new.”  But let’s not drop what works, just for the sake of finding something “different.” Even if that means we continue to promote effective models that a few consider to be outdated.
[1] Wagner, Rod.  “The End of ‘Employee Engagement?’”.  Forbes.com.  Forbes, 11 May 2015. Web. 13 Aug. 2015.
[2] For years, theoretical physicists have been searching for a single theory to reconcile Newtonian physics with quantum mechanics.  The most widely-known theory that has been postulated to solve this problem is “string” theory.

Creating an Autonomy Culture to Increase Employee Engagement

man autonomously working on iPad

Autonomy can be one of the most powerful pro-engagement factors for an organization. Creating an autonomy culture is crucial for employee engagement to flourish. If you’re starting from scratch in the kind of company where employees feel compelled to look over their shoulders at all times, begin by figuring out the level and type of autonomy that your people want. Are they most interested in spatial or temporal autonomy, which you can provide by allowing telecommuting or exploring scheduling possibilities? Or are they after something more esoteric, as in the respondents to a Fortinet survey in which more than 50 percent said they viewed using their own mobile devices at work as a right, rather than a privilege?1 Know what kind of autonomy matters to your workforce before you offer it.

The design and architectural firm Gensler, which has designed work spaces for such clients as the World Bank and Virgin Mobile, has found through internal research that giving employees more control over their physical environment leads to optimal performance. Their 2013 employee survey showed that employees given more control over where, when, and how to work had higher levels of innovation, satisfaction, and job performance. They also found that technology workers in “open” offices (where furniture can be reconfigured and there are few privacy barriers) actually focus better than those in traditional office configurations.2

Autonomy and the Feeling of Ownership

Having the autonomy to design a physical space—cubicle, office, work van, an area of the plant floor, even a jail cell—engenders in the employee a sense of ownership. He or she immediately does the equivalent of marking his or her territory. It’s a way of telling others, “This is my space.” Researchers at the University of Exeter School of Psychology studied more than two-thousand office workers and found that those who had control over the layout of their work space were 32 percent more productive than counterparts who lacked that control.3 That’s a meaningful difference that impacts the bottom line.

With ownership, one also claims responsibility (and the inherent accountability) for space, task, role, or assignment. Ownership is a powerful factor in creating engagement. Grant employees ownership.

Making Autonomy Meaningful

Make the autonomy you offer meaningful and authentic. The more potential risk a type of autonomy carries for the organization, the more meaningful it is to the employee. In other words, giving employees the freedom to decorate their cubicles while directing their team activities with an iron4 ENGAGEMENT MAGIC® fist means nothing. It’s an insult. Meaningful autonomy, at times, may mean that the boss trusts you with something that has the potential to embarrass the organization, or cost it money . . . making you much more likely to handle with care.

4 Ways to Create an Environment for Autonomy Culture

  1. Create an environment that offers both extrinsic and intrinsic motivators. Extrinsic motivators can be as straightforward as performance incentives, an extra afternoon off, or profit-sharing. Intrinsic motivators demand more subtlety but can be evoked by measures that attach meaning and purpose to the work, training that fosters the desire for excellence, and other tactics that align work with positive feelings. Effective autonomy empowers employees to tap into the meaning that underlies their work. For instance, allowing an employee with small children to work from home three days a week can connect her to one of the reasons she’s working so hard—the welfare of her family—and help her be a more committed, inspired employee.
  2. Next, structure broad goals, desired outcomes, and general boundaries but allow your people to determine everything else about how they reach those goals. Let them do things their way as long as they behave and operate appropriately within the context of key relationships—and as long as they deliver. Also, create clear accountability systems that remind employees they can come and go like the wind, and dye their hair green, only as long as at the end of the quarter they have hit or surpassed their benchmarks.
  3. Provide your people with the tools and resources they need to reach your goals and theirs. Training, technology, new faces, whatever it takes. Again, this is about trust, saying, “I’m willing to invest in you and your ideas because I believe you’ll make it worthwhile.
  4. Finally, once you’ve done all this, get out of the way, and let people do their thing. If you hire people who want to give 110 percent and put them in an 85 percent environment, you’ll do your organization greater harm than by hiring 85-percenters in the first place.

Don’t grant autonomy if you as a manager aren’t prepared to follow through. Keep in mind that once employees have a taste of true autonomy, they won’t want to give it up. We’ll watch Yahoo! and see how this real-time experiment in taking away autonomy plays out.

  1. MAGIC Whitepaper

1 Ellen Messmer, “Young Employees Say BYOD a ‘Right’ Not ‘Privilege,’” CIO, June 19, 2012.
2 Gensler, 2013 U.S. Workplace Survey
3 Craig Knight and S. Alexander Haslam, “Your Place or Mine? Organizational Identification and Comfort as Mediators of Relationships Between the Managerial Control of Workspace and Employees’ Satisfaction and Well-Being,” British Journal of Management 21, no. 3 (2010).
4 H. A. Simon and W. G. Chase, “Skill in Chess,” American Scientist 61, (1973): 394–403; D. K. Simonton, “Philosophical Eminence, Beliefs, and Zeitgeist: An Individual-Generational.”

INFOGRAPHIC: What Do Engaged Organizations Look Like?

This infographic provides a comparison of employees and their behaviors in engaged and disengaged organizations. Which type of organization do you work for?

So what DOES an engaged organization look like? Heck, what does a disengaged organization look like? Satisfaction, motivation, and happiness are like seeds, soil, and water. Without them, you can’t grow engagement. But on their own, they don’t create engagement. To grow crops, you need one more thing: the sun’s energy. To grow engagement, you need energy of employer and employees communicating, collaborating, building trust, and promoting shared values. That’s when magic happens.
Download: Sample Employee Engagement Survey

This infographic is based on information from over 14 million survey responses presented in the book ENGAGEMENT MAGIC®: Five Keys for Engaging People, Leaders, and Organizations.
DecisionWise Infographic Engaged vs. Disengaged Organizations

More infographics:
INFOGRAPHIC: Employee Engagement vs. Satisfaction. What’s the Difference?
INFOGRAPHIC: 5 Personal Employee Engagement Wins
INFOGRAPHIC: Where Do You Land on the Employee Engagement Spectrum?
Employee Engagement Survey