Cultural Anchors of Employee Engagement

Cultural Anchors of Employee Engagement

I have a French friend who creates wine out of his vineyards in south of France and knows a lot about these things. He says that the beginning of a great wine is the “terroir” or ground (including geography, climate, ‘sense of land’) from where the grapes come. No amount of great winemaking can make up if you started with grape that came from a poor quality “terroir”. So also, the greatest of Employee Engagement initiatives can get lost if we do not invest in the right values, competent HR leadership and build the capability within. The foundation blocks define the kind of structure that gets built eventually.

The cultural values that organizations inherently carry, create the foundation blocks for employee engagement. Bringing new EE initiatives in a culture that does not sustain and nurture them, is like planting seeds in the desert. It is perhaps better not to speak of engaged employees in such organizations or to take any steps towards building engagement, if the right kind of cultural anchors are not in place in adequate volumes.

What are some of the values that promote EE initiatives?
When we speak of values, we make motherhood statements of ideal situations. Perhaps these values do not exist in absolute terms in reality, but what is needed is a fundamental belief in these, and a leadership that demonstrates these beliefs. So, with that caveat, some of the cultural institutions that create the right foundation for Employee Engagement Practices to flourish:

Performance Orientation
The culture of ‘performance orientation’ shows up in well-adopted performance management systems that promote alignment to organizational objectives, goal orientation and there is regular and ongoing performance feedback. Performance Management systems that do not assure assessment against agreed-to goals, feedback sessions are irregular and sporadic, and often not held at all, result in inhibition of employee engagement. Clear and apparent link between performance and rewards is prevalent and not hidden processes that do not encourage the employee to feel rewarded for his performance.

This is a cultural institution that is manifest in simple delegation of responsibilities and accountability for results. When people in the organization have clarity of role and contribution and can see the impact of their actions on a larger picture, they will be accountable. If the organization does not grant responsibility and all power rests in the top management, role clarity is poor, people do not have autonomy and feel powerless and resource-less, you can guarantee that employee engagement practices will fall on poor ground and not take seed.

Emotional Connect
Leadership drives with conviction, courage, and passion and through an emotional connect with people that equalizes and transcends hierarchy and power-play, it evokes employee engagement through personal impact on an emotional plane. The transformational effects of leadership are evident. When leadership drives only processes and transactions for work to be done, and maintains a neutral and unemotional dispassionate outlook, because it is politically correct to do so, then employee engagement practices fall on deaf ears and have no impact,

Suppose someone has a different point of view (and someone usually does)? The response of the organization to this person, makes a statement of how ‘inclusive’ organizations are. By ‘inclusivity’ we do not mean only gender, race, religion, and other demographic dimensions, but we also mean the inclusivity of various personality types, differing opinions and points of view, as well. A truly inclusive atmosphere is one where all are free to have their say, consensus is built and not thrust, and nobody feels left out because they said something different from the others. Without such inclusivity, people will only inhibit themselves, and fear to rock the boat and stay ‘in the family’ and such pressures will result in a group think that will exclude some and include others. In such exclusive situations, engagement can never be evoked and the spark of human initiative gets dampened before it can light fires.

Places where people are intrinsically interested in the benefit of the organization and achievement of team goals above personal and self-centered interests, are where employee engagement initiatives tend to have more impact. Overly competitive, adversarial, politically charged atmosphere in companies will only slow down any work that can be done to engage people further.

If people can see the reasons why management strategy is set, intent and motives are clear, and there is clarity of individual roles in that direction, you will find employee engagement is enhanced. Where the leadership strategy is unclear, motives of people are hidden and information is power, there will be poor engagement, as employees cannot see the reasons and results of their efforts.

Clear definition of ‘engagement’
Sometimes organizations live with confused directions and meanings and lose sight of what they wanted to do in the first place. They have no idea that they are actually fostering satisfaction, building loyalty, making commitment happen, instead of actually engaging people in work. Such organizations have lost the game and don’t even know it.

What HR capability is needed to be built to enable Employee Engagement?
Building HR Capability is always a tricky question. In times of increasingly shorter life cycles, higher attrition and lower commitment to long-term outcomes, the tendency is to create initiatives that show results in the short term and keep the workforce pepped up and motivated. The real results of employee engagement take time to show and no efforts go wasted along the journey.

HR Capability needs to have great qualifications and training as usual. Today HR is no longer the domain of those who are not professionally qualified, trained, certified in the new methodologies and templates that form the basic processes of HR. Since working on Employee Engagement requires an HR professional to look beyond process implementation into the living experiences of people, it would be necessary to understand human behavior beyond the transactional. A deeper emotional connect with people needs to be maintained for making sure that the results go deep and we build a culture that endures. Understanding the nature of human behavior at work is basic to creating empathy and compassion required to build the community. Those with an eye on long term successes and membership in HR professions will need to be the prime movers to create and implement Employee Engagement initiatives that bring true results.

It is important to recognize that Employee Engagement goes beyond program management. While all programs initiated to enable Engagement need to be managed and all deliverables met, there is a level of involvement of HR that goes beyond the call of duty and takes the spirit of the program forward. This is HR capability that cannot be created unless there is the right HR Leadership which inspires the HR program manager and inculcates the spirit.


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