Why Employee Engagement Is NOT The Same As Culture
Employee engagement has been a hot topic for some time now. There are even HR consultants who specialize in this area. The proposition is that happy employees improve business performance.
There are also management consultants that focus on fixing problematic and broken organizational cultures and/or making adjustments to make it better. Similarly, the proposition is that a stronger culture equates to stronger performance.
These are two nebulous terms that are often discussed in similar ways.
But…. culture and employee engagement are not the same thing. In addition, addressing cultural issues does NOT fix employee engagement, or vice versa.
The reality is that if business leaders want to achieve desired results, they need to focus on business performance. It is here that culture has an impact, and it is here that values play a critical role.
New Support from Consultants
Here’s a thought-provoking article in strategy+business (s+b): Improving Company Culture Is Not About Providing Free Snacks.
The author of this article, Alice Zhou, outlines a key learning from their culture research on how to improve a company’s overall performance: align company culture to business priorities. How does a leader do that? Zhou writes:
“This requires the selection of a ‘critical few’ behaviors that enable the desired business outcomes.”
These are different for every business. It is up to the leaders of an organization to identify the few critical behaviors that will drive the desired outcomes.
- In a fast-paced, high-growth company, this may mean rapid innovation, a willingness to take risks, and excelling at failing forward.
- In a regulated environment, this may mean embracing compliance, adhering to procedures, and putting safety first.
- In a family-based service business, this may mean preserving a foundation of trust, putting a priority on relationships, and a dedication to do whatever it takes to serve a customer.
To encourage these desired behaviors, business leaders need to succinctly define their differentiating values, those few values that are unique, relevant, and sustainable. It is when these ‘critical few’ behaviors occurring consistently over time will produce the desired outcomes.
Culture and Values
What is the link between culture and values? Consider what I wrote in a previous article, How to Align Culture and Values:
Relevant and meaningful values set the strategic direction of an organization, and influence the culture by establishing expected behaviors. The opposite is not true.
This is still true.
It is evident when employee behaviors are aligned with company values. This is what builds successful companies – like Southwest, Intel, Google, and others. It is also equally evident when employee behaviors are not aligned with company values. In such cases, performance and desired outcomes are usually impacted negatively in the short-term, and often in the long-term too.
Is there any link between employee engagement (or satisfaction) and business performance? Yes, but engagement tends to be fickle and easily influenced by external factors.
As the author of the s+b article highlights, many things can have a negative impact on employee engagement, such as negative news in the world (which there is a lot of today). Yet, the company can still achieve its desired outcomes if behaviors remain aligned with the values, in spite of any short-term drop in engagement.
It’s all about focus.
Yes, it may be nice to create a work environment that offers free food, fun and games, and employee outings, but these have little-to-no impact on achieving business goals.
The secret to business success today is for business leaders to stay focused on keeping employee behaviors aligned with the critical few core values that will drive desired results.