Turning the Corner: A Model for Post-Recession Engagement

Although widespread culture change is slow, there are five key culture drivers that can be immediately leveraged to increase employee engagement.

Not surprisingly, recent employee polls are reporting severely diminished levels of engagement and loyalty across industries. Having lost trust in their organizations, workers feel no need to reciprocate with innovation or long-standing loyalty. Alarmingly, it is a company’s most valuable employees — i.e., high potentials — who are at the greatest risk for jumping ship.

Yet research also shows that employees choose to stay at and engage in companies with demonstrated reputations for development opportunities, future career growth, meritocracy and respect. Although widespread culture change is slow, there are five key culture drivers that can be immediately leveraged to increase employee engagement.

1. Alignment: Engaged employees believe in the collective success of the organization and in their ability, as individuals, to tangibly influence business results. In other words, employees need a clear line of sight between their work and positive company results. Creating widespread alignment can be accomplished by a dedicated leadership team with a cascading message on vision, strategy and values.

2. Recognition:
Engaged employees believe they are valued by their employers because they are acknowledged. Such appreciation reinforces the productive behavior that is aligned with corporate priorities. An organization’s CLO can play a key role in promoting a high-recognition work environment. Not only can recognition be enhanced through a formal leadership development curriculum, but there are a number of typically underutilized, inexpensive recognition protocols — such as spot rewards — that can be implemented as well.

3. Empowerment: Engaged employees expect meaningful work experiences and an opportunity to leave a legacy. In a truly empowering environment, not only is the work meaningful, but organizations support employees in leveraging their skills, creativity and accountability. Numerous studies have concluded that empowered employees are significantly more innovative, motivated and engaged at work. CLOs can influence empowerment through leadership development efforts focused on broader involvement in decision making, removing barriers and coaching employees to higher levels of performance. Additionally, action learning teams and programs that are specifically designed to harness capability in a stretch environment increase perceptions of empowerment.

4. Authenticity: Engaged employees are woven into the social fabric of their organizations. Employers have long recognized that it is authentic social relationships that bind employees to their work groups — and that company allegiance can be gleaned from such powerful relationships. Authenticity resonates in an organization’s mission, vision and values, as well as in the behavior of senior leadership. CLOs can influence perceptions of authenticity by encouraging honest and transparent management of employee interactions — especially around bad news. Additionally, learning officers can actively promote internal networking, information sharing and communications that create the perception of a community and enhance retention.

5. Learning: Engaged employees crave meaningful feedback and opportunities for development that not only boost their current job performance, but also refine their marketable skills for the future. Building a talent mindset is an integral part of the organizational landscape at top-performing companies and is a clear differentiator of successful businesses. Best-in-class companies provide multiple learning opportunities for their employees, ranging from formal training programs and coaching to after-action reviews, planned on-the-job experiences and stretch assignments. CLOs shoulder the burden for establishing a learning climate in which the notion of improvement outweighs the occasional low-impact failure and where “development opportunity” is the norm and not a euphemism for weaknesses in a performance plan.

Although culture change does not happen overnight, CLOs can have a significant, immediate impact on employee engagement. By leveraging the five key drivers listed above, learning officers can play a pivotal role in helping their organizations unlock the door to lasting employee loyalty and engagement.