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Karin Volo

Bringing Joy to the World

Chief Joy Bringer

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The five biggest mistakes in employee engagement


Leadership teams often think their employees are engaged, without really understanding if this truly is the case. Here’s how to really understand what’s happening on the ground – and make sure your team is fully engaged. 

In our work with cultural transformation, I am fortunate to meet many executive leaders and gain insights into companies, both small and large.

These leaders have a strong desire to work strategically with employee engagement, and often times, many companies say they are quite good at it. Yet the results tell a different story.

There are five common mistakes I see so many companies doing. Hopefully, by reading this, you can avoid them and save time on your path to creating an engaged workforce where your employees thrive.

1. Not emotionally-anchored

There is often a major gap between management and the employees. The management is highly engaged and excited. They roll out the new values or mission or purpose – and then it ends up falling flat on the organisation.

The reason for this most often is because the employees were NOT a part of the process. The new values/mission/purpose were not created from the employees but rather the management, so it is not emotionally connected to them. It is something that is being TOLD to them.

Being emotionally connected to the bigger purpose creates loyalty and motivation, which in turn helps the employees feel more committed and engaged.

That’s why it will end up as words on the wall instead of being infused into the culture.

If the process includes input and insights from employees, then the chances of it being emotionally anchored into the organisation significantly increase and the likelihood of it meaning something to everyone will increase as well.

You should aim to create engagement through a deeper emotional connection – which leads into the next biggest mistake….

2. Lack of a bigger purpose

It’s so interesting to see how research is making the intangible tangible now. Words like culture, happiness, purpose, trust, etc are being researched in a way that is able to link the results directly to the bottom line.

Deloitte’s Core Beliefs and Culture Survey found that “focusing on purpose rather than profits builds business confidence and drives investment”.  

Punit Renjen, Deloitte Global CEO , says “an organisation’s culture of purpose answers the critical questions of who it is and why it exists… [this] guides behavior, influences strategy, transcends leaders–and endures”.

It is vital to know the WHY you do what you do as it gives the motivation to deliver the how and the what.

What we found in our research for Engage! is that purpose-driven companies give meaning to the employees that makes them proud of their company and ambassadors to the market.

Being emotionally connected to the bigger purpose creates loyalty and motivation, which in turn helps the employees feel more committed and engaged.

In fact, it is becoming essential that companies find their bigger purpose in order to thrive and have that competitive advantage in the market.

3. Not systematised

I will often see CEO’s that think an annual kick off is all that is needed to engage the employees and that is enough work on the culture.

We found that companies working with their culture continually understand the value of their people and are creating an environment where they can thrive.

Humans like repetition—it gives a sense of security and familiarity. Systematising culture work embeds habits that create the behaviors you want to see from your employees.

Often the quirkier it is, the better!

Virgin infuses their brand and culture with fun and zaniness. For example, Richard Branson may dress up and work as a flight attendant when they open new routes on Virgin Air.

Achiever’s CFO gives a daily financial status report to the employees at 11:51 am so there is transparency (which builds trust), understanding, and a habit of being informed at a certain time each day.

Systematising culture work embeds habits that create the behaviors you want to see from your employees.

Google has 20% time where one day a week the employees can work on anything they want (which increases creativity and many of these ideas become new products for the company).

There are many ways to systematise behavior based engagement activities that will create the habits for the actions that you want to reinforce in the organisation. Just remember that repetition is vital!

4. Not measuring the culture or actively working with it

There is a business belief that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

The actual quote by Dr. Edward Demmings is: “It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it – a costly myth”.

Culture is one of those things that has been difficult to measure and is costly when not understood how vital it is to an companies wellbeing.

The good news is that we are getting to a place where we can measure it.

In our book Engage!, we identified five cultural keys to creating an amazing company culture. We now measure these through The Cultural Pulse.

There are many indirect ways you can track your progress with culture work because you will see the results of higher productivity and higher profits.

Culture is one of those things that has been difficult to measure and is costly when not understood.

Making culture tangible helps more analytical people see the results and the return on investment.

Keep in mind, this is a long-term strategy that helps to attract and retain top talent in the organisation as well.

Creating an amazing culture is like honey to bees – an attractor that will feed the life of the organisation through great employees.

5. Not sharing

Trust is built through transparency. If something is working well in one part of the company, it is great to let others know about it. This is what we like to call collaborative or accelerated learning.

Leaders will often be inspired by hearing real case studies of what is working in other companies, because it makes it tangible for them and opens their minds to know that it IS possible.

They are then they are willing to take the ‘risks’ to try new ideas. Different departments in companies can be isolated and feel like silos – in their own little world.

When you can create a culture of sharing, everyone benefits. Ideas are shared. Innovation and creativity abound, and inspiration spreads.

In the children’s cancer wing of a large hospital, the nurses decided to celebrate and have a big party with balloons, music, clowns and festivities every time a child completed their treatments.

It brought joy to the wing and helped the other patients feel better, giving them hope. The staff were happy to celebrate as well.

The interesting thing with this story is that other departments in the hospital got curious to know what was happening and would come by to see all the commotion. Soon they were inspired to do the same when their patients reached a victory.

The celebration and parties spread through the entire hospital and over time, they found their patient recovery rates significantly improved and the level of satisfaction both for patients and employees also increased.

It is so important that we share what is working well inside of the company and even externally. Share the wins and work on bringing more joy to the workplace.

Interested in this topic? Read Employee engagement pitfalls: how can we make it more human?

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Karin Volo

Chief Joy Bringer

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