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Jane Sparrow

The Culture Builders

Founder and Director

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Why ‘investors’ (not ‘savers’) are the secret to a high-performing company culture


There are organisational cultures that deliver great performance, and then there are organisational cultures that not only deliver great performance, but crucially, ensure that performance is sustained: next week, next month, when things get tough, when leaders change.

Whatever is thrown at the culture, it copes and is exceptionally resilient yet, at the same time, agile. That’s no mean feat.

I’d like you to meet Sara. Sara is an employee who has been with her company for five years.

Sara works hard, has recently gained a promotion and is popular with her peers and management alike. She enjoys her job and rarely has time off sick – but she isn’t highly engaged. She is a ‘saver’.

If you look around your own organisation, you will spot many ‘Saras.’ They are usually hard working, diligent employees who are committed to the company.

Thanks to corporate communication programmes and initiatives, they often have a clear understanding of the business and know what is expected of them.

Employees like Sara are the bedrock of many companies, but whilst every organisation needs savers, they alone are not enough to create the performance levels that a business needs to excel and deliver exceptional results, again and again.

If organisations are serious about increasing engagement for performance, they need to up their stakes and create a community of ‘investors’.  

Investors versus savers

Investors are employees who are willing to invest more of themselves in an organisation.

Just like savers, they are clear about the aims of the organisation and are committed to its success but, crucially, they also feel a sense of genuine attachment to their employer because of a deep sense of value from the relationship.

Investors are the employees who see a deep sense of connection between their own personal values and purpose and those of the business.

Creating a company of investors is not about getting more out of people – it’s about getting the best performance out of people and critically, sustaining it day-to-day.

In day-to-day terms, they are the employees who are more willing to be an advocate for the brand and will demonstrate this, for example, by offering excellent customer service.

In fact, just this month Glassdoor released latest research demonstrating a clear correlation between improved employee engagement and customer satisfaction.

This suggests that maintaining a highly engaged workforce – particularly among customer-facing roles – should be considered a key prerequisite to delivering great customer experiences.

The four stage model of engagement

Talking of customer experiences… it’s 6am in urban Scotland on a frosty morning.

“Just cereal for me,” insists the early diner at a well known hotel chain, but he’s about to meet the force-of-nature that is Julie – on a mission to feed the hungry.

She is full of chirpy chatter as she persuades the guest to try the full Scottish breakfast.

“It’ll set you up for the day,” she says. “We can’t have you going off for work on an empty stomach.” Job done, it’s onto the next guest who needs ‘filling up’.

Julie is on a basic wage yet her high engagement level means that she is a true investor and every customer leaves the hotel feeling full, cared for and positive about the hotel brand. She is a true investor.

In the four-stage model of engagement, Julie understands and is committed to the brand she works for – but she also feels a strong sense of attachment and significance towards her employer.

In Julie’s case, this is driven by a clear link between her purpose as a mother that fed her family and her role of nurturing the community through her work.

Here’s what the four stage model looks like:

Here’s the difference between investors and savers:

A game of snakes and ladders

It’s important to state that savers and investors in an organisation are far from static. Rather, it’s a little like a game of snakes and ladders, requiring constant investment and attention.

Imagine you are Julie – you have a strong link between your personal purpose and that of the organisation. You understand the organisation’s objectives and the part you play in it, you are committed to every single one of your customers as they come through your diner.  

Then suddenly the menu is changed and your aren’t told or given any information, you’re rostered on to work seven early shifts in a row without a conversation or a thank you, and your manager ceases to show his face on the restaurant floor for two weeks.

Suddenly, Julie has slipped down the snake and is feeling less like an investor.  

The miracle in the middle

Creating a company of investors is not about getting more out of people – it’s about getting the best performance out of people and, critically, sustaining it day to day.

This is the bit that often remains the most elusive – despite the well-placed intentions of leaders, internal communication and HR – because the most important component in sustained high performance is the role of the middle manager.

As human beings we need to feel valued. When we feel valued and that we have worth, our levels of engagement rocket. 

Despite this, managers are often the ones who slip under the radar when it comes to strategically delivering the development, support and training needed to fuel engagement for longer than the CEO’s last speech, values programme or an annual kick off.

HR often owns the employee communication remit and that goes a long way to creating savers – those who have understanding and commitment.

True engagement, however, and the creation of investors requires managers and leaders to be masters at engaging.

They need HR to give them the processes and infrastructure but also, critically, the development, confidence, coaching and counsel.

Creating a company of investors

Investors across organisations share common characteristics, but what investors look like will ultimately be unique to each organisation, its culture and the goals it’s trying to achieve.  

Here are my top three tips to get started on creating more investors in your company culture.

  1. Start with ‘why’
    Most of us will have seen the Simon Sinek video but if you haven’t, just know this – if each of your employees is not clear on why they should get out of bed each day to come and be a part of your organisation, fix it. This line of sight needs to be reinforced frequently.
  2. Development for all
    HR has a responsibility to ensure the right level of development for every line manager – not just senior leaders. Line managers are the game changers on a daily basis so they need proper investment. They really are the miracle in the middle.
  3. Dial up the appreciation
    As human beings we need to feel valued. When we feel valued and that we have worth, our levels of engagement rocket. Give some serious thought to how your organisation (at company, team and individual level) says ‘thank you because …’ to people. It’s transformational.

Interested in this topic? Read Why building trust can improve employee engagement.

Author Profile Picture
Jane Sparrow

Founder and Director

Read more from Jane Sparrow

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