Currently, the statistics tell us employee engagement is hovering around 30%. When a new hire joins an organization, they learn roughly 70% of what they know about the company early on from what other employees teach them in an unofficial capacity. Depending on the organization, this can be a very concerning realization. Imagine the impact of an actively disengaged majority on an enthusiastic new hire? Think of active disengagement with this acronym in mind: CAVE. CAVE dwellers are people who are Consistently Against Virtually Everything an organization stands for. Have you met one? Have you been one? A culture of CAVE dwellers is a nightmare for an organization who has found the right new hire to step onto the team.
If a person comes into an organization excited, ready to work hard and eager for the opportunity to marry their strengths with the company’s needs, but is on boarded into a disengaged culture they are often more likely to leave. Engagement levels, though derived from experience, are significant to the development of expectations. The new hire who learns from co-workers that there is a lack of trust, community, and shared values within the first 30-90 days is set up to have very poor expectations of the company culture going forward. Suspicion, gossip, and a general us vs. them mentality regarding leadership will set the expectation and influence the experience of that new hire with their manager and co-workers.
A Disengaged Workplace
When entering a disengaged workforce, the new employee has a choice: join the collective, choose to buck the system, or leave. Sadly, many, especially in our millennial generation, are choosing to leave. Those who stay often find themselves absorbed within the culture. Human beings by nature have a herd instinct. We’re tribal and like to feel like we’re part of the collective. Even if the collective isn’t positive, it’s still a belonging that we seek. Therefore, most people tend to assimilate with the cultural norms even if they are adverse to their personal desires or values.
At 34 Strong we talk a lot about designing and implementing employee engagement initiatives that will help shift cultures. Training managers to engage their employees is a key piece component to our strategy. Most managers are trained to manage the numbers and treat people as a means to an end. When we talk to managers about their job, often we hear the phrase, “my job is to herd the cats.”
This means that they have the very difficult job of managing adult learners. For some, when we asked if they’ve ever had the experience of raising teenagers and which is more difficult, they’ll say hands down, managing adults is far more difficult than parenting stubborn teenagers. Adults have a mind of their own. They can be suspicious, malicious, and manipulative. Though teenagers can do this as well, adults are far more sophisticated as they have more time, experience, and resources to make life difficult for their boss. In turn, a boss uses the only weapon at their disposal, command and control leadership.
Command and control leadership with progressive discipline typically leads to a stalemate of wills. The leader uses command and control to force the issue and gain compliance through threats, intimidation and manipulation tactics. This leadership style can at times produce immediate results but hands down produces long term issues within the workplace. In a culture where this exists, a wall is built up between the employees and the managers. This adversely affects employee engagement. We teach an employee engagement initiative to our clients that involves a collaborative approach to leadership. This is one where the emphasis is on motivation and inspiration, not command and control. The key is to help managers understand why they should and how they can effectively engage their team members. We do this by walking them through a robust engagement training program.
As mentioned in previous blogs, in all of our travels around the country, when we ask business leaders how many of them have managerial training programs regarding engagement, less than 1% will answer that they do. So often, we promote managers due to tenure or subject matter expertise but without experience needed to actually lead a team. In turn, we set up managers for failure when they do not have the talent or experience to manage. BUT, when managers are well trained through a robust program learning how to engage, use metrics and apply specific tools, they see team members respond positively to their leadership style.
Employee Engagement Initiatives
An employee engagement initiative involves establishing a metric for measuring a baseline level of the engagement within the organization. 34 Strong favors the Gallup Q12 as a metric tool because it pairs well with the Strengths work we do. Regardless of the metric chosen, the fail point is in the actual follow up training where managers learn how to use the tool effectively and how to gain the necessary feedback.
One component of this engagement initiative is to find out what people are actually thinking. This goes beyond a survey. Follow-up sessions can aid in understanding the difference between different indicators as to why they will or will not engage. Do they feel their work place is stable or not? Why they will trust or why they won’t? Do they feel cared for or not? Do they have hope? These, along with several other indicators, tell us the story of their level of engagement. We can slowly but surely move the needle to see an increase in employment engagement.
When you are ready to create the workplace culture that you envisioned, where people are engaged, valued for being valuable and play to their Strengths, 34 Strong will be here to help you make that a reality.
Brandon Miller is the Co-Founder and CEO of 34 Strong Inc. and co-author of the book Play to Their Strengths (June 2019), a book written with his wife, Analyn Miller, on parenting our children from a strengths-based lens. Brandon’s top five strengths are: Maximizer, Achiever, Activator, Strategic, and Arranger.