A Quick and Simple Way to Boost Engagement

(Talk to Your People)

It’s difficult to figure out what people want out of a career. A quick internet search shows more conflicting career advice from professionals, gurus, and visionaries than you can shake a stick at:

All the life advice seem to be opposite extremes of each other and yet, preached very confidently from people who’ve hit the career lottery.

I’m completely self-aware of the irony in writing a Medium post with advice…

At a personal level, all of us have different drivers for why we do what we do. The middle-aged guy working a flexible restaurant job so he can surf all day has different requirements than an intern at an investment bank crushing it for 12 hours a day because she wants to have a $250K salary in five years.

Is it possible that both parties are equally engaged at their posts? Yes.

Do both have different requirements to be engaged? Yes.

So it’s complicated? Like my permanent Facebook status.

Here are two of the most engaged companies in our dataset and some of their highest scoring engagement factors. The two companies are in similar industries with similar demographics, whose headquarters are within walking distance from each other:

Company #1
Company #2

To be clear, these scores are not always the highest drivers of engagement, but represent the areas where each company excels — where these companies most resonate with their people. It’s easy to imagine the two companies sell different products, have different structures, and foster different values. But both companies have highly engaged workforces in spite of their differences. So, it makes sense that there is a lot of conflicting career advice — it all can be perfectly legitimate. The drivers of engagement and culture are not one size fits all.

Different people have different needs and come from different backgrounds. Similarly, your organization offers different standards, systems, and structures. But if you want to get people engaged, committed, and dedicated to the work they do, it’s necessary to have values and culture that best speak to them.

It starts by clearly communicating organizational values and the expectations of the role. Surprisingly, for many organizations the metric, “I am happy with my current role relative to what was described to me” is a factor that materially impacts overall engagement. But at Culture Amp, we’ve also discovered that once organizations identify this as an issue, it is one of the easiest metrics that can be improved a short amount of time. (Post forthcoming on our Insights blog)

When people accept a job, they do so on the premise of trade-offs. People want to know what they are getting into and what they might be giving up when taking a job. Many people highly desire working at innovative companies, others prize being socially connected, but no one wants the rug pulled out from under them. Once the reasons, opportunities, and benefits people join for become compromised, you may have lost them for good.

If you don’t want corn, would you work for Joseph Peters?

For people onboard, it’s just as important to have an open line of communication to continue the discussion about and ensure ideals remain aligned. Here are the factors with the largest differences between top 10% and bottom 10% companies in overall Engagement.

In spite of the differences of what defines an organization’s strong suits, the weakest links in organizational engagement remain similar. Amongst the least engaged companies in our New Tech Benchmark, the biggest gaps tend to be around communicating a vision, inspiring confidence, demonstrating importance, and empowering people to feel like they have influence within the organization.

To put it another way, Engagement often requires people to 1) understand what the company values, 2) be able to have their voice heard, and 3) understand why the company makes the business decisions it does. It’s almost as if people want to be engaged at work (funny that).

Fortunately, we also see these as easy metrics to address. Unlike systemic issues like core values or innovation, communication issues typically don’t require a tremendous time investment to improve. Only a bit of care and attention is required to ensure that your people know what they are doing and why they are doing it. Organizations that obscure, or worse, hide their motivations run the risk of creating conflicts with the motivations of their people.

Some real, general advice: Organizations can better engage their people by having a strong sense of values that people can align with. People accept jobs based on these values, and by the same coin, become disengaged when they feel they no longer align with or are unable to influence them. If you want to drive engagement, understand the reasons people join your company. Then, continue to keep a finger on the pulse.

Hyon S Chu is a Babson MBA and data scientist who thinks data can be used to improve businesses. Naturally.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.