I was fortunate enough to be able to attend Human Capital Institute’s (HCI) 2017 Employee Engagement conference at the end of July, which focused on “Creating an Engaged Culture through Purpose, Connection and Neuroscience.” With so many insightful presentations over the course of two days, I would have had to channel Game of Thrones’ Three-Eyed Raven to be able to take it all in immediately; but now that I’ve had some time to digest, here are my top 10 takeaways from the conference.
1. Why we work determines how well we work – The first keynote speech explained how our performance is driven by our Total Motivation, or the theory that why people work determines how well they work. There are six motives for why we work: three direct motives (play, purpose and potential) and three indirect motives (emotional pressure, economic pressure and inertia). Making sure that people’s direct motives outweigh their indirect motives is key to creating a culture of engaged employees.
2. Manage weaknesses, invest in strengths – This tip from the Gallup-led session makes so much sense to me. We’re always more engaged when we’re doing something we’re good at, right? So rather than trying to improve employees’ weaknesses, bring those weaknesses to a baseline and focus on providing employees with opportunities to further enhance their existing strengths. It’s a win-win for everyone.
3. Engagement is an outcome, and it starts with leadership – This came from the speaker from OpenTable, but almost everyone hit on this at some point: leaders and managers are critical to creating an engaged culture. Leaders need to energize and inspire employees to live the company’s purpose and bring the culture to life – and that starts with leading by example. Managers play a vital role here as well; one presenter cited that 59 percent of employees who are engaged also have managers who are engaged.
4. Employee engagement directly ties to your brand – How many times have you experienced a grumpy cashier at a store and thought to yourself, “Wow, that person does not like their job”? How did it make you feel about that retailer? If you don’t see the connection between employee engagement and a customer’s perception of your brand, just think about those experiences. As the speaker from Enterprise explained, when employees are engaged, they’re happier; when employees are happy, they exceed customer expectations; when customer expectations are exceeded, they feel valued and have more trust in your brand. It isn’t rocket science.
5. Build an authentic and intentional culture – The presentation by Shopify’s Director of Talent and Culture Development really drove home the importance of disregarding what others do and zeroing in on what feels right for your company. Just because some companies have a culture that encourages daily, in-office meditation sessions doesn’t mean that will work for you. Identify what’s important to your employees (by asking them), and find authentic ways to bring those things to life at your office. It has to feel natural for employees to buy into it – and again, leaders need to lead by example by being the first to participate.
6. Create simple values and incorporate them everywhere – The presentation from Southwest Airlines was all about keeping things simple, especially when it comes to company values. Employees helped create their values, which are straightforward and memorable, and those values form the foundation of their culture. They “hire for attitude” (culture fit) and “train for skill.” Then they incorporate their values into everything – talent management, performance reviews, employee communications and surveys, recognition programs, etc. This way, their values are a common language among their employees, who truly understand what it means to live the values every day.
7. The annual employee survey is not enough – This was another common theme throughout the two days. While annual surveys are important for benchmarking, more regular check-in’s – through pulse surveys, for example – are important to keeping employees engaged. Many employees today, especially millennials, are looking for a manager who’s more of a coach than a boss, with ongoing conversations about their performance and development instead of once-a-year feedback. But remember, whether it’s an informal check-in or an annual company-wide survey, it’s vital that you show employees how you’re using their feedback, so they know you’re actually doing something with the information they’ve shared.
8. Wellness vs. Well-being vs. Mindfulness – “Wellness” has been a workplace buzzword for a while now, but I’m happy to hear that companies are thinking beyond physical health and talking more about overall “well-being,” which also includes mental and social wellness. “Mindfulness” was a new term to me – I assumed it was about relaxation, but it’s actually about being more aware of your present moment, and it can help reduce stress, improve focus, lower blood pressure and more. People talk about “work-life balance,” but in reality, work is a huge part of our life. So it’s important that companies focus on improving employee well-being if they want happy, engaged employees.
9. Help employees connect to your company’s purpose – It makes sense that employees who feel personally connected to the company’s purpose are going to be more engaged at work. And it’s probably pretty easy to feel that connection at a company like TOMS; but unfortunately, many companies aren’t founded on such a socially conscious purpose. So how do you get employees to feel connected to your company’s purpose? You can still follow TOMS’ model by ensuring every program has a direct link to your purpose; creating experiences that will enable employees to make that personal connection; and continuously celebrating those moments of connection.
10. Don’t forget about your remote workers – According to this presenter, 43 percent of Americans say they spent at least some time working remotely last year. But when it comes to engaging employees, it’s easy to forget about those who aren’t physically in the office. Your remote employees want and need the same things as all employees – to feel a part of the team, to receive regular feedback, to be recognized for their good work, and to be treated with trust and transparency. And again, it’s up to managers to make sure they are keeping remote employees engaged and modeling the behaviors they want to see.
In his welcoming remarks, conference chairperson Bill Craib said something along the lines of, “Culture is more than just free Panera and a cool office. Those things are great, but they’re not inspiring.” This sentiment was clearly echoed throughout the two-day conference. Building an engaged and inspired culture takes a lot of work and commitment – from both leadership and employees – and it doesn’t happen overnight. But when you do get there, you’ll surely see some fantastic results.
What takeaways from above stand out to you as most important for building an engaged culture?