Employee engagement represents one of the greatest opportunities for untapped potential in the workplace. The statistics are no secret but they are shocking when considering that, according to repeated Gallup Management Journal surveys, barely a third of the workforce is genuinely committed to even a moderate level of performance.
Co-authored by Fred Stawitz and Priyanka Deshmukh
In some cases, employees are actually operating at a significantly downgraded level or are actually counterproductive. Obviously, this deteriorates the productivity, safety and profitability of a business enterprise.
When pep rallies, parties, and value slogans fall short of inspiring a beleaguered workforce to muster extra effort, where should corporate leadership seek a remedy?
Business leaders seeking to bolster a sagging bottom line require a solid understanding of what drives employees to excel. When pep rallies, parties, and value slogans fall short of inspiring a beleaguered workforce to muster extra effort, where should corporate leaders seek a remedy?
In such situations, CEOs, VPs, managers, and supervisors often determine correctly that their organization needs to improve its culture, so they mandate a behavior standard. This is an aspirational culture. A simple but effective view of culture is that ‘culture reflects the common behavior of a group’. An aspirational culture, however, represents the way management would like employees to behave. But employees behave according to the functional culture that is based on the realities of the workplace environment, not an arbitrary threshold.
What employees experience when they step into the workplace resides as the fundamental element of how they behave.
What employees experience when they step into the workplace resides as the fundamental element of how they behave and, ultimately, whether they fully engage in their work. Unfortunately, the employee experience is not often considered in discussions of employee engagement. And, mechanisms that manipulate short term improvements in employee behavior populate the corporate landscape while the more rigorous approach of identifying and improving the key factors that actually drive safe and productive behaviors go missing from the agenda. Understanding human behavior, at least at a basic level, is an essential component of effective management and that means having knowledge and awareness of the employee experience and particularly its impact on performance, engagement and productivity.
Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudeva—a well-respected Indian yogi, mystic, poet, and New York Times bestselling author—explains that there are two components of a human being essential to the understanding of behavior. A State of Being and the State of Doing. These two states are inextricably related. While the State of Doing is guided by the State of Being, the State of Being is influenced and reinforced by the State of Doing. So, according to Yogi Vasudeva, who you are and what you do are inseparable.
Employees operate within a workplace environment and they are constantly reading and evaluating that environment.
It is also important to understand that employees operate within a workplace environment and they are constantly reading and evaluating that environment. At a basic level, they assess if the environment is good or bad in terms of making it easier or harder to do what they have been tasked to do? Each individual employs different criteria to make this judgment. Those criteria are based on a set of filters that include personal preferences and biases influenced by past experiences, personal values, beliefs, mindsets, and other factors. This represents the State of Being of an individual. As Yogi Vasudeva explains in an online post, “you are who you are, only because of the opinions that you hold.” Your opinions about the work environment are based on the State of Being you bring to work since your opinions are founded in how you experience and perceive the environment around you. This further guides and significantly influences your State of Doing, i.e., the way you behave and take actions.
In other words, who you are guides what you do in any given situation.
Business leaders have three options for altering the culture of the enterprise.
Business leaders who wish to improve employee engagement, and thereby improve safety and productivity, in a sustainable effort to increase profitability, have three options for altering the culture of the enterprise:
- Order employees to behave differently
- Change the core values, beliefs, and mindsets of the employees
- Alter the environment employees experience on the job
Management can certainly order employees to behave differently. But how well does this approach work? If the behavior that is demanded differs significantly from the behavior guided by the realities of the work environment then it will be short lived at best. As soon as management’s focus on making the desired or aspirational culture a reality dims, the behavior guided by how the employee experiences the work environment will reemerge. Without a corresponding change to the factors that formulate and influence an individual’s State of Being, there is little to no chance of producing anything other than a temporary change in behavior.
Management could attempt to alter the core values and beliefs of employees in an effort to change behavior. But is it possible to change who employees are at a core level? Psychiatrists might indicate this is potentially possible while admitting that it is an extremely challenging and arduous task. It requires altering the foundation of an individual’s State of Being which is shaped by a lifetime of experiences, learnings, the environment, closely held values, beliefs, and more. So, it may be possible to change individuals at the core level but it is certainly not likely to happen in the corporate setting with little more than a mandate from the management.
Out of all three options, the most practical and optimal solution is for management to alter the work environment that employees experience.
Out of all three options, the most practical and optimal solution is for management to alter the work environment that employees experience. Management holds maximum control over creating the work environment which includes the authority to hire and fire; the organization and distribution of work; establishment of policies, processes, and procedures; access to resources; development of work schedules; and the ability to minimize obstacles to safety and productivity, etc. Management also holds the levers of power related to creating a relationship founded in trust and respect with employees.
The fact is that management cannot extricate itself from the equation. Management’s behavior or its State of Doing which emanates from its State of Being creates the culture and environment of the organization and sets the standard for behavior for the entire workforce. “A leader doesn’t just get the message across; he is the message,” states Warren Bennis—scholar, organizational consultant and author who is widely regarded as the pioneer of the contemporary field of leadership.
Employees look to management for guidance in divining the path to success.
Employees look to management for guidance in divining the path to success. The so-called shadow of the leader falls over the entire organization. If this shadow embodies a negative connotation, then management certainly might consider that the glow of the leader could offer a more inspirational representation. Either way, the leader, for better (glow) or worse (shadow), serves as a pivotal example. This means, that if management behaviors create a difficult and taxing work environment instead of a supportive and energizing one, then management should reflect on how it needs to alter its own State of Being to produce a different State of Doing in order to create an improved work environment for its employees.
For example, business leaders who operate on the belief that employees are trustworthy and motivated to do good work, do so based on their own State of Being formulated as a result of their past-experiences, learnings, values and the lens through which they perceive the world. This belief influences their State of Doing and accordingly their behavior, actions and decisions reinforce and engender this trust and belief in the mind and heart of the people in their organization. As a result, employees are inspired to live up to this trust and belief and are likely to demonstrate such behaviors creating what might be considered as a self-fulfilling prophecy.
A sustained change in employee behavior must be guided by a long-lasting change in how employees experience the work environment and organizational culture.
Efforts to change the corporate culture must reflect the interconnected nature of the State of Being and the State of Doing both for management and employees. Behavior does not change without a requisite change in the individual’s experience of the work environment. A sustained change in employee behavior must be guided by a long-lasting change in how employees experience the work environment and organizational culture. A short blip is just a short blip until the employee clearly sees and trusts that the change has been institutionalized. The authority and responsibility of institutionalizing changes to the work environment reside squarely with the management.
As employee engagement represents one of the greatest opportunities for tapping into the potential for increased productivity in the workplace, the good news is that business leaders have it within their power to address this situation in an effective manner. The bad news is that the connection between the work environment and employee behavior is not widely recognized or understood by business leaders. This dooms many well-meaning efforts to improve safety, productivity, and ultimately sustainable profitability causing those efforts to fall short of targets and sometimes even result in a decrease in employee engagement as employees react negatively to short-lived efforts that may be viewed as manipulative.
When asking the question To Be or To Do, realize that both To Be and To Do are of equal significance. Both need to be served in an interconnected manner in order to enhance, positive behaviors, and sustain long term employee engagement. Ultimately, safe operations, productivity, and consequently the overall success of the business enterprise hinges upon the quality of the employee’s experience in the workplace.
Priyanka Deshmukh, an Electrical Engineer with an MBA in Marketing and Supply Chain Management from National Institute of Industrial Engineering (NITIE) and a Senior Consultant with OD Alternatives, has expertise in designing Assessment Labs and Leadership & Capability Development Interventions. She is a member of the core team that set up and built the ODA Mumbai Office. OD Alternatives is a 20-year-old organizational development consulting firm that specialises in Leadership Development, Top Team Effectiveness, Organization Culture Building and Executive Coaching. She has designed, anchored and co-facilitated several innovative leadership development journeys with organizations spread across sectors such as Life Sciences, Banking & Finance, FMCG, Retail, and Consulting. Prior to working with ODA, she served at Korn/Ferry where she assessed and hired leadership level talent for organizations in FMCG, Telecom, Retail, and Life Sciences sectors. She has also worked for Accenture in its Communications and High Tech vertical as a Software Engineer prior to receiving her MBA. Described as strategic, conceptual, perceptive, insightful and passionate by clients, she is an ardent student of human behaviour and is passionate about connecting people with their natural gifts and talents enabling them to realize their full potential and purpose. She is also an ICF certified Life Coach and has a profound interest in spiritual learning and development.