A Clear Purpose Promotes Engagement

I am not sure if spring has anything to do with people accessing how they are feeling about what they do for a living, but we seem to be getting an increasing number of clients coming to us because they are feeling disengaged at work or, generally speaking, in life. Disengagement shows up in various ways. I’ve had clients feeling restless a few months after being promoted to what they thought was their dream job. Typically, they cannot pinpoint where the uneasy feeling stems from (boss, team, colleagues, the nature of the new job), and after a few more months, the uneasiness grows so much that they become increasingly disengaged, lose interest and even begin to doubt their own abilities. Eventually, this inner conflict impacts their performance (as well as their organization’s), and many times it also causes issues in their personal life. Fortunately, my clients were aware of this spiral and sought guidance to get out of it. But many other people don’t, and both they and their organizations suffer the effects of disengagement.

According to a March 2016 Gallup study, just over a third of US workers are considered “engaged”. Sadly, this number represents the highest it’s been since they began tracking it in 2011. Helping more and more clients address these types of issues has made me think more deeply about what companies could be doing to reverse this trend. This organizational problem causes employee conflict, absenteeism, and high turnover, costing the company great amounts of money in lost productivity. What are leaders doing to prevent or overcome this disengagement epidemic? The truth of the matter is that this type of organizational behavior problem stems from having a faulty foundation, just like it happens at the personal level. When we feel disengaged, we are either out of alignment with our inner values or with our purpose. Similarly, at the organizational level, a disengaged employee is out of alignment with either the company’s values, purpose or culture.

How can you ensure that you are building a culture that truly engages your employees? Begin by answering three important questions:

1. Does your organization have a clear purpose or reason for existing? Your employees might know what they do, but do they know why they do it? When one feels that they are working towards a greater good, they will also feel like they are truly part of a team. If they are only focused on their own silo, they won’t be able to see the bigger picture.

2. Is your organization clearly communicating that purpose to your employees? It is important to clearly articulate the company’s purpose to avoid confusion, which can lead to a disconnect between your employees and the company. Disconnection is one of the main causes of disengagement. When leaders are clear about the purpose, and that purpose is visible, well-understood and communicated, everyone will work towards the greater good.

3. How is the purpose reinforced through performance management to ensure it is being achieved? Having a clear purpose will do no good if the behaviors sought are not reinforced and rewarded. Think about how the organization’s purpose is reflected in the duties of each staff member, and how strong performance is rewarded. Doing this promotes desired behaviors and expected performance. Never forget that your employees are your most important resource; the disengaged ones might be that oh-so-valuable untapped resource.

Once you’ve asked yourself the three questions above, you will start to see the type of workplace culture that exists in your organization. Having a healthy, thriving culture can help ensure that your employees stay engaged, loyal and committed. Creating this type of culture requires that clarity of purpose to be manifested in the company’s systems and policies. There are many ways this can be achieved, and they need not all be complicated. Many small actions truly make a difference for people. For instance, creating internal and external motivational opportunities where employees can share their success stories goes a long way to keep them engaged. Helping them create a healthy work-life balance makes your employees feel that the company truly cares about their well-being.

As Doug Conant, CEO of Campbell’s Soup said, “To win in the marketplace, you must first win in the workplace.” I would love to hear your thoughts and/or experiences on this issue.

To your success!


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