Build an Engaging Office Culture

4 Steps: How to Build an Engagement-Driven Office Culture

The importance of employee recognition and engagement cannot be overstated. Companies everywhere are shelling out billions every year for HR programs designed to enhance their office culture and improve employee productivity. Yet, according to Gallup’s 15-year study, the percentage of American workers that are “actively engaged” at the workplace remains fairly stagnant, with an average of just around 32%.

Gallup StudySource: Gallup

This begs the question: why are some employee engagement programs working while others aren’t?

Designing an engaging office culture requires more than just planning birthday parties or patting a worker on the back for a job well done. Engagement strategies can’t be forced; they need to be implemented carefully and encouraged in order to make an impact.

So what should you do to get your workforce more involved?

If you’re looking to build an engagement-driven office culture, check out these four common traits of successful culture initiatives.

  1. It All Starts with Leadership

Teams look to their leaders to set examples of proper behavior. The effect management has on employee engagement and motivation is astounding. According to Gallup’s State of the American Manager Report, leadership has the strongest impact on employee engagement levels in a workplace. Management is responsible for 70% of the variation in employee engagement levels, and workers who had proactively engaged managers were nearly 60% more likely to be engaged themselves.

There is no denying that managers are largely responsible for the office culture of their organization, and therefore, it is up to them to make the necessary changes for improvement and become employee engagement champions. When they strengthen their leadership practices and become more hands-on, teams will likely follow suit.

One practice that leaders must absolutely do away with is abusing company talent in any way, shape, or form. Only about 20% of office workers feel that management motivates them to do their best. Mismanagement, poor job design, or unfulfilled expectations are some of the leading causes of employee disengagement. Many workers feel that managers misuse their skills in the office by not providing opportunities to use their key skills. Underutilization or overworking employees are both major mistakes that can cause frustration, disengagement, and eventually, higher turnover rates.

Leaders with poor communication skills, micromanaging tendencies, or other negative traits can quickly discourage employees and create negative behavior among the team. In order to push for a more engaged environment, leadership must first establish a set standards and examples for others to follow.

  1. Focus on Culture Fit from the Start

We all have a desire to fit in with our peers, and it can be very frustrating and disheartening to new hires who just don’t quite mesh with the new company culture. In fact, IBM’s study found that 20% of workers left a position because they did not fit in with the company culture.

IBM Study Source: IBM

Culture fit is critical to employee engagement and happiness, especially when it comes to new hires. By focusing more on culture fit from the very beginning during the recruiting process, employers will find it easier to boost employee engagement levels while simultaneously decreasing turnover and increasing retention.

HR technology plays a huge role in employee engagement, and it can simplify the tedious process of finding new talent that are great culture fits. If you really want to be more accurate at finding employees that fit your culture, you can incorporate more data-driven insights into your hiring process. For example, there are certain HR tech platforms out there that can track applicant’s personality traits, problem solving abilities, and even professional values.

  1. Get Everyone Involved in Team Decisions

When you think of companies with great employee engagement programs, one that probably pops into mind is Southwest. The low-fare airline has really set the bar for employee enthusiasm and satisfaction levels by finding new ways to get the team involved with the company. When the business decided it was time to redesign company uniforms in 2016, they allowed employees to select the colors, fabrics, and details. All employees were then able to vote for a final decision.

The airline’s founder, Herb Kelleher, understands the importance of building a business that values everyone’s opinions and participation.

The things you can’t buy are dedication, devotion, loyalty – the feeling that you are participating in a crusade.” – Kelleher

Collecting honest feedback and suggestions is the key to building an office culture of innovation in which everyone can feel open to participate. An engaged employee often feels connected to their organization because they understand the unique role they play in its success.

  1. Encourage Interests Outside of the Office

69% of the healthiest and happiest organizations in the country offer programs for professional skill development, proving that a little extra motivation can make all the difference. Encouraging employees to work on things they are passionate about not only provides satisfaction, but also helps them achieve their fullest potential.

Innovative workplaces that encourage employees to get involved with passion projects will build an office culture that thrives. Google is famously known for encouraging employees to pitch their own business ideas and even pursue personal projects to fuel innovation and engagement.

Finding ways to support non-profits or good causes is more than just a nice thing that businesses can do. Fortune reported that up to 59% of respondents to a survey agreed that they would prefer to work for a company which supported a charitable organization over one that didn’t back any, and many were more likely to buy products from such businesses as well. More and more businesses are urging their employees to get involved with charities. Tom’s of Maine is a great example – they require employees to spend 5% of their paid work time volunteering.

Employee engagement shouldn’t just run from Monday to Friday, 9 to 5. It must be practiced beyond the office, too. Keeping everyone inspired to develop, grow, and improve, even after they’ve clocked out, can help everyone in the business aspire to be something better.

Over to You

Businesses that prioritize employee engagement will create more enjoyable office cultures for everyone. Leaders must set the standards, but it is also important to build a strong team from the bottom up. Getting every single person involved by listening to their opinions and encouraging personal interests can help keep the momentum going.

Building an amazing company culture takes time, but the rewards are well worth the wait!

To learn more about the importance of strong culture, check out this white paper on The True Cost of Disengagement

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Start building an engagement-driven culture with Achievers and Limeade. Watch this short video to see the partnership in action.

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Do you have any thoughts on this article? Share your comments below.

About the Author
Lori Wagoner is a market research consultant. She advises small businesses on new ways to find local and national business. She’s an avid blogger and writes for sites such as Small Business Can, Tweak Your Biz and Customer Think. You can catch her on Twitter @loridwagoner.


Strengthen Leadership

How to Strengthen Your Manager’s Leadership Practices and Why It’s Crucial to Enhance Employee Engagement

You know it, and I know it: The key to improving employee engagement and culture is through strengthening management’s leadership practices and capabilities. Being good at management isn’t enough. Today, more than ever, managers need to practice great leadership to manage change effectively and to seriously help others grow. Doing so results in higher employee engagement and motivation, and higher engagement ultimately improves productivity and the overall health of the organization.

Why You Need Great Leadership

If you ever need to convince others about the need to motivate and engage managers, just show them a copy of Gallup’s State of the American Manager. After years of studying data from millions of managers and employees from just under 200 countries, Gallup reports some insightful data including these highlights from their 2017 report:

  1. Managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units…just 30% of U.S. workers are engaged, demonstrating a clear link between poor managing and a nation of “checked out” employees.
  2. One in two employees have left their job to get away from their manager at some point in their career.
  3. 35% of managers are engaged, 51% are not engaged and 14% are actively disengaged.
  4. Managers who are not engaged or who are actively disengaged cost the U.S. economy $319 billion to $398 billion annually.
  5. Employees who are supervised by highly engaged managers are 59% more likely to be engaged than those supervised by actively disengaged managers.

How to Strengthen Management’s Leadership Practices

Have you ever worked at an organization where HR distributes copies of leadership books and articles to managers? This happened a lot when I worked at Lowe’s. At Ceridian, my VP gave all her managers a copy of Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. When I was at Lowe’s, our leadership development team would bring in nationally known speakers such as Ken Blanchard and Liz Wiseman. While giving managers books and bringing in speakers is helpful for raising awareness about leadership, more needs to be done to help managers shift from knowing to practicing leadership.

In my book, Nine Practices of 21st Century Leadership, I share what I call the 21st Century Leadership Development Roadmap. The roadmap has four stages. At Stage Two, many managers realize that the old ways of managing are ineffective at engaging and building team culture, but managers fall short of putting leadership into practice. Something blocks them from reaching the third stage.

Leadership Is a Skill

To move to the Roadmap’s third stage, managers need to develop leadership the same as with any skill. Here’s what I mean:

Imagine that Player A and Player B want to get better at racquetball. They tried this by spending a week practicing for five-hours per day. During that week, they played against better opponents, and at night, they read articles about how they could improve their game.

Here’s one difference: Player A had a coach. Periodically during that week, the coach stopped the game, gave feedback, showed ways to improve form, and then gave more feedback. After a week, guess who improved more? Player A did.

In The Servant, James Hunter explains that leadership needs to be developed through practice, feedback, and follow-up. When managers just read books or attend leadership talks, their effort isn’t enough. He writes:

“Has anyone ever learned to swim reading a book? Has anyone ever become an accomplished pianist studying piano history? Has anyone ever become a great golfer watching Tiger Woods DVDs?…I have met many people over the years who know all about leadership but don’t know leadership.” (pp. xxiii-xxiv) – James C. Hunter

To get managers to adopt leadership practices sincerely, Hunter recommends a three-phased approach: Foundation, Feedback, and Friction. Foundation is acquiring leadership knowledge. This helps managers advance to the Roadmap’s Stage Two. To advance further, you need feedback and friction.

Without Feedback, You’re Left in the Dark

If you’ve ever administered 360-feedback reviews, you know that managers can act surprised by the feedback’s revelations about their behavior. Sometimes these discoveries hurt and aren’t easy to receive. But without knowing their blind spots, managers won’t know what or how to improve.

In Marshall Goldsmith’s book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, feedback is how he learns what his clients should focus on. He writes:

“I wish I had the power to snap my fingers and make these people immediately see the need to change…But I can’t and I don’t. Instead, I show these people what their colleagues at work really think of them. It’s called feedback. It’s the only tool I need to show people, “You Are Here.” (p. 8) – Marshall Goldsmith

From feedback, managers might identify several things to improve, and if they’re Type A people, they may want to attempt to resolve all behavioral issues at once. While admirable, that’s not good. If you’re administering the feedback, help managers focus on one or two behaviors that can have the most impact.

Friction: The Process for Making Sustainable Change

Getting managers to accept their feedback is one thing, but it’s another to get them to act upon the feedback effectively. Fortunately, you can guide managers by using a structure that Hunter and Goldsmith advocate. Here are the high-level steps for what you should guide managers to do:

  1. Acknowledge and apologize to those affected by their faulty behavior.
  2. Ask the affected people to help them get better. This could include calling them out when managers revert back to old habits.
  3. Advertise to others that they are trying to get better at a specific behavior. Goldsmith explains that if you don’t, people won’t notice.
  4. Rigorously follow up monthly with people affected and find out how well they’re doing. Employees and others affected by past behaviors need to realize how serious the managers are at trying to improve.

Call to Action: Guide Managers through Feedback and Friction

It’s easy to read books and attend leadership talks, but It’s not easy for managers to receive critical feedback. It’s even harder getting them to commit to the friction phase and doing the steps, especially the follow-up. In Triggers, Goldsmith writes, “People don’t get better without follow-up. So let’s get better at following up with our people.”

Guiding your managers through this process will change the dynamics and health of their teams. Fixing key behaviors could have a chain reaction to improve other behaviors, and managers modeling the drive to change will have a cascading affect upon their people. When managers get better at leadership practices, everyone on the team gets better and healthier!

Two More Things…

In addition to the Foundation/Follow-up/Friction approach, you might want to try Goldsmith’s feedforward process. His free article, Try Feedforward Instead of Feedback, is worth reading and introducing to your managers. Managers who read this will learn a positive way to change future behavior without dwelling on the past.

There are other ways to help managers, especially those in middle management. For several insights and tips, check out the eBook The Secret Weapon to Driving Employee Success.

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About Gary A. DePaul
Gary DePaul
Gary DePaul is a speaker, author, and leadership curator. He provides performance consulting services to help organizations identify gaps between what executives expect managers to do (in the current and future states) and what managers actually do. He has more than twenty years of professional and scholarly experience and has worked for companies such as Lowe’s, Ceridian, Fidelity Information Services, Johnson Controls, and Arthur Andersen. Gary welcomes inquiries and the sharing of ideas. You can reach him at