Articulate November 2017

The Missing Ingredient to the Secret Sauce of Employee Engagement

Written By: Heather Parbst, Lead Consultant, Clarity3 Consulting

Motivation is a short term, opportunistic view aimed at achieving something and has a narrow focus. Engagement on the other hand is about internal focus, involves commitment, is about the organization and the big picture. The difference is significant.

I’m hearing more often from clients who want help with addressing employee engagement within their companies. First, I am always grateful to hear people use the word “engagement” over “motivation.” This is because usually when people think of motivation, they are thinking of extrinsic motivation, which is very different from engagement.

Motivation as we usually think of it is externally focused and is about “what’s in it for me”? It’s a short term, opportunistic view aimed at achieving something and has a narrow focus. Engagement, on the other hand, is about internal focus, involves commitment, is about the organization and the big picture. The difference is significant.

Imagine you are choosing between two different potential spouses. Do you want the one that bases the relationship on the conditions of you providing a nice house, fabulous car and extravagant vacations? Or would you prefer the individual that’s in it because they genuinely love being in a relationship with you? Hopefully you get the picture.

I also think that organizations are getting better at recognizing when they are facing engagement issues. Win! But where things sometimes take a turn is in how they decide to approach addressing those problems. Too often, companies look at tactics. They think, “maybe we are advertising on the wrong job boards?” or, “maybe we need to tweak our hiring process, or implement a better employee review process or update our benefits package?” Or maybe they think they should start providing better incentives to the top performers.

Some of these ideas very well may improve the employee experience and could be beneficial. But the root of a companywide employee engagement problem is usually less about wrongly implemented tactics and more about a lack of direction from the top. By this, I mean that often companies that struggle the most with employee engagement lack clarity around who they are, where they are going and what is most important to them.  In other words, they have not defined their mission, vision and core values. Having high level clarity and awareness around your vision, mission and core values throughout your organization is the missing foundational ingredient to your secret sauce of employee engagement.

Once these elements are in place, the culture can really start to take shape. For instance, the company can then set strategy aimed at that defined vision. Employees can then work with their supervisors to help set individual SMART objectives for themselves that are aligned with the company’s strategy. Leadership can continuously work to perpetuate the vision and the values of the company throughout the organization until it permeates the bones of the organization and begins to define the company culture. Those company values become the rules of the organization and determine how the company’s people think and act. Leadership can then use those values to hire, fire, review, reward and recognize their people. Over time, the wrong people will be expunged, often by their own choice as they come to realize they no longer fit with the culture. Simultaneously, the right people will rise to the top and become a magnet for others who also embody the company values.

Certainly, some companies play lip service to the vision, mission and core values concepts. Sometimes they don’t buy into the ideas at all, or they’ve tried in the past at defining these elements and it flopped, now they dismiss the whole idea. Other times, they understand the value of doing this work, but don’t do a great job defining their vision, mission and values, or implement the roll out of the vision, mission and values to the organization poorly. But for those who get it right, the advantage is palpable.


HEATHER PARBST is a business consultant and founder of Clarity3 Consulting, a company helping organizations solve their operations, culture and leadership challenges. Heather uses her past experience owning, leading, growing, and selling a technology company along with a background in psychology to help her clients execute on their objectives, move toward organizational excellence and increase their impact.

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