Employee engagement is an important measure for many organizations. It does provide an indicator as to whether employees are willing to go the extra mile in their work, something that is only driven by passion and meaning in what you do.
However, in today’s business environment it is not enough.
Why? Customers don’t really care how engaged you are in your work unless your are providing them with something valuable.
It reminds me of a trip I took to Paris years ago. My wife an I decided to catch a train from the Gare de Lyon to the south of France and I needed some help to get on the right train. Recognizing an information center, I walked in to find it empty apart from 3 staff at the counter.
Now my french is not as good as it should be (having a French mother!) but I could understand that the 3 staff were passionately discussing their weekend. This went on for about 3 or 4 minutes while I stood patiently infront of them. When there was finally a break in the conversation I tried to get their attention. One of the employees finally begrudging came to answer my questions. Ironically she refused to speak English so I was forced to muddle my way in French to finally get the answers I needed. It reminded me of the quote:
“This job would be perfect if I just didn’t have to deal with customers”
Now I recognize the french have some of the lowest scores for customer satisfaction in the world but my point here is that these employees were fully engaged in their work, no question they seemed very happy to be there. However they had not connected their work with their real reason for being there, to serve customers.
I am not against employee engagement but the goal needs to be higher than that. Employee engagement must intersect with customer engagement for it to be a worthwhile initiative.
One of the team recently shared a really great presentation about what really motivates us. The talk, by Dan Pink explores the real drivers of motivation for knowledge workers, that is, people in roles that require them to think critically and creatively about how to get things done.
He gives a number of examples from research. One surprising conclusion is that financial rewards work well for “mechanical tasks” but not for tasks that require more than “rudimentary” thinking. In fact when rewards were provided for more complex tasks, teams provided with the largest reward to succeed performed worse than those with little incentive!
It sounds counter intuitive but in my experience it really does rings true.
If we think about organizations that are really successful, they are not focused on massive financial rewards, they are focused on providing something that is really valuable for their customers. In fact many of today’s really successful firms are still trying to work out their business models, think Facebook and twitter…. they are still only focused on delivering value for customers.
Dan identified three factors were found to drive individual performance:
- Automony/Self Direction – the ability to choose how you spend your time
- Mastery – the satisfaction that comes with mastering a skill, developing an expertise
- Purpose – understanding the broader purpose and how your work contributes to that purpose.
There are parallels with our research into organizational culture. We have found 7 core behaviors that drive business performance and separate average firms from really great organizations.
I can relate them to Dan’s model for individual motivational drivers as follows:
- Autonomy is really about empowerment in an organizational culture setting
- Mastery – this is really about getting better, getting better requires feedback and insight. In our case getting better is faciliated by gaining customer, competitor and business environment insights
- Purpose – again in an organizational setting this is about vision, why do we exist and what do we want to be when we grow up as an organization? This is the factor we call strategic alignment.