High-Performing Companies and Culture
Engagement as a measurement and management tool has evolved greatly over the past 20+ years. Many traditional organizations are using engagement surveys to better understand their employee’s perceptions of company culture, but high performing companies have recognized their limitations. In addition to engagement surveys, these companies are accessing the advantages of culture surveys. Culture surveys provide the CEO and senior leadership insights to understand causes and indicators of their current culture. In addition, culture surveys provide direction on how to build and maintain a future culture for strategic and competitive differentiation.
To better understand how to move beyond engagement surveys, let’s make sure we have a mutual understanding of engagement – then and now.
Engagement History & Evolution
Employee engagement as a concept began in the 1920s. It is derived from studies of morale or a group’s willingness to accomplish organizational objectives. The value of morale was initially researched by the US Army during World War II to predict unity of effort and attitudinal battle-readiness before combat. In the postwar mass production society that required unity of effort in execution, group morale scores were used as predictors of speed, quality, and militancy. With the advent of the knowledge worker and emphasis on individual talent management, a term was needed to describe an individual’s emotional attachment to the organization. Hence, the birth of the term “employee engagement”. An “engaged employee” is all in – they are fully involved in, and enthusiastic about their work, and will act in a way that furthers the organization’s interests.
Engagement Surveys Today
Engagement surveys are currently conducted by many organizations, including Gallup, Towers Watson, Kenexa, Hay Group, and others. The surveys consist of questions that are focused on an individual’s engagement to ‘the organization overall’ or to ‘my manager’. They are completed on average every 6-18 months and are compared to other organizations at a national and industry level. The survey data analysis seeks to stratify results across the spectrum of individuals, i.e., Highly/Actively Engaged → Engaged → Disengaged → Highly/Actively Disengaged. Highly/Actively Engaged or Disengaged employees are those that actually use some of their discretionary effort to engage or disengage others. Research on employee engagement has found strong correlations between high engagement and financial performance including revenue, CAGR, and shareholder return. As a management tool, the engagement survey has become widespread as a measure of culture.
If the engagement survey provides a measure of culture, why the need for culture surveys? We’ll take a look at the differences in part 2 of this series.