Cultivating A Culture Of Engagement

THE CHILDHOOD FAIRY TALE of Jack and the Beanstalk leads us to believe that it is possible to toss out a handful of magic seeds and instantly garner overnight success.  Leaders trying to implement a culture change within their organizations may mistakenly believe this same kind of “magic” is possible.  Unfortunately, organizational change through cultivating a culture of engagement requires more deliberate actions over a longer period of time. 

Past cultural transformational efforts, such as six sigma practices, visionary transformations, or various other change efforts, proves the case.  Depending on the research study, the success rate of these change efforts varies between 9% and 30%.  Even the high-end findings are not very encouraging.  It is clear that wishing for change and implementing it are very different.

Currently, CEO studies indicate that one of the most desired changes involves gaining commitment, tapping into discretionary effort and boosting innovation.  All of these outcomes come under the umbrella term “engagement.”  Whether it is a sales associate, a flight attendant, an engineer, or a manager, an engaged employee seeks to deliver results that demonstrate their best.

The benefits of “engagement” are impressive:

  • Reduce sick leave abuse by 45%
  • Retentions benefits with 81% less likely to leave
  • Faster profit growth by 300 to 400%

With such clear benefits, leaders are on board with the goal but the path remains cloudy.  Too often, there is a fallacy that just announcing the goal will make it happen.  The hope that there will be a magical shift in behaviors, interactions, and outcomes following an announced request for change is unrealistic.  No burning platform or future enticement works for long.  Change takes careful planning, monitoring, recognition, and flexibility.

Returning to the beanstalk, we know that farming is not just planting seeds but also cultivation, fertilization, and monitoring are needed before any harvest.  Instead of magically growing overnight, plants evolve over time. So what is the equivalent process that leaders can employ to gain their desired crop?  We suggest the following:

Cultivating a Culture of Engagement

  1. Demonstrate executive engagement through visible cooperation and collaboration to an agenda, vision, or strategy.
  2. Build trust among the workforce with authentic communication, respect for different viewpoints, and practices based on fairness and recognition of discretionary effort.
  3. Create strong and robust communication networks that function vertically, laterally, functionally, and geographically.
  4. Recognize and reward commitment, initiative, and collaboration combined with disincentives for grandstanding or loner behavior.
  5. Drive out fear, including any evidence of finger-pointing, fault-finding, or requirement to stick with legacy practices.  Instead focus on preparation, planning, learning and rewarding commitment.
  6. Support cross-functional understanding through joint staff meetings, cross-functional assignments, recognition systems and a clear priority on achieving strategic goals.
  7. Hire and promote those who demonstrate collaboration, respect for initiative, explore alternatives and develop others.
  8. Clarify expectations using clear parameters, metrics, and timely feedback mechanisms.
  9. Accept reasonable risk-taking as the only security against stagnation or becoming irrelevant in the marketplace.
  10. Recognize that engagement evolves and cannot become a reality overnight.
  11. Learn from projects that succeed, as well as those that fail to live up as mandated.  It requires that everyone understands and adapts to ensure that the promise of engagement becomes a reality.

The journey to an engaged culture remains a challenge.  The Gallup organization found that only 30% of employees are engaged.  What could your organization do when you double that number?  What have you done to cultivate engagement?


Dr. Mary Lippitt
Dr. Mary Lippitt
Dr. Mary Lippitt is an award-winning author of "Brilliant or Blunder: 6 Ways Leaders Navigate Uncertainty, Opportunity, and Complexity.” She founded Enterprise Management Ltd. in 1984 to provide leaders with practical and effective solutions to navigate the modern business climate using situational mastery. Dr. Lippitt is a thought leader and speaker on executing change, optimal leadership, and situational analysis. She currently teaches in the MBA program at the University of South Florida. Mary is also the author of Situational Mindsets: Targeting What Matters When It Matters.

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