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Does your culture breed disengagement?

Michael Clegg | 03/07/2019

How many times have you sat in an interview and the prospective employer said, “You know, our culture really sucks here?” My assumption, and not a very bold one, is that has never happened. Why is that?

As an employer, how many times have you been interviewing a prospective employee and they have said “I didn’t like the culture at my previous employer”. Most likely you hear it all the time.  Culture is more important than it has ever been.  As Peter Drucker says, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”.

Where is the disconnect and what’s the cost?

One area for the disconnect involves the initial expectations by employers and employees alike. Organizations are running very lean in many cases and employees are being asked to wear multiple hats. Some employer expectations are not listed in the job description which leads to ambiguity. This lack of clarity stings employees. Both sides do not discuss, and the seeds of DISENGAGEMENT are already sown, and the employee just began their role. Culture problems are at the center that no one is talking about and everyone is accepting as the price of doing business. These issues are being ignored instead of being the cornerstone of conversation and it breeds disengagement.

Employers are disengaging their talent and many cases not intentionally.  Many “Managers” are too focused on working “on” the business rather than “in” the business. These are honest mistakes due to the constant expectations for revenue growth placed on today’s Managers.  Managers stay mired in a culture of disengagement, while Leaders find a way to disrupt it.  Leaders tend to focus on internal customers or employees to help their companies reach their goals. The late Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines said, “Start with employees and the rest follows after that”.  Richard Branson, “Clients do not come first.  Employees come first.  Take care of your employees and they will take care of your customers”.  This is critical for retention and growth. A leader is only as good as the culture they and their teams create.

There are some clear changes required to engage, lead and coach Millennials and if you don’t pay attention you will miss the opportunity to exceed expectations and achieving your goals will suffer.

A Gallup study about Millennials in the workplace show some alarming data points.  Only 29% are engaged.  55% are not engaged and 16% are actively disengaged. This generation represents a large portion of the talent that you are seeking. Millennials passed Generation X in 2015 as the largest generation in the workforce and by 2020 will represent over 50% of the total workforce.  Look at what Gallup says about their expectations. (1)

As the workforce evolves to the Generation Z, lack of engagement is becoming an even greater problem.  Mentors and partnerships are a necessity.

There are 4 things that I discuss and work towards with my teams to help grow engagement.

  1. Career development
  2. Career progression
  3. Constant communication
  4. Collaboration vs Independence

There is not a disengagement conspiracy happening.  The explanation is much simpler. Companies are struggling with culture because they live by yesterday’s management styles.  Leaders drive Culture – Culture drives Behaviors – Behaviors drive Results.  Behaviors should mirror values and currently that’s not common.  Most companies have great intentions but they are lacking cultural execution.

While this can be challenging for today’s “Manager”, it can be a great retention opportunity for the best Leaders/Coaches. Leading by Core Values, as mentioned above, can be a true differentiator for attracting, retaining and growing talent.

Behaviors I apply to coaching as a Leader:

  • Have weekly 1×1’s
  • Provide clarity in their role and how it fits within the overall team goals and provide consistent follow up
  • Consistently discuss career development/purpose
  • Identify and accentuate their strengths
  • Build a relationship with them and take an interest in their lives
  • Provide transparency and truth
  • Encourage educated risks and mistakes
  • We learn more from losses than wins

Ultimately, our goal is to discover what is important to each Associate and ask “what else can I do” in every 1×1.  Be aware, the workforce changes, so will the discussion points for 1×1’s.  However, I found that it is necessary to follow up more frequently and less formally.  The informal chats fall into the “ongoing conversations” category.  As a Leader, to avoid living on yesterday’s expectations, I had to create a plan to have these informal follow ups.  These are listed as any other task would be on my “to do” list. Millennials and Gen Z appreciate less formality in the workplace.  Not only in conversation/meetings but dress, work location etc.  A strong Leader needs to take all these things into account.  Meet their needs or lose their talent.

Attraction, retention and growth are challenging tasks in Leadership roles. People will stay for less money if there is a great culture. Most attrition is an opportunity cost if people are leaving the company due to negative reasons like poor culture and/or disengagement.

**As a leader, remain focused on your core values and continue to live by them on a daily basis.**

This helps prevent people from jumping ship due to poor culture.

We can learn to be more effective coaches to provide clarity, develop purpose and keep the focus on growth and development.  Honor your company values by working towards serving a more engaged workforce.

Written By: Michael Clegg, The Q Works Group