Have to? Or Want to?

  • “Mattering” is important in engagement
  • Engagement occurs as an outcome of consistent culture cultivation efforts
  • Highly engaged organizations share common philosophies and practice

There is a radio station in my town that has an aggressive ad campaign to attract listeners.  In it, they have a raft of testimonials from current listeners about how the music they play helps them “get through their day.”  Many of the speakers clearly convey their sense that their work is a drag, something they “have to get through.”  They claim that the music the station plays helps them take their mind off their work.  Typical workers?  Maybe … Engaged?  You be the judge.

No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” – Dr. Martin Luther King

The American workforce had more than 100 million full-time employees in 2017.  One-third of these are what Gallup reports as “engaged” at work. They enjoy their jobs and make their organization and America better every day.  At the other end, 16% of employees are “actively disengaged” — they are, at best, grudgingly and reluctantly present in the workplace and impede and degrade what the most engaged employees have built. The remaining 51% of employees are simply “not engaged” — they’re just there, taking up space, resources and time.

The productivity differences between the average (33% engaged) and world-class (70% engaged) are startling.  Gallup’s study is brimming with eye-popping comparisons between the two.  Knowing this, how come so many workers fall into the category of those who struggle to make it through the day?  Sadly, it is because their organizations have failed them.

Wait a minute!  Don’t organizations pay their wage and provide them with training and benefits?  Help me understand how the organization has failed them? 

In a word: Culture.

Culture is defined as a series of norms through which people are implicitly expected to think, act and behave in order to fit in.  Typically unwritten, the members pass on these norms in the way that they interact.  So, culture can be described as:

  • The way things are done here,
  • When leaders are not present, the culture informs others about the actions and decisions they may or may not make,
  • Real culture emerges when the organization is under pressure or deadlines,
  • It is the “glue” that holds the organization together.

Think back to those folks in the radio commercial.  They would likely self-describe that they “have to” do their assigned tasks.  What would it take to flip that “have to” into a “want to?”  What if leaders thought more deeply about the ways these workers view their tasks?  Do they see what they do as meaningful, worthy of the dignity Dr. King refers to above?  Probably not. Thus, having concluded that their work isn’t meaningful, it is easy to see that, in order to obtain their paycheck, they “have to” complete their assigned tasks.  The culture clearly communicates to these workers that their work isn’t meaningful.  Consequently, it is easy to see how they are “not engaged.”  What do you think their productivity is in this mindset?

Other organizations invest in their culture and help their workers understand the value that they add to the overall purpose that the enterprise seeks to fulfill.  Because they are connected to the underlying purpose of the organization and know the “why” behind the “what,” the employees within this culture easily understand and appreciate that their work is meaningful.  This frees them to pursue their ability to contribute with all their energy and creativity.  Because their work matters, they “want to” perform their assigned tasks.  Naturally, these employees have become “engaged.”  Productivity and performance naturally follow.

Organizations that foster a culture of “mattering” enjoy the fruits that come with engaged workers.  Almost any outcomes measured would reflect that difference: from safety, attendance, innovation and productivity all the way to profitability.  When organizations transform their culture from one of paycheck to one of purpose, the enterprise rises easily to a higher plane of performance.

The moral of the story?  Investing in the inherent dignity of work and the people who perform it yields the engagement that seems otherwise elusive.  When the culture is right, engagement naturally follows.


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