Every organization has a culture—some by default, and some that are purposefully created. However, most are not successful at driving employee engagement and thus improved performance. The Gallup organization reminds us every couple of years that nearly 70 percent of employees are actively disengaged. According to Deloitte, 94% of executives believe that a distinctive culture is connected to success but fewer than one in three executives (28%) report that they understand their organization’s culture. Forbes shares that companies with strong cultures saw a 400% increase in revenue growth. Yet even well-defined, positive cultures with clear and consistent values and happy employees don’t guarantee success. How can you link culture to growth goals?

The key is to have a growth-minded culture

It doesn’t require changing the values that matter but putting processes in place that increase awareness about the strategic goals of the company, and processes that enable employees to participate. David Marquet, retired Navy captain and author of “Turn the Ship Around” says, “Don’t get people to do; get people to think.” Here are three ways to engage employees in the strategic work of the organization on a day-to-day basis so they are contributing to growth goals.

  1. Have a data-driven culture. Using data as the fundamental backbone of decision making levels the playing field for all associates, assuming the data is dispersed throughout the company. For example:
    • Employees in customer service need to know who the high-priority customers are, how customer needs are changing, what the common customer problems are, what solutions the organization offers and how they are different and better from competition. Too many just know company policy and that makes them very ineffective.
    • Employees in accounting need to understand who important customers are, what the goals are for high-priority customers, what expense level targets are, what is driving changes in expenses or income, and other variables that influence their work. If they are only asked to record debits and credits with no ability to comment on trends or progress against goals, their value is limited before they even start.

    Employees can’t add value through their own judgement and suggestions if they don’t understand the context of their work.

  2. Think Outside-In. Employees are often well trained in an organization’s policies and procedures, and those activities make up the bulk of the job description. Yet the goals of the company at the enterprise level is to maximize performance in the market place, not execute policies. For employees to contribute to goals, they must not only know data that influences their job but be encouraged to problem solve from an outside-in perspective. When they have an issue to resolve, which choice will help the organization advance its goals?

    To answer that question, employees must have an understanding of what matters in the market place. This includes a combination of information about customers, competitors, and general trends. They need to be encouraged to look at the issue from an external perspective (outside-in) not just an internal operational or financial perspective. When leadership wants to excel in the market it can be death by a million papercuts if employees aren’t able to make decisions with the market in mind.

  3. Ask, Don’t Tell. We are all time-starved. We have too much on our plates already so when employees knock on the door looking for the answer, we tell them. What have we just accomplished? We have made sure they know we have the answers and they don’t. We have trained them to come to us every time and we will make their job easier while we make ours more demanding. It is not done out of ego but out of expediency. It is just faster that way. But unfortunately, it doesn’t make them better employees, it doesn’t train our successors and it doesn’t lighten our load so we can focus on higher order goals.  Instead, “Ask, don’t tell”. Ask them to define the problem. Ask them to define the options. Ask them to suggest which option would make the most sense and explain why. To do that, they must have some information about company goals and strategic direction, financial implications of the decision, operational implications of the decision, and market place realities along with customers’ needs and wants. Every time they ask it is a teaching moment. Will it take more time in the short run? Absolutely. Will it have a bigger payoff? Without question! From an employee’s perspective, the company cares enough about them to share vital information, seek their ideas and opinions, and respect them enough to ask them to solve problems. Do you think that will create a more engaged employee? Absolutely!

For employees to engage, leadership must arm them with information and opportunity. Neither is difficult; they just need to be priorities in order to work.