Nancy Anderson, RN, MA, Senior Vice President of Engagement Solutions

In previous blogs, I’ve shared some thoughts on how to create a workplace that inspires employee engagement. A work environment in which employees feel an emotional connection and commitment to their work and to their organization. A workplace that attracts great talent. A culture that brings out the best in people and holds them accountable to be, and do, their best.

Sound idealistic? If so, you are indulging in one of the most common barriers to creating a culture that feels engaging to employees …

Underestimating the power leaders have in shaping their culture

Organizations always have a culture. Your culture is made up of the unique beliefs, attitudes and values of your organization.

If you think about culture as “the way we do things around here” (admittedly a simplified definition of a complex topic!), then consider this: Who gets to decide how things get done? As leaders, you are the ones who typically define organizational mission and values, identify organizational priorities, make decisions on workplace processes and practices, determine what and how communication occurs, and set performance and behavioral expectations.

Leaders also set the emotional tone of the organization. All of these things contribute to shaping your culture. Are you intentional about aligning all of these elements to support a culture of engagement?

Here are a few other ways that a culture of engagement can be easily undermined …

Unclear or misaligned goals and priorities

If you were to ask each of your leadership team members to individually write down your organization’s top three priorities, would all their lists look the same?

If management team members are not aligned in their understanding of organizational priorities, they will not be aligned in what they communicate to employees. Lack of unity among leaders causes unclear, disjointed messages and actions that are confusing and frustrating to employees.

Disengaged managers

Managers are the emotional thermostat for the employees they supervise. Therefore, a disengaged manager can wreak havoc on your efforts to create an engaging workplace culture. A manager’s level of engagement is derived from their competence, confidence and commitment to the organization and its goals. Disengaged, ineffective managers create toxic subcultures within your organization. These subcultures can derail your entire engagement strategy.

Failing to recognize that employees watch and interpret leader behaviors

Leaders are under a magnifying glass. Every action is observed and scrutinized by employees in an unending quest to determine and confirm that leaders are trustworthy and that they walk their talk. Many leaders aren’t consciously aware of this scrutiny, nor do they understand how they are perceived by others.

It’s very common to assume that other people see us the way we see ourselves. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

We overestimate the degree to which our intentions are understood by others. For example, if you are meeting with a group of employees and are intent on listening to what they are saying, you think you’re coming across as a focused, attentive listener. But they see the intense look on your face and perceive it as anger, condescension or disdain. Oops!

Your intent is not consistent with the impact. The emotional intelligence skills of self-awareness, social awareness and self-management play a significant role in aligning intent and impact, making it possible for leaders to create an environment that brings out the best in people.

Not measuring engagement, or ignoring engagement data   

Measuring employee engagement gives you a point-in-time indicator of levels of engagement, as well as where you have gaps. If you don’t have a mechanism to routinely measure levels of engagement, how will you know if you are impacting or improving engagement?

Or, even worse, if you measure engagement, asking employees for their input on their workplace experience, but then do nothing with the data, you are actively disengaged employees.

So … you have a choice

You can proactively shape your culture, avoiding the engagement crushers mentioned above, or you can forsake this leadership responsibility and, by default, be at the mercy of however your culture spontaneously evolves.

Which do you choose?

Nancy Anderson, RN, MA, is the SVP of Engagement Solutions for Align. In her role, she provides strategic leadership and supports development of solutions to help providers successfully build and sustain a culture of engagement.