The New Culture of Employee Engagement

Words: Corey Adams

Words: Corey Adams
Photo: Azman Jaka

Something has changed. In what many would have called the good old days, employees were pretty simple. Pay them enough, they will stay loyal. It seemed for years that the employee satisfaction problem was fixed by blindly throwing money at whichever employee cried the loudest. If an employee  is not happy — here is a raise. Pay them so much they cannot leave. 

This rudimentary form of employee motivation is still in use in many companies. What it does to the employee borders on indentured servitude. By strictly motivating with money, you condition your employees that the only reason to stay, and all that matters, is money. Today’s employees have changed. They are starting to figure out that money is not the only reason to go to work. 

Just like many fellow business owners, I feel fulfilled at the end of my workday. I set out every day to help customers with their problems, and work to the highest standards of ethics, quality, and in turn, profit. My fulfillment is based on what I consider success. Success to me hinges on satisfying three basic human desires, happiness, comfort, and freedom.  Employees are no different, they need the same things. 

To take a basic look at what your employees are looking for in a career, just look at who you prefer to work for. I prefer customers that pay on time, set and define realistic expectations, keep schedules, avoid micromanaging, and are available to help everyone succeed on the project. Why do business owners think that this is so different from what their employees want from them? Good employees want to be paid competitively, clearly defined goals, enough information to reach the goals, and freedom to complete projects without the fear of scorn, ridicule, or micromanagement. 

I remember years ago talking with an owner that was complaining about finding good employees. The same rhetoric that is used now was used then. Everyone is lazy, uneducated, and unskilled. I knew this company fairly well. I knew how it operated, its reputation, and enough information to drop a truth bomb that ruffled more than a few feathers. Good employees want to work for good companies, and good companies offer more than a paycheck. They offer a harmonious culture of shared success, and they communicate clearly. 

Society and the workforce of today live in different times than we did coming up. They have information at their fingertips, the availability to immediately communicate, and the option to change employment without thinking about it. If my 15-year-old son cannot remember who sang a song, or which actor was in a movie, it drives him bonkers until he can get a phone in his hand and ask google. This response is instantaneous. We have been conditioned to be a society of instant gratification. 

I believe that there are a few principles to creating, nurturing, and continuing a culture within a company. 

  1. Positive attitudes. Our company’s philosophy is that no matter what happens, keep smiling and keep working. Getting angry about every little detail will sprout negativity faster than anything. We try to focus on the positives. Recognizing the good, and showing our gratitude through little rewards, or just taking the time to say thank you. 
  2. Growth from within mindset. This is a mandatory part of any company’s culture. We must treat our employees as an investment. This means educating them, mentoring them, and discussing with them what a career looks like. We also love giving employees opportunities to stand out. Give them the full responsibility of a task, a day, or the entire project. Let them see both sides while trying to further themselves and impress you. 
  3. Active and complete communication. There are numerous philosophies and strategies to communicate effectively. In all reality, they boil down to some basic principles. Make sure that you give all the details necessary to complete a project. Nothing spells disaster on a project faster than sending out a crew without a full scope. Once a project is completed, give insight into what actions helped, or hurt, the productivity of a project. We have found that being completely open with good employees helps to create a sense of belonging they desire. 
  4. Availability. What would your employees say about you and your availability to them? Do you just hand the foreman a file and disappear? Good employees do not want to work for an absent owner. It creates friction, resentment, and the feeling of being alone. Talk to your employees, show up on the jobs, and be invested in what your company is doing. 
  5. Listen. This should be self-explanatory, but too often as owners we get caught up in the cycle of dictating and forget to listen. Your foreman knows more about which employees are helping, or hurting a project or your company’s culture. Take the time to ask, listen, and act on their recommendations. 
  6. We culture. Good employees want a sense of belonging. They want to feel that we are all working together. Eliminating the word I from your company’s vocabulary will help. We need to do this today. We need to estimate this job. We, we, we. Drive it into everyone’s head that we are in this together. Remember, our success truly depends on the success of others around us, especially our employees’ success. 
  7. Be a resource. Our job as owners is not to be the boss. Our job is to be a resource for our employees so that they can make the best decisions possible for our company. 
  8. The OK oops factor. We all make mistakes. I am an enormous fan of letting them happen. That sounds crazy, but is it? Give your employees a limit. For example, tell your foreman that they can make whatever decision they want if it is below $X. Is that number $1000, $2000, $100,000? Only you can determine how much you trust someone. By giving the employees the ability to make their own decisions without repercussions, they can make faster decisions in the field, and they won’t call every time a $100 question arises. This also teaches them how to problem solve and see how their decisions change the overall project.
  9. Profit-sharing. It would be an egregious error for me to omit this tried-and-true strategy. I have helped more than a few companies with their profit-sharing systems. I put it last for a reason. Without the proper culture, profit sharing will not work correctly. The trick with profit sharing is that it must be designed to incentivize the behavior you want. Make it as specific as possible. 

Creating and maintaining a positive culture takes time. This is not something that happens overnight, and it shouldn’t. We all have to do our part to make our company a destination for top employees. Remember, it is not our job to push our employees, it is our job to motivate them to push themselves. 

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