The Advancing Leadership Blog

Corporate Culture, Employee Engagement and the Bottom Line on Retention

Ken MacLeod – TEC Canada President & CEO

According to the Denison Organisational Culture Survey, companies in the top 50% of corporate culture scores have an EBITDA 2.5 times higher than those in the bottom, and they also enjoy five times the sales growth. Experts agree culture also has a huge impact on employee retention, so it’s worth figuring out what your “secret sauce” is. Apparently many of us are trying to do just that, with research by Deloitte suggesting that “retention and engagement” have risen to #2 in the minds of business leaders. Yet the numbers also indicate that very low percentages of employees are “highly engaged,” with Gallup placing it at 13% and Glassdoor reporting that only 54% of employees recommend their company as a place to work. We should all know by now that the balance of workplace power has shifted, but some leaders still struggle with the realities of today’s workplace and not everyone understands how these concepts relate to each other. We decided to ask two of our TEC Canada speakers who are experts in this area to clarify and flesh out these ideas and provide some effective ways to increase employee engagement.

Eddie LeMoine is an author, keynote speaker and one of Canada’s most sought-after experts on changing demographics, performance development, leadership, employee engagement and the psychology of success. Alan Oishi is a partner at the international business coaching and consulting firm Shirlaws and, as a former CEO, has had first-hand experience in what it takes to shift corporate culture.

TEC Canada: What is corporate culture and how does it relate to engagement and retention?

Alan: “A simple definition of culture is “accepted behavioural norms” which doesn’t mean “formally approved” but rather behaviour that has been tolerated. People want to feel alignment between the way they want to do things and the way the company does things. This is not a “right” vs. “wrong” discussion, it’s better to think of it as “fit.” This is why firms can initially get a big turnover when they clarify their culture, and that’s not all a bad thing, if the people leaving are self-selecting out or being moved out because of a bad fit.”

Eddie: “One of the biggest drivers in creating a successful culture in an organization is engagement, which of course leads to retention because we know that only 15% of people who are engaged would consider leaving. This translates to the bottom line because the cost associated with losing an employee is far higher than the cash investment in hiring one. Part of alignment (that Alan talks about) involves engagement by means of inclusion and co-creation. This means that everyone is leveraging their strengths (which means not just what they are good at but what they enjoy) towards a common goal, knowing their work makes a difference. It’s just magical when it happens.”

TEC Canada: What concrete steps can companies take to engage employees?

Alan: “The key to engagement is not stopping at the “values” conversation. Values are too subjective, they are labels and they mean different things across an employee base. Most companies have along list of values, and if they define them clearly, the definitions are long, which is why employees struggle to articulate them. So simplifying is the first step but another step is to create agreements on activities that are examples of the desired culture. Activities are concrete, specific, objective and observable. Finally, tell stories. Engagement happens in a feeling or energy space, not a thinking one. Emails don’t engage, but stories, fireside chats and videos do.

Eddie: “Communicate! I have seen in-house surveys on engagement from across the country and one of the top problems is that companies don’t communicate effectively. Granted, it’s daunting to come up with a strategy to communicate across four generations, two genders and a multi-cultural environment. For example, Gen Y thinks email is too slow but management doesn’t want them texting all day. The Baby Boomer generation only provides information on a “need to know” basis, even personally. But Millennials share and want to know everything, so what often arises is a fundamental distrust that could be alleviated by more transparency. Finally, leaders should take the time to talk to and get to know the strengths of employees – not just their skills but what they like to do. If you turn your attention to those three things, you will see the needle move on engagement.”

TEC Canada: Whose responsibility is culture and what part does a CEO play in setting corporate culture, good or bad?

Alan: “Everyone, and all of the time, because it’s created through a series of small steps and destroyed by a thousand cuts. We often hear team members say “the problem is that management is not living it.“ However, when every team member believes that he or she is self-responsible for making choices that impact the culture, then you have a strong movement. Having said that, the CEO still plays the biggest role. The behaviour and actions of the CEO have a much bigger impact than the stated values of a company!”

Eddie: “I would say engagement and culture does rest, at least initially, on the shoulders of senior management in the sense that they have to be communicating the values, and what those values mean, every day, as well as being an example of those values. If you do it right you won’t have to utilize the old enforced accountability systems because people will be committed and aligned.”

In summary, a great culture is a thing to be prized, cultivated and protected, by everyone in your company. Figure out your values, identify a clear engagement strategy, and own the leadership of the effort as a CEO or senior manager. Translating the corporate vision into day-to-day business practices will result in more engagement, less turnover and a healthy bottom line.

About the contributors:

Eddie LeMoine is one of Canada’s most sought-after experts on changing demographics, diversity and performance development.  A bestselling author and international keynote speaker he specializes in leadership, employee engagement and the psychology of success.  Most recently he is the author of the bestseller Bring About What You Think About.

Alan Oishi is a top rated speaker and partner at the international business coaching and consulting firm Shirlaws – a unique firm that drives sustainable growth in equity value. As a former CEO, Alan has had first-hand experience in what it takes to shift corporate culture.

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