Gallup workplace studies reveal data about employee engagement. The numbers say that roughly 65%-70% of employees are minimally engaged and that roughly half of those are currently looking to change jobs. Furthermore, there is an expense to that state of workplace satisfaction in terms of lost productivity amounting to billions of dollars each year. That productivity void calls for solutions … training, management and leadership improvement consulting and better hiring practices, for starters.
So what about those organizations on the other side of the coin? Where are the 30%-35 percenters? I propose that they work in organizations that are invested in their culture first.
Let’s examine the well-worn story of the airline that consistently makes a profit each year in contrast to the rest of the industry. It turns out that they intentionally engage employees at three levels and their model has ownership at the top. They invest in esprit de corps. The company is Southwest Airlines.
First, they validate the work of various job functions … flight attendants, ticketing personnel, gate agents, baggage handlers and pilots. They stress that when all these functions work together, they can turn planes faster, for example.
Second, they celebrate a lot in a way that touches everyone – not just top performers. There is an acknowledgment of the importance of every individual’s task – and everyone takes pride in their work. I wrote recently about a Southwest gate agent in Indianapolis telling jokes over the concourse PA system. Remember “why Peter Pan would never be allowed to fly on Southwest?”
Third, Southwest has a very distinct TRUE North. Herb Kelleher started the airline as low cost and still refuses to add frills that would take them “off course” on their mantra of “democratizing the skies”. That’s so Mimi can afford to fly to see her grandkids. When all airlines began charging for luggage Southwest started their “bags fly free” campaign. Work has meaning at Southwest.
Other organizations that are long term high-performance companies all follow a similar pattern of validating community, ownership and meaning. For great documentation of this, the book Firms of Endearment is a great resource.
My analysis is that ( compliments of Maslow ), organizations perform when people know their work matters. The Maslow secret is that:
- community satisfies the human desire for belonging
- ownership: achievement, self-esteem, mastery
- meaning: purpose (Maslow’s self actualization)
Leaders, a la Kelleher, get this … and performance always rests with people.