- Satisfaction: Understand the employees’ needs
- Personal Growth: Drive innovation by creating an environment of constant learning
- Peer Rapport: Facilitate healthier relationships at work
- Management Rapport: Leadership as role-models for employee engagement
- Well-being: Cultivate workplace wellness to develop sustainable engagement
- Recognition & Feedback: Reinforcing engagement through positive feedback loops
- Advocacy: Make employee engagement a part of your brand’s message
- Empowerment: Employee autonomy as a conditioner for higher performance and engagement
- Culture: Building a strong foundation for employee engagement
- Closing Thoughts
We all know the story by now: Seeking out ways to increase their competitive advantage, companies have been investing heavily in employee engagement projects. In the US alone this investment amounts to over $1 billion, according to research by Deloitte
To foster employee engagement is a goal we believe every organization should strive for. Engaged employees are more positive and bring their best selves into their roles. They are top performers. Yet, despite the common knowledge, engagement remains stagnant around the globe.
What if we realized that even among those who are engaged there are some who stand out? They are defined as passionate explorers who desire to not only tackle challenges, but seek further ways to make an impact and connect with other individuals in order to create new knowledge. These explorers (or passionate employees, as they are also referred as) exhibit three specific traits:
- Questing: The desire to go above and beyond their responsibilities, seeking opportunities to learn new skills and challenges.
- Connecting: The wish to build connections in order to learn from them and share knowledge in related domains.
- Commitment to a domain: The determination to focus long-term in order to have a lasting impact on their field of expertise and organization.
So while engaged employees are happy people, participating actively in the company, delivering their projects and following the directives; passionate employees are seeking ways to deliver long-term value, by learning and creating more and faster.
Passionate employees are, therefore, game changers within the organization. That being said, employers should focus on increasing engagement, but also understand how to create an environment that nurtures passion. Once that is in place, employees will feel more comfortable to push themselves and the organization to leap forward.
But how do you get there? And how to identify these people? Is there even a point?
This guide aims to answer all these questions with real data while providing actionable tips based on nine drivers of employee engagement. It is intended for HR managers, company directors, team leads and anyone who might be responsible for employee happiness or wondering how to improve company culture.
We hope you enjoy reading this guide as much as we enjoyed writing it. Any feedback will be appreciated!
Satisfaction: Understand the employees’ needs
In order for a company to foster challenging situations and innovation, employees need to feel it’s worth it. Most companies want passionate individuals among their ranks, but it’s important to remember this expectation is a two-way street. As the old saying goes: “You reap what you sow”. We are talking about rewards here, but in a sense that covers more than just the salary – although this factor should not be ignored.
The American Psychologist Abraham Maslow was one of the first to come up with a model that could illustrate what we mean when discussing satisfaction, the famous “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs”:
When discussing employee passion, we are talking mostly about self-actualization and the higher levels of esteem commonly associated with self-confidence, competence, mastery and freedom. Self-actualization according to Maslow is the desire to accomplish everything one can and become the best they can be.
The long-term commitment must come from both, the employer and the passionate employee.
However, for the topic of satisfaction we are addressing other levels of the pyramid: Safety, Love/belonging and the lower levels of Esteem. In practical terms, these are tied to four key factors:
- Compensation (Physiological, Esteem, Safety)
- Benefits (Love/Belonging, Esteem)
- Job Security (Safety, Esteem)
- Workplace (Love/Belonging, Physiological, Safety)
Maslow’s theory dictates that in order for an individual to chase after long-term value (self-actualization), other more basic needs must be fulfilled first. Although there’s some dispute and alternatives to the exact rankings and circumstances of each need in the hierarchy of needs framework, the organization which addresses the aforementioned factors is empowering the individual to free their mind of day-to-day concerns, which in turn enables them to put their energy into thinking up ways to leap forward.
Remember, the passionate employee is not pushing for disruption out of personal ambition or aiming for extrinsic rewards. However, you can’t expect them to be looking for ways to connect and create new knowledge if they feel tomorrow your company will have no place for them. The long-term commitment must come from both, the employer and the passionate employee.
Let’s exemplify each of the four metrics and how they enable passion:
This one may seem fairly obvious, if you want top talent you should pay them accordingly. However, the reality is a little bit more complex than that. The score sometimes reflects not just the compensation in itself, but the perception around it.
For example, when the topic is not openly discussed between employee and employer and reasons behind specific numbers or raises are not addressed, some might assume they are not being valued (remember, Esteem!). In some cases, a transparent compensation policy may be more effective in driving up engagement than simply giving an extra financial bonus at the end of the year.
Unlike compensation, benefits have a lot of room for flexibility and for enhancing engagement in different ways. One way to go about it is to use a pulse survey in order to ask your employees what kind of benefits they would like to see among the company’s offerings. Another possibility is to think of benefits that enhance what the company stands for (company values) in some way.
Say your company talks about upholding their employees’ families. Then benefits like childcare support or regular home office would be well aligned with this company value. More so than, say, offering free alcoholic beverages. It’s important to think what kind of company culture you want to promote with these benefits.
Reducing rotation saves a company many costs, that much is known. However, it is also another factor that drives up engagement. If an individual feels their job is in jeopardy, they will naturally be more prone to disengage in order to find their next opportunity. Sometimes the risk can indeed be real and inevitable for numerous reasons, including department closing down, strategy shift, automation, etc. But even then, it’s important to be attentive and avoid collateral damage.
For example, there should be transparent communication from managers, or else rumors will spread and panic will set in, affecting even those who may be completely ‘safe’. With panic, comes disengagement.
Back in the day, people came into the office because that was the place where they could have access to the tools necessary for performing their jobs. There wasn’t much concern about improving the work space beyond the basics necessary for production. While the logic of workplace as the only place where one can access their work tools remains a reality in many industries, workplaces themselves have evolved beyond that, pushed in part by tech companies, digital portability and a tendency towards increasing well-being of employees. This forces companies to think of the workplace as an environment where people don’t come to the office only because they have to, but because they genuinely feel good working there. In order for the work space to enhance employee passion and productivity, it’s important to reflect on what is expected of the work itself.
For example, if you want to foster deep concentration and minimize noise, you could look into distributing noise-cancelling headphones or sound-proofing meeting rooms. This works the other way around as well. Say you want to stimulate constant exchange and communication between different teams. In that case creating a comfortable lounge area next to the coffee machine and looking into open space configurations might help you reach those goals. Accessibility is also very important in order for the company to attract a wider talent pool and increase inclusiveness.
Personal Growth: Drive innovation by creating an environment of constant learning
One of the main pillars of employee passion is the desire to acquire and create new knowledge. Personal growth, in a sense, drives the passionate employee.
We tend to think of an individual’s self-development pursuit as an isolated effort motivated from within. However, that is only partially true. The reality is that several external factors can influence one’s approach to personal growth. Companies that caught onto that idea are doing what they can to maximize the employee’s ability to learn and bring new perspectives into the business. In other words, they understand personal growth feeds company growth.
The Stanford Psychology Professor Carol Dweck calls it the “Growth Mindset”. Initially, her research applied only to individuals, but over time she expanded it to encompass organizations and the effects of an organization’s “mindset” on its employees. This represented a major breakthrough in how companies should tackle personal growth.
The results from the research were clear: companies that spread the Growth Mindset had happier and more innovative employees.
According to Dweck, a company with a growth mindset is committed to the growth of every member. More than just a core value or words in a mission statement, these organizations bring the mindset to reality by offering concrete development opportunities. They establish policies that incentivize knowledge sharing and facilitate cross-departmental collaboration. And they reward learning, even if the project did not meet its original targets.
The results from the research were clear: companies that spread the Growth Mindset had happier and more innovative employees. Attributes of the passionate employee.
It is important to note, however, that growth can take many forms and it is entirely possible that a company fosters the Growth Mindset in one aspect while being perceived as having a fixed mindset in others. That’s why, when measuring the employees’ perception on how the organization addresses personal growth, we split it into five metrics:
- Learning & Development
- Career Opportunity
By analyzing these five metrics separately, you can have a better grasp of which areas your organization is enabling employee passion and where there is room for improvement.
1. Learning & Development
We’ve already discussed how a passionate employee is intrinsically motivated by the idea of obtaining new knowledge. This metric reflects how the organization actually facilitates this process. It is important to understand that beyond introducing someone to the tools necessary for one’s job, the company that wants an engaged workforce should actively encourage the employee to develop new skills.
For example, does your company send its employees to conferences related to their fields? Does it try and bring external speakers from different knowledge areas to share their experiences with your teams? Some companies even offer subsidized formal tuition as an employee benefit, allowing for remote work or shorter hours in order to enable people to get the most out of their learning opportunity.
Even small companies can promote easy access to learning opportunities by signing up to one of the many open online course platforms available nowadays. Fundamentally, these organizations understand learning is not a cost, but a factor of success.
While similar to Learning & Development in concept, Mastery is about what the company and the employee do to advance domain expertise. You could say the engaged employee wants to excel at their role and the passionate employee seeks new challenges that test the boundaries of their knowledge.
On the company’s side, it’s important that managers know their individual team members’ strengths and weaknesses, and where they want to excel. Identify where their expertise can be best applied in terms of projects and help them connect with other departments across the organization where their knowledge can be useful (remember, the passionate employee thrives through such connections!). Even having regular sessions, like bi-weekly brown bag meetings, where every team mate presents a topic they are learning about, can be an interesting way to keep everyone pushing themselves towards mastery.
3. Career Opportunities
This metric in a way shows how the company fares in terms of rewarding learning and mastery. Although the term Career Opportunity may imply climbing up the corporate ladder, there are many other ways organizations can address this topic. And yes, even small companies.
Going back to the Growth Mindset theory it is said that companies with a Fixed Mindset tend to hire leadership and expert talents from outside. Growth-minded organizations, however, will nurture these talents from within their ranks. In small companies that want to keep employees engaged, it is ensured that the entire team grows along with the business. Lastly, roles are kept challenging and relevant enough to create opportunities for employees in the future, rather than risking to make them feel obsolete or stagnated after a short period of time.
One important aspect of Personal Growth is the access to mentoring. A mentor is someone the employee can trust and who has a vested interest in the mentee’s development. Sometimes, mentorship happens organically, between a young talent and a former supervisor, for example. However, some organizations take it a step further. They implement a formal mentoring program, pairing employees with different seniority levels that are sometimes based in different offices or departments, and defining a set of basic guidelines that facilitate knowledge exchange and growth.
In smaller companies, where seniority might not be so well-defined, you might simply go with a buddy system. A buddy system is a way to team up different people across the organization to give them a point of contact or a confidante, creating a support network and easing the first steps for new employees. Either way, the important thing is to incentivize a relationship where the engaged employee can feel there’s someone guiding them towards reaching their full potential as a passionate employee.
Everyone works for a reason. Oftentimes, more than one. It could be because they believe in the company’s mission, but it can also be they have a more personal motivation. Specially when talking about personal growth and passion, you want to provide your team with a sense of fulfillment from their hard work.
It is important that managers constantly communicate why the team does what it does, and how it connects to the company’s overarching goals and vision. Understanding individuals’ “whys” and helping fulfill them is another way of delivering purpose, and thus, building a more passionate workforce.
Peer Rapport: Facilitate healthier relationships at work
As we have discussed earlier, employee passion is demonstrated in part by a willingness to connect and exchange. Therefore, it is important to understand how teams feel in regard to their colleagues.
While for the most part one can say there’s a degree of difference between a co-worker and a friend, the fact that many of us spend most of our waking hours at our workplaces makes this line easy to be blurred. This is where lies an opportunity for companies. It doesn’t mean you should suddenly replace all your best friends with your teammates, but rather that you can promote a closer, more relaxed and human interaction between individuals inside the organization without it becoming too invasive or awkward.
When you know someone’s got your back, you feel more comfortable to ask for help without the fear of being judged as a poor performer, and you collaborate more.
There are many reasons why this is considered relevant for increasing employee engagement and passion. Shasta Nelson, author of Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness, states that you are less likely to leave a less desirable job if you have a strong bond with the people you work with. Likewise, you are more likely to leave a ‘dream job’ if you don’t feel supported or validated by your peers.
Other studies conducted by multiple institutions have shown that increased trust and friendship among colleagues played a key role in performance. The reasons stated are too sound to be ignored. When you know someone’s got your back, you feel more comfortable to ask for help without the fear of being judged as a poor performer, and you collaborate more. Other benefits reported include calling in sick less, regular communication and continuous feedback.
So what can organizations do to increase Peer Rapport? We will address the topic by looking into these four metrics:
Each one of those metrics tells us about one aspect of peer-to-peer relationships inside the organization.
Frictionless communication improves flow of information, allows for quicker idea sharing and iteration, and reduces conflicts. In fact, a lot of hiccups can be avoided when there’s honest exchange among colleagues. The company can facilitate good communication between peers mostly through a culture of openness.
It is especially helpful to have managers upholding good communication and incentivizing a team atmosphere that supports it. For example, a team lead can hold quick stand-up meetings every week to have everyone talk about what they are working on at the moment in front of their colleagues. When someone is sharing familiar bottlenecks, a colleague might chime in with a solution or the manager, aware of that colleague’s knowledge, can nudge them into that direction.
Another example would be addressing conflicts between colleagues as a mediator instead of directly intervening on them. Lastly, it’s important to be aware of each person’s communication style, especially when addressing people from different cultural backgrounds.
Every job description these days mentions teamwork as a requisite for the candidate. However, in practice many managers take a simplistic approach of splitting the team to cover as many tasks as possible. This can be necessary at times, but the whole reason for teamwork being so vital in today’s work environment is because collaboration among peers can bring about better results than the individuals could on their own.
Think about team collaboration like an orchestra: the music each musician could make on their own cannot be compared with the results achieved by having the entire band playing the same piece together in harmony. For that to be possible, it is necessary to have in mind a common goal and shared respect. Even if team members are working on different projects, managers should make sure everybody is on the same page and understands how those different tasks connect to the bigger picture. Not having a common goal to work towards with peers makes it difficult for an employee to become passionate, as it becomes harder to build connections.
Trust is the basis of good relationships of any nature, including relationships in the workplace. The challenge with trust is that while very difficult to earn, it’s easy to lose. To make things even more complicated, when it comes to trust between two individuals, the actions the organization can take are mostly indirect.
For example, managers could be more open about giving praise when it’s due, and teach others to follow suit. Likewise, set the example behavior you want to see replicated, like sharing information and knowledge that you have obtained, integrate new hires with the older crew, etc. And not least, let people know what’s expected of them and when. After all, co-workers won’t trust someone that doesn’t deliver good work, but they can’t be held accountable if nobody ever made the expectations clear to them in the first place.
As we have discussed earlier, friendship at work can bring about many positive benefits that enable passion and engagement. When there’s an atmosphere of friendship in place, it’s easier to be open about your flaws and vulnerabilities, ask for feedback, collaborate, and cope with stress.
The company can enable the formation of friendships in a variety of ways. Promoting or even subsidizing off-site activities, pairing up newcomers with veterans through a buddy program, or simply by creating a platform for people to share their hobbies and naturally bond around them. If people can bring their whole selves to work, collaboration and engagement becomes much more natural.
Management Rapport: Leadership as role-models for employee engagement
When talking culture and employee engagement, managers play a central role. They are responsible for setting up and communicating the team’s goals. They are also the default point of reference for questions, information, knowledge and support. On top of that, they are expected to inspire and motivate. It’s a tall task.
So even if the company, the team and its HR department are doing a stellar job at enabling employee passion, a bad manager can threaten all those collective efforts.
That is why it is important for the organization to ensure managers understand their responsibilities and give the proper support to tackle them. Gallup research indicates that the direct manager accounts for over 70% of the variance in employee engagement. It may sound a bit contradictory though, right? If engaged and passionate employees alike are ‘go-getters’ who can self-manage themselves, then why is the manager role so decisive?
Knowing this, one way to keep managers aware of their shortcomings and improve on them is by giving employees a way to voice their concerns without fear of retaliation (e.g. through regular employee engagement surveys). However, it begs the question: what should you look into, exactly? These are the five metrics we will use to address management rapport:
- Trust in Management
- Trust by Management
- Support from Management
These metrics are directly connected to what an employee needs from their manager in order to grow passionate and engaged.
1. Trust in Management
For passionate employees to work toward a vision that will propel the company forward, they have to trust their manager has the ability to point them in the right direction. As a passionate manager, you want to be trusted in order to develop that vision together, but you should know trust is a 2-way street. Nevertheless, as the one in the leadership position, you are expected to take the first steps and set the example.
But what can you, as a manager, do to build trust with your employees? Start by respecting the team’s individuality, give them proper, honest and detailed 1:1 feedback regularly. Make yourself available to help the team with questions, and when you don’t know the answer, help connecting them with someone who does. When you disagree with an idea, challenge it by asking questions, help them get to better conclusions instead of dismissing them right away.
Lastly, as a company, it’s important that anyone promoted or hired into a managerial position gets there through a fair process based on merits instead of playing favorites. Such process should be transparent in order to validate the new manager’s competencies with the team.
2. Trust by Management
As discussed earlier, trust is a two-way street. This means you should do what’s in your power to be trusted by your team, but you should also trust your team and let them know that you do. By establishing solid relationships based on trust, the manager is paving the way for passion to grow within the team.
One of the best ways to go about it is to actually have a good understanding of each individual’s strengths and professional aspirations. Ask them, what kind of work would they like to be doing? How do they want to evolve in their role? What do they want to improve? From there, discuss what projects and ideas you see could benefiting from having them on board. Delegate things that require a high degree of responsibility, not just the “grunt work”. Your engaged employees deserve better. And don’t forget to give them room to fail and learn as well.
We have said this several times across the chapters, but the passionate employee is seeking for ways to make an impact where they work. That can only be done if you can reduce the “gatekeeping”, that is the withholding of information in the hands of a few. If employees are informed about undergoing projects and organizational changes, then they are more empowered to challenge the status quo.
In the case of managers, they are usually the ones receiving and filtering out the information. It’s a lot of responsibility, but being honest and transparent with your team should be a priority. Share often, and get their inputs on what was shared. Was it relevant for them? Can they do something about it? Let them tell you, rather than assume they don’t need to know for whatsoever reason.
There is no such a thing as 100% transparency, but managers should strive for a healthy balance where their employees have access to enough information to take initiative and deliver impactful results.
Good managers understand that, despite any hierarchical difference, they are also team members. As such, they make themselves accessible to help the team reach greater heights. That’s where their priority lies.
Even if you are too busy with your own projects, set aside a moment of the week to hear what’s blocking the team’s progress and assist them on that. In order to make that collaboration work, managers need to be humble. In practical terms, as a manager, you should delegate clearly, but present yourself as open to hear what the other members have to say about their own tasks. Of course, it’s part of the manager’s duty to challenge some of those perspectives, but the good manager makes the goal clear and lets the engaged employee decide the best action to take.
5. Support from Management
Being a passionate employee is not just happiness and glory. Especially when the levels of engagement are so diverse across a company, passionate employees might face a lot of rejection when developing new approaches and disrupting the organization. They will feel more encouraged to learn and push further if they know their manager will stand up for them though. The same applies to an underperforming employee who’s not living up to their initial potential.
For the manager to do something about it, they need to listen first. Understand where they are being blocked and what is affecting their performance. Maybe they need better tools or maybe they are facing issues outside of the company. Develop an action plan together, taking in consideration the hurdles they need to overcome, and constantly check on them to make sure they will succeed. The employees and the managers are on the same side.
Well-being: Cultivate workplace wellness to develop sustainable engagement
Engaged and passionate employees alike want to deliver their best work at all times. In the rush of excitement obtained from positive feedback loops, it is plausible that one might lose sight of other things around them which are just as important. Top performance should not come at the cost of an employee’s health, be it mental or physical – that’s just a shortcut for a burnout.
The term work-life balance is recent in origin (estimated to be from around the 1970s), but the concept has been around for much longer. It gained a lot of traction in more recent years due to technological progress that allows workers to be always connected to their jobs. Many companies, however, have understood their responsibility in addressing the topic, which evolved into what is sometimes labeled workplace wellness or employee well-being. In fact, we believe well-being to be the more all-encompassing term to describe it.
...more important than making an investment on a new employee benefit, it’s advisable to invest in an organizational mindset shift.
Well-being isn’t so much a direct metric for companies to measure employee passion, as it is a factor to determine whether passion and engagement can be sustainable in your company. The underlying message is that when an employee is cared for, they can keep performing at their peak for longer than if they are stressed to their limits and have to take time off to recover afterwards. And that’s why companies are investing more and more on it.
That being said, more important than making an investment on a new employee benefit, it’s advisable to invest in an organizational mindset shift. Managers have a strong influence in this regard. It doesn’t matter if HR states during the recruitment process that employees have flexible working hours, if those new talents’ direct managers will pass on judgement when they cannot arrive before 9am and/or leave after 5pm regardless of their personal circumstances. Therefore, it is important to count on upper management support to ensure the organization adheres to a healthier work environment.
Since the organization can tackle well-being from a variety of angles, we cover it through these four metrics:
- Work-Life Balance
Through these four metrics the company can clear the path for passionate employees to perform consistently.
1. Work-Life Balance
As discussed earlier, with the increase in connectivity came some great developments in the way we work. However, work has become increasingly complex, and a negative side-effect associated with these two facts is an implicit expectation that the workforce should be always on. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons behind this, such as an online software company needing someone to always be available in case servers go down or another similar emergency happens. But these are exceptional situations that do not apply to the majority of people out there and, therefore, should not be an expectation at all.
Instead, what companies can do to improve work-life balance is to use the ability to be always on for mutual benefit. For example, allowing people to accommodate their personal commitments into their work schedule, or even working from home when there’s a pressing matter holding them back. These are simple ways to value work-life balance that only require good will from the company and commitment from the employee. You can always take it a step further by institutionalizing home office as a regular practice or allowing for flexible working hours.
When addressing work-related stress there are many potential factors, most of which have been covered in other chapters to a certain degree (relationships, job satisfaction, etc). However, here you want to look into an employee’s relationship between input and output or, in other words, how manageable their workload is. There are two ways to go about it. First you have to identify whether the problem lies on the workload itself or on how people manage their duties.
Sometimes processes are not very clear and knowledge on task prioritization is not widespread across the organization. In this case, the solution could be to have an employee with exceptional organizational skills (or an external consultant) give a workshop on task management techniques. Having managers spend some time on defining processes and clearer guidelines for their teams is also an option.
The second possibility is that the workload is indeed too high and impossible to fulfill. In that case, managers should keep an eye out for employees who are constantly doing overtime or working on weekends. If a pattern is observed, it’s the manager’s responsibility to check with them why that is happening and discuss ways to make the work more manageable.
This metric focuses specifically on the physical health of the employees. At this point everyone knows that good, healthy nutrition and regular exercising makes you feel less tired and improves your mood throughout the day. Although some companies see this subject as one to be dealt by the individuals alone, others understand it’s in their best interest to facilitate these practices as best as they can. The reason being it can lead to a positive impact on productivity and happiness, both important factors for developing employee passion.
When thinking of ways to promote physical well-being, you should pay special attention to the workspace itself. For example, are the seats, where employees spend the majority of their time, comfortable and ergonomic? How much lighting is there in the office? What about temperatures, is it too cold or too warm that it can distract or bother people? Remember also to promote good habits, such as regular intervals for people to stretch, walk a bit and get their eyes off the screen.
Going further, it became a trend led by young tech companies to offer drinks and snacks in the workplace as an employee benefit. However, these are often alcoholic and sugary, which is okay, but there is no reason not to offer healthy alternatives as well (or even before coming up with the unhealthy ones).
Other ideas include partnering with a local gym and/or sports center for discounts or full-sponsorship on membership, hiring massotherapy services or even distributing licenses for fitness apps.
Although for some this metric may seem a bit odd at first glance, the reality is that unfortunately workplace harassment is still a thing. To make matters worse, in many companies the victims stay silent for various reasons including fear of retaliation or social stigma. That’s why it’s important that the organization has systems in place to protect the employees and prevent this from happening.
For starters, provide training on workplace “dos and don’ts”, drawing the lines of conduct that distinguishes acceptable from unacceptable behavior. Convey a message of respect from the start (e.g. onboarding), and have the managers set the example by following it. This message should also include the steps to take and the consequences in case of violation. Lastly, HR needs to reassure the employees can speak up and remain protected if something happens.
Recognition & Feedback: Reinforcing engagement through positive feedback loops
Being the ones seeking to set the bar higher for themselves and committing to long-term goals, passionate employees are guided, in part, by the feedback they get. Likewise, it’s difficult to stay motivated or think long-term when there’s no recognition for “running the extra mile”. These are not just motivation tools, they are the foundation of a larger performance appraisal system.
Performance appraisal has a long history starting with Frederick Taylor’s seminal book The Principles of Scientific Management, which advocates that employees should be rewarded not on an hourly rate, but instead based on their productivity. The theory had its fair share of criticisms which we will not get into here, but ultimately the idea behind it brought forth the concept of performance appraisal and we have stuck with it since then. Of course, since then the concept has constantly evolved in order to adapt to the new realities of the workplace.
And the reality today is a much more complex one than that of yesteryear.
Not only will good feedback make sure the organization learns and grows, but recognizing these learnings and risk-taking initiatives also ensures the passionate employee feels validated to keep pushing themselves and the company to the next level.
Because of that, there is no single standard to define how performance appraisals should be carried out across all companies. Regardless, you should understand that everyone, employees, managers and organizations, stands to benefit from the practice of sharing perspectives on each other’s performance. Only then can individuals and companies continually develop themselves in the right direction – a necessity in today’s business environment.
In essence, this is why you should care about recognition and feedback practices in your company. Not only will good feedback make sure the organization learns and grows, but recognizing these learnings and risk-taking initiatives also ensures the passionate employee feels validated to keep pushing themselves and the company to the next level.
With that logic in mind, we split the concept of Recognition & Feedback into five metrics:
- Feedback Frequency
- Feedback Quality
- Recognition Frequency
- Recognition Quality
These five topics address what matters the most for taking action towards employee engagement and passion.
1. Feedback Frequency
Sometimes professionals make the mistake of limiting employee feedback frequency to whenever the proper performance review is supposed to happen. If it’s yearly or quarterly doesn’t matter, that’s the only moment you will get any knowledge regarding how you align in relation to the company’s expectations towards you. This is a mistake, because the practice of feedback should precede these systems. In practice, this means that feedback can run independently and provide opportunities for correcting an issue before it becomes big enough to be brought up in a performance review.
There are several ways to go about it without necessarily creating overly complicated processes. As a manager, feedback should be a topic covered either during the regular one-on-one meetings with your team members, or have a dedicated session of its own with each individual, weekly, bi-weekly or monthly, depending on the necessities they have. Among peers and stakeholders, doing a “project debrief” once a task is over and using that opportunity to provide feedback is one way to go about it. If it’s an extensive project, then do shorter “touch base” feedback sessions after each milestone is reached.
These are just examples, but instead you can promote a more ad-hoc approach, where anyone who has something to say, should just approach the relevant party and talk openly.
2. Feedback Quality
Just as important as having regular feedback, it’s essential to make sure the feedback given is relevant. But how can you distinguish what is quality feedback from what isn’t? It should be constructive, aim at behavior instead of personality, be timely (see Feedback Frequency above), be specific and, above all, it should be respectful. These are factors that must be taken into consideration in order for people to be able to do something about the feedback they are given.
As a company, you can begin by communicating guidelines such as the ones described above. Training managers on how to give feedback and talking about the importance of it for the organization with everyone else are also actions that can be taken to improve overall feedback quality around the company.
3. Recognition Frequency
Similar to what happens with Feedback Frequency, but oftentimes even worse, people make the mistake of not displaying appreciation for their peers as much as they should. That may be because recognition is, in a way, about directly supporting a positive attitude or result enabled by someone else. Unfortunately in our upbringing we are not taught enough about the importance of open praise and giving someone recognition. In the corporate world, fears of giving someone too much spotlight or seeming like an adulator also play a role.
Changing this is usually a long process which involves getting rid of certain insecurities. For example, to avoid the “adulator” scenario, you make it part of the routine team meeting’s agenda that everyone should say at least one good thing about one of their peers in front of everyone else. Although it may sound cheesy, it serves to break the ice and forces people who don’t normally observe the good things in others to pay more attention. The results are genuine. Another idea that has gained traction are the peer-to-peer bonus programs, where any employee can reward another with a small bonus, as long as they justify it openly.
4. Recognition Quality
The worst thing that can happen when a passionate employee puts a game-changing idea out there is to be met with a lukewarm “interesting” as a response. When someone is putting extra effort into bringing their work and the organization forward, it’s very important the company shows appreciation for it. Similar to feedback, it needs to be timely and specific. Keep in mind the behaviors you want to see widespread around the organization and make sure those who have such behaviors receive the recognition they deserve for it.
For example, if you want to encourage people to participate more in the meetings and contribute with ideas, praise openly those who put in the effort to do so and reinforce how that is the desired attitude. Avoid shallow compliments, be detailed about what exactly you like in that person or their idea. You can even make it a guideline for the peer-to-peer bonus program mentioned earlier, that only praises that meet certain criteria are allowed to be accompanied with a bonus. Just be careful not to end up being too limiting and create impossible-to-meet expectations.
For the company to be able to fully benefit from employee passion and continue to feed it, it needs to be open to the changes and ideas that come from within its ranks. Remember, employee passion is about taking leaps forward, instead of small incremental steps. Since passionate employees can be found anywhere in the organization, it’s important to be open regardless of the hierarchical levels.
To make sure the business can continually learn and improve through suggestions from its employees, the HR department needs to create the space for people to voice their ideas. Organizing “open space” meetings around specific topics, where everyone can participate in the discussion and influence decision-making, is one way to do it. Another possibility is to keep an eye on the recurring employee engagement surveys, as you can crowdsource suggestions anonymously.
Above all, the company’s desire to learn needs to be communicated effectively, or else any other effort will fall short of its potential.
Advocacy: Make employee engagement a part of your brand’s message
Every company wants to have a good reputation. And every passionate employee wants to work for a reputable company as well. Nobody is going to give their best for something they do not believe in. Therefore, if your business wants to develop its talents’ full potential it should be working towards making itself a place everyone is proud to work for.
That’s the core concept behind employee advocacy.
Customers will trust the words of a company’s employee more than they would that of its marketing or public relations teams.
Fostering a feeling of pride among your employees is not only beneficial towards increasing engagement and passion, but it also potentially boosts other aspects of your organization directly. Namely recruiting and marketing. That’s because so-called employer advocates would feel naturally compelled to recommend their company to their friends and family as a good place to work.
The same logic applies to vouching for their company’s brand messaging. Customers will trust the words of a company’s employee more than they would that of its marketing or public relations teams.
It should not be seen as an attempt of manipulation, however. Instead, this is about setting the example by aligning a positive message with corresponding action. In fact, if the attempts to instill trust and pride aren’t genuine, the employees will be the first to notice.
As you can probably tell by now, there are three main feelings connected to Advocacy:
These are the three metrics we will be talking about.
Organizations attempt to bring in the best talents to work for them. However, do these talents feel the organization corresponds to their expectations once they are in? Does the company care about its employees’ views on the product, vision or as an employer in general? If the answers are positive, then you should seek to turn these employees into ambassadors of your company’s message to the world.
Create a strong communication that raises awareness about product launches, new features or offers. Involve them in the process of building your employer’s brand, for example by interviewing passionate people and promoting their stories internally and externally. Make it easy for employees to promote the company they work for.
One aspect of major importance for advocacy, maybe even a prerequisite, is how the company is viewed by its employees. People are proud of someone when said individual exhibits characteristics they identify themselves with. The same logic applies to the relationship between people and businesses.
On a very general level, there are moral values we all admire, such as honesty and consistency. Using consistency as an example to understand how a company can start building up pride among its employees, you could ask them: do they think the company delivers on its promises, in terms of the services or products it offers? And do they feel like they contribute to that? For this, it’s very important that everyone, at all levels of hierarchy, understands how their work fits into the big picture. Managers are the main responsible for this communication, as they fundamentally connect the team with the organization’s larger goals.
Going deeper into exhibiting admirable behavior, a company that claims to be family-friendly might want to look into introducing policies that allows for more flexible working hours for parents, or partnering with a local childcare to offer discounts for employees. A company that claims to care about the environment might look into going completely paperfree. Find out what do the people who work at your organization care about, and act on it. Give them something to be proud of.
When the company is committed to developing employee passion, it should also nurture loyalty. After all, the passionate employee thinks long-term. The problem is the company won’t see this thinking bear fruits if the employee doesn’t feel naturally attracted to stay. Loyalty is a feeling that can save a company during hard times too.
Loyalty can be built as a consequence of other initiatives in all areas mentioned throughout this ebook. However, what is specific to loyalty is the idea that the employee will commit to the company’s best interests, even willing to take risks alongside the company. This will only happen if they sense a similar commitment from the company towards themselves or towards a greater purpose. The latter can be exemplified through the relationship between NGOs and volunteer work, or sports teams and its die-hard fans. You should not expect free work from your employees, of course, but give them a greater cause to work for and the best environment to reach it, and you might see them stick around through the turbulences along the way.
Empowerment: Employee autonomy as a conditioner for higher performance and engagement
Even if you are a manager who is still on the fence on the whole employee engagement and employee passion topic, you should still consider the lessons in this chapter. In fact, if there’s one idea you should take away from this ebook, it’s that empowering employees has a direct effect on performance.
... when they are autonomous to make important decisions, changes or improvements, they will most likely bring in ideas those on managerial levels could not think of.
The reason why employee empowerment is so effective lies in its definition. Empowerment is about people having access to information, tools and, most of all, autonomy to make the decisive calls that impact their work. There’s logic behind it: the people doing the work know best how their day to day work plays out after all. Therefore, when they are autonomous to make important decisions, changes or improvements, they will most likely bring in ideas those on managerial levels could not think of. These increments, big or small, are highly valued in today’s competitive scenario.
According to the theory, there are two main approaches to addressing empowerment. One is the socio-structural approach, which addresses empowerment from an organizational perspective: changes in hierarchical structures, practices and policies in order to give the employee autonomy. The other is the psychological approach, which addresses empowerment from an individual perspective: developing the employee’s capabilities, purposefulness and motivation in order to make them self-confident enough to take risks and make decisions on their own.
Both approaches are correct and necessary, but the levels which your organization needs to adjust itself towards one or the other will vary. So in order to fully comprehend where your organization stands, we split Empowerment into five metrics. They are:
- 1. Role & Tasks
- Workflow Processes
- Equipment & Tools
- Performance Management
They can be tied to both, the socio-structural and psychological approaches, as we discuss below.
1. Role & Tasks
Certain professions, especially older ones, come with self-explanatory titles. For example, when someone tells you they are a cardiologist, or an English teacher, you have a good idea of what they do on a daily basis. However, newer professions, like the ones in the creative economy, don’t enjoy that same level of clarity. A project manager in a software company has very little overlap with their peer working for a logistics carrier. That’s why it’s important that companies don’t assume a new hire, no matter how senior they are, comes imbued with all the knowledge regarding their role. In fact, even in more traditional roles there will still be some specific processes unique to each company.
With businesses changing at a fast pace, it’s natural that tasks change and get more complex over time. To make sure people know the full scope of their role, ideally managers should already have a draft before the talent is onboard. Once they are in, sit together with them for some time to introduce what you had in mind, and ask them what they have to add.
Being inclusive from the start is key, it allows the employee to feel responsible as they help shape the role. Don’t forget to document it and go back to it periodically, as the role will likely evolve over time, and new hires could benefit from previous knowledge to get up to speed even faster.
2. Workflow Processes
As organizations grow, the structure becomes exponentially more complex. Some of the issues that arise from this complexity, are that workflows between different departments become misaligned, there is more bureaucracy slowing things down and communication becomes siloed.
In order to avoid that, managers of different departments have to work together. Top management should lay the foundation that facilitates cross-departmental communication, as well as look into what is hindering cooperation and actively fight against it. Get ideas from the employees themselves to understand what the bottlenecks are, where bureaucracy is perceived the most hindering, and work on improving these areas.
3. Equipment & Tools
Passion can drive an employee to go above and beyond, that is true. However, you can’t ignore the practical side of things, which is the fact they need to be equipped with the right tools and undergo the training necessary to know how to apply them. Remember, one big aspect of passion is the desire to create new knowledge, and this can also be related to optimizing the usage of existing tools or discovering new, better ones. Since they are the ones using those tools, they would know best.
Therefore, managers could, for example, involve the team in the process of testing and selecting new tools, or even give multiple choices of equipment according to the user’s preferences. Employees should be incentivized to research and make the case to introduce new tools into the system as long as they bring a boost in efficiency.
Autonomy is one of the words most associated with the idea of empowerment. It addresses the idea people should have the power to make decisions over matters that directly affect their work. Say a customer service employee with a high level of autonomy could decide to refund a client who received a defective product, rather than tell the client to wait for several days while they get approval from their supervisor.
Autonomy is also about giving everyone freedom to choose how to approach their tasks. For many jobs nowadays, as long as the employee can bring in the results, it really isn’t relevant whether the person is in the office from 9 to 5, or from 11 to 7. So in order to incentivize more autonomy, the company can create clear policies that allow for flexibility in working hours, have managers attribute more ownership to employees and hire people with entrepreneurial profile. Distributing managerial power over decision-making as far as specific tasks are concerned is another good way to increase autonomy.
Do not, however, forget to work together with the employees to understand how comfortable they are with making certain decisions and give them the support necessary to grow confident.
5. Performance Management
As important as giving passionate employees a choice on how they approach their work, it’s vital to align the goals with them. This is to help them know which direction to take and optimize how to get there. It also increases accountability, which is a natural reflection of empowerment.
For everyone to be aligned on performance management, the company could set up a process for mandatory performance evaluations to be done periodically. Said process should focus on individuals’ results and serve to guide the alignment of goals moving forward. Goals should be discussed by everyone in the team. It should not be a matter of whether said goals are ambitious or not, but rather that it creates transparency and requires every party to commit and to know where everyone stands. Again, accountability is key here.
In order for a performance evaluation system to be successful, however, it needs to be well communicated internally. One suggestion is to organize workshops to teach everyone how to go through the performance review process, both from an evaluator and evaluatee standpoint. Be open to questions and HR should be prepared to step in and mediate potential conflicts – which despite being mitigated through goal alignment, can still happen for various reasons.
Culture: Building a strong foundation for employee engagement
Organizations are composed of different people working together towards a common goal. Over time, the commonalities among them, in the way they think and act at work, are what come to define the prevailing culture. The culture ultimately pervades every decision, process and development inside the organization. That’s why great companies seek to strengthen their culture, acting not just as businesses, but as communities. A strong culture facilitates employee passion because it creates alignment between the individual’s desires and that of the larger group.
Organizational culture as a theory has been explored since the 1950s, with the publication of The Changing Culture of a Factory by Dr. Elliott Jacques. Around the 1980s the idea started catching on inside corporations and one can say it is a well-established concept by now. Since then, terms like company values, ethics, mission and vision, have become businesses’ staples and are commonly used to describe a company’s culture. However, these are just components of the culture and sometimes, when they are not properly lived, they are not even part of the prevailing culture at all. Then why are they important?
The answer lies in the first sentence of this chapter: “different people working together towards a common goal”. Mission and vision must be the guiding lights, the common goal, while values and ethics should be the common ethos through which people can identify themselves and work together.
Creating a strategy without considering how it aligns with the culture is missing an opportunity.
Another important component of organizational culture is the company’s strategy. The strategy is there to show the path the organization must follow in order to achieve its goals. Creating a strategy without considering how it aligns with the culture is missing an opportunity. It makes sense after all: if your company’s approach (dictated by its culture) supports its strategy, it becomes a lot easier to execute on it.
For example, if the strategy involves disrupting a specific market segment, having a culture that’s about taking careful steps and avoiding conflicts will make it very difficult to execute on that strategy. However, if the culture in place is that of experimentation, bold risk taking and challenging the status quo, the strategy feels like a natural step.
As you can tell at this point, culture impacts the organization as a whole. It must be carefully built and maintained in conjunction with the other elements described across the ebook in order to spark employee passion. In order to get a full understanding of how your company culture is lived on a day-to-day basis, we look into four metrics:
- Vision & Mission
Let’s dive into each one of them.
1. Vision & Mission
Every company these days has their vision and mission statements written down somewhere. But in your company’s case, are you able to tell whether your employees know it by heart? And if they do, do they believe in it and support it? Oftentimes, these statements feel empty despite being filled with ambitious words and that’s exactly the problem. An authentic vision that’s encouraged by the leadership and inspires its employees is one of the first steps to make people feel like they are contributing to something greater than the individuals.
There are a few ways to encourage the organization to embrace its vision and mission statements. One such way is to simplify it. There are dozens of methods out there. Marketing specialist Guy Kawasaki, for example, suggests the idea of creating a three-word Mantra instead of a long-winded Mission statement. Another way is to communicate it often, make it part of the conversations whenever decisions are being made. When the decisions revolve around the company’s vision and mission instead of short term results, the passionate employee feels supported to think how to bring long term impact – and a reason to do so.
When talking business, having an objective isn’t enough. You need to plan how you are going to achieve that goal, and that requires strategizing. In fact, strategy is as much about what to do as it is about what not to do. This should be understood on all levels of the organization, especially if you want to get everyone employing the best of their abilities at work, otherwise it’s a wasted effort.
One mistake managers can make is to have employees feel as if they are not part of the company strategy. This can happen when it’s not communicated properly, such as communicating it to everyone several months after it’s supposed to already be in place or when it’s only shared among managers and there’s no care given as to how it will be delivered to everyone else.
The bottomline is, even if you can’t involve everyone in the elaboration of the strategy, be transparent about the process, its conclusion and iterate based on the feedback received from the teams. After all, they are the ones making it happen.
The world is full of talents with completely different views on how they approach their work. Companies are wise to thrive on this diversity. However, to do so companies need to provide a common ground which everyone can identify themselves and their peers with. This is where having a set of core values comes into play. The values, like other components of culture, need to be consistent and they need to be known.
Like with the mission and vision, values need to be introduced as part of the organization’s daily life. For example, in the hiring process you should ask questions that address company fit and alignment with the values, and treat them as importantly as having technical skills. Performance reviews can also be coupled together with the values, as it reinforces the idea of mutual identification and acting in accordance with the community’s best interests.
This is a component of increasing importance in today’s business environment. It’s more than just pushing for healthy business practices, it’s about social inclusiveness and sustainability as well. Companies committed to long-term impact see ethics as a requirement for real value creation, not a hindrance.
Once this commitment is in the management’s mind, there needs to be action. Increasing the participation of females in leadership roles, is one such action. Another is to establish systems that prevent one’s bias from dictating important decisions such as hiring or promotion, and thus, giving equal opportunities to all. For example, by creating small committees to make such decisions instead of leaving it up to one person alone. As for the environment, in today’s digital world some companies have gone entirely paper-free. Others actively recycle or offer support to volunteering initiatives.
Thank you for reading through our Beyond Employee Engagement: A Guide to Employee Passion ebook!
As you could see, employee passion and engagement can be a boon to your organization. However, it’s a topic that requires a deep look into all areas of the business and lots of hard work if you are serious about it.
We hope to have convinced you that the benefits for both, the company and its employees, are certainly worth the effort.
If you want to learn more about how Honestly can help you explore all elements vital to employee engagement, don’t hesitate to contact us!
Thiago Leite, Head of Content Marketing
and the Honestly Team
- Mindset: Changing the way you think to fulfill your potential – Carol Dweck
- A Theory of Human Motivation – Abraham Maslow
- Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness – Shasta Nelson
- The Principles of Scientific Management – Frederick Winslow Taylor
- Knowledge-Worker Productivity – Peter Drucker
- A Sociology of Empowerment: The Relevance of Communicative Contexts for Workplace Change – Linda Weidenstedt
- Employee Advocacy: The Ultimate Handbook – Jörgen Sundberg
- The Changing Culture of a Factory – Elliot Jacques
- Corporate Culture: The Ultimate Strategic Asset – Eric G. Flamholtz and Yvonne Randle