It has been widely proven that employee engagement is directly linked to the profitability and sustainability of a business. Why is it, then, that—according to the Gallup organization (which has done extensive research on the subject)—only 11 percent of all employees worldwide are engaged in their work? Shouldn't engagement be a higher priority for business leaders?
Engagement means being committed to something or someone in an organization. This commitment can be rational (seeing one's job as serving a financial, developmental, or professional self-interest) or emotional (where one values, enjoys, or believes strongly in what one does). In either instance, however, even engagement is not always enough. There needs to be something more.
Our research revealed several companies where employees possess strong emotional attachments that have led to remarkable results and exceptional performance. Employees in these companies are more than engaged; they are entangled—with the drive for positive employee-company dedication and commitment running constantly at the deepest levels, resulting in a sustainable competitive advantage for each company.
Although entangled may sound negative, entanglement in this case is an extremely strong positive force that draws people together. A key difference between engaged and entangled employees is the tension that arises from the knowledge that things can always be better. Entangled employees are never satisfied with simply being good. They want to be great, and that mentality is what affects the profitability and sustainability of their respective businesses.
Entangled employees are like Olympians who must interlace all aspects of their lives—diet, sleep, exercise, and training—into a finely honed discipline directed toward achieving one's personal best "gold" performance. Entangled employees' quests for better personal and organizational performances lead to a higher plane, one where they see themselves as part of a larger organization and as team members who must rely on others rather than on individual achievement alone.
Entangled employees focus on making collaborative decisions that yield the best possible results for the organization. They devote their discretionary thinking to tough organizational issues and challenges rather than self-interests. Entangled employees see the world from a much broader perspective, approaching their work with a greater understanding of how performance on each job contributes to individual, team, and organizational success. They can be found at any level of a business.
Eight Essential Elements
Entangled employees operate within unique cultures, in which the following eight elements exist. The synergy and magnetism that arise as each element is strengthened become the distinctive competence that competitors cannot imitate, leading to a unique competitive advantage.
1. Having leaders who do extraordinary things. The primacy of senior visionaries, the transformative leaders who shape a performance-excellence culture, is evident in entangled cultures. Transformative leadership operates at all levels within these entangled cultures. Everyone has leadership responsibilities because they are able to influence the actions of others through their behaviors.
2. A strong ethical organization. Entangled organizations have explicit core values, such as respect, trust, ethical conduct, and caring, that extend to all stakeholders. Daily actions reflect a meaningful pronouncement of what each organization holds dear. Trust between suppliers and customers grows each time an obligation is met and a promise is kept.
3. A focus of all the human capital. Entangled employees create world-class organizations through shared visions requiring cross-functional teamwork and elevated thinking about potential solutions. Setting and holding to cascading performance metrics—linking individual actions plans with strategic and operational goals—is a critical element for achieving unit and company success.
4. The use of processes to guide performance. The first step for understanding any organization is defining the key processes that deliver value to customers. Entangled organizations manage and improve these processes constantly. Process improvement stems from the alignment of human capital within each process.
5. Increasing individual self-efficacy. Leaders within entangled cultures focus first on the individual, building on a set of core values that respect the dignity of each person. Leaders must support the will to excel, which begins with building trust. Leaders must develop self-confidence and esteem through personal example and constant encouragement.
6. Giving freedom and responsibility within a culture of discipline. Freedom to operate begins with clear definitions of each employee's role and performance expectations, which helps to define one's area of responsibility. Discipline relates to appropriate conduct in any situation, which in turn relates to core values and desired behaviors. Freedom also means deciding how best to reach one's goals while helping one's organization excel.
7. Hardwiring discretionary thinking and actions. Entangled companies create the structures and behaviors that result in high employee commitment. Readily identifying errors, conducting post-mortems after every event, and fostering open discussions that lead to continuous improvements reinforce and encourage discretionary thinking.
8. Guiding the transformation process to remarkable results. Creating an entangled, world-class company requires progressive and continual improvement guided by Kotter's eight-step model for major change. Building self-efficacy and discretionary thinking requires pervasive trust rooted in relationships between and among stakeholders.
Dr. Ray Benedetto, D.M., is a retired United States Air Force colonel. He is the founder of a consulting firm that helps leaders build high-performing, character-based cultures, and teaches leadership and strategic planning for the University of Phoenix Chicago Campus MBA program. Molly Meyer is a marketing professional and writer. They are the coauthors of It's My Company Too! How Entangled Companies Move Beyond Employee Engagement for Remarkable Results. For more information, visit www.ItsMyCompanyToo.com.