5 Ways to Influence a Culture of Engagement


October 28, 2010

Employee engagement has been on my mind continuously.  For as long as I can remember and regardless of the organization I’ve worked for, I’ve been part of an employee engagement team.  Like many things, as professionals we know what engagement is and that we need employees to feel engaged to achieve the goals of the organization.  What we all struggle with is what can we do to influence the work culture so that employees are more engaged.

Several months ago I wrote about using this blog as a collaboration tool in order to learn more about employee engagement.  Specifically, I said I wanted to show:

  • Engagement means different things to different employees
  • If an employee is engaged, you should be able to see evidence of it every day
  • Engagement is an ongoing cycle, not an annual survey

There were some great contributions from HR and business colleagues from around the country.  Most notably, people responded that engagement happens when you feel valued for what you do, when your supervisor shows they are committed to you and your development, and when you’re appreciated for excelling at work that may not (directly) be part of your job.  Lisa Rosendahl and Paul Hebert had some impressions about what employee engagement means that I’d like to share.  Lisa said that it’s, “people choosing to come to work and give it their best.”  Paul added that it’s, “the PROACTIVE application of the knowledge, skills, and abilities,” of the employees.  Those are all great descriptors that capture engagement.

Having a working definition allows us to bring it back to the important question of what we can do to influence the culture to promote an engaged workforce.

  1. Foster an innovative environment
  2. Provide challenging work assignments
  3. Give recognition daily
  4. Connect employees to the organization’s mission
  5. Be intentional, honest, and interact with integrity

Remember, engaging employees is far more than a pep rally or a fun event.  While those have value, it’s the day-to-day interactions with individuals that matter.  What do you think?  What other ways do you try to influence a culture that promotes engagement?


  • Great post Trish !! The only thing I’d “add” is that HR and companies should “expect” engagement from people. Employees want to be engaged and do well. HR can foater this by making engagement a tangible fact of the company’s fabric. Don’t make it a program I live it every day. HR must model this. If HR isn’t engaged, don’t expect others to be.

  • The only thing I can add is to make certain that employees feel like they are integral to the big picture. This could be considered connecting them to the organisation’s mission, but making the employee feel they are integral to the mission can give a bigger sense of relevance, which can spark passion for the job. This is no small task, for certain, as many people lack passion for their jobs; they just want a paycheque.

    An example I can give is in the band I play in, the Human Buffet. I admit, rather than taking the creativity bull by the horns and getting gored (like usual), I just learn the tunes, play the gigs and get paid.

    Hired gun? Yep; however, since all of the songs are originals, I have to create the drum parts and even the recorded stuff for our upcoming rap song. I am still 1/3 of the creative vision of this band (since there are 3 people), therefore, I feel engaged.

    Good stuff, as always.

  • Thanks Trish, My focus has always been “how do you translate the engagement” into making money for the business( all else follows) my “bridge of engagement” was developed for that purpose.
    You are correct with only 25% engagement in the average US org. it speaks to probably 50% of your workforce is not working for the business.
    Engagement is the key focus of managers and the key skill is the translation of what they do into creating an inclusive environment for the purpose of the customer.

  • Good comments.

    My observation comes from over 30 years experience working/leading in volunteer organizations, in addition to my org consulting work. It’s a great place to learn how to keep people engaged, because if they aren’t, they don’t show up! The organization ceases to exist.

    My 3 rules of thumb:
    Give people a say in what will be done and how it will be done.
    Thank liberally; blame never.
    Expect volunteerism and move your ego aside to make space for it.

    I have encapsulated these and other things in a white paper I recently wrote for business organizations called “Line of Sight Leadership”.


    Thanks for getting the ball rolling on this topic.

  • All very nice ideas…two more ideas to consider:

    1. If you want innovation, stop punishing for mistakes. I was in one job where we had a monthly award called “Biggest Screw-up of the Month.” It was presented to the person who made the biggest mistake that month by the previous month’s recipient. The purpose: To reinforce our philiosophy and underlying goal of creativity.

    2. Give people guidelines, not rules. When you give people strict rules to follow (e.g. those multiple 5-inch thick volumes of corporate policies) you paint yourself in a corner, and take away a manager’s ability to manage and treat people as individuals. Rules reduce and prevent engagement and innovation…guidelines help it blossom.

  • Fostering an innovative environment and connecting employees to the organization’s mission are helpful. To do so, employees need to be given autonomy and an understanding of the organization and the role they play. People crave meaning. Most organization kill the ability to achieve that at work. A big part of what is involved in creating engagement is breaking out of practices that cause people to disengage. It is messier to manage autonomous people (herding cats can be an appropriate analogy). But it is effective. And once you make the transition it can be much easier to manage engaged people that are dynamically responding to what should be done instead of waiting for direction.

  • Hi Trish,
    I think this is a great topic and would like to add my two cents/ways to influence a culture of engagement:
    – Celebrate examples of exceptional customer service and share success stories.
    – Develop informal leaders who help spread culture and create a reputation (to help employees realize that the unit is greater than the sum of its parts).

  • Trish, your list is dead on and your concept of “foster a work culture” is also correct. As you clearly understand, you cannot foist engagement on employees. You can only foster an environment in which they want to engage.

    We believe a culture of recognition is the one that best encourages engagement. We’ve proven it with numerous customers that have increased engagement scores by double digits within 12 months of implementing a strategic recognition program that encourages frequent, timely, specific recognition of actions and behaviors that reflect your company values and contribute to your strategic objectives.

    If I could be so bold, might I recommend to you our book my CEO, Eric Mosley, and I just published on this topic — winning with a Culture of Recognition. http://www.winningwithacultureofrecognition.com

Comments are closed.

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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