2018 was a banner year in employee engagement. Gallup found that 34% of employees surveyed were “Engaged”. Employees who are “Engaged” are the ones who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace. This was the highest percentage of employees to say they were Engaged since Gallup started measuring in 2000. But even with these high levels, 66% of those surveyed continue to say, “I’m not feeling Engaged”. With a roaring economy that’s at almost full employment, no company can afford to have so many employees ready to leave their job when a slightly better offer comes along.
Employee satisfaction/engagement surveys can be a powerful tool to help you understand the mood, morale, and motivation level of your employees. Let’s take a look at how engagement surveys can be broken down between what can be addressed through management directives and what would benefit from a change in the organization’s culture. Then I’ll walk through how The Three Pillars of Improv™ can help build and maintain the soft skills that will make the desired changes.
The Low Hanging Fruit: Information And Empowerment
- Is the employee empowered in the organization in a way which allows them to be successful?
The first set of questions I’d like to look at are the information and empowerment questions on an engagement survey. These are mostly aimed at discovering how the employee feels about their place in the structure of the organization and how information is disseminated to them. Because the feedback to these questions can be relatively easy to understand many organizations consider these questions to be the low hanging fruit of the survey. The solutions tend to be the easiest to identify and quickest to implement.
Let’s look at a common question on engagement surveys, “Do you have a clear understanding of the strategic objectives of the organization?” If employees say they feel they don’t understand where the organization is heading then management has something concrete which they can take actions to improve.
To clear up a feeling around a lack of information about the organization’s strategic goals, management can take several steps to improve how knowledge is transferred throughout the organization. For example, C-level leadership could host in-person town hall meetings with Q&A about their goals and initiatives. Additionally, they could direct marketing to create a newsletter with updates about where the organization is heading and what employees can do to help meet these goals.
A powerful way to help employees feel empowered is to set up solutions in one-on-one meetings. In these meetings, managers discuss the roadblocks employees feel are getting in their way and what management can do to remove them.
Changes in the employee’s satisfaction due to implementing these initiatives may take a while to work their way through to the survey responses. However, low hanging fruit like this provides management with the opportunity to quickly take decisive actions towards solutions. Employees will see these steps being implemented and after they believe that management is committed to these changes over the long term the employee feelings believe in the effort being made and feel more engaged. Employee feelings will shift… office culture will change… and survey scores will reflect this.
The Hard To Reach High Up Fruit: Soft skills
- To what extent does the employee feel part of a successful team?
- Is the employee’s relationship with management effective?
- Does the employee feel they are valued?
It is often the invisible factors which have the highest impact on employee happiness. A recent report on employee engagement by TINYpulse shows the organization’s culture reigns supreme when it comes to employee engagement. “The top factors related to employee happiness turn out to be the intangible ones: interpersonal relationships, culture, and work environment. If your employees don’t like your culture, it’s impossible to take your organization where you want it to go.”
So much of an employee’s engagement is related to the organization’s culture. Management’s challenge in raising engagement scores is to find effective ways to make improvements which will impact the soft skills question responses.
For example, a common question on an employee engagement survey is, “Is your team an inspiration for you to do your best at the job?” Imagine your employees gave you low marks on this question. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just give your team lead the directive: “Go out there and make your team more inspirational!” and *POOF* everyone begins to work together like a well-oiled machine? If that’s worked for you in the past, that’s awesome! Most team leads I’ve seen would shrug their shoulders and say, “Great! I’d love to! But… I thought I was already being an inspiration. How do I get there from here?” (Spoiler Alert: Answers are below…)
Another question which appears on employee engagement surveys is, “Do you feel connected to your coworkers?” An important finding in the TINYpulse report was that “Coworkers are the number one thing employee’s love about their job.” Of course, that finding could be read to say, “The rest of my job is so awful that the people at the office, no matter how rotten they may be, are the thing I most look forward to about coming to work.” But let’s toss the pessimism aside and assume that this response means, “I like my job. And with that said I really enjoy being with my coworkers.” If only there was a way to effectively cultivate those coworkers relationships so everyone felt more satisfied with their job and gave us higher marks on the engagement survey…
Using The Three Pillars of Improv™ To Build A Positive Office Culture
The closer your employees feel towards one another, the more productive your team will be. You’ll also find they provide better service to their customers and interact in a more positive way with employees across the organization. The Three Pillars of Improv are designed to build a feeling of teamwork, empathy, and creativity. Once employees begin to use the tools we teach in our workshops, they are likely to form the close bonds with their co-workers which are so important in raising engagement scores. OK, so how can you use the Three Pillars of Improv in your office to create these results?
The first Pillar of Improv is to always say, “Yes! And…” Now, this doesn’t mean you always have to agree with what some else says, and it certainly does not turn you into a Jim Carrey style Yes Man (or woman). A “Yes! And…” frame of mind means that you are actively engaging with the people you are talking with in a positive way. You’re looking for the best outcome for everyone. When you say “Yes!” in a conversation you are acknowledging that you fully heard and understood what the other person said to you. Saying “And…” has you working with what you heard the other person say and moving the conversation forward. When people actively listen to each other in this way it helps to build closer, more trusting relationships.
The Second Pillar of Improv is to suspend judgments. When someone is talking to you, how often are you thinking ahead about what you’re going to say once… they… finally… stop… talking? We’re human. And all humans want to think ahead so we can apply patterns that have worked for us in the past to our present situation. From time to time this means our mind wanders when we’re talking to someone even though we know we should be paying closer attention. Working with the second pillar reminds us of how important it is to quiet the conversation we have with ourselves in our heads. We learn to suspend our judgments about what the other person is saying so we are not thinking, “Is what they’re saying good/bad, right/wrong, important/fluffy?” When we suspend those judgments, we can be fully engaged in the conversation. The second pillar is all about listening first to understand and only after that do we speak to be understood. Learning effective techniques to listen more effectively helps build a positive office culture. That, of course, leads to improved employee engagement.
The Third Pillar of Improv is to always make your partner look good. Imagine an office where there are no ego battles, everyone is altruistic, and everyone is working to lift the other people up to their maximum potential. Like Lennon said, “You may think I’m a dreamer” but I believe that this is the most important change to a culture that a company can institute.
Don’t get me wrong, competition when done right, is a great thing. When competition is used to challenge and encourage each other to do our best, we can only get stronger as a team. The “Big Learning” from the third pillar is that I don’t need to beat anyone else down even when I’m competing at full strength. The part I really love about the third pillar is that when I’m working to make you look good, and I trust that you’re doing the same, the dividends paid to both of us are amazing. Bickering and squabbles disappear, teams are more productive, silos disappear, and the positivity is infectious.
If your office culture is more like The Game of Thrones than The Flash, imagine how powerful it would be to have the type of supportive culture in your office which the third pillar creates. Now imagine interacting with your clients with the intention of “Today we are going to make you look like a superhero.” How much more successful could your organization be if you were using the three pillars every day?
Practice Makes You Better
The fruit that comes from building a culture with effective soft skills is higher up on the tree, no doubt about it. It takes time, effort, and consistency to move these responses in a positive direction on an engagement survey. Many companies say they want to improve the culture, but almost as many fail to follow through with conviction. It’s important for management to touch base with their teams and continuously strive for improv(e)ment.
When you participate in an ImprovThis a workshop, at the end of a session you’ll be asked to think about a key takeaway that you want to bring to life. Next, you’ll be asked to find at least one specific way over the next seven days you will take what you learned in the workshop and implement it in real life. The next step is to schedule a meeting with another workshop participant at the end of those seven days. You’ll get together and discuss how both of your goals went… what worked for you and what you could have done differently if it didn’t go as expected. This discussion could be a one on one, but it is just as effectively done in a small group setting with several people who were in the workshop together. We encourage you to continue to set new goals and have weekly meetings to talk about how your goals went. The longer organizations continue to set and meet these goals, the more likely the lessons learned in the workshop will become a part of the culture.
Watch Your Engagement Scores Rise
At the end of the day, surveys are only a measurement tool. They can give you some insights you may not have been able to see in any other way, but surveys are not solutions in and of themselves. Nor should their results be used as the end goal. If your culture is one made up of saying “Yes! And…”, suspending judgements, and making your partner look good, chances are the engagement scores will be the icing on the cake of an awesome workplace culture.
Steve earned his MBA from DePaul University and has worked at Fortune 50 and Ad Age 50 companies. However, he found his true passion when he took his first improv class at the Second City Training Center in 2002. Since then he has focused on training people in communication and leadership skills through the use of the "Three Pillars of Improv". He worked with countless teams instructing them in how to communicate more effectively, build closer knit teams, grow their emotional intelligence, and create a positive corporate culture. In his spare time, he still performs short-form improv on a regular basis.