Creating an Engaging Culture

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe once said, “Instruction does much, but encouragement does everything.” Many studies bolster this view, showing a strong link between engaged employees and higher levels of productivity and profitability. (In just one example, Gallup found that companies ranked in the top quartile for employee engagement are 18% more productive and 12% more profitable than those in lower quartiles.)

What do successful organizations, those with the most engaged employees, have in common? Here are time-tested principles I’ve observed in great organizations:

1. People respond to a clear, compelling mission. Why does the organization exist, and what are we trying to achieve? That should be clear in a practical way to every functional area. A clear focus, consistently reinforced by the leader, is key to pulling people in, aligning objectives and driving action.

2. It’s what you do, not what you say, that matters. There are countless organizations that codify and post their values, but then tend to encourage a different set of behaviors through policies and actions. When it comes to influence, actions always win out over words.

3. Effective communication cultivates trust. Communication creates meaning and direction for people. Effective leaders are predisposed to keeping their people in the know.

4. Listening encourages buy-in and support. Those who have studied leadership point out that the visions of some of history’s greatest leaders often came from others around them. And when people have a stake in an idea, they tend to work harder to bring about its success.

5. People tend to live up to expectations. Your experiences were probably like mine: The coaches, teachers and business mentors who expected the most weren’t the easiest. But because they believed in me, I always tried a bit harder to live up to their expectations. And, by the way, sincere recognition goes a long way, including with your youngest employees (Gen-y).

6. Who you are is more important than any “technique.” The reality is, we trust and perform for leaders who are genuine, predictable on matters of principle, and who make their positions known. Convictions, sense of fairness, consistency of values, belief in the capabilities of people — these things have much more impact than any motivational approach ever could!

(A longer version of this post is available at