Last week I was in Houston on a business trip. My colleague Alex and I were there to work with the top 100 leaders of a Fortune 500 company.
We stayed at a Hilton Hotel in the downtown area. I hadn’t been to this particular hotel before and it was absolutely beautiful.
As I entered the lobby, I saw a pull up banner which proclaimed that Hilton was number one on Fortune’s best companies to work for list in 2019. That’s such a great accomplishment.
I was curious what I was going to find in my interactions with hotel staff. Was this just a banner, or was I going to find something real in the culture deserving of that recognition?
I had a great interaction when I checked-in to my hotel. But the cool experience happened the next morning.
We went to the main hotel restaurant for breakfast. We were greeted by the host and then a colleague of hers came by. David was so authentically enthusiastic, it was infectious. He was the manager of the restaurant. He was so happy to see us, it felt as if we were visiting an old friend.
He escorted us to our table and told us that his colleague Norma, would be taking care of us during breakfast. He then told us that she was the employee of the month. Then I said, “Wow, what do you have to do to be an employee of the month, in the world’s best company to work for?”
David got excited once he knew about their recognition. We talked about his experience in the company and the many positive changes he’s seen over the years. We took a quick photo.
Later that day I decided to read up on Hilton’s story. It’s a remarkable business and cultural transformation, led by CEO Chris Nassetta. He started in 2007 after Blackstone purchased Hilton. Nassetta said the company was lost back then and didn’t know where they were going. Since then he launched several initiatives to drive higher levels of employee engagement and turnaround the financial performance. It’s an amazing story. One that I felt first-hand as I interacted with employees of the company like David and Norma.
This got me thinking about some work I did years ago on employee engagement. In fact, my colleague Dr. David Weiss and I talk about this in our book, The Leadership Gap.
We gained some valuable insights about the drivers of engagement through many consulting assignments.
Six enduring drivers of engagement emerged from this work which was based on interviews with senior executives and hundreds of employees at all levels and across several industries.
As I revisited our work, I found it fascinating how many of these drivers are still relevant today. I also saw many of them at the Hilton Hotel. Let’s have a look at them.
- Being part of a winning organization: Let’s face it, humans like to work. We heard employees tell us how great it was for them to be part of a company that was a winner. Winning meant different things. For some it was about industry leading financial performance. For others it was about being recognized as a great place to work, or being seen as a recognized thought leader among customers. It can also come from a company that has an ambitious vision, core purpose and well-articulated business strategy in place.
Having a strong organizational brand is also a powerful contributor to feeling like part of a winning team. A strong brand can be derived through a respected reputation within an industry, through an aspiring vision, and through being a consistent provider of innovative products and services for customers.
- Working for admired leaders: Admired leaders are another driver of engagement that must exist throughout the organization and at all levels. The sense of loyalty that employees can demonstrate to their admired leaders is often remarkable. A related factor is the confidence that employees have in the senior executive team of their organization. If confidence is low, this translates into a low level of belief in the ability of an organization to succeed in the future.
- Having positive working relationships: Employees value positive working relationships with high-caliber and professional colleagues. Those who are highly engaged describe being excited about coming to work. We work best in teams that care about each other, where everyone has one another’s back and we have fun together.
- Doing meaningful work: Meaningful work is often defined as work that makes a difference or has an impact on the organization. Employees often want to see how their work impacts the organization’s vision and strategy. They also want to know that the organization’s customers are “touched” by their work. I often hear employees tell me that they want to know that their work has impact and has made a difference.
- Getting recognition and appreciation: Recognition is another important driver of employee engagement. Recognition may mean monetary rewards and compensation, but it also can refer to the appreciation and direct feedback that employees receive from managers. This recognition and appreciation shows employees that they are valued and that their contribution is acknowledged by the organization. Recognition also means that leaders notice the often-unnoticed things that employees do to make their organizations successful. The surprising thing is that many managers rarely provide recognition to the people they lead. It’s such a missed opportunity in many organizations.
- Living a balanced life: Work-life balance is an important factor that drives their engagement. Organizations that create cultures that value balance, and assist employees to achieve life balance, will be rewarded with highly engaged employees. Work-life balance does not mean that employees are not loyal, not committed to their organizations; it means that employees want to lead whole lives, not lives solely centered on work.
As you review these six drivers of engagement, how do you feel you and your company are doing?
This week’s gut check for leaders asks: are you driving high engagement in your company?
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© 2019 Dr. Vince Molinaro (Leadership Contract Inc.)