Engagement: the core of a high performance culture

Engaged employees perform in superior ways to others, and their organisations deliver superior results in the marketplace. This is at the essence of high performance culture. Source: Thinkstock

When designing organisational elements to improve performance, a fundamental consideration in this process is how changes impact an individual’s daily work, writes Dave Hanna

Many design efforts to shape a high performance culture appropriately scrutinise the values, processes and systems that must be aligned. One aspect of developing a high performance culture, however, should not be neglected when examining all the organisational elements.

Don’t forget the very core of high performance – how all these organisational elements affect the individual’s daily work. Research shows very clearly that engaged employees perform in superior ways to others, and their organisations deliver superior results in the marketplace.

Now, exactly what can you do to consistently engage employees in the work they do every day? Research conducted by professors Richard Hackman and Greg Oldham revealed a framework of job characteristics that drive personal engagement and organisational high performance.

Hackman and Oldham’s research has been reaffirmed by even the most recent studies in different parts of the world. Additionally, Hackman and Oldham described that work tasks so organised produced three critical psychological states – experienced meaningfulness of the work, experienced responsibility for outcomes, and knowledge of the actual results. These still rank high in today’s research on sources of engagement in the workplace.

Perhaps one example will illustrate Hackman & Oldham’s research most clearly:

Deidre was a policy analyst for a large health care insurance company in Brisbane. Her job was to consult policy manuals to verify what the company would cover or not cover for customers’ medical claims. Her typical day was to study the latest policy bulletins, waiting for a request for policy clarification from a customer service representative. Deidre either would answer the request herself or get a supervisor’s approval for a policy decision. After giving the answer to customer service, she would go back to her reading.

As part of a corporate restructuring effort, Deidre’s role changed considerably. She was now a customer account manager. She was the primary interface for a number of customer accounts, consulting with them on the best ways to meet their needs, processing their claim requests and policy questions, and making sure the customers were pleased with the final outcomes.

She and her colleagues would spontaneously help each other as their individual workloads ebbed and flowed. On a few rare occasions she might need to discuss a case with her supervisor or with a Certified Underwriter. She reported monthly on revenues, customer satisfaction, and identified problems or opportunities that should be addressed.

In the following months Deidre commented that her new role was more demanding but far more rewarding than her previous assignment. And, not surprisingly, her employer saw sharp increases in customer satisfaction. How many “Deidre” jobs do you have in your organisation?

Look for ways to strengthen each position accordingly. This will give you a firm foundation for the rest of your high performance culture building efforts.

Job characteristics that drive engagement

  1. Skill variety: doing different things; using different valued skills
  2. Task identity: doing a complete task from beginning to end, rather than bits and pieces
  3. Task significance: the degree of meaningful impact the task has on others
  4. Autonomy: freedom to do the work as one sees fit; discretion in scheduling, decision making, and means for accomplishing a task
  5. Feedback: clear and direct information about task outcomes or performance