The Role of Values for Employee Engagement

Respect is earned, not commanded.

There is no better setting for giving this age-old saying meaning than a workplace. It is a place where mutual respect defines the most prolific of relationships. A place where, often despite the hierarchy, a common goal is best achieved through mutual trust in one another.

Finding the right way to engage people in improving workplace relations is a challenge that every person in a managerial position has to face. Although requiring more subtlety in a manager-employee relationship, great teams consider it in their peer-to-peer relations as well. Despite there being different ways of approaching employee or peer engagement, certain values are kept in high regard universally. The role of values for employee engagement can't thus be overstated.

To give you a sneak peak of real-world applications, we will turn our heads towards Rovio: a startup turned global success.

For Rovio, as for any game company, creativity and innovation are the keys to success. According to Internal Communications Manager Susanna Aittokoski, this has been achieved through a relaxed environment where spontaneous conversation is highly encouraged. Rovio is indeed one of the companies that has realized the value of transparency and sense of community. Transparency beats there on all levels, creating an ambiance of openness. This has been achieved through knocking down unnecessary hierarchical walls, thus strengthening trust through open and honest communication.

Without pointless social norms and unspoken restrictions in employee-employer relationships, they can share a game or two during work hours. It is, after all a, shared passion for everyone at Rovio. This communal relaxed approach to working appears to spark ideas like wildfire since their huge success is based on creative gaming.

To illustrate the importance of workplace transparency, the Angry Birds franchise was once just an idea that bloomed from this community of encouraged innovation. An idea that grew to be bigger than anyone could have imagined. From a single idea to a multimillion franchise. Without valuing creativity and transparency, this wouldn't have happened.

The role of values for employee engagement can never be overstated


The Four Fundamental Values

Trust, integrity, commitment and transparency: these are the building blocks of a relationship in which mutual respect is the fundamental goal. As such, these are values virtually any company should cherish. Building such relationships with those under your management requires more than just comprehension of these concepts. Implementing these values to your workplace is a year-round and ongoing process. It means taking charge of what kind of morals are kept in high regard, and what kind of behavior is frowned upon.


Trust

Trust can be imagined as the base onto which all the other elements are built on. Without it, there is really nothing to fall back on. In the employee’s case, the amount of trust is mostly linked to the overall quality of their employee-employer relationship. This means that building a good foundation is mainly up to the managing party. The employer has to have faith in those they manage: believe that they can execute their assigned tasks even without constant micro-managing. Despite the employer’s trust often having more weight in these relationships, trust is a two-way street. This means that for trust to thrive, it has to work both ways. The self-organized team model is a good example of mutual trust glueing together a team without clear hierarchy. Due to an environment where doubt no longer lingers, these teams are highly effective.

For an example of two-way trust on a peer-to-peer level, we’ll take a look at the US Navy SEALs. For them to fully function as a team, absolute trust is vital. The success of every operation depends on flawless teamwork, which essentially means working as one. As if the team had a united brain, executing preprogrammed commands. Creating such a well-oiled entity is not possible without absolute certainty in everyone doing exactly what was agreed upon. For SEALs this means covering left, whilst barging in a hostile environment, knowing another team member is covering right. Hesitation would cause for either one of them to function at less than a 100%, resulting in an increase of unnecessary risk. To a SEAL uncompromised trust could be the difference between life and death. While your business probably doesn't have such high stakes, the same principles definitely apply for team performance.


Integrity

Integrity can be viewed as the first pillar erected on trust. Despite being a characteristic trait varying from one individual to another, it is a quality that is enhanced by a positive work environment. Integrity is not the set of moral guidelines that are set for you, they are the ones set by you.

Following this internal moral compass is a hard-coded reassurance of you pulling your own weight, applicable from team projects to outside of work research. It is, for that reason, an important measurement of individual character for managing parties. When it comes to effectiveness and efficiency, integrity is definitely one of the key pieces for solving the puzzle.


Commitment

Commitment, the second pillar, defines the employee’s faith in the organization. It is a value that is given birth to in high-quality teams and work environments. By high quality, I mean environments where the sense of community is heightened to a point where everyone looks out for both one another and the common goal.

Commitment is the driving force behind “going that extra mile.” It is staying in overtime because you want to, not because you have to.


Transparency

Transparency or “openness,” is the last pillar in firmly setting the foundation for a good, motivated work environment. It is important, that everyone has the will and courage to voice their own opinions; opinions that might lead to innovations and ideas otherwise left unheard. It is equally as important for transparency to be exercised by leaders to avoid unnecessary secrecy, which will hinder the employee’s ability to understand the true purpose of their job and could even harm the employee’s image of the company.

Openness leads to admitting mistakes instead of covering them up. It is better for both individual and organizational learning, as well as growth, if the problem is addressed head on in a constructive manner. It's crucial to focus on the what and the how, not the who. Methods like active questioning can prove useful here. Also, more often than not, from a managerial point of view, noticing a mistake early on also inhibits the formation of cumulative damages.

The four fundamental values for employee engagementa


Blueprints for sustainable success

To start off, it’s important to create a sturdy sense of community in the office. A setting where every worker feels like they’re in the same boat, breaking waves towards a common destination. This environment, built on the values that best reflect your goals as an organization and free of force-feeding assignments to subordinates, helps in uniting the individual goals with those of the company. It is in this mindset where motivation peaks, efficient flow-state hours are maximized and unforeseen breakthroughs happen.

Establishing grounds for workplace transparency is a harder feat, since it is human nature to fear erring in the eyes of a superior. To remove this fear, there must be room and permission to make mistakes, within reason. Accidents and failures are better discussed in a constructive manner, so that all parties understand what transpired and why. This creates, not only a workplace where mistakes are easier to manage, but a place where critical thinking and new ideas flourish.

A great leader is someone who has internalized strategic guidance. Someone who is decisive, yet humble, and realizes his or her own shortcomings and strengths. They must be able to set values to guide the work and find a staff that reflects those values. Jim Collins tells us in his article Good To Great of 11 companies that have been turned around from mediocrity to sustained great results by such clear headed leadership. He talks about how great leaders in the process of restructuring companies must acknowledge, among others, these 3 simple truths:

  1.   It is important to start the process by getting the right people onboard
  2.   The right people are self-motivated
  3.   The wrong people will prove toxic to the pursuit of greatness

The lesson in this is that regardless of how well you engage your employees, it’s equally as important that said employees are “engageable” in the first place. Putting time and effort into choosing the right team will in itself send the snowball rolling towards a culture of greatness.

Apple and employee engagement

Apple, just like most companies, has areas in employee engagement that might not work quite as well as intended. According to employee reviews, internal transparency is one of these. It is said that an air of secrecy hovers in the workplace, which makes it hard to build a good foundation for trust. Higher-ups have a tendency of making calls without consulting or, at times, even ever informing lower level staff. Although this is partially due to the enormous size of Apple and the hierarchical gaps that often follow, it is something that eats away at the sense of commitment from an employee’s perspective. So how why do most employees still bleed Apple colors even after years from departure?

Apple may not have all the elements of perfect employee engagement nailed down, but that didn’t stop them from finding other ways to increase commitment. They have always been a forerunner in understanding the importance of employee’s passion for their products. This internal brand marketing has been achieved via a myriad of methods, such as employee discounts and recycling of old products for free in-house use. Through the process of valuing quality above all else, they've created product fans from within and have definitely increased the commitment and motivation of the staff. These embedded values and adamant focus on quality are one of the reasons Apple truly stands out as an employer and a company.

Although Apple isn’t a complete poster-child for employee engagement, its management has done a lot of things right. It's a great example for proving that you don’t need to nail everything at once but should still work hard to build a more engaged culture around whatever these core values might be for your company. It is, after all, only through hard work and sustainable development of the workplace that you can achieve true engagement.

Final thoughts

To wrap it up, you must internalize the importance of restructuring workplace environments towards the values that best represent what you're striving for. In practice, having the aforementioned core values of transparency, trust, and integrity flourish on all fronts is these days an almost inevitable development for building a culture that can truly serve as a competitive advantage for you.

Building a strong foundation with proper values creates a legitimate sense of community. In a communal work environment motivation, innovation and commitment thrive. From these environments, emerge teams, where all individuals trust in each other and value the quality of their work highly.

Aligning the mission of the organization with the key values of your organization is equally as important as treating the employees according to those values. This creates an unparalleled sense of community, which inevitably leads to commitment. There is power in executing with every bone in your body to reach something that fully fits your agenda both as an individual and as a team.

Creating the ideal work environment by implementing your core values, including the four fundamental values mentioned above, is a long and time consuming process. Although it is definitely worth it on the grander scale, it will take away resources that could otherwise be used towards more concrete company agendas. This is why it is important to remember that sustainable development, such as this, always leads to superior productivity in the long run.