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‘Us’ and ‘Them’ – Employee Engagement: Self, Wholes and Hierarchies

Allow me to share with you a firsthand perspective from the due diligence phase of our Top Small Workplace recognition project, in which I’ve conducted many, many of the employee interviews over the last two years and compiled massive findings for publication in the Wall Street Journal.

If we ask you and your employees about the company, will we hear references to “us” or “them” in the response? Don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s a simple question.  Are you sure you know how your staff would answer?  Are we talking the boardroom or the warehouse here? Should it matter?

This is more than just being able to recite the tenets of your brand values or corporate identity.  There’s a question of involvement here, of employee engagement, that speaks volumes about the character of your organization.  Perhaps it won’t make or break your business… But it’s a question of identity that matters a great deal to the welfare of your organization, whether you pay attention to it or not.  Clients can see it, investors can see it, and competitors can see it.  Are your employees working for the company?  Or ARE THEY THE COMPANY?  Are they embodying the business and fully invested in it?

social network + group identity visualization

social network + group identity visualization

This quickly becomes clear in the interviews we conduct with employees as part of our due diligence for our annual Top Small Workplaces recognition project.  Even an application crafted by the best PR team in the world can’t hide the language your employees use when we get them on the phone. When we hear “They tell us communication is really important” or “They say product quality is huge” coming from someone with a similar role as an employee at another business who says “Communication is really important to us,” or “Product quality is huge for us,” you can bet it leaves our judges with a different feel for the latter organization.

Sometimes it’s just in casual language used, or maybe it’s more explicit.  As an employee from one of our 2008 Top Small Workplaces Finalists mentioned, “Maybe at other places it’s easier to separate yourself from the job.  I mean, I don’t talk about [the company] in the third person.  It’s never ‘they,’ it’s always ‘us’ or ‘we.’  There are very high expectations here.  That’s a key element in maintaining our culture – integrating new people into that. We really try to gauge their level of engagement.”

Our friends at Winning Workplaces would simply ask- Is a sense of ownership and sincere investment fostered within your workplace?  Or, on the flip side, do you foster a work environment where it seems leadership is actually afraid of an ownership mentality among employees?

Posted in Sustainable Business.

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