Targeting 100% Engagement

Published: June 13, 2018

How much sickness is normal on a healthy team? The Gallup organization has been measuring employee engagement for decades and, until the past year, the numbers haven’t changed much. 30% of your teammates would run through a wall for the company. 50% come to work, go home, and collect their paychecks. 20% are some version of dysfunctional. Have you accepted these ratios as normal on your team?

In the past year, Gallup’s database shifted optimistically as the engaged group grew to 34% and the disengaged group shrunk to about 16%. They credit the deliberate attention to workplace culture for the change. Certainly, that’s good news. But ask yourself this question: Are we willing to settle for a workplace where 16 out of every 100 teammates are actively trying to damage the culture?

Both the airline and the healthcare industries seek a zero-error culture. The airline industry is measurably more successful as the healthcare system continues to hurt nearly 100,000 lives annually despite decades of dedication to root cause analysis and proactive risk reduction. Continuous improvement initiatives will gradually clean up inefficient processes in most workplaces, but what about the people? Whenever a teammate’s energy is dedicated to anything other than his or her job – for whatever reason – they are stealing from the company.

Let’s say your leadership team has been focused on improving workplace culture for a few years and the organization is starting to get some traction. Perhaps your team is one of the models of the Gallup data and has shrunk the actively disengaged number down to 10 or 15 percent. The toxic workers have been, for all practical purposes, disempowered. They no longer get their pathological needs met by stirring up gossip. Your H.R. department doesn’t even need to show them the door because they are finding it on their own. Their disengagement is no longer being fueled by the culture so they must find another sandbox to not play nice in.

What would be the equivalent of zero-error when applied to team culture? What would your workplace look like if you were able to eliminate whatever portion of the 20% dysfunction your team still endures? Not everyone has to wear the tattoo of your company logo for your workplace to achieve 100% engagement. All teams can tolerate a group of employees who simply do their jobs competently. But when you eradicate active disengagement and grow the critical mass of teammates who eat, sleep, and breathe the mission, values, and vision of the organization, the result is transformative.

Here’s the action plan:

Step 1: Communicate the expectation for achieving a 100% engagement culture.

Step 2: Clearly define the behavioral profile of engaged vs. disengaged contributions to the team.

Step 3: Build engagement assessment and tracking mechanisms into the employee development and performance review systems.

Step 4: Sponsor an accountability culture where all words and actions count.

Step 5: Hire slow, fire fast, and let the few remaining teammates who are still stealing from the culture go put someone else out of business.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.