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Tom Hoffman | January 1, 2013

Going Beyond Employee Engagement

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employee_engagement.jpgOne of the biggest differences between companies that provide mediocre customer experiences and those that deliver exceptional experiences (and ultimately position themselves to achieve outstanding financial results) is the degree of engagement and connectedness that employees have with a company and its mission.

As Peppers & Rogers Group founding partner Don Peppers notes, the more that a company interacts with individual customers, the more empowered and engaged employees need to feel in order for the company to succeed. That's because employees who are truly engaged will want to go the extra mile for customers since they believe wholeheartedly in the company's mission and they want to treat customers the way that they'd want to be treated themselves. They also feel vested in the company's success.

Companies that are positioned to succeed, says Peppers, are those that provide employees with the autonomy to make decisions on behalf of customers under an organizational culture that's more communal in nature as opposed to one where there's more of a top-down approach from senior leadership.

I got to thinking a lot more about employee engagement after a recent conversation I had with Ramon Benedetto, a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel and co-author of It's My Company Too! How Entangled Companies Move Beyond Employee Engagement For Remarkable Results. Benedetto, who also has extensive experience leading cultural and operational transformations in the private sector, spoke with me about how many companies are missing a critical element in their company culture - entanglement. Benedetto and the co-authors describe entanglement as a set of conditions in which employee and organizational commitment to each person, system, and component in a company is so deeply ensnared in the company's mission, vision, and values that success is inevitable.

Engagement, explains Benedetto, occurs on an individual level where an employee is committed to something or someone whereas entanglement permeates across an entire organization and has a magnetic effect that draws and holds people together. Benedetto and the co-authors identified 8 common characteristics of entangled companies they evaluated. These include:

• Leaders who do extraordinary things
• Building an ethical organization
• Increasing an individual's self-efficacy
• Giving employees freedom and responsibility within a culture of discipline

At first, I was a bit skeptical about the use of the word "entanglement." But after talking with Benedetto and reading the book, I can see now how this concept makes sense.

One of the organizations that's highlighted in the book is Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill. When Dave Fox took over as chief of the hospital in late 2003, he discovered a hospital that was good but wasn't reaching its potential. Patient satisfaction was in need of improvement and there was a silo mentality between physicians, nurses, and other staffers. Changing the culture of the organization meant placing the patient at the center of the hospital's mission and changing staff perceptions, attitudes, and actions toward physicians and administrators by cultivating an environment of more collaborative and trusting relationships between associates.

Although it took Fox and his team 7 years to complete this transformation, the hospital has since won numerous awards, including a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 2010 while also being named one of the nation's top 100 hospitals for overall excellence by Thomson Reuters in 2009, 2011, and 2012.

For an organization to become entangled or move beyond engaged or however you want to define it, senior leaders need to examine their own belief systems since they set the tone for an organization's culture, says Benedetto. So if leadership is wrapped up in a command-and-control mentality, they're not going to achieve success. Instead, they need to foster a trust-and-track type approach: hire the right people and give them the ability to succeed.

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