The Definitive Guide To

Transforming Engagement Into Impact

The Definitive Guide to Transforming Engagement Into Impact

The Core Drivers of Employee Engagement 

While numerous factors contribute to a motivated and satisfied workforce, Imperative’s approach is grounded in robust research. As a thought leader in HR tech, we find ourselves closely aligned with Gallup’s work, which has distilled years of extensive research into the following five core drivers of employee engagement:

  • #1 Purpose
  • #2 Development
  • #3 Caring managers
  • #4 Ongoing conversations
  • #5 A focus on strengths

The synergy between Gallup’s research and Imperative’s proprietary insights reinforces the credibility and resonance of these core drivers. Here’s how each can cultivate a highly engaged and motivated workforce.

In the context of work, purpose is the feeling of serving something beyond yourself. Imperative co-founder Aaron Hurst, and author of “The Purpose Economy,” provides a definition:

“Purpose is the overlap of seeing the impact of your work on an entity you care about, using your strengths to create that impact, and contributing to something bigger than yourself.”

Not all workers are purpose-oriented. But Aaron’s research highlights that those who are have better outcomes than their peers in terms of: 

  • Longer tenure
  • Greater probability of reaching leadership roles
  • Likelier to promote the employer brand
  • Higher levels of fulfillment in their work 

But here’s the disconnect: To feel purposeful, employees must understand how their efforts contribute to the company’s mission and goals, and this isn’t always immediately clear. 

This understanding is only possible when companies articulate their vision and values throughout all ranks of the organization. Unfortunately, McKinsey research highlights this is only working at the top end, with 85% of executives and upper management agreeing they live their purpose through their work. In comparison, only 15% of frontline managers and employees confirm the same. This imbalance is worth addressing. 

When companies communicate their organization’s purpose and unify and energize employees to strive towards that common goal, they are likely to have an engaged and thriving workforce. And this has a tremendous impact on employees’ mental and physical health in the following ways: 

  • Possessing a high sense of purpose in life is associated with a reduced risk for all-cause mortality and cardiovascular events. 
  • Having a strong sense of purpose is linked with lower loneliness
  • Purpose in life is associated with reduced stress, and healthier lifestyles synonymous with successful aging.

It’s in every company’s best interest to support their employees in connecting with their purpose at work. While company leaders and direct managers can play an important role in this, tools and infrastructure are necessary in order to truly move the needle.

To start, employees need to understand what uniquely drives them at work, giving them actionable insights and a language to understand how this affects their work, their team, their company and themselves. 

TIP: Imperative’s proprietary purpose assessment has helped over 250,000 people, across all industries and geographies, to discover their purpose at work. This science-based approach enables employees to have a deep understanding of how they innately approach problems, what motivates them at work, as well as their areas of growth, biases and super strengths.

Once employees are equipped with personalized data about themselves, they can begin to apply it to their daily work. But that rarely happens in a vacuum—after working with leading companies like Microsoft, Hasbro, and Boston Scientific, we’ve seen the absolute need for employees to unpack and apply these insights to their actual jobs.

TIP:  Imperative conversations surface unique insights about employee’s intrinsic motivators and biases. By personalizing topic-based discussions with purpose profile insights, employees can apply their understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses to explore their approach to work. 

93% of employees state that Imperative positively impacted their success.

Employees feel motivated by the chance to learn, grow, and advance in their careers. LinkedIn’s Global Head of Learning and Talent Development, Linda Jingfang Cai, says, “Forward-thinking organizations need to create environments that embrace and unlock the potential of the whole employee.”

Modern L&D strategies include multiple engaging initiatives, including training in the flow of work, shadowing and mentorship programs, and charting clear career pathways within the organization. All of these are designed to upskill and reskill your people, enabling them to proactively prepare for the future of work, which 89% of L&D pros agree is essential. 

But development is more than a means to future-proof individual careers and navigate organizational change. The psychology involved in continuous learning also drives engagement.

Dr. Carol Dweck is a leading expert on the growth mindset, and her research explores how our beliefs about intelligence shape our behavior. Specifically, Dweck has introduced the concept that when people believe their abilities can be developed, they feel more motivated to embrace challenges and persist in the face of setbacks. Conversely, a person with a fixed mindset is more likely to give up on tasks that don’t come naturally. In a growth mindset culture, company leaders and managers must provide opportunities for their employees to continuously learn, develop, and grow, promoting engagement along the way. 

Understanding the significance of purpose and development in driving employee engagement leads us naturally to the discussion of change motivation in the workplace and how it connects to growth on an individual level. 

Continuously building and upgrading skills is a long-term commitment that may require habitual change. The Motivating Change theory suggests that this type of change is likely when there is an overlap between employees’ intrinsic desires and organizations’ extrinsic motivation for change. 

Over the years, L&D leaders have created some incredible resources for their employees, and yet the common refrain remains: “Why don’t more people take advantage of our trainings and opportunities?” Another common comment from leaders is that they can’t scale enough offerings that meet the unique needs of their people. 

One solution to both of their problems lies in personalization. If leaders can offer personalized opportunities based on each employee’s unique intrinsic motivations and needs, the likelihood of employees taking part in them skyrockets. 

TIP: Imperative’s platform easily scales this type of personalized development approach, through video-based conversations with a peer at their company, tailored to each individual’s needs. Employees have the option to personalize their conversation experience to best suit their needs and development goals. 

To enable employee  development, people  need to own their next steps and manage their own growth. The Imperative platform utilizes accountability as an activator in this process –  given that people are 65 percent more likely to meet a goal after making a commitment to someone else (The American Society of Training and Development).

TIP: The Imperative platform harnesses the power of accountability through mutual goal-setting at the end of every conversation. Each participant determines a specific action that aligns with their relationships, impact, or growth at the organization and revisits their progress on the goal during the next conversation, on an ongoing basis. This process encourages incremental growth toward personal and organizational goals.

An employee’s relationship with their boss influences their motivation level at work. Caring managers understand and appreciate what makes employees tick, providing support, constructive guidance, and recognition. Although engagement is influenced by the camaraderie of a team and every person who intersects with an individual’s journey at an organization, it’s undeniable that managers matter most to employees. 

In one study, 40% of employees ranked managers as the group that has the most impact on them when they receive recognition, compared with 33% who ranked CEOs and 28% who ranked peers as the most impactful.

Care, Leadership, and Employee Disengagement

But when managers don’t exhibit care or effective leadership skills, this can have a detrimental effect on employee experience, with Gallup illustrating that managers account for a 70% variance in employee engagement scores and McKinsey data revealing that 34% of people blame “uncaring leaders” as a reason for quitting a previous job. 

Similarly, Zenger Folkman analysts found parallels between manager performance and disengagement in terms of quiet quitting. Their review of 360 leadership assessment data, which compared 13,000 employee ratings of 2,801 managers, found that those best at balancing results with relationships achieved scores of 62% employees willing to go above and beyond, with only 3% disengaged or quietly quitting. 

Managers can elevate engagement by sparking trust in their relationships with their direct reports. This means developing meaningful connections with their team members so each trusts that their manager cares about them and their wellbeing. Neuroscientist Paul Zak highlights that employees in high-trust companies bring the following benefits to their respective organizations: 

  • They’re 50% more productive
  • They have 106% more energy at work 
  • They take 13% fewer sick days 
  • They have 40% less burnout 
  • They suffer 74% less stress
  • They are 29% more satisfied with their lives 

Managers can achieve similar results by understanding how trust works and what fuels it to build engagement and performance in their company cultures. Paul Zak’s work points to the brain chemical oxytocin as a catalyst for trust and social bonding. 

Managers are a critical make-or-break aspect of employee engagement and are frequently cited as the top reason for turnover. One of the reasons this is such a tough problem to address is that many managers don’t have the experience, skills or support to become supportive, successful managers. First, establishing psychological safety is key to the success of lasting, trusted manager-employee relationships. To support managers in this process, organizations should create communities and spaces that enable managers to pursue ongoing learning and reflection.

TIP: Imperative facilitates dynamic conversations between employees and their managers, using a guided format that accelerates trust and builds rapport. This structure creates psychological safety between employees and managers by harnessing the concept of reciprocity – encouraging employees and managers to practice a cadence of mutual disclosure that builds lasting relationships.

Regular, open, and honest communication is crucial for employee engagement. This isn’t about one-way communication from management to employees. It’s about providing channels for employees to give their own honest feedback, ask questions, and feel connected to their roles, their team and their company. And crucially, their employers must actively listen to them. 

We know from a well-cited Salesforce survey that employees who feel their voice is heard are 4.6x more likely to be empowered to do their best work. And the most effective way to hear your employees is to engage in conversations with them. Of course, this is easier said than done. Not only do managers have ever-increasing workloads, but they’re also navigating new remote and hybrid setups for the first time. Armed with varying skill sets and experience levels, not all managers know how to have those meaningful conversations that are imperative for engagement success. 

Science has a lot to say about the effective, necessary ways to support powerful communication: 

Conversations initiate interpersonal closeness. Studies show that the combination of the right questions with a conversational model of reciprocity and responsiveness accelerates the bond of trust and safety between two people. This psychological trust is an essential building block for the candid, workplace conversations that connect employees to their work and one another in meaningful ways.  

Amy C. Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, has studied the impact of psychological safety in the workplace, including how conversation can boost engagement. 

“A leader can start to shift the way employees think by framing the work ahead as a learning problem and making it clear that the group needs everyone’s brains and voices in the game. This sets the stage for more honest input and a flow of ideas. By modeling curiosity and asking lots of questions, leaders can begin to elicit ideas that can spark innovation.” 

Storytelling is an essential component of conversation, as humans live through stories. We share memories of companies we worked for, projects we enjoyed success with and anecdotes about our family and friends outside of work. By doing so, powerful neural processes are at play as we pass on our learning and social experiences and build connections and friendships. Whether telling a story or listening to it, our brains’ motor, sensory, and frontal cortices fire up to pull us into the moment, visualize the details, and feel a range of emotions. 

Storytelling is also a vehicle for self-reflection, providing the opportunity to share experiences, mistakes, triumphs, and decision-making with others. This is especially important for managers, who should constantly strive to learn from their team members and use those insights to improve their own performance. Research shows that reflection in conversation is also critical to learning and development, as Britt Andreatta, Ph.D., explained in her book “Wired to Grow“: 

“When we are able to anchor information to existing experiences, it makes it easier to store the information for retrieval later. Researchers have found that “nothing is more powerful than tying learning to the schema of personal experience, with its rich episodic memory and bundle of sensory data.” 

Creating space for conversations in the workplace that go beyond day-to-day tasks and to-do lists is absolutely crucial—and absolutely absent in most workplaces. This need initially fueled the creation of Imperative, inspired by the science of connection and its untapped power. Through our platform, we’ve built a space for employees of any level or department to share stories and experiences in a stress-free environment. 

TIP: Conversations on Imperative are built on structured elements that incorporate relationship science at every step of the way. This intentional structure helps employees show up with their best foot forward, without the need for any added preparation or practice. Having the right conversation, at the right time, with the right person allows employees to have to have an experience with powerful results every time. 

Unleashing Individual and Team Potential

Recognizing and leveraging employees’ strengths can boost engagement. Employees are more satisfied and engaged when they have opportunities to do what they do best and align their strengths with their roles. This approach ditches a focus on weaknesses or “areas for improvement” in favor of strengths-based development as a continuous learning initiative. 

Gallup’s decades-long research into human behaviors reveals that employees who use their strengths daily are six times more likely to be engaged at work and less likely to leave the company. To measure employee engagement while understanding how workers leverage their skills at work, Gallup developed a Strengths Orientation Index built around four key statements: 

  • Every week, I set goals and expectations based on my strengths.
  • I can name the strengths of five people I work with.
  • In the last three months, my supervisor and I have had a meaningful discussion about my strengths.
  • My organization is committed to building the strengths of each associate.

Based on samples from the US working population, only 3% of employees identify with all four features, revealing that companies desperately fail to support team members in using and building on their existing strengths.

One difficulty with strengths-based development is that employees and their managers may not immediately be able to identify what those strengths are. It boils down to locating talents—how employees think, behave, and feel most naturally—and then building on those talents to create strengths that result in a high-performance culture. 

Example: An employee might possess attentiveness as a natural strength, which can be an incredible asset to any customer-facing role. Someone attentive may also be a perfectionist, which could be described as a weakness. But rather than focusing on the negative, a strengths focus will channel that employee’s attentiveness into precision, accuracy, and top-notch customer service. 

After an employee has self-evaluated and decided on the strengths they want to build, we can bridge the gap between mindset shift and behavior change by activating accountability. The American Society of Training and Development found that action is 65% more likely to occur when people have an accountability partner. This percentage increases to 95% if you hold a meeting with them. In the context of work, managers, mentors, or peers make excellent accountability partners—each able to offer feedback and identify areas where the employee excels. From here, tailored development plans continue honing in on strengths and leveraging them for organizational success. 

Similarly to how most employees can’t articulate their purpose at work, most have a dim view of their strengths and how they can tap into them in any role they have. They need support to create language around their skills and a mechanism to see how these skills can positively impact their work. This practice is one of the core drivers of engagement, when employees get the satisfaction of seeing themselves create a positive result. 

TIP: Personalization is a main feature of Imperative, powered by the insights we gain from our assessments. By participating in personalized and relevant discussions, employees tap into their natural talents and build on these to create strengths that allow them to thrive. 

  • The Imperative platform helps employees turns their strengths into action by discussing personal, organizational, and societal level goals, and how these create opportunities to take action.
  • Additionally, taking time to celebrate and reflect when impactful actions are accomplished, creating a greater understanding of how employee strengths can empower action in an ongoing way.

The Business Cost of Disengagement 

Some companies overlook the importance of engagement, relying on a transactional relationship instead. They pay their employees for their labor and time but don’t commit to improving their experience at work. But research reveals there’s a high business cost associated with letting engagement slide, click in on the topics below for more information: 

Lost Productivity  

Gallup estimates that a disengaged employee costs an organization approximately $3,400 for every $10,000 of salary. On a global scale, this active disengagement costs the world $8.8 trillion in lost productivity, equal to 9% of global GDP. This type of disengagement breeds further disengagement. It has a multiplying effect on peer performance, productivity, creativity, retention, and engagement. 

But the opposite is also true; when workers are committed to their work, this positivity has a knock-on effect on their team members, fostering an environment where everyone wants to contribute. A positive side-effect is that engaged employees are more likely to attend work. In Gallup’s analysis of 2.7 million employees, the top quartile of most engaged teams benefitted from 81% lower absenteeism, another productivity gain. 

Employee Turnover  

We’ve seen from trends like the Great Resignation or loud quitting, that when disengagement sets in, some of your workforce will move on. Alternatively, disengaged employees who aren’t hitting their performance targets may be released as part of a termination procedure. In either case, this has a financial impact. SHRM estimates the cost to replace a single employee at 3 or 4 times their annual salary, although the exact figure varies depending on your business, role, and typical recruitment process. 

To estimate the accurate cost of attrition and disengagement in your company, plug the relevant data into these calculators.  

Why Aren’t Employees Thriving? 

Since Gallup started measuring global engagement in 2009, the percentage of employees thriving at work has peaked. The amount of employees engaged in their work has more than doubled over the past 13 years. The problem? The record high is only 23% of the world’s workforce, meaning that more than three-quarters are not engaged or are actively disengaged.

Companies are aware of the problem and are willing to invest big money to turn the tide on disengagement. Google trends reveal that searches for the term “employee engagement” have increased steadily over the past two decades, highlighting significant interest in engagement as a concept. But sadly, not all organizations are achieving positive results. 

Now is the time for companies to pivot from reactive measures that address the symptoms of disengagement to proactive strategies that strike at the root cause. To do so, we must effectively activate the five core elements that correlate strongly with high employee engagement and performance. Supporting our thesis that engagement is intrinsic, organizations can spark a substantive shift toward a more engaged workforce by adopting these principles to focus on the whole employee experience. 

Hit “Go” on Employee Engagement With Imperative 

Proactive people leaders bridge the gap between merely being aware of employee engagement and developing actionable strategies to harness it. To do this they need a powerful combination of:

  • Behavioral science to unravel what makes employees show up every day and produce their best work
  • Imperative’s technology to provoke meaningful conversations as the vehicle to activate all the key drivers of engagement. 

The result is a motivated, productive, and satisfied workforce. 

Host Meaningful Discussions With Imperative 

Imperative are experts at turning reflection into goal setting that impacts organizations at scale. Our employee engagement platform initiates guided conversations that allow everyone in your organization to connect with their purpose at work. These conversations are scientifically designed to inspire behavior changing action by:

  • Empowering your employees to connect with their intrinsic motivators. By leaning on behavioral science, and using data from our proprietary purpose assessments, companies can activate change at scale without the guesswork. 
  • Encouraging relationship-building conversations between peers or manager-to-employee to strengthen your company culture and establish a sense of belonging. 
  • Personalizing conversation structures to connect the dots between an employee’s individual purpose and their work. Imperative’s AI-enabled conversations give people the time and space to explore their strengths and motivators. This ownership ultimately encourages and leads to a more fulfilling work experience. 
  • Delivering real-time data insights to capture key engagement insights from the flow of conversation. Managers immediately have the information they need to tell, and act on, their engagement story. 

In this definitive guide, we’ve delved into the intricacies of employee engagement, dissected its challenges and uncovered the transformative power engagement holds when harnessed effectively. And now, with the backing of data-driven insights and behavioral science, the imperative is clear: it’s time to turn awareness into action. 

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