As companies focus inward to understand how to achieve their customer experience goals, the term “engagement” is often used interchangeably with “culture.” It’s understandable. The two terms are related, and they’re both elements of customer experience improvement. But it’s important to make a distinction between the two terms, because they differ in the ways they’re measured, improved, and capitalized on.
Employee Engagement: The “I” Point of View
Employee engagement is the functional and emotional connection that employees have with an organization. It’s often measured using a short set of questions that get at behavioral intention. So using a Likert scale, questions might include:
- “I recommend this company as a good place to work.” (Advocacy),
- “It would take a lot to get me to leave this company.” (Retention), or
- “I am motivated by this company to give extra effort in my work” (Discretionary
When we administer engagement surveys, we focus on the personal experience of employees as they perform their roles, and their perceptions of how they feel and what they get in return for their efforts. That means employees answer questions from the “I” perspective. (“Do I feel purpose? Do I have room to grow? Do I feel rewarded?”) When analyzed in aggregate, the responses say quite a bit about whether or not the workforce feels supported, well directed, and motivated to stay and give extra effort.
Organizational Culture: The “We” Point of View
We like Herb Kelleher’s (former CEO of Southwest Airlines) definition of organizational culture: “Culture is what people do when no one is looking.” We’ve developed a diagnostic instrument to help companies measure their culture based on that premise—to put numbers around the types of things people do when no one is looking, and in particular, the types of things that support customer-centricity. We craft our surveys to explore the perceptions that employees have inside their organizations. Employees respond to these prompts from the “we” perspective, and our proven model measures culture along five organizational dimensions. Prompts might include:
- “We know who is responsible for the customer.” (Management),
- “We share stories about customers.” (Storytelling), or
- “We hire people who care about the customer.” (Hiring)
Put another way, to drive employee engagement, you need to concentrate on helping employees feel motivated in performing their work. To drive cultural improvements, you’ll need to look at the behaviors, language, norms, and expectations inside your company walls.
Engagement and culture are different, but they affect each other. Engaged employees impact culture, and a strong culture can lead to engaged employees. (Alternatively, disengaged employees can suffocate culture, and caustic cultures can chase away engaged employees.)
We examined employee engagement in one of our annual independent research studies. Engaged employees are more productive, more loyal, more likely to advocate on behalf of their employers, and - perhaps for those of us in the CX world, most importantly - more focused on doing right by the customer.
The research also revealed that employees working in customer-centric cultures are more engaged than those working in company-centric cultures - regardless of industry.
That means companies that make customer happiness a priority - companies that align their internal systems, processes, and other cultural elements to that goal - will likely earn greater employee engagement. And so the cycle will continue. (Which is something we get excited about.)
“Yeah, I help our company make customers happy.”
It’s important to distinguish between culture and engagement. They involve different perspectives and different strategies for improvement. The difference between “culture” and “engagement” is the difference between “we” and “I.”
But both areas are essential for the customer experience professional and for organizational leadership. (Particularly their alignment.) By managing a customer-centric culture that supports engaged employees, you can transform your organization into one that truly puts customers at its heart.
And when customers are in your heart, you are more than likely in theirs.
George Jacob is the Inbound Content Architect at PeopleMetrics, where he works to share
insights and understanding about customer experience and customer-centric culture. You can
read more of his work on - and subscribe to - the PeopleMetrics blog.