I remember the first time I read this statistic:

51 percent of American employees are not engaged and haven’t been for some time – 2017 Gallup Poll

It’s a troubling figure for everyone, especially for business leaders. It tells us that we are not successfully supporting, empowering and inspiring our teams. It suggests that we may just be a few steps away from losing our star employees. And it reminds us, pretty powerfully, that we have a lot of work to do.

Related Reading: The Misconceptions About How Employees Really Become Indispensable

As business leaders, we all own the dangers associated with this statistic as it spans all industries, companies, departments and functions. But perhaps no one owns the impact of this research more than the HR leader, the keeper of corporate culture. When you dig further, trying to get to the source of why our employees are so disengaged, there are a number of reasons that rise to the surface from disempowered employees to limited career opportunities to toxic cultures. But there’s also a day-to-day reality that is impacting engagement levels. Our employees are often dealing with subpar, ineffective processes, technologies and systems that cause everyday hurdles.

Consider for a moment:

  • How many hours a day your team is stuck doing excessive manual work when that task could be streamlined or automated
  • Whether your employees feel they have the tools needed to be productive, communicative and collaborative
  • The amount of waste the exists in your organization—think redundant processes, multiple sign-ins, Excel spreadsheet nightmares, the same data existing in different systems—because of broken technologies and processes

That same Gallup study also reveals that only 30% of employees feel they have the materials and equipment needed to do their work right. In other words, we have disengaged employees because we have technologies, processes and systems that are outdated, broken or not adopted.

Let’s Get to Work

Last week I had the opportunity to join some of our state’s biggest influencers as a speaker for DisruptHR Rhode Island, organized by RI SHRM and taking place at the New England Institute of Technology. The goal was simple: disrupt the minds of Rhode Island HR leaders and do so in just five minutes. (Those of you who know me personally know this was anything but easy; I was affectionately dubbed “Most Long-Winded Emailer” by my peers when I worked at Atrion! 😊)

The event was a blast! The audience was presented with several new concepts they were asked to internalize, everything from how to build a culture of innovation to how to blow up and dismantle the hierarchy. My talk, “Workplace Excellence: The Desired Utopia for the Keeper of Culture,” called to the mat the very reality that the Gallup statistics paint:

We are not doing enough to build engaging, empowering corporate cultures.

To begin to address this reality, I teed up three considerations for HR leaders:

1. The Frustrations Impacting Culture Are Real: Research tells us our teams are breaking and we know this is not new. Culture, leadership and engagement have been top concerns of HR leaders for years. Yet we still let these problems plague our organizations. My ask of the group was to make this the year we start to fix it once and for all. Chat casually with a few employees and listen openly to the pains they face every day. There is urgency around this problem, and it’s up to us to fix it—with them—through them.

2. Operations + Culture = Excellence: Organizations stand to reach a heightened level of workplace excellence when they successfully fuse together operations and culture. This means, for example, considering technology investments against a culture backdrop; or conversely, considering learning management system rollouts and training platforms against an operations lens. When HR leaders can understand the role that operations play in impacting culture, they can better engage and empower employees. Create an environment where empowered employees, in a collaborative culture, finely tune the operations that impact their roles.

3. HR Owns Culture (And Operations): Because no one is more responsible for the outcome of culture than HR, it’s HR’s responsibility to team with the Operations and IT leaders to make sure the day-to-day tasks of our employees—specifically as it relates to technologies, processes and systems—are effective, painless and delivering desired outcomes. I encouraged HR leaders to reach out to their peer leaders in Operations and IT, to build the bridge and partner together on a new continuous improvement initiative. When they do, an amplified level of excellence will be achieved.

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HR leaders—all business leaders for that matter—are responsible for creating healthy workplace environments where employees are empowered to be agents of change. Together, leaders and teams can be trailblazers inspiring grass-roots improvement within their organizations. Let’s break the pattern and start to change the statistics. Let’s demonstrate our commitment to our employees to creating exceptional workplaces.

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