How to Create a Culture of Full Engagement

Published April 4, 2019

Win the Heart: How to Create a Culture of Full Engagement is the latest in Mark Miller’s book series outlining key practices for High-Performance Organizations. In this new book, Miller digs deep into the topic of employee engagement and describes how leaders, not employees, are responsible for building a highly-motivated workforce.

Global Leadership Network (GLN): This is the fourth book in your book series on high-performance organizations. Tell us about the series and where this book fits into your overall vision for organizational leadership?

Mark Miller: Several years ago, we were trying to help leaders build their capacity at Chick-fil-A, and at that time, we were focused on building great leadership teams. This was a huge step forward. But the truth is, a leadership team harnesses the passion, talent, energy and creativity of 5 or 6 people. So, the big question is, what do you do with the 90-95% people who don’t sit around the leadership table?

It became clear that the next step was to create a High-Performance Organization (HPO). So, I assembled a team of really smart people and we worked for several years learning about building HPOs. And that became the first book in the series, Chess Not Checkers. Each subsequent book in the series has focused on one of the key elements of HPOs. This fourth book is about engagement.

GLN: So, let’s talk about employee engagement. Why do you see engagement as critical?

Miller: As I read the leadership press, I believe interest in engagement is waning—which is a tragedy because it has not been solved. I believe most leaders have put engagement into the “too hard” category. According to Gallup, only 33% of people rate themselves as “engaged at work.” We’ve worked on this for 15 years and have only gotten to 33%. That’s hard.

I see engagement as the last hurdle. You can have great vision, people, process, systems—all these important elements—but if the people don’t care, you can’t execute at a world-class level. At the end of the day, greatness hinges on execution.

GLN: How can leaders diagnose an engagement problem?

Miller: I actually think the majority of leaders have allowed themselves to be deceived. They think their team members are engaged, but the data tells a different story. Here’s what disengagement looks like: half-hearted effort, lack of initiative, lack of contribution, people not showing up, people not staying late, etc. It has to get really dire for most leaders to recognize it.

So, my suggestion for every leader on the planet is—you need to measure engagement. There are countless tools, assessments and surveys. Pick one you like.

GLN: In the book, you say, “Engaging others is at the core of a leader’s responsibilities.” That seems counter-intuitive. Most leaders believe that motivation (or lack of motivation) is a sign of team member commitment and, therefore, their own responsibility. How have we been looking at this wrong?

Miller: I think engagement is 100% the leader’s responsibility. The leader has selected that person and creates the context in which the person operates. Either you have the wrong person, or you have the wrong culture, and you’ve been unwilling to deal with the consequences.

Engagement is 100% the leader’s responsibility.

Leaders are the architects of an organization’s culture. Is it a culture that’s life-giving? Do people thrive? Is it a culture where people can bring their full and best selves to work? Is it a culture where people feel valued and want to contribute? Where they’re empowered and encouraged? Make your list—leaders control all of that.

If you are seeing a lack of engagement, the first, second and third person you should look to is the leadership. The behaviors in your organization are a direct reflection of the leadership.

GLN: Tell us why you chose the words “win the heart” and why heart-commitment is essential to creating a culture of high engagement?

Miller: There is a lot of confusion around the word engagement. “Win the Heart” is more approachable language. Once we, as leaders understand that engagement is about winning the heart, we can we can devise strategies and tools to help them. Engagement is a condition of the heart and reflects how much someone cares about their work, their co-workers and the organization.

GLN: What do you see as the biggest barriers leaders face to “winning the hearts” of those on their teams?

Miller: The biggest barrier leader’s face is that they don’t see employee engagement as an area where they should focus or give priority. It goes back to the first deception. They think their people are fully engaged so they are working on other things. But if we want other people to help us accomplish our goals and execute our strategies, we actually need them to care. We need them to be engaged. Engagement is the energy for all that needs to be done.

But if we want other people to help us accomplish our goals and execute our strategies, we actually need them to care.

GLN: Can you leave us with one or two practices that, based on your experience, will really move the needle to “win the hearts” of employees?

Miller: Here are two practices that we have seen actually move the needle to win people’s heart and increase engagement.

1) Give your team members genuine, heartfelt and authentic affirmation. When is the last time that your employees have heard you say Thank You? We need to thank people regularly for their work, contribution and ideas. People have a deep need for genuine, authentic affirmation. Find something you can affirm in your team members and affirm them.

2) Give your team members real responsibility. Think about how you feel when a leader gives you real responsibility. You care more, right? Give employees real responsibility, not just tasks, but real responsibility for decisions or outcomes. Most leaders will be shocked by how much more employees will care if they are given real responsibility.

GLN: Thanks, Mark. We loved the book and really appreciate your insights.

To learn more about Mark Miller’s model for improving employee engagement, check out his excellent book, Win the Heart.

About the Author
Mark Miller

Mark Miller

Vice President of High-Performance Leadership

Chick-fil-A

Mark Miller began his Chick-fil-A career working as an hourly team member in 1977. Since joining the corporate staff in 1978, he has provided leadership for Corporate Communications, Field Operations, Quality and Customer Satisfaction, Training, and Leadership Development. He is a best-selling author with over one million books in print. His most recent book, Win the Heart, was released in March 2019.

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