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The Center for Sales Strategy Blog

Focused on Talent: Engagement with Deborah Fulghum and Kate Rehling

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In this episode, we’re once again consulting the latest Talent Magazine by The Center for Sales Strategy.

Today, we’re focusing on Engagement with Kate Rehling and Deborah Fulghum, joining Matt to help break it all down. Kate and Deborah both provide super valuable insights, like:

  • How a company culture is like a garden. If you regularly tend to it, what you plant will flourish. If you don’t, weeds will start sprouting in no time.
  • Why the success of your organization doesn’t depend on WHERE you work but HOW you work.
  • And, finally, why engagement and satisfaction are in no way the same thing.

Listen To The Podcast

Company Culture is Like a Garden. If You Don’t Tend to It, Weeds Will Sprout.

Kicking off the conversation, Matt asks, “What are some of the biggest trends when it comes to engagement? Are there any major or significant areas of focus that you seem to be passionate about right now?”

“There's two in particular,” Deborah says. “The first is I think more companies are being intentional about their culture.

“We are finding that so many companies are actually adding it as a line item to their budgets to make it a priority, which I think is huge because if we make it a line item, we're saying this is important.

“If we just say it's important, it may not be.

“The second is having a people-first culture. The relationship employees have with their leaders is critical to success. We say this all the time, people don't lead companies, they lead managers, right?

“So, if we are people-first, we know that we are part of something bigger than just being a cog in the wheel for a company. And I think that building strong relationships is important in establishing that.”

Kate adds, “We use the example of a garden at Up Your Culture.”

“So, if you have a garden, you could choose to tend to it, and it could be beautiful and fruitful, or you could choose to neglect it, and it could be full of weeds. Either way, it's still there and either way, your culture is still there.

“One of my favorite new trends is the ‘on-site is the new off-site' trend, and it has a lot to do with being intentional. With so many people still working remote/hybrid it's tackling questions like, ‘how are you getting people into the office? How are you explaining why you're bringing them there? How are you re-energizing them, convincing them?’”


Takeaways from ENGAGE 2023: The Company Culture Report

“Kate, in the Talent Magazine, you helped create write a piece that covered some of the major takeaways from the ENGAGE 2023 report from Up Your Culture,” Matt says.

“I know that we could spend hours diving into the report alone (and, in fact, there is an entire podcast series covering ENGAGE 2023 on the Up your Culture podcast, Culture Over Coffee, that everyone should check out), but what are some of the major stories, or headlines that emerge from this year's report when it comes to engagement, and where does it look like companies should dedicate more of their time and effort?”

“One of my biggest takeaways from this year's report was core values,” Kate says. “And a company's core values really define how people do things around there. So, how they interact with others, how they collaborate and work together, how they interact with clients and with prospects, etc.

“Essentially, I call them the ‘rules of the game,’ and everyone really should be aware of a company's core values and what they really mean, so that expectations and behaviors can be in alignment.

"And what we found out in ENGAGE 2023 was that 70% of managers can articulate their company's core values. So, surface level, that's a ‘C,’ that's a passing grade. That means 30% of leaders aren't aware of their company's core values. It should be 100%!

"Then, on the other side of that, 56% of employees reported they either couldn't recite their company's core values or they weren't aware that their company even had them in the first place.

Just to put that into perspective, I know Pickleball is super popular right now. I've never played Pickleball. So, that would be like throwing me onto a Pickleball court and giving me a racket! You're saying, ‘Hey, here you go, have fun!’

I would think, ‘Wait a minute. What are the roles of the game? How do I play? I have no idea what's going on here.’ I could never be engaged in that game if I didn't know those things. And that's what not knowing your core values is like. It's really, really critical.

“And then 61% of people don't believe their organizations hire people who embody their core values. So if one of your core values is ‘integrity’ and you're a hiring manager...let’s say that you're interviewing someone and you go, ‘Wait a minute, I think they lied on their resume!’

“You do a little bit of digging, you find out they actually did lie on their resume, but you say, ‘I spent a lot of time with them; I've invested my time. I think they would be all right. Let's go ahead and bring them on board.’ That's a direct violation of your core values, and people are seeing that within the companies they're working in.”

“You show what your core values are by the way you act,” Matt says. “But it's also good to call them out and say, ‘These are our core values.’ And so many companies don't have that to the point where one leader will say, ‘well, our core values are this, this, and this,’ but if you ask five other people, they don't know that.”

The Success of Your Culture Doesn't Depend on Your Location. It Depends on You as a Leader.

“So, 32% of employees say that they have quit a job due to being forced to be in an office setting,” Matt says. “That was a little shocking to me. “Kate, you wrote an article titled ‘Don't Confuse Being in the Office with Culture’ that talks about this exact issue.

“How should companies approach settling on the right sort of hybrid, remote or in-office schedule that best supports their employees' preference? And, with the rise of remote work and virtual teams, how can organizations maintain that high level of employee engagement and be successful in the digital workplace?”

“Take the time to sit down and define why your company specifically needs to have people together in the office,” Kate says. “I think it's important to have a very, very candid conversation with yourself, with your managers, with your top level leaders, ‘why do we need people together? What happens when people aren't always together?’

“Then, what do our employees prefer? And, by the way, ENGAGE 2023 found that 86% of people prefer either hybrid or remote work. I think about the tasks your team has to accomplish. Which tasks do you want to make sure people are doing in the office?

"So, maybe it's because you want people physically together, maybe they need more of your direct oversight, maybe they need to be together for collaboration purposes, whatever it may be, identify those tasks, how long they'll take, and set the standard. "Say, ‘these are the things that should be completed in the office, and not only that but here's why.’ Get that buy-in from people.

“And, taking that one step further, maintaining accountability. I've spoken with a lot of managers who have set a standard. They say, ‘You're coming in every Tuesday and Thursday.’

And then someone responds, ‘Well, so, and so doesn't always come in every Tuesday and Thursday!’ Once you let somebody stray from that expectation, it starts the domino effect and people have less buy-in.

“To the second part of your question, Matt, the success of your culture doesn't depend on your location. It depends on you as a leader.

“And, interestingly enough, we found that hybrid employees are more connected to their organization's culture than those in the office full-time. And that goes back to what you said at the very beginning of this episode. It's because when your people aren't together physically, you're forced to be more intentional to maintain that culture.

“So you're not around the water cooler inspiring people, but you are inspiring people, instead, to rally around an organization's purpose statement, their mission, their why. It's really working to be more intentional in that way.”

“Yeah,” Matt says. “You know, a lot of leaders think being vague about all of this is the right answer. They think saying things like, ‘Well, I'm just going to let them figure it out’ or ‘I'm going to let them do whatever they want to do.’

“And what they mean by that is that they don't want to be heavy-handed, they don't want to tell people what's right or what's wrong. They are saying, ‘Well, I trust people will make the right decision for their circumstances.’

“At face value, that seems pretty nice, but it backfires 100% of the time.”

“Yeah, people need rules,” Deborah says. “There should be rules of the game because people want to know! Just like pickleball, what are the rules so I can do it? Just give me the parameters.

The one thing we talk about often, whether it's talent or culture, is people want to know ‘why.’ It's not just a two-year-old who says that all the time, ‘Why, why, why!’ Adults think it too.

“So. take the time to explain why you need people to come in the office, why it's important to what we're going to do, how it develops a team, how we're going to brainstorm together. I think those are vital pieces when you ask people to come in.”


Case Study Results (Plus Two Essential Tools to Boost Engagement)

“Deb,” Matt says. “You wrote a case study in the Talent Magazine where you covered how Cox Media went about increasing their employee engagement. What are some of the tactics and strategies that they adopted to accomplish this outcome?

“I love that Cox Media worked with Up Your Culture during the pandemic when, according to Gallup, employee engagement's gone down across the globe,” Deborah says. “So, it was great to be working with a company that is very intentional about being a people-first company, who made sure they had a plan of action to get back to that intentional culture even when times were tough.

“What we found is, across the board, their efforts paid off. With the engagement survey, we saw growth from the beginning to the end.

“And you know, when we do engagement surveys, it's just a temperature check, because we all know that your culture isn't something that's done after an engagement survey. It's a temperature check to say, ‘Okay, what's going well? What’s our opportunity to get better?’ That's really what it's about.

"We worked with them on the ‘four engagement elevators’ (shared mission, people development, valued voice, and earned trust), and that's a proven focus that we know really moves the needle on engagement.

“But I will tell you, two of the tools that that they raved about:

  • Growth Guides: “This is what we talk about in the people development engagement elevator. You know, managing people by the platinum rule, not the golden rule. We want to manage people by how they want to be managed. What are their goals; what are their motivations? How do they want to be more involved in the company? We have to stop and ask. We can't assume we know what they want.

  • User Guides: “Oh my gosh, people say they cannot live without those. User guides are in the valued voice elevator. They really help break down the barriers between departments because we know how to best work with each other. If we can look at a user guide, we can figure out answers to questions like, “How do they like to communicate? What drives them nuts? What should I stay away from? What should I do? It just is a very good tool to give us an idea of how to bring out the best in people. It takes the guesswork out, which I think is really cool.

“But those are the two tools that Cox Media said they cannot live without and that they will continue to use for years to come.”

Satisfaction and Engagement Are Not the Same Thing

“In the engagement takeaway section of the Talent Magazine, there's the phrase ‘satisfaction and engagement are not the same thing,’” Matt says. “So, can you first explain the difference between the two? And second, why is understanding that so important?

“Yeah, engagement and satisfaction are not the same thing,” Kate said. “We've all walked into a department store and seen two people working there. Maybe they're having a funny conversation and laughing with each other. They probably even have their phones out and they're texting.

“They're satisfied. That's great. They're happy. They're not helping me as a customer, but they're satisfied.

“Engagement is an emotional commitment and willingness to give your best at work. It's ‘all in.’ So, when someone comes up to you and really understands their purpose is to help you, to help you get what you want. They’re engaged; they’re bought in.

“So, two very, very different things.

“You can have a lot of satisfied employees, but if they're not engaged, they're not helping you move forward, they're not committed to the bigger mission of your organization. They're not driving your success.

“Makes total sense, and I can see why there is a difference and why it's important to understand the difference,” Matt says. “Deb, anything else to add?”

“Yeah,” Deborah says. “I think so many people have an image in their mind of what culture is, and they're not right. They think culture is what Google did by providing ping-pong tables, free lunches, dry cleaning, etc.

"These are nice perks, but that's not a culture. Culture is asking, ‘Who are we? What do we represent? How do we get our work done? How can you be a part of that vision?

“Fun and games are nice, but that's not what a culture is. I think the sooner people realize that, the more that I think they’ll take a different approach.

“We just have to think, ‘let's be intentional about moving the needle with our people, so they are engaged."

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