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It’s a common fact that companies with engaged employees out-perform their competitors. From increased customer service ratings, lower turnover costs, higher morale, to higher profits, the list of benefits goes on and on. Compared to decades ago, I would say the benefits of employee engagement are almost common knowledge! But today, let’s go deeper – we know WHAT employee engagement can do for companies, but WHY do engaged employees create results and why do engaged companies outperform their competitors so significantly?

It’s not about creating engagement, but creating self-engagement.

Why are employees more dedicated to high performance when they’re “lead” to beliefs instead of “forced” with threats or offers of pay and perks? Well, one thing psychologists has proven over the years is that humans are more likely to accept ideologies when they’re simply “lead” to create the belief in their own head. There have been countless studies on this subject, but my favorite was in the book “Influence: Science of persuasion” by Robert Cialdini. In the book, Cialdini discusses a psychological experiment where children in two test groups were placed in a room and told not to play with a specific toy. In one group, the children were told directly to not play with it with warnings of punishment, in the other, they explained to the children various reasons why, without any threats. Well guess what?…. Neither group played with it. But, a month later when they brought both groups back in – the first group who was threatened DID play with the toy. The second group DID NOT! Even without supervision or having to ask.

What this experiment and many others have demonstrated was the power of guiding humans to create their OWN reasons for a belief and how much more likely it is that those beliefs will stick and create sustained results and action. This is why the best employees don’t need to be managed closely, they perform and manage themselves! That’s why the most successful companies in the world focus on fostering engagement through shared beliefs, purpose, and vision.

Our brains aren’t wired to create results or take action unless we know the “WHY”.

What’s so incredibly fascinating is there is actually a biological reason employees don’t care about your results without knowing the “why?” aspect, or the “vision”. In other words, if your employees are not engaged with a belief system, human biology will keep their results stagnant! One of my favorite demonstrations of this was by Simon Sinek in a book called “Start with Why” in which he discussed what it is that really drives human beings to take action or create results. It turns out, its not so much the “WHAT” factors – like what an employee is doing, what the perks/pay are, etc. What’s really important is that they understand WHY the company does what it does. What’s the vision and purpose, why should they care?

What does this have to do with our biology? Well it turns out, the part of our brains responsible for processing facts (“the what”) is not even the same part that is associated with emotion, drive, and decision making (“the why”). So guess what, it doesn’t even matter how much you push what you do, what you pay, what the perks are, or what the punishment is – you can’t create engagement without focusing on a common purpose and vision.

So, How do you lead employees to engagement?

Creating a culture or engagement isn’t as simple as buying a ping pong table for the break room, or even forcing employees to watch “culture” videos. It’s about becoming clear on what you believe as a company, what makes you unique, what your vision is, and then working those beliefs into everything you do – including your hiring, on-boarding, management, and growth opportunities. No company is perfect and can engage every employee, some employees just aren’t a good fit! But how do you give yourself even a fighting chance without creating a belief system that employees can get behind? Do this for the sake of your employees, let them grow, learn and have fun, and they’ll become high-performing, innovative, soldiers of your business.