The Engaged Organization


People Engagement Series

Resource Note # 2

Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry. 1

– Richard P. Feynman

Organizations are performance systems that are established, operated and developed by people, in order to process unique ideas into frames of action and accomplishment. They help to secure performance at a scale and quality that cannot be matched by the best of individuals or small groups. 

Organizations have evolved over the centuries. They make use of contemporary capabilities, in order to produce the products and services needed at the time. The ideal organization is one that can mobilize a virtually unlimited number of people towards the creation of meaningful products, services, and experiences – in ways that can help to fulfill the greatest aspirations of its stakeholders. 

Such collaboration is best achieved by creating holistic mechanisms for coordination, which are in evolutionary harmony with the laws of nature. Employees at all levels of the organization then feel appreciated, and are genuinely proud of their meaningful contribution to its purpose. 

We call such a purposeful and synergistic collective context as the Engaged Organization. The below shows how an “engaged” organization may be built as a coherent whole at many levels. 

The Contours of the Engaged Organization

The salient organization development challenge in modern times is that of building a highly engaged workforce that is happy and productive at the same time. The challenge becomes manifold, on account of the intensely dynamic socio-technological environment that serves as the external context in which engagement is to be accomplished. 

An engaged organization is one that yields a high degree of institutional effectiveness, in conjunction with individual fulfillment. The cloud-shaped box at the topof the figure represents the sublime endeavour to build such an organizational context. 

The two square boxesat the bottomof the diagram represent the two foundational factors upon which organizations may be built: a) the nature of the human being, and b) the nature of the work that people are expected to perform. These denote the fundamental starting point for the design of any mode of accomplishment, in any organized setting whatsoever.

The depth of understanding of human nature that is imbibed by any group of people over a period of time is naturally reflected in its culture. Likewise, the internal structure of the organizational system corresponds most closely to the nature of work that the organization is expected to perform. 

This book postulates that culture and structure are the two key inter-dependent attributes that determine the level of employee engagement in any organization. But, what kind of culture and structure are conducive to the development of superior engagement? In the diagram, the two oval boxeson either side of the concentric circlesrepresent these two dimensions. They denote an “appreciative” culture and a “holistic” structure respectively.

Employees are nurtured by an appreciative culture that is deeply informed by the highest aspirations of human nature. On the other hand, a holistic structure facilitates the seamless accomplishment of the entire range of work elements that need to be performed, in a naturally ordered way. If the structure may be likened to the visceral body of the organization, the culture can be considered as its soul.

A holistically configured organization structure is characterized by seven primary roles: a) individual contributor, b) supervisor, c) manager, d) executive, e) leader, f) director and g) the chairperson (of the Board). These are placed at progressively increasing levels of responsibility in a hierarchy of levels.

The accountabilities towards organization functioning that are respectively associated with these roles are (i) production, (ii) synchronization, (iii) optimization, (iv) innovation, (v) reinvention, (vi) executive development and (vii) corporate governance. These responsibilities are best fulfilled when the person adopts a constructive approach to her work. This is facilitated by an appreciative organizational milieu.

The concentric circles at the centre of the figure represent these roles, accompanied by their specific accountabilities. The following table shows their correspondence:

RoleIndividual ContributorSupervisorManagerExecutiveLeaderDirectorChairperson
AccountabilityExcellenceSynchronizationOptimizationInnovationReinventionExecutive DevelopmentCorporate Governance

When capable people employed at the various levels of a holistically configured organization fulfill their respective accountabilities in a truly appreciative vein, an engaged work context naturally comes into being!

The Engagement of Employees

The primary objective of every institution is to create stakeholder value through the delivery of products, services, and solutions. Its people create value by leveraging external resources, as well as the optimal utilization of their personal competencies and capabilities.

The finest employees are those that invest their complete being into the success of the enterprise. Their individual being gets aligned with the essence of the organizational mission and vision. When the head, the hand, and the heart are integrated with the task, human effort is transformed in quality as well as quantity. So do the results that arise from it.

This phenomenon is beautifully captured in the construct of employee engagement, which refers to a positive, work-related psychological state that is characterized by a genuine willingness to contribute to the organizational success. Engaged employees are enthusiastic about their work. They take positive action to further the organization’s reputation as well as interests.

Employee engagement is observable as adaptive behaviors that help to meet or exceed institutional expectations. Engaged employees and associates have been found to work harder, go beyond the call of duty more often, and stay with the enterprise for a longer duration. They experience a blend of job satisfaction, commitment, job involvement and a feeling of empowerment. 

The three salient aspects of employee engagement are a) attitude, b) behaviour, and c) outcomes. An engaged employee might feel pride and loyalty (attitude), be a great advocate of the company to customers (behaviour), or go the extra mile to finish a piece of work (outcome). The outcomes may include lower accident and attrition rates, higher productivity and innovation, reduced sickness rates and other attributes. These three key aspects of engagement reinforce one another in a virtuous cycle.

Employee engagement has gained priority, because organizational performance is becoming less and less amenable to centralized regulation. The factors of production are increasingly getting standardized. Modern organizations rely upon the innate judgment, positive intent and momentary wisdom of the employees in order to deliver outcomes at the frontline, on the floor, and in the field. The alignment of the task or job with the entire being of the employee is thus a critical imperative for organizational success. An engaged workforce thus becomes a key source of competitive advantage. 

Multiple meta-analytic studies have demonstrated robust cross-sectional linkages between employee engagement and increases in profit, innovation, productivity, beneficial discretionary effort, and customer satisfaction as well as retention. 2Other studies have demonstrated that engagement also promotes a reduction in negative behaviour such as absence, voluntary attrition, and sabotage.

The Twin Pillars of Engagement: Organization Culture and Structure

An organization is a social unit that is characterized by a management structure, which represents a relatively stable pattern of actions and interactions that people undertake for the purpose of achieving goals. 3The organization structure determines the flow of internal communication, decision-making authority as well as accountability, and how the institution gathers resources to achieve its objectives.

To fulfill their respective mandates, all organizations need at least a rudimentary structure that facilitates the division of work through the assignment of roles, responsibility and the authority to carry out different tasks. 

Every organization is also marked by a unique culture, which encompasses the underlying beliefs, assumptions, values, and ways of interaction that determines how things are accomplished therein. These attributes create a frame of reference for the perceptions, interpretations, and activities of the people. 4They influence the manner in which employees interact with one another, and also with the external stakeholders of the enterprise. Culture thus has a significant impact upon all the organizational processes and outcomes. It plays a crucial role in determining organizational behaviour.

Organizational structure is an extrinsic factor that influences behaviour through formal limitations that are set by the division of labour, authority distribution, the grouping of units, and coordination. 3On the other hand, organizational culture is an intrinsic factor that guides the everyday actions of the people.

At the same time, the structure is itself a cultural symbol that mirrors the key values and assumptions of the organization. By shaping the mental maps of people, the culture influences the frame of reference that determines the structure. In this manner, structure and culture comprehensively explain and predict the causes and forms of the engagement of people in organizations.

These two attributes are not only closely inter-related, but are mutually symbiotic. The organizational culture dictates how the institution should be structured, while the structure becomes the vehicle through which the culture is implemented. The vice-versa is also true – as indicated by the words of the famous British statesman Winston Churchill, “First we shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” 5

To build engagement, it is important to develop an intrinsically appreciative organizational culture. This constructive mode of functioning embodies respect for the uniqueness and inherent worth of each individual in society. It enables the strengths of the employees to be affirmed and leveraged towards the efficient conduct of business. The inclusive character of the appreciative paradigm looks after the interests of all the stakeholders, and thus provides a harmonizing work context for the people.

The other key enabler of engagement is a holistic organization structure that is characterized by a hierarchy of decision-making accountability of seven levels. These different strata represent specific functions that are critical for organizational effectiveness.

Why are there only seven strata or levels in a holistic structure? Scholars say that the number seven denotes completeness, and symbolizes perfect order. All the salient manifestations in the universe (such as colours, musical notes, directions and logic gates etc.) are permeated with a sevenfold structure. As will become evident, seven levels of accountability also cover the operational, strategic and governance aspects of organizational effectiveness quite comprehensively.

As individuals move up the organization’s hierarchy of authority and accountability, they integrate a greater range of competing priorities, ideas, and values across continually expanding horizons of time and space and thus solve increasingly more complex problems. When people move into more senior roles, their previous knowledge and expertise become less significant as compared to their ability to make judgments in the face of uncertainty and ambiguity.

The characteristics of an engaged organization may therefore be summarized as follows:

  1. Role authority and accountability in a hierarchical structure that is mapped with the organizational effectiveness functions
  2. Clear assignment of roles, in the context of well-defined cross-functional relationships
  3. Constructive cultural practices that help and encourage the employees to comprehensively deploy their capability, individually as well as collectively

A talent pool system that identifies meritorious employees for promotion and career development, and also supports effective succession planning. 

References

  1. Feynman R. Richard Feynman – The Character of Physical Law – Part 1 The Law of Gravitation (full version) [Internet]. 2011 [cited 22 May 2018]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3253&v=j3mhkYbznBk
  2. Success W. What is Employee Engagement – Engage for Success [Internet]. Engage for Success. 2018 [cited 25 April 2018]. Available from: http://engageforsuccess.org/what-is-employee-engagement
  3. Janicijevic N. The mutual impact of organizational culture and structure. Ekonomski anali. 2013;58(198):35-60.
  4. Schein E. Organizational culture and leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass; 2004.
  5. Churchill and the Commons Chamber [Internet]. UK Parliament. 1943 [cited 16 August 2017]. Available from: https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/building/palace/architecture/palacestructure/churchill/

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