Engagement is important to companies, as highly engaged employees bring their best effort to everything they do in the workplace. When employees give their best, they ultimately help the company achieve its goals.
And the number one driver of engagement isn’t having good relationships with coworkers, having opportunities for development, or having trust in leaders. It isn’t autonomy or work-life balance. Although many of these factors matter, they don’t matter most.
The #1 driver of engagement is feeling pride in your organization
Pride plays a big role in our lives. Students take pride when they score high on tests. Sports fans take pride when their teams win. Researchers take pride when their research papers get published in a prestigious journal. College students are more likely to wear school shirts after a football victory. Parents take pride when their kids make good grades.
But when it comes to employee engagement, we’ve overlooked the importance of pride. When we talk about engaged employees, we usually focus on how people feel about their relationships and their work. Although these factors matter, we should learn that pride has an even stronger impact. People have a relationship with their company too, and that relationship plays a major role in engagement.
When people feel proud, they are more satisfied, more committed, more successful, and more likely to recommend that company as a great place to work. When they feel connected to something bigger than themselves, they bring more of themselves to work. They feel a sense of ownership at the office. It’s not just the place we work—it’s a part of who they are.
This is true at every company. When people take pride in their companies, they internalize organizational goals as their own, and their relationship with the company changes. Work is more than a job or a career—it becomes a calling. Instead of just doing their jobs well and helping their colleagues, they start to focus on how they can serve the company’s interests. For example, people view marketing as everyone’s responsibility at my previous company—not just the role of the marketing team—and they regularly contribute and distribute content that they believe can market the company better.
There are three main factors predicted pride
Optimism: How much do people believe in the company’s future?
Mission: How much do people care about the company’s mission, vision and goals?
Social good: How confident are people that the company is making the world a better place?
These three factors drive pride across every function in the company—they matter for people in all roles. You will be surprised who you can recruit if the world truly excited about your future, mission, vision and core values. Even if you just get a little tiny piece of the world excited.
The only way to get great people to give up substantial short-term wealth is to do something that’s meaningful, to have a tremendous impact on the world, and yes – in the long term, provide wealth to the team as well. You need story, and meaning, and impact. Not just dollars.
In every part of a company, pride depends the most on optimism.
Optimism comes from being able to touch and taste an exciting future for the company. People judge their companies not just on their pasts but on their futures too.
You want to be optimistic because it’s mostly a self-fulling prophecy. Ambitious, energetic, and deliberate efforts direct towards progress are surprisingly effective in improving the state of the world around us.
Many people associate the meaning of their life with what their corporation or institution is doing. Employees want to make a difference — they want to be part of something bigger than themselves. The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when something becomes part of your identity. It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this. It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who is this. The more pride people have in a particular aspect of their identity, the more motivated they will be to maintain the habits associated with it. If you’re proud of how your skin looks, you’ll develop all sorts of habits to care for and maintain it. If you’re proud of the size of your biceps, you’ll make sure you never skip an upper-body workout. If you’re proud of the things you write, you’ll be more likely to spend hours writing each week. Once your pride gets involved, you’ll fight tooth and nail to maintain your habits. You might start a habit because of motivation, but the only reason you’ll stick with one is that it becomes part of your identity. Around the world, people take pride in companies that have strong identities. This means standing for something that’s distinctive and enduring.
The harder the challenge, the easier it is to build a company. But tackling ambitious problems doesn’t just make the potential prize bigger. Ambitious efforts are often more feasible than smaller ones, because the strongest people want to work on the most ambitious efforts. This positive talent effect is stronger than the negative effect of problem difficulty. Being mission-oriented ends up being a pre-requisite given the level of competition for employees. It’s easier to do a hard business than an easy business. People want to be part of something exciting and feel that their work matters. If you are making progress on an important problem, you will have a constant tailwind of people wanting to help you. When you have a bigger mission than just making money, when you’re willing to take a stand, shake things up and lose fans, you have the potential to appeal to a strong fan base who will follow you and invest heavily in you and your business.
Social good is about showing people that the company’s work improves people’s lives.
It’s important to have a future that’s inspiring and appealing. People need to feel excited to get out of bed and show up at work everyday because they believe they’re doing something big and important in the world. They need to know what this is — to have this kind of North Star to guide them. That’s what’s going to give them the energy they need and the ability to get the job done. Paying rent is an ok reason, but if that’s the only reason then as soon as someone shows up with a bigger bag of money they will leave you to secure the bag.
In a recent survey, the five where the most employees found work meaningful were SpaceX, Tesla, Facebook, Apple, and Google. It’s not a coincidence that social good is a fundamental part of these companies’ missions. It’s not about corporate social responsibility—a side project that’s separate from core products and services. It is the products and services. Transforming space technology, conserving energy, connecting the world, leading a digital revolution, and making information universally accessible and useful.