How Improving Workplace Culture Is Like Driving a Stick Shift

To increase employee engagement, you need know your gears.


“But it is the REAL driving experience”, insisted my buddy from college years, while giving me the “I can’t believe we are discussing this” look. He was arguing in favor of stick shift manual transmission cars. The art of pacing the gears, sequencing and navigating the journey indeed sounds fascinating (and some hard work!).

Employee engagement is very dear to me as a leader. To me, it is the basic foundation of a human capital approach. It, too, has a number of gears which if adroitly handled, can lead to a great organizational experience. Engagement is a lot like a stick shift car

Here is a look at some of the key gears:

Gear 1: I: Intellectual engagement

Gear 2: E: Emotional engagement

Gear 3: F: Financial engagement

Gear 4: S: Social engagement

Gear 1: Intellectual engagement.

I am intellectually engaged if:

  • I feel in sync with the business direction
  • I can influence and help shape the company direction
  • My opinions are valued
  • My inputs and ideas are sought
  • I can share what I learn and learn from what others share
  • I can look up to someone who can guide me
  • I innovate, make a difference and challenge the status quo
  • I am not afraid to propose a new idea even if unpopular
  • I take well calculated risks and am rewarded for taking them

Gear 2: Emotional engagement

I am emotionally engaged if:

  • I am acknowledged and receive kudos for my success
  • I and my colleagues celebrate the company wins
  • I have the fire in the belly , the desire to see my company ahead in the industry
  • I am ready to go the extra mile to make my company win
  • I feel the company is willing to go the extra mile for me
  • I can count on the company in my time of need

Gear 3: Financial engagement
I am financially engaged if:

  • I am rewarded for my accomplishments
  • I believe I receive a fair wage
  • Greater compensation alone would not persuade me to look at another career opportunity
  • My job allows me to meet my financial goals
  • I have financial velocity (My compensation increases in value over time)
  • I benefit financially, when my company delivers business results

And now for the 4th gear- the overdrive. The Social gear is a very key differentiator and must not be ignored when thinking employee engagement. I am socially engaged if:

  • I feel I am part of a team
  • I can be creative and have a fair chance to demonstrate my talent
  • My family takes pride in and connects with what I do
  • I find my work place a great place to work
  • I look forward to go to office (even on a Monday morning!)
  • I have fun and enjoy what I do

In one of my experiences, we organized an award function for top performers but with a twist- the award was received by a key family member not to the employee- the sense of pride and the resulting social engagement was huge.

A smart engagement strategy doesn’t focus on one gear. It balances several gears, knows when to down and up shift based on the demands of the situation. Engagement then becomes part of the culture DNA vs a separate initiative.

This piece was originally published in

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