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Viral Engagement on a Global Scale

Across the globe, 85% of employees are either not engaged or are disengaged at work, according to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report, which estimates approximately $7 trillion in lost productivity. Companies around the world are not performing as well as they could. They are leaving money on the table. But the problem is […]

Across the globe, 85% of employees are either not engaged or are disengaged at work, according to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report, which estimates approximately $7 trillion in lost productivity.

Companies around the world are not performing as well as they could. They are leaving money on the table. But the problem is not with financial capital—it’s human capital, where too many companies are missing a key component of the growth equation.

In my experience, looking at an additional, little-understood “horizontal” approach can deliver huge returns. Research supports what I have experienced personally. It starts with the understanding that any employee can impact the engagement of every employee in a group. I call it viral engagement.

A foundational study by James Fowler and Nicholas Christakis out of the University of California and Harvard, respectively, demonstrated that cooperation spreads from person to person. Significantly, and to the surprise of many, they found that positive emotions actually spread further—from person to person to person to person—up to three degrees of separation, even among people who are not acquainted.

But it’s the breakthrough work of another researcher who proved that positive emotions spread from person to person in a work environment. Specifically, Yale researcher Sigal Barsade authored the study that linked the spread of positive emotion with improved cooperation, decreased conflict, and increased task performance in the workplace.

When you understand that viral engagement is possible—and that it happens when you shift your focus from top-down to side-to side—you have the power to fill in the missing piece and unleash a whole new paradigm in your organization.

Companies would be well-served to consider these 10 opportunities to create the conditions for viral engagement, with the understanding that engagement is contagious and can start from anyone, anywhere in an organization:

Selection: Do you hire good team players and hold the expectation that every addition to your team can have an immediate impact on the engagement of current employees?

Education: Does your company invest in the soft skills that will enable your employees to be more effective in engaging others?

Communication: Do you reinforce verbal and written communication as equally important in engaging others?

Compensation: Could you pay a small team bonus for improving engagement scores?

Recognition: How could you recognize individuals and teams when new practices are adopted that are generated “bottoms up?”

Promotion: Do team members know that engagement success is part of the path to promotion?

Retention: When people do leave, do you ask about engagement in exit interviews?

Performance management: Is engagement a part of performance management discussions?

Values: Could engagement language be added to define your organization’s values?

Assessment: Do you assess for engagement skill sets?

The good news is that those at the top of organizations are finally aligned around this most critical issue. In fact, the annual Conference Board survey reported for the first time last year that culture and engagement was the top priority in every region in the world as ranked by over 1100 participating CEOs.

With increasing focus from the top-down, there is reason for optimism. But there is also a need to listen much more intently to those on the frontlines to better understand what it will take for them to fully engage. An investment in the horizontal approach takes time and energy, but the returns are “off the charts.”

In my experience, looking at an additional, little-understood “horizontal” approach can deliver huge returns. Research supports what I have experienced personally. It starts with the understanding that any employee can impact the engagement of every employee in a group. I call it viral engagement.

A foundational study by James Fowler and Nicholas Christakis out of the University of California and Harvard, respectively, demonstrated that cooperation spreads from person to person. Significantly, and to the surprise of many, they found that positive emotions actually spread further—from person to person to person to person—up to three degrees of separation, even among people who are not acquainted.

But it’s the breakthrough work of another researcher who proved that positive emotions spread from person to person in a work environment. Specifically, Yale researcher Sigal Barsade authored the study that linked the spread of positive emotion with improved cooperation, decreased conflict, and increased task performance in the workplace.

When you understand that viral engagement is possible—and that it happens when you shift your focus from top-down to side-to side—you have the power to fill in the missing piece and unleash a whole new paradigm in your organization.

Companies would be well-served to consider these 10 opportunities to create the conditions for viral engagement, with the understanding that engagement is contagious and can start from anyone, anywhere in an organization:

Selection: Do you hire good team players and hold the expectation that every addition to your team can have an immediate impact on the engagement of current employees?

Education: Does your company invest in the soft skills that will enable your employees to be more effective in engaging others?

Communication: Do you reinforce verbal and written communication as equally important in engaging others?

Compensation: Could you pay a small team bonus for improving engagement scores?

Recognition: How could you recognize individuals and teams when new practices are adopted that are generated “bottoms up?”

Promotion: Do team members know that engagement success is part of the path to promotion?

Retention: When people do leave, do you ask about engagement in exit interviews?

Performance management: Is engagement a part of performance management discussions?

Values: Could engagement language be added to define your organization’s values?

Assessment: Do you assess for engagement skill sets?

The good news is that those at the top of organizations are finally aligned around this most critical issue. In fact, the annual Conference Board survey reported for the first time last year that culture and engagement was the top priority in every region in the world as ranked by over 1100 participating CEOs.

With increasing focus from the top-down, there is reason for optimism. But there is also a need to listen much more intently to those on the frontlines to better understand what it will take for them to fully engage. An investment in the horizontal approach takes time and energy, but the returns are “off the charts.”

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