Are You an A+ Organization?

A review of more than 100 studies examining employee engagement reveals that only 20% of today’workforce reports that they are fully engaged in their work. This is, in my view, a shocking statistic that should raise a red flag for any workplace. Why? The degree to which employees are engaged has an impact.

Engaged employees are significantly more productive, drive higher customer satisfaction and outperform their under engaged colleagues, according to a recent Harvard Business Review blog by Tony Schwartz.

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With all this said, what do you as an organization measure to understand the degree to which your employees are or are not engaged? There are workplace engagement surveys, and yes, they do offer insight. But beyond these traditional measures, consider how your organization would measure up if you were to ask your employees to assign you a grade. Would you score an A+?

Earning an A+

Here is an opportunity to assess your organization’health through a slightly different lens – the “As” that will make your organization an A+ place to work. They are: Awareness, Assessment, Application, Appreciation, Acknowledgement, Advancement, and Authenticity.


Leadership stems from being aware and paying attention to the organizational environment that has been created for employees. Too often this is overlooked, with little consideration given to the physical layout, lighting or design of a workplace. Healthy “A+” work environments are not only safe, they are appealing and inspiring physical spaces. They allow opportunities for collaboration as well as privacy.

There are spaces for networking, teamwork and simply hanging out. If the organization is large enough to have a cafeteria, there are high-quality healthy food options available. If possible an on-site gym, as well places for employees to relax and renew during the day, are important.

Being aware of the expectations placed on employees is part of this important “A”. Check in with employees regarding their work hours, deadlines, and overtime, as there are often unstated norms within organizations regarding work hours, (e.g. the 60-hour work week). Also, appraise the responsibilities placed on the shoulders of employees and find out how they are dealing with these responsibilities.

Be aware of any of these expectations within your company and consider whether they enhance productivity. Business literature suggests that the most productive organizations insist that employees leave at a specific time, disallowing extended work hours. They are aware that longer hours do not necessarily improve productivity.


Assessment refers to the tools your organization has in place for reviewing performance and offering feedback to employees. “Seagull-style” performance reviews, where managers call in employees, dump a load and fly off are not the recommended approach. Yet too often organizations use this method or offer no reviews at all.

To earn your “A” for assessment, two-way performance reviews are the only acceptable approach with employees. This implies that managers and employees are in dialogue regarding performance and that the employee’point of view is fully considered.

The two-way system allows managers to assess employee perception of their own performance. From my experience as a manager, employees are often much harder on themselves than I would be. This subsequently opens up opportunities for coaching and mentoring.

A critical part of assessment is also follow-up. There is little point in conducting annual reviews if they only happen once per year. Regular conversations and feedback opportunities that support the annual review and formalized quarterly reviews are preferred. An annual review should never be a surprise – it should simply seem like part of a continuing conversation.


Application is more than assessment – it is giving your employees specific expectations related to their performance. Whether this goes to an employee’ongoing development and meeting organizational standards, or special assignments and projects, it is important for managers to specify the outcomes they are seeking, solicit employee feedback and agree on what success will look like.

Consistency is vital. There is nothing more discouraging than a manager who is not only vague in terms of expectations, but who also changes his or her mind continuously.

Once expectations have been set, following up is an essential ingredient. This is not for the purposes of micro-managing, but rather to understand how the employee is performing and to assess any additional need for coaching.


A key to keeping employees engaged and inspired is showing them that you appreciate them. Unfortunately employee appreciation seems to be at a premium. Studies conducted in the U.S. through the Gallup organization reveal that employees report that this is the most significant thing missing from their work environment.

An expression of appreciation can be done in many ways including catching people doing things right and noticing. Other aspects of appreciation include:

  • engaging employees” unique talents and strengths within the context of their responsibilities
  • “coaching employees to brilliance and encouraging them to see the greatness that lives inside of them, or
  • “creating time for employees to focus on their important priorities without interruption.

Whatever the choices an organization makes, appreciation is a sign of respect and caring for employees. In a study completed by Tom Rath and Donald Clifton, “How Full is your Bucket?”, appreciation expressed as regular recognition and praise both increased individual productivity, increased engagement and improved retention. The study also found that employees had greater loyalty to their company as well as better safety records and fewer accidents on the job.


Acknowledgement takes appreciation to the next level through public recognition and celebration of individual or team successes. An important feature of acknowledgement is that it needs to be personalized, otherwise it will seem like just another gratuitous comment. In their book Encouraging the Heart, Kouzes and Posner emphasize the importance of assuring that employees feel honoured, not diminished.

The key is to personalize the acknowledgement by detailing the difference the employee’contribution has made. This may take the form of specifying how the individual has contributed to the mission of the company, supported or modeled the organizational values, or made a difference to a customer.


Advancement is more than simply offering an employee a raise or a promotion. Organizational literature tells us that opportunities to learn and to use what is learned is vital to the healthy organization.

An important part of any performance assessment is to identify the career goals of individuals, what they see as their career trajectory, and what makes them thrive. Work with individuals to establish stretch goals and take the time to identify what they require to achieve these goals. This may be additional training, or it may simply imply mentoring and/or coaching.

While it is difficult to satisfy the career aspirations of every employee, listening, supporting and mentoring them will allow them to know that you are invested in their advancement.


In his book Start with WHY, Simon Sinek stresses the importance of the organizational “why”. In his research of successful organizations and individuals, Sinek found that knowing and living the “why” was a key leverage factor for a company’success. Most organizations get caught up in what they do and how they do, and along the way forget why they do it.

The organizational “why” refers to what the motivating factor for beginning the business in the first place. What was the dream, the vision, and how was this intended to change the world? This is the organization’authenticity.

What has this got to do with employee engagement? Simply said, it adds to the meaning of why people show up for work every day. Employees want to know that what they do every day makes a difference and that it contributes, in a beneficial way to the planet, Schwartz notes in his Harvard Business Review blog. Employees who make significant contributions to the organization'”why” can also be acknowledged, furthering their sense of making a difference.

Your Organizational Health

If you asked the departments within your organization to complete a report card on the seven “A’s” listed in this article, what would be the result?

A healthy organization is an “A+” organization, one that has awareness of the corporate environment and culture, one that assesses its employs through the process of dialogue. It is an organization where outcomes are clearly defined and employees are clear about what is expected of them, and one that shows appreciation for its employees through respect and caring and then acknowledges them for the work they have achieved. It is one where learning is the norm and where employees have the opportunity to apply what they have learned and engage all the best aspects of who they are.

Finally, it is an organization that knows and lives its “why, its “raison d’etre”. It is authentic and as a result, employees have a deeper sense of meaning and commitment.

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