Kevin Sheridan, author of “Building A Magnetic Culture”. Photo courtesy of kevinsheridanllc.com
What is a “magnetic culture”?
Kevin Sheridan coined this term during his decades of experience as an upper-level Human Capital Management consultant. He has helped some of the world’s largest corporations successfully rebuild workplace cultures to foster productivity, engagement and retention.
Now he’s one of the most sought-after voices on the subject of employee engagement. He shares secrets of his award-winning, industry-changing innovation in his two books, “Building A Magnetic Culture” and “The Virtual Manager.”
I was lucky enough to catch Sheridan recently for a phone conversation to discuss his secrets to building a magnetic workplace culture.
Liz King: Kevin, so what is a magnetic culture?
Kevin Sheridan: Well, we actually wound up trademarking that term at my own company because we thought it was synonymous with engagement. SHRM did a study of the C-suite and all the CHROs this year and asked them, “What’s the most important thing for 2015?” The results were crystal clear: talent attraction and talent retention. Those two things are synonymous with magnetic culture, because a magnet draws top talent in and makes it really tough for people to leave.
LK: For our readers, can you summarize why a magnetic culture is a strategic business advantage?
KS: Oh boy, you know what? You’re going to want to take a look at a blog on my website — “A Compelling Business Case for Employee Engagement Initiatives.” It will walk you through all of the scientific links between engagement and business outcomes. I spent about a month pulling together all of the research on engagement and the scientific proof.
The reason I developed that, Liz, is that I’ve met so many HR people who are wrestling with the bean-counters in finance or accounting that look at the HR stuff as, “Oh, that’s that soft, fuzzy people crap,” as opposed to saying, “Wow, wait a minute, this is going to give us ROE — Return On Engagement. This is going to pay huge dividends.” And so what I did was I put together that blog so they can literally hand it off their finance people and say, “This isn’t warm and fuzzy. This is going to get you a bigger bottom line.”
LK: When you’re dealing with HR people who have to sell senior management in investing in engagement, is it really the long list of compelling evidence, or are there a couple key attributes that tend to sell the deal?
KS: Well, let’s say you have a cold, calloused finance person that really doesn’t care about doing the right thing for their greatest “asset” — which is the most overused term about people — just show them the Wharton study. Build a world-class culture of engagement and you’ll make three and a half times more money than everybody else. Profit sells.
LK: Can anybody, any business, build a magnetic culture?
KS: No. Only those organizations that have leadership that places a priority on it and then follows through with integrity.
LK: Awesome. I agree with you. For a manager who’s new to this and interested, but maybe hasn’t started, what are the key foundations that you need for building a magnetic culture?
KS: As I mentioned before, senior management commitment, educating yourself on the key drivers of employee engagement and leveraging them, and then measuring it. I’m a huge believer in measuring employee engagement by doing regular surveys.
Annual surveys will not only tell you which of work groups in my company are engaged, but also which are not, and then help you do something about it. Following through with actions is important.
LK: So when you work with workplace leaders, where do you typically start?
KS: I’ll start by assessing if there is true commitment at the top. If there’s not, I’ll probably tell the HR person, “You know, you’re going to waste your time here. Don’t even bother with an employee engagement survey, because you need to have that senior leadership commitment — not only to the survey, but also to what’s done afterward.”
If a company has never done an employee engagement survey, it’s so valuable. It sets the baseline from which you will improve.
LK: In the HR world right now, there’s a lot of talk that doing the annual survey isn’t enough, that you need to measure more frequently. Do you have point of view on that?
KS: I do, actually. That’s a big trend going on, Liz, and that’s a trend that I believe in. But what I don’t believe in is doing these surface, weekly surveys without doing the annual survey that will be coded by department and from which every single manager gets results for their work group. Doing the pulse surveys is fine if you just want to check the pulse on a global level — how are all employees feeling? — and then respond to it. That’s all great, but it does not supplant the value of doing the annual survey that’s coded by department and is a tool for managers charged with putting together meaningful action plans.
LK: Are best-practice companies training managers in engagement?
KS: They are, and boy, is there a need for that. It may come to you as shocking that only 60 percent of the managers out there say they have a handle on what engagement is. Sixty percent! And only 44 percent of employees even know what engagement is. You can’t build engagement if people don’t know what it is.
LK: How do you train management in how to engage? Does it vary dramatically across types of businesses, or do you find that it’s the same principles everywhere?
KS: It varies, depending on the industry, and some industries are more challenged than others. But the drivers of engagement, do they differ dramatically by industry? Absolutely not. They’re pretty common, especially the ones at the top, like recognition. There’s a desert of thank you’s out there.
LK: How do people find resources to do the two things you’re talking about — a high-quality employee engagement survey and good training for managers?
KS: Well, obviously, I promote my book as one of the great resources. I’m also a huge believer in Jim Collins’ work, “Good to Great.” I actually shared the podium with him last week at an event here in Chicago. It’s just a great book.
LK: Yes, it’s a fantastic book.
KS: And a lot of his messages are similar to mine. My advice for employee engagement would be: get passionate about it, live and breathe it, and then relish in the outcomes that you see or develop. And also measure it. You need to be doing measurement to find out, “Did our actions work? How much further do we need to go?” Set a goal, say, “I want to be Best in Class.” This is what I did at my old company. I owned HR Solutions for 18 years and I did 18 employee surveys across those 18 years and I learned something new every single time. When I sold my company, it was Best in Class. We were at the 93rd percentile.
LK: So where does someone go to find the likes of you, doing employee surveys? Is it a minefield, is there a lot of bad research out there? I think it’s pretty daunting to find resources if you don’t know market research.
KS: There’s a lot of bad research. The best thing they could do is ask an expert. If somebody’s looking for the right provider of an employee engagement survey and consulting, I can tell them who I would recommend strongly — who does great work, is innovative, ahead of the curve — and who to avoid. It is a minefield and I’m happy to help.
Interested in more from Kevin Sheridan? Visit his website and blog, order his books here and follow him on Twitter. He’s also available for speaking engagements. Have a specific issue of engagement or workplace culture you’re wondering about? He welcomes questions and consulting inquiries so connect with him!
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