Why you need to use ‘UGRs’ to improve engagement

by Steve Simpson05 Dec 2016
Over the last decade or so, leaders across the world have dedicated much time and resources into employee engagement.
 
Engaged employees, according to proponents of the engagement movement, are more loyal and dedicated to their job, and more likely to give of their discretionary effort – in turn impacting on teamwork, service, innovation, initiative and investment in change initiatives.
 
While there are many measures of employee engagement, with widely varying estimates of the proportion of engaged employees, one thing is clear – despite efforts to lift engagement over the years, little has changed.
 
In their report titled “2015 Trends in Global Employee Engagement”, AON provide what are startling insights into employee engagement figures over time.
 
Across Asia Pacific, over the 2010 to 2014 period, engagement shifted from 64% to 66%. In Europe, the figure went from 62% to 57% in the same period.
 
And in North America, the engagement figures went from 64% to 66%. So why is it that with so much investment, effort and visibility, engagement figures are not rising?
 
One issue that is underplayed in the engagement space relates to a risk where both leaders and employees see engagement as the responsibility of the leaders – where staff are empty vessels waiting to be the recipients of constantly improving conditions and perks.
 
Our experience tells us that any lasting improvement in engagement is achieved through addressing the culture.
 
The Culture Paradox
 
Most leaders recognise the importance of their culture – yet paradoxically, few people understand culture in simple and practical terms.
 
This means that often  leaders intuitively know their culture might not be as good as it could be but feel powerless to change it. That’s where the concept of UGRs has a part to play.
 
Introducing UGRs
 
UGRs – unwritten ground rules – are defined as people’s perceptions of ‘this is the way we do things around here’. Sample UGRs include:
  • At our meetings it isn’t worth complaining because nothing will get done
  • The only time anyone gets spoken to by the boss is when something is wrong
 UGRs drive people’s behaviour, yet they are seldom talked about openly. It is the UGRs in a team or organisation that constitute its culture. Understand UGRs and we understand culture.
 
For most people, subscribing to the prevailing UGRs occurs at a sub-conscious level.
 
Typically, on commencement of their job, new employees will remain quieter than they otherwise would to deduce the team and organisational UGRs, in order for them to conform.
 
People will quickly deduce whether leaders are approachable, the general desire for new ideas to be shared, how customers are treated and so on.
 
Of particular note is the fact that as human beings, we all choose to subscribe to most of the existing UGRs.
 
To do otherwise would incur the wroth of too many colleagues. It is worth repeating that this channelling of behaviour normally happens without people being conscious of it.
 
Knowledge of UGRs
 
Giving people an awareness of UGRs can be a revelation for them. People realise that culture is not an esoteric, academic construct, but that rather it is something to which all people contribute – through their acceptance or otherwise of the UGRs.
 
Substantial impact on employee engagement can be gained by familiarising people with the UGRs concept and gaining their commitment to locking-in those aspects of the culture that are positive and identifying strategies to address those aspects of the culture that are counterproductive.
 
Engagement is realised through shared ownership where employees play a part in helping to sustain and improve ‘the way we do things around here’.
 
Steve Simpson is an international speaker and author who works with organisations across the world to help them understand and strategically improve their workplace culture. He is the co-author of the recently released book A Culture Turned
 

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