A New Model for Collaboration and Employee Engagement

In 1943 Abraham Maslow clearly explained our hierarchy of needs includes being respected, accepted or valued by others. In 1968 Frederick Herzberg reminded us of this in his now-classic Harvard Business Review article entitled “One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?” Chip Conley’s recent best-selling book Peak re-affirms recognition and meaning as success and transformation drivers for employees.

And yet, too many distressed managers believe employees are out for themselves and motivated primarily by money. They overlook the power of collaboration with their employees to drive peak performance and organisational health.

Creating shared values for employee engagement

People need purpose, especially at work. When an individual’s personal values are aligned with the core values of the company, that’s when passion is ignited – and that creates the collaboration that drives innovation, productivity, growth and competitive advantage. One example is Tony Hsieh who founded Zappos.com and sold it to Amazon for over US$1 billion. Zappos aligned its entire organisation around one mission: to provide the best customer service possible. It supported it with 10 values that resonate with everyone who works there including delivering WOW through service, embracing change, creating fun, pursuing learning, open communication, building a family spirit, doing more with less, being passionate and being humble. The flow-on benefits are high morale, lower turnover rates, and an environment and culture that attracts the best talent and an authentic connection with customers that drives sales to growth rates any company would envy.

This mutual goal achievement is represented in the red collaborative overlap of the twin circles: here representing the company and the individual (although they can also represent any two parties coming together).

At the extreme end of the company circle (in blue) are the managers who indulge in what I call “harmful self-interest” when they focus exclusively on short-term sales, at the expense of their people and their values. When values are compromised and when people are disrespected, both the health and the performance of companies suffer. These managers purport to self-interest, but they are harming everyone including the company itself by operating outside of shared values. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the employee engaging in a different form of harmful self-interest; be it avoidance of responsibility, politicking or sabotage of colleagues.

The white spaces in between are every day realities of compromise and accommodation that exist because we don’t live in a perfect world. Whether it’s the employee accommodating a request from the company to work late on a critical project, the company compromising to cater to a unique individual need or vice-versa, these everyday interactions and negotiations can be healthy, so long as they are not repetitive and within limits. It’s only when compromise or accommodation become chronic that values are jeopardised.

The next step is plotting where you are on the chart, where your company is on the chart – and developing a plan to move towards the middle. The chart can serve as an aid to self-awareness, and understanding the behaviour of others.

Collaboration is a way of aligning everyone’s interest so more of the workforce’s energies go into the company’s objectives than into playing games. It’s more complex because there are many stakeholders with differing needs, but once a commitment is made to bringing these interests together and not seeing them as mutually exclusives, it’s amazing what companies can achieve.

In a study of 40 global companies, the Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility found an improvement of over 5% in operating margin and over 3% in net profit margin between the companies with high employee engagement compared to those with low engagement.

This is a shortened extract from the new book, The Trust Future: How to Use Business Ethics to Create Your Commercial Advantage, which has been described as “a breath of fresh air in current business literature”. To purchase a copy, please click here.

Omer Soker is the CEO of The Ethics of Success Corporation and contactable on: