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The DNA of engagement: What we bring to work

I was speaking to a COO recently and the topic of employee engagement surfaced as a pressing concern for him. His leadership team was looking for innovative ways to improve efficiencies and productivity of their workforce, and they felt employee engagement had been trending downward.  They were especially concerned about a number of their key staff in critical roles.


“DNA … is simply the way in which employees are wired to produce [your organization’s] output.” – Mark Felts, Vice President of Capability Principal Learning Solutions, Commercial Healthcare

We talked about the generational differences in his workforce and how that may be a factor. We discussed learning styles and different offerings his organization provided for professional development. Interesting to me was how much time he spent on confirming all of the programs his executive team has worked on to improve employee engagement.

Employee engagement is easy to see but sometimes hard to quantify. After going through a high level overview of their development programs, I asked a simple question: “Does your executive team, your managers and front line supervisors understand the DNA of their direct reports?”  Being in healthcare he appreciated the reference but asked me to clarify the question.

Each one of us has a different story that we bring to work with us every day. We are all driven by distinct situations and varying circumstances. Many times the development programs, created with the best intentions, are not taken advantage of due to other variables that go unseen. Each company is trying to create more output and deliverables with fewer people providing the input. Executives are expected to build new geographies, managers are tasked with additional business units, supervisors are given larger spans of control all the while an individual’s “DNA” is never discussed.

The DNA referred to here is simply the way in which employees are wired to produce the “output” that the organization is trying to achieve. It combines mission, vision, values  and more, but at the core it is who you are and how you show up to work. What does it mean to be you as it pertains to work?  That is the DNA of engagement.

If your supervisors, managers and executives can answer that question independently for each of their direct reports, then they have taken a significant step toward employee engagement.

Below is the example I gave to the COO and he uses to this day with his team.

What it means to be … me

  • Feel respected for the work you do, feel relevant to the business as a whole and recognized for your efforts regarding your respective team.
  • Be entrepreneurial, make something substantial and meaningful out of scattered disparate parts. Get s— done.
  • Bleed integrity, always be sincere, have difficult conversations when needed, always do what’s right.
  • Life is short.  Have a blast, create something cool, be kind, be flexible, be friendly and roll on.