For the last several years, I have presented numerous times on the topic of employee engagement because it continues to be a topic of interest. Like anything else that you immerse yourself in, I have learned much and continue to notice specific patterns emerging in the industry. Engagement continues to be a challenge to solve, yet I would suggest that within the confines of this blog post, we might find some answers. Curious? Read on.

Organizational Citizenship Behaviors

Going back to the late 1970s/early 1980’s this same question came about: what are the behaviors that employees exhibit such that an organization could flourish? In a 1983 research article in the Journal of Applied Psychology by Smith, Organ and Near, researchers answered that question, and uncovered behaviors they named Organizational Citizenship Behaviors (yes, a mouthful). Organizational Citizenship Behaviors or OCBs, for short, are behaviors that are exhibited by employees during their job and throughout their career. Smith and friends found two specific OCBs: compliant behaviors and altruistic behaviors. Compliant behaviors are those that describe your job description. They are the behaviors required of you to keep your job and are socially expected. For example, being punctual is a compliant behavior as you are expected to be on time for work and deliver your projects on time. Altruistic behaviors, on the other hand, are those behaviors that are not expected from you. They are not part of your job description.  An example of altruistic behavior is helping someone else finish their project or mentoring someone in their new job role.
Somewhere along the line, the term engagement replaced the term OCB. I understand why—OCBs sounds rather academic and doesn't flow nicely. However, with that replacement, I also believe we lost some of the term’s meaning and power. If we were to connect the industry definition of “engagement” with the definition of OCBs, I would think we are talking about altruistic behaviors, or maybe exceptionally performing your compliant behaviors. Josh Bersin operationally defines engagement as what one does with their discretionary time, which is the closest definition to the original one.

So What?

It’s nice to know these things, but as talent management practitioners, how can this be helpful to us? I can assure you there are many research articles and studies that provide some clear views on this topic as to how it can help organizations thrive. Many assessments will measure the type of behavior employees exhibit in organizations as well as other studies that have taken these two types of behavior and expanded them into more specific categories. There are entire consulting organizations devoted to this area. Yet, for this blog post, I conducted my own study, right here, at Cornerstone.

Badges? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Badges

Here, at Cornerstone, we have the functionality (in our product) to provide badges, or public recognition for a job well done. To the naked eye, it appears to be a morale booster based on social ideals. Specifically, it’s a feed found in your universal profile that colleagues can access and leave a comment. Mechanically, your superior is notified by email, and there is a record of the positive feedback in your performance file. It seems like it's a good idea overall; however, I would suggest that this strategy is the key to growing and developing our organization and it could be yours as well.

Drinking Our Own Champagne

Since this is a public view, I took the liberty of sampling over 100 employees (randomly) and counting how many badges they earned and categorizing them by either compliant behavior or altruistic behaviors (each badge usually comes with a description of work done from the person giving the badge to the recipient). I categorized compliant behaviors with comments that describe their actions as fulfilling their job. Often these comments spoke about how well they did their job; nevertheless, it was all about doing their job. On the other hand, altruistic behaviors addressed those actions that had nothing to do with their job on a day-to-day basis.  For example, presenting on a topic during our Development Day (Cornerstone’s employee development day) certainly qualifies as altruistic behavior. I also captured the employee's region, their function (i.e., sales), what date they received their badge and their start date with Cornerstone. These are all public attributes in their universal profile, and I wanted to see if any of these items affected their compliant versus altruistic behaviors.

What Did I Find?

At first glance, I found some not-so-startling results. For example, people whose tenure was longer had more badges, attributable to time in the company. Another not-so-riveting finding was that people that worked together often on projects gave each other badges more often than those who didn’t work together (however, more on that latert).
Then came some subtle, but more useful findings. For example, shortly after Development Day, those that presented and earned an altruistic badge often received a compliance badge shortly thereafter (a pattern), suggesting that people that exhibited altruistic behaviors got better at their ‘day jobs', or maybe they were recognized for being altruistic, which we know increases employee satisfaction (both the recognition and the ability to do what they love). Another interesting finding was that those employees that had what we call high social equity (employees are often seen in the limelight for consistent, overachieving performance), had more altruistic badges than compliance badges.
This finding may suggest that people that are looking to solve problems, regardless of their job description, are more valuable to the organization and their peers than if they were just doing their job. After all, one does not achieve high social equity without the performance to back it. Understanding these cause and effect relationships (arguably, we need to do some more studying) helps us to create more employee engagement programs that induce altruistic behaviors and, therefore, their associated benefits.

How Else Could You Use This Information?        

Doing a similar analysis could yield several other factors that would help in your talent management strategies. Below is a set of talent strategies that I also categorized by either organizational goal or talent goal.
  • Is there a theme to the altruistic efforts? Maybe there is a job function being underserved/underutilized that would optimize your performance. (Organizational Goal: Recruiting)
  • Does an individual employee exhibit exceptional skill outside of their job description that would be helpful to others in the organization as well as to the organization? (Organizational Goal: Talent Mobility)
  • If this latent skill is something that the individual wants to do, maybe you can incorporate it into their job description. (Talent Goal: Employee Satisfaction)
  • If this skill demands a full-time job, maybe moving that person into a new role may increase their engagement. (Talent Goal: Career Mobility)
There are probably many other areas that we could explore with this paradigm, but the moral of this story is that a small change in how we see and act on employee engagement may have a tremendous and lasting impact on the organization and its employees.