In our first two books, Maddie and I were fairly traditional on the dedication page—the first one went out to our respective parents, and the second one was dedicated to our respective kids. So when we put out The Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement last year, we took a different approach to the dedication:

Dedication: To all those who believe, like we do, that work does not need to suck.

The reality in today’s workplace is that a large percentage of people simply expect work to suck. If they end up in a workplace that is good, it’s a surprise. The engagement numbers seem to back this up. Despite nearly two decades of efforts to improve employee engagement, the Gallup numbers have only gone from 30% “highly engaged” back in 2001 to 34% in 2018. Work is still sucking. A lot.

But as the dedication states, we don’t think it has to be that way. I’m still doing a lot of speaking on employee engagement thanks to the book, and the core message is this: if you want work to NOT suck, then you need to double down on fixing the culture, rather than trying to improve engagement.

Engagement is the RESULT of a culture that is aligned carefully with what makes people deeply successful in your organization. So your task is to find the patterns inside your culture that are messing with success—and fix them. Don’t ask if people are happy—dig into what’s really valued inside your culture and connect the dots with your success drivers. Every time you find a mis-alignment, fix it. People will magically become more engaged once you help them to be more successful, both in their organizational role and as humans.

Maddie and I have seen the organizations who refuse to let work suck. They’re the ones that attract the best talent, and they tend to be running circles around their competition too. And they are disciplined about culture design. I would argue, that’s the first step.

Image credit.

Jamie Notter