There is currently ample evidence that US companies are losing billions of dollars annually because their employees are disengaged. Glassdoor estimates that 70 percent of the US workforce is disengaged, and that disengagement is costing between $450-550 billion dollars. I hate to tell you this, but stocking your kitchens with the latest Kombucha flavors is not going to cut it to get these people back on board! The time has come to start building “Engagement Villages.” These havens are the destinations YOU BUILD in your organization where employees want to flee from every other company ignoring these statistics.

Almost every company in Silicon Valley is racing to ramp up their engagement survey scores, all in an effort to be called a “Great Place to Work.” The moniker goes a long way to making a company desirable to the most sought after talent. A company’s culture will tell you almost all you need to know about whether engagement survey scores are stellar or deplorable.

A company wanting to dial up its survey scores is focused on the wrong prize. It is the company striving to make theirs a GREAT place to work that will win the day. A village where employees WANT to move. Not some boring statistic that makes it on a gold sticker! When employees love going in to their job, the culture is thriving and almost by default, the company will see peak engagement.

So how do we make Engagement Villages in companies so they become great places to work? It isn’t easy, but there are some places to start:

  1. Diversity and Inclusion
  2. Development
  3. Competitive pay and perks

It’s a short list, but each one of these areas packs a wallop! We can unpack each topic to uncover a deluge of projects, so let’s stay high level for the moment.

Diversity and Inclusion

I once worked for an organization where the only people who seemingly fit in were white women who were married and had kids. The leader of the org was a married white woman with a child, and she all but ostracized anyone who did not fit that mold. I was a HR Generalist there but she asked me to decorate her office because – as a gay man, she explained – my people were better at decorating. She eliminated my role a few months later.

No one wants to work for a company where they feel like they don’t fit in and their needs are overlooked. Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is a huge umbrella, and it all comes down one thing: is your company a place that allows for ANYONE to work there and thrive?

D&I should envelop the entire employee continuum, from recruiting and hiring to development and performance management, to benefits and time off.  For many years now, tech companies have gotten slammed for only appealing to the single, male demographic. Years ago, I was being interviewed for a head of HR role at a very small startup. The CEO – who was interviewing me over the phone – asked me if I intended to start a family anytime soon, because he felt I would not have time for that and give them what they needed as their HR leader.

Not only was that illegal, but it sent a distinct message about who that company wanted working for them. Whether he intended it or not, I was not welcome.

Companies winning top talent these days are brandishing benefits packages that include vastly expanded leaves of absence for parents (including birth, baby-bonding time, adoption and in vitro fertilization options), family medical needs, and bereavement. Touting a “generous” time off package of just 3 weeks vacation is not going to cut it anymore.

Development Opportunities

Ask almost any millennial interviewing for a job these days what they are looking for, and they will tell you that they want a career track and development opportunities. Gone are the days when a career track meant simply being promoted into a management position. Today’s workforce wants to see how they can progress the mastery they have in their current role, what the next step is in their job family, and what exactly your company is going to do to help them get there.

So many tech companies rely on strong engineering and technical staff. Most of these individuals go to school or learn about technology because they like to build stuff that causes significant change in the world. The worst thing a company can do is promote someone from an engineering role into a management role without having a conversation with the individual to ask them, “Do you actually want to be a manager?”

The truth is, we need the engineers more than we need the managers, so being able to develop and engage these folks in their technical roles is paramount to success. There will, inevitably, be those who want the management track, so in addition to engaging the individual contributors, you’d better ensure your company has robust management training opportunities.

Creating individual contributor and management job family architectures can help immensely in this area. While we can spend days discussing all of the various ways to train and develop people, we need to begin with the roadmap of job profiles and job families.

Competitive Pay and Perks

Companies like Netflix and Atlassian are setting new bars for being competitive on pay. Their philosophy is to take comp (which can include a generous base salary, equity, and frequent bonuses) off the table. This may sound strange, but all indicators show us that the top candidates are LESS interested in pay and more interested in the challenge, development opportunities, and work itself. The problem is, if you don’t also address pay, you risk other companies swooping in to steal your employees. Think of it as a pizza. You could have the BEST crust on the planet, but unless your toppings are appealing, you will have a hard time retaining the customers.

Sometimes the discussion around compensation is relegated to HOW MUCH is being paid. A big part of the discussion should be about how people are rewarded and the flexibility management has to address compensation outside of the regular performance review cycles.  Many companies have done away with tying pay to performance and use a much more fluid model. In this scenario, all employees are paid a top salary, while managers hold regular, frequent conversations with employees about their performance. Feedback is direct and constructive, and managing people up or out becomes a regular occurrence. This plays out very well or very badly, with little room in the middle.

I had a top engineering employee set some time with me a few years back. He started the meeting by writing four offers on a white board he had recently received from four competing companies. He told me he was not interested in leaving, but wanted me to know how much more he could be paid if he left. I took that meeting more seriously than ever before because he was offering me a gift: insight into what WE would need to do to keep him, and what OTHERS were willing to do to win him.

Walk away with this: your company should have a clear compensation philosophy, with competitive data that is updated regularly. And you should be able and willing to communicate that to all employees, because they will ask for it!

Wrap it Up

Great compensation in a company that excludes women. A solid, exciting product with lots of compelling work and development opportunities where employees are required to work 80 hours a week. These won’t do, and your engagement scores will show it. But more importantly, no one will want to work there!

Stories about company culture and engagement are abundant, and you will undoubtedly come across dozens of variations on the subject. The truth is, the companies that will win are those that address it all. Going back to our pizza analogy, the best pizza out there is the one that has the tastiest crust, best topping, and is delivered and prepared with the utmost care. One or the other won’t do. And let’s face it, your Engagement Village with its kickass pizza shop is going to become the destination of choice for the long haul.



Matt loves sushi, his dogs, and video games. In the real world, he is the Senior People Partner at Mozilla, and has partnered with organizations throughout Silicon Valley in the tech-startup, gaming, retail, and non-profit spaces.


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