Are engaged employees found, or made?

A couple of recent articles on employee engagement have me thinking that many employees are engaged by nature and it’s not the organizational system that engages them (or doesn’t). Employee Engagement Isn’t Getting Better and Gallup Shares the Surprising Reasons Why, by Mark C Crowley, tells us that, despite our best efforts, growth in engagement has remained flat, with apathy and discontent among the workforce relatively constant.

How Southwest Airlines Hires Such Dedicated People, by Julie Weber, provides far more hope for developing a fully engaged workforce. She explains it like this:

“That’s because we view engagement as a two-way street. Yes, an employer must work to keep employees engaged by offering good pay and benefits, opportunities for development and advancement and a collaborative, mission-driven culture. But you also have to hire people who are engaged from the start, whose values are in sync with the organization’s.”

Values-based hiring leads to an engaged workforce

In other words, at a fundamental level, engaged employees are hired, not created – based on their values and potential to realize them. The most valued characteristics for potential employees include, but may not be limited to: a desire to excel, act with courage, persevere, and innovate; the ability to put others first, treat everyone with respect, and proactively serve customers; passion, joy, and an aversion to taking themselves too seriously.

Of course, this presupposes that your management team is also engaged, which is not something that can be taken for granted. Yet, by shifting your focus to hiring people with “engagement potential”, you’ll be building a culture of engagement throughout your organization, with long-term benefits that are impossible to overestimate.

When I ran businesses, the top team often talked about the fact that it is not safe to assume that all potential employees want the empowerment and independence we were offering, we had to carefully screen for a values fit.

While Southwest receives hundreds of thousands of resumes for every job posted (this is not by accident, companies like Google, Bain, Zappos, and Amazon work the PR hard to generate a buzz – why companies love to get their name on Great Places to Work lists – to attract applicants), which allows them to be very selective, the same may not be true for your organization. However, the upside to being picky is obvious – you’re able to hire prospects with high potential for becoming fully engaged in their work, making them equally committed team members, and placing them on the path to accepting leadership roles in the future.

What types of people does your organization hire? Do you look for “engagement potential” in everyone? Does your business culture foster, or limit, employee engagement? What can you do to change that culture?