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Beyond Employee Engagement: The Real Drivers of High-Performing Companies

Updated: Jul 3

Employee engagement is a buzzword that’s been making waves in the business world for years. And for good reason—engaged employees are more productive, more innovative, and more committed to their organizations. However, while engagement is crucial, it’s only one piece of a much larger puzzle. To truly unlock the potential of high-performing companies, leaders must also focus on more systemic questions like strategic alignment and confidence, operating agility, and leadership trust.

Strategic Alignment and Confidence

Imagine steering a ship where every crew member believes in the destination and trusts the captain's navigation skills. Strategic alignment ensures that all employees are rowing in the same direction, fully understanding and believing in the company’s mission, vision, and goals. When employees know their work contributes to the bigger picture, their confidence in the company’s strategy soars. This alignment not only drives focus and efficiency but also fosters a sense of purpose and belonging among employees.

One of the most surprising findings in our company diagnostic work is how weak that alignment is at many companies. Leaders often believe their teams are well aligned, but when we ask employees to name their company’s top three strategic priorities, we frequently see 20 or more different responses, even at relatively small companies. In fact, a broad HBS study found that, on average, 95% of a company’s employees are unaware of, or do not understand, its strategy.

“So often, people are working hard at the wrong thing. Working on the right thing is probably more important than working hard.” – Caterina Fake, co-founder of Flickr.

Perhaps even more concerning than misalignment is weakness in strategic confidence. When we ask employees to anonymously rate their confidence level that the company’s strategy will work or whether they believe it will hit its stated annual goals, we have seen average responses well below 50%. That fact is that a company’s ability to hit past goals is one of the most consistent predictors of future success or failure. So if your team doesn’t fully understand your strategy, or, even worse, doesn’t believe it will work, we think that’s something you urgently need to know.

Operating Agility

In today’s fast-paced business environment, agility is key. High-performing companies adopt an operating model that allows them to pivot quickly in response to changing market conditions. This flexibility enables organizations to seize opportunities, mitigate risks, and stay ahead of competitors. Agility empowers teams to innovate, experiment, and adapt without being bogged down by bureaucracy or rigid processes. By fostering a culture of responsiveness and adaptability, companies can ensure they remain resilient and dynamic in an ever-evolving marketplace.

“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” - James Clear, Atomic Habits

We often see purpose-driven organizations, such as non-profits, with high employee engagement. But lurking below the surface are weaknesses in their operating agility that undermine their missions. For example, role clarity, collaboration practices, and access to tools and information are crucial to productivity and decision-making. So it’s vital to measure not just employee engagement but whether they are working with the tools and structures they need to be most effective at their jobs.

Leadership Trust

Trust in leadership is the bedrock of any high-performing organization. Employees need to believe that their leaders are competent, transparent, and committed to their well-being and the company’s success. When trust is established, it creates a positive feedback loop where employees feel valued and motivated, leading to increased loyalty and reduced turnover. Trustworthy leaders inspire their teams to take risks, innovate, and push the boundaries of what’s possible.

“In any human interaction, the required amount of communication is inversely proportional to the level of trust” - Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing about Hard Things

In our company diagnostics, we see strong correlations between trust scores and other vital disciplines like innovation and collaboration. This is one reason we put so much emphasis on measuring trust levels in the Volition Index. Lack of trust erodes confidence, breeds toxic politics and becomes an insidious “tax” on your operating efficiency. We know this can be one of the hardest issues to tackle - which is precisely why we think it’s so important to measure.

The Whole Picture

While employee engagement is vital, it’s clear that strategic alignment, leadership trust, and a nimble operating model are equally important. Together, these elements create a robust framework that drives high performance. Companies that excel in these areas are not only better equipped to face challenges but also poised to seize new opportunities and achieve sustainable growth.

At Volition Partners, we understand that building a high-performance company requires more than just engaged employees. Our Volition Index goes beyond engagement to measure these critical dimensions, providing a comprehensive view of your organization’s health and performance.

Ready to take your company to the next level?

Discover your Volition Index scores today and start unlocking your full potential.


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