Let Me See How I'm Making a Difference

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Many people on LinkedIn are talking about what employees should do during the first 90 days at a job. But I’m here to say that companies have an equally important responsibility—and opportunity—during this critical new relationship that too many squander.

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When a new employee walks through the door, she typically goes through the motions with HR, picks up a badge, and undergoes some basic training. At too many companies, these new recruits are then set free to navigate internal politics and chase vague expectations. They might hear platitudes about customer service, but they never truly hear how their contributions make a difference to real people and the company as a whole.

Let’s face it: In such an environment, these employees typically become cogs in a stagnant, soul-crushing culture. Any star performer who emerges naturally will seek greener pastures. And like a bad boyfriend, the company will beg for forgiveness and dangle promotions to keep him; when from the start the strategy should have been to earn his loyalty with mentoring, open communication and opportunities to grow. What a shame.

You’ve heard me preach about employee engagement—it’s that important to a company’s success. And still so many companies struggle to create a culture that energizes and empowers its staff. Some troubling research Bain recently did with Netsurvey revealed that employee engagement declines as you go down a company’s org chart. It’s the lowest among sales and service staff, who interact most with customers. That should send a shiver down any executive’s spine.

CEOs mistakenly think they can create a customer-centric culture on their own, but that’s never true. It’s always a grassroots process in which people throughout the organization actively develop and support the company’s culture. Without an engaged, empowered workforce, a company can only go so far. But those qualities don’t evolve on their own — they’re nurtured and reinforced over time by everyone in the organization.

It starts during the first 90 days by setting a tone of teamwork and inclusion. New employees need to know that their ideas and feedback are welcome. Supervisors need to provide support with training and constant communication. The company must set a high bar for service, and supervisors must coach employees to meet it and celebrate the ones who exceed it.

As a kid, my parents liked to remind me that serving others can contribute to a meaningful existence. Similarly at companies, leaders need to show employees how their contributions make a difference to others; whether it’s their customers, colleagues, or society at large. Meaningful work leads to happy employees and, in turn, happy customers.

Before you dismiss this notion as too touchy-feely for Corporate America, think about the economic realities: With the U.S. unemployment rate at 5.6 percent, companies will have to work harder than ever to hold on to their best talent. So why not invest in your people on Day 1?