HR Industry Council: Unraveling the Link Between High Performance, Employee Engagement, and the Employee Experience

by | Feb 6, 2018

} 5 min read

Maintaining high employee engagement rates, maximizing employee performance, and creating an amazing employee experience— all three are vital to the success of a company. But how often do companies achieve these objectives in parallel? We sat down with Marcia Morales-Jaffe, an accomplished HR professional, to get her take on how these three vital HR initiatives are interconnected, and often complementary.

In her role as Chief People Officer, Marcia has worked with Fortune 300 companies PayPal and World Fuel Services. Now through her work with McKinsey & Co, she partners with visionary founders and leaders to take a holistic approach to building innovative high-growth businesses and scalable enterprises that have strong and diverse leadership teams, and cultures that inspire extraordinary achievements. She has personally and professionally lived and advised on all three stages–high performance, employee engagement, and an amazing employee experience–across many unique environments. We asked her to tell us how they overlap, and why unlocking an amazing employee experience ensures retention and drives productivity.

BetterWorks: Tell us about the three stages a company achieves as it matures (high performance, high engagement, amazing employee experience). How are they connected?

Marcia: Every growing company needs to execute really well. Especially in the early stages, leaders and teams are singularly focused on results, getting a lot done. They know success -or failure- depends on it. Goals are set, progress is tracked and milestones become accomplishments. High performing teams get things done quickly and efficiently. Check the box, move on to the next goal. Sounds a bit robotic? It can be. Have you ever had a job you’re very good at but you didn’t really love? Where you’d rather be doing something else? High performance doesn’t automatically imply high engagement.   

As a company grows, complexity creeps in. With hundreds or even thousands on your team, it is harder to keep everyone on the mission, aligned and “in the loop.” Some do a very good job at scaling and continue to deliver great results with teams that remain motivated, happy and self-propelled. This is high engagement and it doesn’t happen by accident.

BetterWorks: What are some strategies for unlocking employees’ highest level of engagement?

Marcia: Start by humanizing them. Call them “team members” vs. “employees”. Rename the HR Department “People Team”. Human Resources is a rather cold and detached label.

Next, ask for their opinions. Encourage them to present their ideas. Become very good at collecting feedback. Don’t set the expectation that every suggestion will be acted upon but be genuinely interested in listening. The best ideas can originate anywhere in the organization.

Then, think about the value of achieving diversity and inclusion. Diversity is not just what you can see from the outside like gender, race, age, athleticism. [tweet text=”True diversity comes from inside like our culture, our beliefs, the experiences that have shaped us.  Continue reading:”]”True diversity comes from inside…our culture, our beliefs, the experiences that have shaped us.”[/tweet] What really matters is the diversity of thought. When you bring a truly diverse team to work together in a professional environment of trust and respect, everyone feels encouraged to offer their best contributions. Working in an inclusive team is pure joy. And productivity soars as well.

BetterWorks: Is there a link between employee engagement and performance? Can you give us some examples of when you’ve experienced a correlation?

Marcia: There is a lot of research proving a positive correlation between high engagement and high performance, measured by the achievement of stronger results vs peers.

Basically, [tweet text=”You want your company to have a very strong culture, one that enables high engagement and high performance. Continue reading:”]”you want your company to have a very strong culture, one that enables high engagement and high performance.”[/tweet] This is built over time. I think step one is to start with a very clear, simple-yet-compelling, purposeful, inspiring mission statement.  A couple of examples are:


“Bring the world closer together.”


“Empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”


“Inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”


“Democratize financial services so managing and moving money is a right for all citizens.”

I know the PayPal example very well. I was their Chief People Officer in 2015 when it became an independent company and we crafted our Mission-Vision-Values and ignited a cultural revolution! Of course, culture alone is not a driver of great performance and, it is also true, high performing companies can have toxic cultures. My experience at PayPal proved to me how you can create enormous value by aligning strategy, execution, and culture.

BetterWorks: How do you define or measure an “amazing employee experience”?

Marcia: Very much like defining and measuring the customer experience. Think about serving a customer that buys your company’s products or services. Your teams are working on product design, engineering, quality control, market research, target marketing, profitability analysis etc, etc. You aim to solve your customers’ pain-points, anticipate their needs and generally over-deliver to keep them happy and loyal. Now flip the coin and think the employee is the customer. What if you asked those same teams to re-imaging the employee experience and make it amazing? You would measure success by (1) Acquisition, (2) Retention/Loyalty, (3) Engagement and most importantly (4) Net Promoter Score…. I would recommend this company -as an employer- to my friends.

BetterWorks: What are some of the benefits companies might achieve if they offer an amazing employee experience?

Marcia: Imagine if your employee experience was such that you would answer yes to the following questions:

  1. The company I work for anticipates my needs -as an employee and as a manager- and meets my needs with the right blend of technology and human touch.  
  2. The products and interactions that define my experience as an employee have been designed to be effective, efficient and often “surprise and delight”.
  3. The culture and values at my company are aligned with my own and I am encouraged to contribute with the best I have to offer.

If this were true for every employee, your company would have a clear and distinctive advantage in hiring and retaining great talent.

BetterWorks: What would your advice be to companies who want to evolve their culture from high performing to highly engaged?

Marcia: As noted at the beginning it doesn’t happen by accident. Here is a playbook of sorts

  1. Restate your mission, vision, and values in a clear, compelling, purposeful way. You should aim to inspire.
  2. Invite your employees to participate in shaping “the last mile,” every team customizes the values to their locations and functions. This cements ownership.
  3. Use a lot of storytelling to describe what it means to “live the values.” This will sharpen the understanding of how values translate into specific behaviors at work.
  4. [tweet text=”Recognize and celebrate great role-models to increase employee engagement. Continue reading:”]”Recognize and celebrate great role-models.”[/tweet]
  5. Leverage technology to make this a rich and continuous experience, one that employees are submerged in, rather than simply “posters on the walls.”

When companies do this well, it feels very authentic, genuine and everyone is a participant.

Thank you for sharing your valuable thoughts and ideas, Marcia. For more information about BetterWorks HR Industry Council, check out this blog post.

Sarah handles all things communications at BetterWorks. She’s been setting goals since she was 5 and believes the key to happiness at work is optimism and the desire to achieve big things— and of course lots of coffee.