Employees are the heart and soul of any company – and rightfully so. When employees are engaged and aligned with the goals of an organization, they behave in ways that have a tremendous positive impact. Compared with their disengaged peers, highly engaged employees are four times more likely to recommend the company's product and services and seven times more likely to recommend that a friend or relative apply for a job within the company, according to research by Temkin Group.

But when it comes to engaging with employees, financial services companies are actually going in the wrong direction. The percentage of highly or moderately engaged employees in the sector was 55% in Temkin's 2016 employee engagement study, a drop of seven percentage points from 2015.

The research offers some insights that can help companies improve. Three attitudes strongly correlate to engaged, productive employees. Companies that want to tap into the power of engagement need to focus on ensuring that employees:

Understand the overall mission of their company.

Employees who believe their company is fulfilling a mission behave differently — in a good way — when compared with employees who do not believe this. The lesson for banks is that they need to start with a clear purpose statement that employees can both understand and remember. UMB Bank reinforced its mission to deliver an unparalleled customer experience three years ago when it defined a set of guiding principles with specific behaviors for employees. The guiding principles include "make it clear," "make it personal," and "build raving fans."

Once the purpose is clear, banks should help employees understand exactly what it means for them and how they should act in their specific roles to fulfil this purpose. One tactic some companies are using to involve employees in understanding the mission is having video contests. In these contests, individual employees or teams of employees submit short, homemade videos conveying how they live the organization's mission on a daily basis. Videos are then reviewed by a small committee, and the top videos are shared companywide so that employees can vote for a winner. These videos also become assets the company can use in new hire training and other internal communication efforts to reinforce the mission over time.

Believe the company asks for their feedback and acts upon their input.

Employees are not only valuable for what they do, but also for what they know. Too often companies underuse or outright ignore their insights. Banks need to tune into what employees have to say through both formal and ad hoc listening activities — but it can't stop there. Banks also must be committed to taking action on what they learn. This includes closing the loop with employees by communicating what can and cannot be done based on the feedback or crafting specific action plans to introduce the changes that employees recommended.

USAA has used an online platform as a forum for the company to pose questions to its employees about challenges or innovation opportunities it wanted to address. In addition, employees could initiate discussion with a submission of their own, as well as vote up other ideas. USAA complemented these insights with an annual employee engagement survey and quarterly pulse polls, which allowed its communication team to capture feedback specifically on key initiatives happening at the company. "Pride Teams" also provide USAA employees with a chance to work together in smaller groups to share feedback and engage in grassroots communication across the organization.

Believe that the company provides the training and tools needed for employees to be successful.

Any company that requires employees to do things differently or better can't expect behaviors to magically change. Examine the training programs, coaching, and support tools being offered to ensure that employee development is successfully applied on the job. Fidelity Investments fulfills its customer experience principle to "create an environment worthy of our teammates' best efforts," by tapping regional groups of employees to identify training practices, tools, resources, and career development suggestions that they believe would enhance the employee experience. These groups, comprised of representatives from across functional areas, outline opportunities identified by members of the group and through suggestions or ideas that members solicit from their co-workers.

Success with employee engagement requires a shift from occasional actions to a sustained commitment to employees across the organization every day. And to be successful, companies must recognize that raising employee engagement is not the job of any single function, but rather it is a team effort that involves executives, middle managers, human resources, communications, and others. Collectively this group will be the one that takes a look inside the company's four walls and ensures that employees understand what is important, that they have the opportunity to have their voices heard, and that they are able to successfully deliver on expectations — all of which drive positive results.

Aimee Lucas is a customer experience transformist and vice president at Temkin Group.