Ahhhh…employee engagement. One of my favorite subjects. So many folks are talking about it and singing its praises, and rightly so. A fair few of the business metrics that the CFOs and number crunching crowd are so excited about are directly or indirectly affected by employee engagement. While I’m used to being asked the business case for employee engagement, I find myself asking “What’s the business case AGAINST employee engagement?

There are a couple of common objections, or pieces of resistance, to jumping in with both feet. The first of which is understanding the ROI on any money or effort spent to make sure it’s successful and a valid investment. While on a business level I can appreciate the logic (to a small degree), it is somewhat of a false distinction. There are over two decades worth of data that answers this relatively weak argument, so I’ll leave it there.

The other, and more accurate, concern is understanding what works and what doesn’t. Deep inside, leadership understands that every organization is quite different and has different needs. There is a difference in culture and leadership styles. Every place has it’s own “personality” and quirks to go along with it. One of the most common things I hear is how companies want to have engaged employees, but they’re not sure what’s important. We know what are the most common drivers of employee engagement and they should be considered when dealing with engagement.

There are, however, three principles that are easy to remember and provide a simple framework that can help guide you in your efforts in the area of employee engagement.

Make it easy for others to help. It’s eerily common for organizations, under the guise of making things measurable, to create processes and checklists that prohibit quality and efficient work for people. They switch off and so in order to “boost productivity”, more processes and checklists are added. Enough already! Quantify what is NECESSARY and simplify everything else. When you make things easy for people to help make your organization a success, you stand a much better chance of it actually happening…and much sooner than you might think. If you create a culture where people know that you are removing obstacles to expedite their success, they will consistently surprise you.

Don’t try to “fix” others. I don’t know about you, but I have my hands full just trying to sort myself out. I have plenty of my own problems and I need others to be gracious with me as I do that journey. Set some nice big goals and work towards those together with others in your organization. People love a good challenge, so give them something to work towards. Support others as they work on self development, in other words facilitate it, but don’t try and force it. Having a workplace where employees feel safe to be themselves, warts and all, is a powerful message and motivator.

Help others less fortunate. People gravitate to benevolence and like being associated with it. It’s the positive side of “guilt by association”. Those less fortunate could be people within your organization or others outside your organization. Those inside your organization could need coaching, support during a difficult emotional time or any other issue that life throws at us. Don’t make the misfortunes of life an inconvenience for your organization. No one likes to feel like a burden when they’ve been handed a raw deal in life. The people who work in your organization do life in their respective communities. Let them make some suggestions on how the organization can get involved in helping those less fortunate outside the organization. That kind of involvement will breed some fierce loyalty.

Simplifying things, letting people express their uniqueness and showing compassion is a great place to begin with your employee engagement efforts. Each of these things show one simple thing: You care. Employee engagement isn’t some clever and crafty strategy to make more money. It’s showing a group of people you give a rip about them and your actions show it. The result of that happens to be that you make money.

How have you seen organizations show they care about their people?

  • Hi William,
    I always appreciate a straight forward message. And in this space where so many organizations treat engagement as a flavor of the month, place little oomph behind making changes based on the assessment results, it’s no wonder decision makers question the expenditure on such programs.

    Your 3 principals are good place for designers and implementers of Emp Engagement to check the pulse of their plan – are they truly willing to lean into the work? I’m a big advocate of your 2nd principal – “Don’t try to ‘fix’ others.” The assumption is that people are broken and need to change. Organizations have the opportunity to understand where employees are and work from there.

    I’m stepping off my soap box now. Good topic.


  • Your soapbox is always welcome in my corner of the blogosphere, Shawn. I appreciate your contribution!

  • Excellent piece. I really like the counter question of the argument against engement.

    I think if we all reflect on successes or personal best experiences, chances are what got the result was that people were totally committed.

    The reality is that unless people are on board they are never going to give their full attention or commitment. Same applies to things outside the workplace too in my experience.

    Duncan Brodie

  • Absolutely Duncan. Commitment and the application of discretionary effort breed success, without question. Thanks heaps for your comments my friend!

  • Hi William,
    Great post! Employee engagement is something that is seriously underrated. Thank you for writing such a great post on it. I really liked your point about not trying to ‘fix’ others.
    I’d like to add a couple of points that, I feel, will help increase engagement. Make sure that you appreciate and encourage your employees and their efforts. Even the smallest of gestures can make a world of difference. Also, you need include your employees in a project by showing them the ‘entire picture’ and not by just explaining the parts of the project that they have been assigned to. Keep them in the loop, and they are sure to feel more engaged.
    – Sindoora (http://www.beyondhorizons.in)

  • There are a number of engagement drivers, I just tried to boil it down to a simple few to help get people started. I couldn’t agree with your suggestions any more. Thanks so much for your contribution Sindoora!

  • Thank you. Well said.

    Another part of caring lies in managers taking the time to learn about each employee — e.g who they are, what they work and what they want in return. What are their strengths? What do they know? What are their comfortable behaviors? What are their interests? How might they learn and develop? etc. etc.

    The more a manager knows about an employee, the easier it becomes to orchestrate progress/results and to move beyond the “job role” to the more engaging roles of team, career, change for the better and organizational volunteer.

    And, oh yes, employee engagement is a big money maker; it is the result of, and the reward for, leading and managing well.

    [email protected]

  • Agreed Richard. The bottom line is engagement and leadership can’t be a canned approach and still be effective. Thanks heaps for your contribution!

  • Great post and good comments on this subject. There is no doubt that employee engagement is a game changer for most companies. I am always surprised why so few companies have any systems to support engagement. I agree with your points and would add a few critical elements. For companies to embrace even the basics of engagement they need a simple system that does not become a burden/more work. They also need to empower everyone so that the drivers of engagement become engrained in their culture and part of their daily communication. For us recognition is the key driver. A simple thank you can make a big difference.

  • Thanks for your contribution Tom. I couldn’t agree more that consistent and daily communication around all the drivers of engagement must be an integral part of organizational culture.