Employee Engagement: Pay Attention to These

The notion of Employee Engagement has been with us for a while now.

I noticed in a meeting last week that everyone was passionate when we started discussing "engagement". But the longer we talked, the less I was convinced that we were talking about the same thing. In fact, we all had a personal, sensible, gut level idea of what it meant. But the "definition gap" emerged when we began talking about how to approach the issue.

Engagement Motivation QuotePredictable, actually. Whenever you find yourself in disagreement about "how" to do something, it's a signal to back up a step and agree on a common definition of "what" you are working on. 

How Do You Define Employee Engagement?

The Conference Board researched the issue of definition and came to the same conclusion: different studies reflected different definitions of Employee Engagement. So they came up with a "blended" definition and some key themes that represented all of the studies.

The definition of Employee Engagement: "a heightened emotional connection that an employee feels for his or her organization, that influences him or her to exert greater discretionary effort to his or her work".

That makes sense and is easily understood.

What I think is truly helpful to those involved in creating Employee Engagement is the Conference Board's synthesis of 8 key drivers of engagement. These offer concrete targets for development:

  • Trust and integrity – how well managers communicate and 'walk the talk'.

  • Nature of the job –Is it mentally stimulating day-to-day?

  • Line of sight between employee performance and company performance – Does the employee understand how their work contributes to the company's performance?

  • Career Growth opportunities –Are there future opportunities for growth?

  • Pride about the company – How much self-esteem does the employee feel by being associated with their company?

  • Coworkers/team members – significantly influence one's level of engagement

  • Employee development – Is the company making an effort to develop the employee's skills?

  • Relationship with one's manager – Does the employee value his or her relationship with his or her manager?

Can You Work With Those Eight?

What do you think?

For those of us who have to turn theory into practice, I like the simple and concise one-liners that can lead to purposeful action. They provide starting points for meaningful discussions as well.

Bonus: If you want an ongoing look at what's happening in employee engagement, a terrific resource is my friend David Zinger and his Employee Engagement Network.


Paying Attention To People

Last week I was discussing the Hawthorne Effect during a speech on performance. It led to a lively Q&A, so I thought I'd re-visit this post from December, 2009. The original experiment and its impact on management and human behavior are timeless. 

In the 1920s, physiologist Elton Mayo conducted experiments at the Hawthorne Electrical Works in Chicago.

He was trying to confirm his theory that better lighting led to greater productivity. So, he had the lights on the factory floor turned up. Voila! As he expected, production levels increased, too. Done deal?

As an afterthought he decided to turn the lights down just to see what would happen. Production went up again. In fact, he found that whatever he did with the lighting, production increased.


Novel thought: Mayo discussed his findings with the workers who were involved. They told him that the interest Mayo and his researchers showed toward them made them feel more valued. They were accustomed to being ignored.

While the increased lighting no doubt made things brighter and healthier, it was the increase in morale that most impacted improvement in productivity. This became known as the Hawthorne Effect

Most people schooled in management & organization development are well aware of the studies.  However, I'm finding more and more business folks who haven't been exposed to them; I thought it might be a good idea to revisit what is the beginning of the "human relations"  movement in management.

While scientists and pseudo-scientists have argued everything from methodology to the number of toilet breaks employees of that era received, the simple learning is this: When you pay attention to people, tell them what you are doing, and ask their opinion about things, the response--all else being equal--is a boost in morale and productivity. I dare say that Elton had stumbled upon Employee Engagement long before the term became popular.

I'm wondering: after 80+ years, why isn't this fundamental learning a part of every organization's modus operandi?

photo source: www.library.hbs.edu

Meetings: The First 15 Minutes Matter

Beginnings make a huge difference. 

Meetings offer a perfect example.

I was working with a VP who started off her 3-day, first quarter meeting with a 20 minute introduction. In that 20 minutes she crisply and energetically laid out:

  • The purpose and expected outcome of the three days
  • Three highlights and three lowlights from the previous year
  • Why people were seated, by name card, at their six-person tables. (There were actually two reasons):

Meetings   1. To include representatives of different functions at each table

    2.  To have a new manager at each table who had never been with the 60-person group before. 

It really beats spending an hour having new people introduce themselves, tell their histories, and then know nothing about the rest of the group. As a result of meals, breaks, and small group sessions, everyone knew everyone else pretty darned well by 6 p.m.

The overall impact of the opening? High energy, enthusiasm, and clarity.

The learning: Give people lots of information in advance so they can participate quickly and effectively.

Each day included small group sessions focused on product lines, operations, and continuous improvement. By 8:45 all participants knew which small groups they would be a part of on each day (they changed); why they were in that group; and what the task would be for each. By the time the first breakout sessions started at 1 p.m., everyone was mentally prepared to participate.

This isn't revolutionary stuff. It's the kind of intentional, thoughtful planning often forgotten in the haste of organizing agendas and travel plans. Yet these process details are the ones that make or break a successful meeting.

Learn How To Develop Others

"Developing Others" ranks dead last on just about every organizational skill level survey with which I've been involved or have read. 

It's not because people lack awareness of its importance; quite the contrary. It's because development takes time. It involves getting to know people and their capabilities at more than a surface level. To develop people, you have to follow a few fundamental steps.

Here's How To Begin

1. Start with an accurate picture of the person's strengths and weaknesses. They can't grow if they don't have good information about themselves. And managers can't help them develop without the same kind of clarity.

Develop Others Flower Bud2. Get ongoing feedback from multiple sources. The key words here are ongoing and multiple

Ongoing: Performance improves with information that is provided as close to an event as possible. That way, the situation is still fresh and the details clear. If I get feedback in November about something that happened in February, what am I really supposed to do about it? And I have to ask myself: "If it's so important, why did you wait this long to tell me?"

Multiple sources: We all have bosses and peers; if we're managing, we also have direct reports. When I do 360s for clients, I always insist on feedback from people outside of the person's direct chain of command, even external customers if there is a lot of customer interaction. When someone is working across boundaries on a project, there's a wealth of information available about the ability to build relationships and influence outside of the "power" sphere. 

3. Give first-time tasks that progressively stretch people. In a series of leadership conferences we conducted between 2006-2009, participants told us that the single most valuable contributor to their leadership growth was a series of stretch assignments. No one grows from doing the same thing more and more. '

4. Build a learner mentality. Encourage your people to think of themselves as professional learners as well as (job title). In meetings and one-on-on one, ask:

  • What are you learning that's new or different?
  • Where have you seen yourself improve most in the past year?
  • What have you learned in one situation that you can now use in others?

5. Use coaching, mentoring, classroom, online, books, coursework, and stretch assignments to promote and reinforce learning and development.

One of the byproducts of developing your people: you gain satisfaction and stature as a result of their success. 

Who will you help today?

Handle Objections With Questions

You and I come up with some pretty wonderful ideas, which--for some strange reason--aren't immediately embraced by those around us.

So what's our natural response? It's usually to start making statements in defense of our position, which then leads to "I'm going to win!"

Not a good posture. 


Ask Questions

When you keep announcing the righteousness of your position, the problem defines you. When you respond with a question, both of you begin defining the problem and looking for solutions. Which do you want?

Here are four model questions that will help you stay above the fray:

  • "If this doesn't meet your requirements (criteria, needs), what can be done to ensure that it does?"
  • "If you like the idea but not the related cost, what can we do about the budget constraints?"
  • "If we can't start the project now, when do you think it would be a good time to get it going?"
  • "If you don't want to change anything and think the procedures are fine the way they are, what is it that you like about how they work now?"

You get the idea. The first part of the question acknowledges that you heard the issue;  the second invites action from the other person. That way, you stay out "argument" mode and create mutual make the responsibility for a solution.

Give it a try.

My Photo

Steve Roesler, Principal & Founder
The Steve Roesler Group
Office: 609.654.7376
Mobile: 856.275.4002

Enter your name and email address to receive your copy of my coaching eGuide.

Human Resources Today
Business Blogs



  • View Steve Roesler's profile on LinkedIn
Personal Growth from SelfGrowth.com

Get Updates via RSS Feed

  • Enter your email address in the yellow box for FREE daily updates

    Powered by FeedBlitz

Awards & Recognition...

  • Career 100
Alltop, all the top stories