How To Increase Employee Engagement Part I

3 Core Strategies For Creating a culture of engagement and performance

So according to Gallup, about 70% of all U.S. workers (regardless of job type) are NOT engaged at work, a statistic that has remained pretty constant for decades now.

engagement picture

I don’t know about you but for me this is nothing short of scandalous.

It seems like an awful waste of time, money and human talent to continue to tolerate this state of affairs in any workplace. I’m left wondering how any organization can be effective (or long endure) when more than two-thirds of its people are practically counting down the minutes until the 5:30 whistle blows.

The responsibility for remedying this situation falls squarely on the shoulders of an organization’s managers, and I’d like to propose 3 strategies to fix this, based on Gallup’s Q12 study of the drivers of employee engagement at work.

However, before we can get started addressing these 3 strategies there is some preliminary work that should be completed. Managers must first ask themselves whether their people have the materials and equipment necessary to do their work correctly.


This is as straight-forward as it sounds. Without the right physical tools, employees cannot be expected to complete their work correctly. But tools can also include non-physical items such as software and mobile applications which are increasingly important in getting our work done. It is a good idea to understand what people need in order to complete their required tasks as efficiently and effectively as possible. It’s almost always a bad idea to skimp on these tools as they create a bad work environment and cause unnecessary problems and frustration for your people.


This one sounds obvious but isn’t. The obvious materials needed to complete a job are straight-forward enough but too often employees are put to work without being given the proper materials so they can understand how to do their jobs well. Things such as training manuals and guides, process and procedures documentation, checklists, organizational charts, and the like are often missing. Your employees should not only receive these, they should also be trained on how to use them. Again, skimping on this will invariably get us into trouble by slowing down productivity, negatively impacting quality, and creating engagement problems later on.

Organizational Structure and Deliverables

It’s also a good idea to make sure the organization’s structure is conducive to an unimpeded flow of work. Many times how work is divided up can create uncertainty about who should complete what and by when. This lack of clarity or an unnecessary level of complexity can either underwhelm or overwhelm people, and neither scenario is desirable when trying to increase engagement.

Once these basics have been taken care of, there are three strategies you can use to increase employee engagement.

1. Practice Sawubona

Sawubona refers to the South African Zulu greeting which literally means “we see you.” Perhaps the best way to create a culture of non engagement or full-blown disengagement at work is to treat people with indifference—as just another cog in an endless system of cogs. In extreme, but not infrequent cases, I’ve even heard managers and executives say that there’s no need to thank people or praise them for doing their work well because, after all, that’s what they’re paid for.

This kind of paleolithic thinking is completely off the mark. People want to be seen and acknowledged as being an important part of the organization. We all do.

2. Model the Way

Once you learn to see your people, you need to come to the realization that your people have always seen you! Whether managers are getting the behavior they want out of their people is one issue, but what often goes unacknowledged is the fact that people behave directly in accordance to the behaviors they see modeled by their managers. They either adopt the same posture or set of behaviors or adapt to them, often producing undesirable consequences.

The responsibility for this effect lies with the leaders in an organization. They should be the first to model the behavior that will take the team to victory. Otherwise, we fall for the classic trap of “do as I say, not as I do.” Thus, leaders must set the example for their people to follow, especially since so much of people’s non-engagement stems from the incongruity, inconsistency and just plain lack of earnestness that can be observed at work. Like a badly dubbed movie, the video track doesn’t match the audio track and what ensues are situations that seemed ripped from the pages of a Dilbert cartoon.

Leaders must model the way.

3. Help Them Learn and Grow

It is our responsibility as managers or leaders to develop our people. If not out of a sense of duty and responsibility for our teammates, then for naked self interest. A constant concern, especially among small business owners, is the notion that after spending many thousands of dollars and countless hours of effort upgrading the skills and abilities of their peoplem, they run the risk of watching helplessly as they leave for a better paying job elsewhere. Maybe so. But what these leaders fail to take into account (because its harder to quantify but much more costly) is the impact of NOT upgrading your people’s skills and abilities and having them stagnate and stay. It’s much better to weed out mediocrity and develop a culture of excellence where people have the opportunity to learn and grow every day.

If some leave, that’s okay. You’ve created a culture of performance and excellent people.

The Next Step

This is only an overview of what needs to be done to increase employee engagement. In my next post I will delve into the specific tactics, managers need to use under each of the 3 strategies listed above.

In the meantime, which of the three strategies would you say represents the biggest source of weakness in your workplace. Whether you’re a manager or not, what do you intend to do about it?