How to Create More Engaged Employees in 3 Not-So-Easy Steps


When I work with clients, one of the things that they are always looking for more of is employee engagement.  For many, it is the holy grail of productivity, innovation, and efficiency.  When people are engaged at all levels of the business, problems get solved faster, accountability is rampant, and senior business leaders can focus on the future.  It comes as no surprise that research from Gallup and other performance management companies clearly demonstrates that organizations with more engaged employees are more profitable than their competitors. Simply put, he or she with the most engaged team wins.

Most people in business readily accept that premise.  Then comes the hard part, how do I create more engaged employees?  The big picture is that you must focus on the culture of the organization, the quality of the coaching that happens throughout that organization, and the connection people have to the vision and the leaders within the organization.  But closer to the ground, let’s take a look at some tactical ways that you can engage your team or group.

1.  Chalk the field, but let them call the plays.

There are very few people who like to come to work just to be told what to do.  No matter what their role, people want to have some ability to shape what they do and how they do it.  The fastest way to disengage employees is to make all the decisions and then tell them to go execute a plan they had no hand in creating.  Empowering your team to help decide how things get done gets them involved, allows them to feel more attached to the process and the outcome, and causes them to care about what they are executing much more than if they are just following orders.  A great side effect of this kind of team involvement is that the outcome is usually better than if someone way up the food chain created the plan.  Lay out the desired end result, the parameters that the team has to work within and then let them decide how best to achieve the desired results.

2.  Listen more than you talk

This is hard.  I was coaching an executive once and I asked him how he prepared for his team meetings.  He went through a pretty thorough description of how he decided what they needed to know and then how he would tell them.  It was not a surprise to learn that this executive was very poorly regarded as a leader by the team he was assigned to manage.  I asked him what he thought he might be able to learn from his team.  The silence was deafening.

Your people have ideas, thoughts and perspectives that matter.  They are often bright people who want to contribute more and we sometimes kill that impulse because we deem ourselves to have the only worthy information.  Imagine how they prepare for meetings over time that are conducted this way.  How much time would you spend thinking about what needed to happen for the business to get better if you knew that meetings were just about listening to the boss talk?

3.  Regard failure as progress

If you have not been creating capability on your team by letting them solve their own problems and create their own future, then it will feel strange when you start to, and your team will make mistakes.  Even if you have been doing these things, mistakes are inevitable.  It is important to differentiate between mistakes of engagement and mistakes of disengagement.  The first ones are part of the learning process.  People are trying new things, putting forth effort and sometimes the results teach them how to adapt.  The second kind are the ones where people are just going through the motions and waiting for someone to tell them what to do next, and because of that, things get done incorrectly or not at all.  If they are mistakes of engagement, they need to be rewarded as progress and the effort needs to be celebrated if you ever want to see it again.

Engagement is about how much of themselves people bring to their jobs.  How much they care about the outcome and how much they think about the input.  Leaders that understand how to create engagement, no matter the team or the situation, will always have a job, always be promoted, and more importantly, always make a difference in the business results, and for the people who helped create them.

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