How to Engage Employees

Employee Engagement creates a powerful, positive force for change. It helps break down departmental silos. It leads to increased operational effectiveness and fosters an environment where innovations are more likely to happen.

There are many benefits for organizations to have engaged employees: reduced turnover; which is a significant cost to organizations, enhanced commitment to business development and employee support towards achievement of business goals. But how do we achieve this? How do we get our employees involved?

According to SHRM (Society of Human Resource Management) the cost of replacing an employee is estimated to be about 75% of the base salary of the replaced employee so it’s well worth the effort to retain employees. Engaging employees is one way of doing this. Engaged employees “want” to help the organization realize its strategic imperatives. They strive to manage their work and their projects more effectively and efficiently and are more likely to focus on both the customer and organizational requirements. They demonstrate motivation and a high degree of morale and these behaviours set a fine example for other employees. Engaged employees also work effectively with other employees within their own group and often, between different groups and departments. This of course leads to faster results and increases the likelihood that the results of the efforts will be successfully implemented.

What is an Engaged Employee?

Wikipedia defines an “engaged employee” as “an employee who is fully involved in, and enthusiastic about their work, and thus will act in a way that furthers their organization’s interests.” According to Scarlett Surveys, “Employee Engagement is a measurable degree of an employee’s positive or negative emotional attachment to their job, colleagues and organization that profoundly influences their willingness to learn and perform at work.”

There is no doubt that engaged employees will be less likely to leave an organization. That being said, the US Conference Board’s 2012 research indicated that fewer than half of U.S. workers are satisfied with their jobs. Clearly these “dissatisfied employees” are not engaged employees.

The Gallup Management Journal publishes a semi-annual Employment Engagement Index. The most recent U.S. results are startling and indicate that:

  • Only 29 percent of employees are actively engaged in their jobs. These employees work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. People that are actively engaged help move the organization forward.
  • Fifty-four percent (54%) of employees are not engaged. These employees have essentially “checked out,” sleepwalking through their workday and putting time – but not passion – into their work. These people embody what Jack Welch said several years ago. To paraphrase him: “Never mistake activity for accomplishment.”
  • Seventeen percent (17%) of employees are actively disengaged. These employees are busy acting out their unhappiness, undermining what their engaged co-workers are trying to accomplish.

Ways to Engage Employees

So how can we get our employees involved? There are various ways to make this happen. Here are some real-life examples of ways some of our clients have successfully engaged their employees.

Engagement through Teamwork

One way is to take measures that motivate employees to work collaboratively rather than independently. I recently worked in Malaysia and one of the managers I worked with, Raj, shared a story about how his extreme approach to getting employees engaged by working as a team had worked successfully.

Raj’s organization hires a lot of technical employees and there is usually a high level of turnover among them. Through his recruitment interviews over the years, Raj learned that, in most cases, technical skill employees preferred to work alone and independently and they didn’t enjoy working collaboratively. Yet to be successful, Raj believed that his organization required employees to work collaboratively and in teams, to achieve the organization’s goals.

So shortly after they started, Raj gave this group of technical employees a small project and told them to work as a team to complete it. Moreover, he warned that if any individual were to fail in delivering the project successfully that he would fire all of them. They were perplexed. Why would the performance of one affect them all? It wasn’t fair. However, despite their objections, Raj enforced his rule and told them that he knew they could figure out how to get this project managed and implemented over the next month.

After a month passed and the project completed, it was time for Raj to review their performance. Although they didn’t all succeed, he told them that he had decided not to fire any of them. Of course, they were relieved. He then gave them another project with the same parameters; they all had to succeed. If any one of them didn’t, he’d fire them all. Eventually this group of four technical, independent-minded employees learned how to work collaboratively; supporting and assisting each other whenever required. It’s now been 5 years and they are working more effectively as a team than independently, supporting and helping each other more than any other group in the organization.

Some of you reading read this story may discredit it, believing that this can’t be—employees need parameters and any threat of discharge will probably backfire. So I give you this quote to consider from Nobel-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman and author of the book, 2012 Thinking, Fast and Slow. He says, “The confidence people have in their beliefs is not a measure of quality of evidence but of the coherence of the story the mind has managed to construct.”

Engagement through Project Management

This is a story about a new product launch that was in a complete crisis. The project was months over schedule and millions of dollars over budget. If it failed, there could be very serious consequences to the organization.

Business Improvement Architects was called in to audit the project and then help the organization to implement our recommendations. Of the many areas we uncovered that had led to this organization’s project management crisis, one of the major issues was a complete lack of employee engagement. Most departments worked independently including: engineering, product design, sales, manufacturing, IT and marketing. Furthermore, prior efforts to get them to work co-operatively had failed. Moreover, the employees didn’t even work effectively in their own departments; so it’s no wonder that they couldn’t work collaboratively between departments.

Because we were being asked to help this client with the implementation of our recommendations, the product had to launch on time or there would be serious consequences to the organization. To get this achieved, we focussed on employee engagement. We worked with the key program management team and their extended team members as a team to plan our approach.

The first objective was to set in place agreement as to:

  • The team’s roles and responsibilities
  • Establishment of rules that would govern how they could work effectively with each other,
  • A process for on-going team self-evaluation

We followed this with time spent, as a team, to re-define the program scope and create the detailed program plan.

This process of engagement was new to them. Previously they had applied the traditional approach of having the program manager create the scope document and plan and then share it with the key resources on the project. However, the traditional approach had led to a lack of commitment on the part of the resources that were critical to the program’s success. This lack of engagement in creating these documents collaboratively had resulted in individual resources doing what they thought was required of them but not reporting when their work got completed. Working independently led to problems with project communication because other resources were not made aware when they could begin their portion of the work. As a result of the employee engagement now occurring on a continuous basis, they will successfully launch this important project this month.

Engagement though Process Management

This is a story about an organization that operated with many departments, each working in individual silos. They would discuss issues, concerns and challenges with each other only when required. Resolution of these issues was always a long, laborious process. This siloed approach to work was ingrained in their culture. Most employees said they continued to work there for the money but if something else came along, they’d be out of there.

When our company was brought in to help them “improve work processes” we quickly identified how their current culture had constrained their ability to realize operational effectiveness and how it was negatively impacting both their internal and external customers.

As part of our solution, we created cross-functional teams to help: detail their key business processes, analyse them and identify who was responsible for each segment of these processes. We then took the teams through an analysis process of identifying the root causes of problems that were preventing them from realizing operational and customer effectiveness. We followed this with a plan for how to implement the recommendation they had generated to overcome the root causes of problems.

It has now been 6 months since our work with this customer. Our most recent review with the organization was incredibly positive. Their employees are now feeling much more engaged and positive. The comments we are hearing from them are: “Wow”, “I can’t believe that we are actually communicating so often” and ‘I really like working here now.”

Engage your Employees

Practitioners and academics have argued that an engaged workforce can create competitive advantage. They say that it’s imperative for leaders to identify the level of engagement in their organization and to implement strategies that will facilitate it. In our experience there are many ways to engage your employees. While it is the unique elements of the work experience that tend to influence engagement, all begin with a conscious effort to encourage collaboration and team work.

Employee engagement creates a powerful, positive force for change. It helps to break down silos. It leads to increased operational effectiveness and fosters an environment where innovations are more likely to happen.

Michael Stanleigh

Michael Stanleigh, CMC, CSP, CSM is the CEO of Business Improvement Architects. He works with leaders and their teams around the world to improve organizational performance by helping them to define their strategic direction, increase leadership performance, create cultures that drive innovation and improve project and quality management. Michael’s experience spans public and private sector organizations in over 20 different countries. He also delivers presentations to businesses and conferences throughout the world. In addition to his consulting practice and global speaking he has been featured and published in over 500 different magazines and industry publications.

For more information about this article you may contact Michael Stanleigh at