Employee Engagement

by Steven Allard

At the end of the day, regardless of the role or industry, humans are still at the heart of every company.  At least for the time being.  Businesses, like humans, are living breathing entities with ever-growing and ever-changing needs. As with humans, business needs change from time to time. As leaders we need to be as in tune with the needs of our people as we are with our business.

The people we hire support or detract from corporate growth and culture. As talent acquisition professions we are constantly looking to balance the needs of quickly filling open positions with keeping an eye on long term cultural growth.  Every hire made moves the needle one way or the other!

Having worked with several high growth startups, I have seen many occasions when the work put in by talent acquisition professionals to attract, engage, and “sell” potential candidates is not carried on once someone is hired. There is no limit to the number of surveys and articles from C-Level executives and talent acquisition leadership touting how hiring is the most significant initiative in the company or hiring is the biggest limitation on growth.

As talent acquisition professionals we may be the closest to candidates as they transition to employees. We should be checking in with our candidates to see how they are settling in.  Until they develop relationships with their manager and team members, we may be the person they are most comfortable talking to early on. We can assist managers identify issues and to help new team members become settled and engaged as early as possible.  We don’t want them feel that “this company culture is not what was described to me.” Remember they just came off the job market.  Their old company may still be pressing them to come back. Other recruiters may be checking in to see if they can lure your newest hire out and to their client. Early engagement is key.

It is a lot easier and more effective to keep a good employee, than it is to hire and train a new one. Lost productivity, lost institutional knowledge, and team disruption are just a few of the significant consequences of losing an employee. Every level of an organization must work as tirelessly to engage with and retain employees as talent acquisition professionals do to identify and engage them. They say people leave managers not companies.  Speaking from experience, I would like to break that statement down into a few different components or observations.


A Gallup survey shows a positive 34% of workers are engage, committed, and enthusiastic about their company/work.  The relationship people have with their day to day manager is a key to keeping employees engaged and retained. Employees strive for meaningful relationships with managers (as with other humans) and all levels of leaderships. Day to day and mid-level management are the key conduits between employees and senior leadership. This must be ingrained in leadership at every level. Without consistent positive engagement between employees and managers, employee engagement does not really exist. In today’s digital world there are very few reasons why managers can not be available to interact with their employees day to day. It can be as simple as just saying hi to people in the morning. Your early morning smile helps set the tome. Mentors are also great in times when managers may be less available. Everyone should feel they can get help when needed.

I have always looked at my role as a leader as trying to be a better servant to my team. Leaders must help people within their team and the organization learn, unlearn, and relearn to stay relevant. Dr. Brad Shuck and Maryanne Honeycutt-Elliott say, “higher levels of engagement come from employees who work for a compassionate leader—one who is authentic, present, has a sense of dignity, holds others accountable, leads with integrity and shows empathy.” Leaders must be genuine. Everyone can see right through a false facade. I like to say managers should be a P.O.S.E.R.

    • Be Present when talking to your employees!
    • Be Open!
    • Be Supportive!
    • Be Encouraging!
    • Be Real!

Be a POSER! See, being a poser is not always a bad thing. It’s all how you look at it. The same way you should look at everything in life. Find the good!


If you want to find a good manager, find one who openly, honestly and frequently talks to their employees. We must care about members of our team as individuals, as people, not just as employees. We must be open an honest with them if we expect them to be open an honest with us. That includes sharing not only the good, but also the bad. Predictive Index data supports the fact that employees actually enjoy feedback, yet most (44%) managers give very little. We must communicate!

Everyone interacts a little differently.  As a leader, we must understand social cues and have a level of emotional intelligence to really connect with, support, and influence our team.  We are a team. Everyone on the team wins and loses together.

Employees must be comfortable raising issues with us as a leader. Communication has to be a two-way street. This comes from creating a culture of openness and a desire to work with employees with everyone’s best interest in mind.


Everyone on the team needs to know the end goal, how we plan to get there, why the goal is important, and what achieving the goals means for everyone. If everyone understands and supports a common goal, then everyone can have a common focus. Goals give everyone a common filter through which to view issues and problems and to make independent decisions. Decisions can be based on a filter of what is in the best interest of moving everyone forward. I read a great analogy once.  Think of a soccer team during a game. As each player gets the ball, they do not look to the coach on the sideline to be told where to pass the ball next. Everyone on the team understands the goal, get the ball in the net.  That understanding of a common goal allows them to make independent decisions which support the goal. Each member of the team must put themselves in the best position to get the ball in the net. Every player must make sure they are properly conditioned, with the right tools, training, and preparation so they can effectively handle the ball when it comes to them.  That means not limiting preparation to when they are at work, but also extra effort put forth outside of work.  Players don’t run wind sprints to get in shape during a game. Those preparation efforts take place in addition to time on the field.  The same should hold true for members of our teams. Everyone on the team wins and loses together. No member in our soccer team example says, “I WON”.  They, just as we, win or lose together, as a team.

Everyone working toward a common goal also means everyone should be held to the same standard for following defined processes and individual expectations for their performance (within their level of competency). When “favorites” start evolving and process shortcuts are allowed to creep in for certain members of the team, a wedge quickly begins to form within the team.  I have not seen many things that will erode a team’s cohesiveness or effectiveness as quickly or effectively as a manager playing favorites. Culture is how everyone interacts together toward a common goal. Everyone wants to be part of a winning team. Like any team, they need coaches who can provide honest feedback keeping everyone on the same track working toward a common goal. Immediate praise reinforces desired behaviors, and timely corrective action can help avert issues before they escalate.


A positive, inclusive, and supportive corporate culture helps ensure our employees want to come to work and be highly productive, resulting in the potential for increased revenue. It’s not enough that they just want to show up every day. They must want to contribute to the team above and beyond the bare minimums.

A sense of belonging, acceptance, and even “family” can increase each team member’s comfort level, willingness to take risks, and push the boundaries of innovation. It creates and environment where people are willing to take risks to improve. They feel supported in trying new things. Creating a cutlure where it is ok to experiment with new things and fail (while learning) allows for unrestricted exploration and process innovation. Belonging and acceptance also allows natural friendships to form. Friends work harder for each other. I know I work harder when I feel I am part of a team. While we can’t force coworkers to become friends, we should look to create opportunities for our employees to make personal connections. Let them get to know each other, not just as coworkers, but as fellow community members striving toward a common goal.

Belonging, acceptance, and a sense of community extends beyond our company. Employee engagement levels tend to be higher when company contributions extend socially to the community. Today’s companies should support and encourage social outreach in order to be more connected with the community. It is also another avenue to foster closer working relationships and friendships. Oh, and it helps with recruiting! It gives the community the opportunity to get a sense of what its like to work with us and like-minded people.

How, where and why do I fit in?

Following up on culture, a sense of belonging, and having a common goal, engaged employees must understand the big picture and how they fit into it. We need to make sure they know that their work matters. New employees need to understand how their individual role/contributions support the team, department, and the company. These are areas that should be clearly defined during the onboarding process and reinforced throughout their employment.  A clearly communicated vision and statement of core values gives our employees something to rally around. If employees feel they are part of something bigger than themselves and part of a team and a community, they are much more likely to go above and beyond to contribute to that greater purpose.


Most employee surveys indicate there is a direct connection between more productive work and effective recognition.  This does not mean only formal recognition (i.e. years of service). More frequent and informal program can be more effective than longer drawn out formal recognition cycles.  If you don’t recognize people frequently, they may not be around long enough to formally celebrate a year’s long service.

Recognizing exemplary performance reinforces the level of performance which is expected and should be repeated. The act of recognizing above average performance sends a message to other employees about what success looks like. Recognition becomes a tool for personal reward, reinforcement of the desired culture, and creates accountability.

Not all forms of employee recognition are equal, nor should they be. For example, millennials are generally not as motivated by money as they are by recognition or the ability to make an impact socially.  They prefer instant gratification and tend to place personal pursuits over work obligations. They remain constantly connected socially.

So, what incentives matter? For millennials, as an example, it tends to be the emotional/social ones that are most impactful.  They do not generally all buy into corporate financial goals, market positions or growth strategies. Success in those corporate areas are the means to the end for them and not the end. They prefer to focus on societal goals, environmental practices, advancing cultural goals and public missions. Recognition programs should take this into account and offer the opportunity to be more involved in social and community activities in recognition of exemplary performance. Each employee is motivated by their own drivers. As leaders, HR professionals, and a company, we need to be cognizant of how the individuals on our team are motived and structure recognition that supports their motivators. This may be giving employeesthe ability to engage in corporate giving and community activities during work hours.

Also, keep in mind some employees do NOT want the spotlight of public recognition. Public recognition in those instances could actually be working against you. Know the PEOPLE on your team.

Professional and personal growth

All this recognition is good, but when can I move up? Where can I go from here? I didn’t join this company to stay in the same job. In today’s “Everything as a Service” society, our employees are our most precious commodity. It’s our people that are interacting with our product’s customers (other people). If we want happy, motived, and engaged employees, we must help them grow both personally and professionally. The customized development training plans which Spectrum creates for each apprentice has both a professional and a personal (soft skills) component.  The plans for each apprentice are created with the strengths, development areas, and long-term professional goals in mind. 

As a manager, our ability to provide the opportunity to develop new skills and capabilities is critically important to ambitious employees. Most employee development occurs on the job. A solid development plan, supported by projects with new responsibilities, done under the watchful eye of a supportive mentor, demonstrates our valuing their development. It delineates a path to success for employees.  It does not even necessarily need to be a formal training.  Sending along relevant articles geared toward their interests, understandings, and growth goals can go a long way to reinforce the first area we covered…being a supportive manager.  Keep employees engaged by finding what their long-term goals are and giving them appropriate opportunities for growth in that direction. Have a succession plan and identify who can fill various roles as they develop. I share my knowledge. I joke that if I were to be hit by a bus, collectively my team should be able to take over most of my daily duties. They have the tools, knowledge, and training they need to make independent decisions that support our greater goals. A sign I have developed a good team is when they can run the team on thier own while I am temporarily away.

Some people may not want advancement. They do not want the additional responsibility or burden of management. They see advancement as “having to work harder and longer hours”. For those people, the “threats” of promotion and advancement can work against you.  Again, as managers we should know the key motivators and drivers for members of our team. Leadership requires emotional intelligence and the ability to “read” your audience.

Bring the Energy?

As leaders we have to bring the energy. We set the emotional tone for everyone around us. If we are moping around, how can we expect people in the company to be upbeat. Have you every tried to have fun when everyone around is sullen? Pretty hard to do. As leaders we have to project a positive upbeat presence. There is a great book called The Energy Bus by John Gordon that speaks to it. I encourage people leading teams to read it. With energy comes fun. Ever try to not have fun in a room full of energy. Ever try to remain sullen when speaking to someone who exudes energy? Again, pretty hard to do. This becomes critically important for anyone leading a team who’s members intereact with external customers. NO ONE wants to talk to a downbeat and monotone customer service person! Sure we all will have bad days, but we need to make sure our individual situations are not negatively impacting our teams. We should use opportunities to increase the energy within our teams as an opportunity to help increase the energy within ourselves. Not that all work is fun all the time. Afterall, our employers pay us to work, but that does not mean we cannot have fun at work. Part of creating a culture where people want to come to work is to ensure there is a balance between productivity and fun.

As leaders we must stay engaged with our fellow teammates. We have to be there for them day after day if we expect them to show up year after year.

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