How to Engage Your Employees: A Step-by-Step Guide


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Let’s get in the Wayback Machine and take a trip to the year 2006.

Reese Witherspoon was nominated for an academy award for her role in a biographic film. The Seattle Seahawks had just earned a spot in the Super Bowl. Employee engagement was a hot topic. 

Fast forward to today and very little has changed.

Reese Witherspoon has once again been nominated for an academy award for her role in a biographic film. The Seahawks are in the Super Bowl. And, employee engagement is still a hot topic.

Back in 2006, businesses were starting to understand the impact of disengagement on productivity, customer service, and profits. Gallup released a study revealing that a whopping 73 percent of employees were not engaged.

Today’s numbers are nearly identical. The latest Gallup engagement report shows that 70 percent of employees are not engaged. 

Companies are still not getting the results they should.

This step-by-step guide to engaging employees can help you change that.


Step 1: Define Engagement

It’s important to gain clear agreement on the meaning of employee engagement before you go any further.

The question hampers a lot of initiatives. Even leading consulting firms like Gallup and BlessingWhite disagree

  • Is it employee satisfaction?
  • Commitment to the company?
  • An emotional connection to the job?

Here’s the definition we’ll use for the purposes of this guide:

Employee engagement is the extent to which an employee deliberately contributes to organizational success.

This definition incorporates three critical elements:

  1. Employees must know what makes the organization successful.
  2. Employees must know how they personally contribute to organizational success.
  3. Employees must care enough to give discretionary effort.

We’ll come back to these three elements in just a moment. For now, let’s move on two Step 2.

Step 2: Identify the Impact

Most failed corporate initiatives suffer from the same problem: executives see the costs but they can’t quantify the benefits. You have to identify the business impact of employee engagement if you want it to become truly important.

Start by identifying key metrics that are likely affected by employee engagement. Examples include:

  • Employee Turnover
  • Productivity
  • Quality
  • Customer Satisfaction
  • Revenue

Next, use these metrics to assess the financial impact of employee engagement. 

For example, a hospital decided to focus on employee turnover. Their annual turnover rate for nursing staff was 30 percent compared to an industry average of 20 percent. 

The hospital took the following steps to calculate a hard dollar estimate that their CFO endorsed:

  1. Calculate the hard costs associated with employee turnover using this worksheet.
  2. Multiply that cost by the number of nursing positions refilled in a one year period.
  3. Calculate what the cost would have been at an average turnover rate of 20 percent.

The difference between #2 and #3 was the potential savings associated with improving employee engagement.

For the hospital, that was $100,000 in hard cost savings. 

The hospital’s CFO acknowledged this was a very conservative number. It didn’t account for hard-to-measure soft costs such as improved patient outcomes. By the CFO’s own estimate, the potential soft cost savings were $1,000,000.

You’ll have your executives’ attention if you too can make a compelling business case for improvement.

Step 3: Add Missing Pieces

Let’s go back to the three critical elements of employee engagement we examined in Step 1. The first is:

Employees must know what makes the organization successful.

There are three pieces to this puzzle that you must put in place for employees.

  1. Define success. 
  2. Set goals.
  3. Measure success.

The first piece represents your organization’s overarching purpose. It could be your mission statement or customer service vision.

The second piece makes things more specific. For example, if success is “leading your industry in customer service,” how will you know if you’re actually doing that?

This is where it’s helpful to create SMART goals to share with your employees. 

The final piece requires you to measure progress towards your goals and share updates with the team.

This brings us to the next critical element of employee engagement:

Employees must know how they personally contribute to organizational success.

Asking your employees is the best way to assess this element. If they can give a great description, you know they understand. If they’re unclear about their role, it’s a signal that a little coaching and training is required.

Which brings us to the final element:

Employees must care enough to give discretionary effort.

This speaks to motivation, a topic that’s widely misunderstood. Employees don’t join companies and think to themselves, “I’m going to be disengaged.” Their passion somehow gets deflated after they start their new job. 

Managers shouldn’t focus on getting employees to care. Rather, they should make sure employees don’t stop caring. Good managers prevent demotivation.

This is where the basics of good management comes into play:

  • Empower employees to do a good job
  • Help eliminate obstacles that get in their way
  • Let employees know their contributions are valued

Step 4: Measure It

Many companies do an annual employee engagement survey. 

If yours does one, stop. It’s a waste of time

Can you imagine measuring anything else that’s so important to your business only once a year?

We look at financials, customer satisfaction ratings, and other metrics at minimum on a monthly basis. Employee engagement needs to be evaluated just as often.

“But, wait!” you exclaim. “There’s no way I’m going to ask my employees to take an engagement survey once a month.”

You don’t want to do that, but here’s what you can do:

  • Divide your employees into twelve random groups. Survey a different group each month.
  • Do an employee engagement assessment.
  • Focus on related metrics like turnover or customer satisfaction.

Want to get really progressive?

Combine your performance management and employee engagement initiatives into one process.

Here are just a few ways these two concepts can overlap:

  • Employees are focused on increasing their contribution to organizational success
  • Managers are focused on helping employees maximize their contributions
  • Annual reviews summarize past performance and layout goals for the next year

Step 5: Take Action

This is what a failed employee engagement initiative looks like:

  1. An executive proclaims, “Let’s get serious about employee engagement.”
  2. A survey is implemented.
  3. Results are reported.
  4. Committees are formed.
  5. Nothing changes.

A process like that is nothing but a distraction from real work. Employee engagement can’t be a side project. It has to be the way you do business. 

Let’s go back to the definition of employee engagement:

Employee engagement is the extent to which an employee deliberately contributes to organizational success.

Your ability to engage employees comes down to making three things happen:

  1. Employees know what organizational success looks like. 
  2. They know how they can contribute.
  3. Managers prevent employees from getting demotivated.

Accomplish those three things and watch the magic happen. 

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Thanks for your comment, Michael. I think we’ll disagree on this one, which is OK.

    One note: the purpose of this article was to focus on engagement as a larger issue, rather than specifically on the connection between engagement and customer service or experience.

  2. If you believe in “start with the end in mind” as a guiding enterprise strategy, then one of the larger challenges with employee engagement is determining exactly what it is (and what it isn’t), which you’ve noted in your blog. ‘Organizational success’ as a goal is fairly vague. And, related to that, what is ‘discretionary effort’, which you’ve identified as motivation rather than motivation and action?

    In a 2006 Conference Board analysis among twelve leading engagement research companies, there were 25 key engagement drivers, of which eight were common to all: trust and integrity, nature of the job, line of sight between employee performance and company performance, career growth opportunities, pride about the company, co-workers/team members, employee development, and relationship with one’s manager.

    This can be distilled to two factors: Commitment to the company, and commitment to the value proposition. So, the same questions:

    1. What end is the organization trying to achieve through employee engagement?

    2. In an organization striving to be more strategically and culturally customer-centric, if enhancing the customer experience is only tangentially influenced by engagement (and you’ve included customer satisfaction as one of the elements impacted by employee behavior), why isn’t it more beneficial (for all stakeholders) to be pursuing ambassadorship?


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