Today Jim shares his point of view on employee engagement. Read on to hear his thoughts, tips, and tricks to encourage engagement among your people.

Q: Has employee engagement become a mere buzzword or is it still a pressing issue that leaders are actively trying to address?

I believe that yes, some leaders do view employee engagement as nothing more than a buzzword. Because we’ve made it so. The workplace knows how engagement works. People know that leaders want engaged employees. And engagement is often part of the triumphant set of general stakeholder metrics (customer, employee, shareholder) that most organizations promote and publicize. So, they know how to walk the walk or else they’ll be sent to participate in any number of less-than-exciting programs designed to raise engagement. So it’s best to feign engagement, even if you’re not really feeling it. That’s why many employees will give the answers their leaders want to hear—they want to achieve the rewards and benefits that engagement brings and avoid the engagement-building programs many organizations resort to as a Band-Aid solution. Sadly, it’s become a bit of a charade.

For the past 30+ years, employee engagement figures haven’t moved. But I still know that society is capable of more. For things like cancer deaths and traffic fatalities, the statistics have improved by approximately 30% in this same time frame, and engagement hasn’t moved at all. It becomes evident that as a society we can make a difference when we put our minds to it.

Q: How can leaders make headway on engagement in a real, tangible way?

Leaders need to believe they can make their business better by getting employees, associates, and team members to co-think the most pivotal challenges they face. If leaders do this, if they really make people feel welcome to be engaged, the collective thinking will produce better answers than leaders could ever script. Sadly, this doesn’t always happen. Leaders need to become very clear on the fact that their employees are customers of their strategies. They need to end the habit of treating employee engagement as just an item on the checklist.

Q: What are the main reasons why you feel employee engagement should be a focus for leaders? 

There are many, many benefits to having employee engagement as a core part of your organization’s culture, for engagement to be a mindset that everyone prioritizes. Summarizing just a few reasons is difficult, but here you go:

  1. Your brand value is determined by what people choose to do each day. Every industry is becoming more retail oriented; after all, people are even shopping online for doctors now. Therefore customer experience is critical to your organization’s success. And the customer experiences delivered will be determined by what employees choose to do—their care, discretion, and judgment: their engagement! What your people do to innovate, to make a difference, and to differentiate your customer experience is what will determine the direction of your organization.
  2. The speed of change is faster than ever—and engaging employees to co-think with leaders is essential. We need to value our people and realize they are not just executors; they are creators just as much as leadership. And with engaged employees, we’ll have more people constantly iterating and coming up with better answers to address the more complex problems businesses are facing and will continue to face.

In an interesting example, the U.S. economy loses billions each year because of the number of people playing fantasy baseball or fantasy football during work time. Our people are playing and iterating strategy every day, just not ours! They are capable of so much more if just given the chance.

Q: How has a specific focus on employee engagement improved your workforce and employee experience? 

As consultants, we at Root realize there’s not just one way to do something. We need our people to be engaged—to feel free to bring their ideas to the forefront. And so we work really hard to make sure there is less fear, intimidation, and less concern about being wrong so that people will step forward and share their unique thinking. If we reduce employees’ fear and enhance the ability to risk, test, experiment, and learn, we’ll see more and more people stepping forward to share their ideas.

One of the leadership blind spots I addressed a long time ago is the fear of failure. So I encourage people to test, experiment, and explore without fear of repercussion. That has really helped our business. We also believe that having our people truly understand our organization’s purpose can encourage engagement. When purpose is clear, people know the direction in which the business needs to go. They know what’s best for the big picture and are trusted to make the right choices.

December 19, 2019


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