You Must Have Engaged Employees–And It’s Not That Hard

Research over the last decade has made a convincing case that companies whose employees feel highly engaged outperform companies with less engaged ones in just about every important metric: growth, profitability, productivity, innovation and so on.

Not surprisingly, research also shows that managers can have a big effect on how engaged their people feel. So there has been a focus on teaching and training managers to be better coaches, to be more empathetic, to use active listening and generally to nurture the people who report to them. These are all good things to do, but they may not be the easiest, quickest or least expensive approaches, especially when you need a turnaround in engagement right away and can’t wait for the benefits of training.

Research done by my consulting firm, Louis Allen Worldwide, shows that even if managers don’t take specific actions to increase the level of engagement their people feel, they still can have a dramatic effect on it simply by being engaged themselves. That’s right: Engaged managers lead directly to engaged employees.

It’s obvious when you think about it. If a manager is enthusiastic about what he or she does, expresses genuine belief in the company and its direction and is working hard as a result, his or her direct reports will likely respond in kind. This is an example of how “role modeling,” one of the fundamental tools of an effective leader, works in practice.

A caveat: This approach will not work if any of five “engagement killers” exists in your organization: (1) a lack of trust in management, (2) a feeling that compensation isn’t fair, (3) a belief that career opportunities are controlled by politics, (4) a belief that the organization doesn’t have the wherewithal to be successful and, most significantly, (5) poor manager-subordinate relationships.

How do you avoid those failings? First, make use of a well-constructed engagement survey, such as the Conference Board’s Global Employee Engagement Survey, to get input on the level of engagement your people are feeling right now as well as input on those five engagement killers. If your organization has a problem with any of the five, you must work on it.

It amazes me how many organizations don’t have a problem with the five engagement killers yet still take no specific action to engage their managers and create a culture of enthusiasm and belief in the company’s mission. Far too many companies allow an attitude of “just do your job, that’s what we’re paid for.” Failure to make work meaningful undermines engagement, leading to lower performance–the start of a vicious cycle.

So what should you do? It’s not that hard. Get your senior management team together and talk about what’s great about your business and your organization. What’s great about its history? What’s great about its current situation? Most important, what’s great about what it’s trying to do now? Why is what the company is trying to achieve in the future something to be excited about working to accomplish? The fact that customers spend good money for what you do is something to be proud of. Take some time to understand and appreciate that powerful fact.

Undoubtedly many people can live lives in which work just means a paycheck, and they don’t feel particularly underprivileged. But most people absolutely light up in a way they never imagined when they get the opportunity to be part of something exciting, something meaningful. That something does not have to be working on a cure for cancer or discovering a way to eliminate world hunger. Anything, absolutely anything, has meaning if someone else is willing to pay their hard-earned money for it.

So, that’s it. Get your senior managers together. Understand and articulate the exciting meaning in your business. Find words and emotions to express it with enthusiasm, and then go about your work, making sure everyone you deal with knows how you feel.

Managers thus engaged will turn everyone in the organization from people merely doing their jobs into enthusiastic hard workers who feel enriched by the meaning they now get out of their work lives.


J. P. Miller is the chief executive officer of Louis Allen Worldwide, an organizational-effectiveness and change-management consulting firm.


Miller, J.P. (2009, May 11). Retrieved from

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