Three Ways To Reach The Employees Who Affect Your Engagement Results Most

Over the years, I’ve watched a process become pretty standard in organizations. It involves employee engagement, and it hasn’t worked well for most teams. Leaders receive their engagement results back from the survey vendor they partnered with and are instructed to share their results with their team in a group setting, choosing one to two survey questions to focus on over the coming months.

This process, by the majority of these leaders’ accounts, hasn’t worked well in progressing overall engagement for their teams. Over recent years, I’ve spoken with employees to gather their insights on why they feel this approach doesn’t work, and there are some common themes, one of which is sharing results and action planning in a “team” forum.

Let’s explore how the process typically goes.

As I’ve worked with leaders on the topic of engagement, I’ve asked them who speaks during the team meeting in which the leader is sharing the results of the engagement survey. It typically includes the leader showing the team’s scores versus benchmark scores, along with comments that may have been typed in by members of the team. The leaders’ answers are overwhelmingly similar: The ones speaking are the top 15-20% of employees perceived to be highly engaged and the bottom 15-20% perceived to be actively disengaged.

This isn’t surprising, and it aligns similarly numbers-wise with Dr. Rod Napier’s framework of the 20-60-20 model. Dr. Napier shared from his work that, in most organizations, 20% of employees positively view the organization, while 20% negatively view the organization. In the middle is the largest group at 60%. These are people who come to work, do a good job and are swayed at times by the positives, and at other times by the negatives. These people, who I call “the tippers,” truly determine where the organization’s overall engagement goes. As their name suggests, they’re the tipping point. And guess what. Leaders have been missing out on what these tippers have to say for years.

I’ve asked leaders if their tippers speak up in the sessions where “the team” is deciding on one or two survey questions to focus on for the coming months in terms of engagement action planning. Their answer is a resounding no. And they didn’t even realize it.

When our already highly engaged people and the people actively disengaged speak, the cycle continues. Our overall engagement may improve slightly, but meaningful change doesn’t occur.

This cycle can be broken when leaders take an active approach to partner with the tippers at the individual level on engagement, put the human back into the engagement planning process and work with them to scope out opportunities for empowerment in the workplace. These are all engagement drivers that assign a different type of ownership in the engagement process, from passive to active.

The following are three ways to tip the tippers into the highly accountable, highly engaged spectrum.

1. Take engagement down to the individual level.

The tippers aren’t usually going to speak much in group discussions on engagement because the questions chosen often aren’t near and dear to them. As a leader, take engagement down to the individual level. Talk with your employees about what they are going to own and partner with you on for their engagement. Don’t miss this opportunity and let them sit idly by. Set up specifics with them on what they are going to act on in terms of a specific survey question. Make note of instances when they proactively step outside of their norm to engage in those actions, and celebrate when they take that opportunity.

2. Coach them on courage and candor.

In a recent article, I shared the importance of bringing courage and candor to the workplace when pursuing engagement growth. As leaders take engagement down to the individual level, it’s vital they show what courage and candor look like and address barriers with their tippers on how to engage in courage and candor.

When tippers are courageous and candid, it will often lead them to have conversations they wouldn’t before. Tippers often abstain from having candid conversations to avoid rocking the boat on their teams. This practice, however, creates a false sense of engagement and fails to build or extend trust.

If leaders practice having honest conversations with sincerity and positive intent with their tippers, and work to instill courage in them to take action, the team will have entered a new realm of trust, and the tipping point will tip in favor of engagement.

3. Scope opportunities for empowerment.

Working in an organization that doesn’t encourage empowerment or model what it looks like can result in less risk-taking and hinder engagement. People aren’t sure where the threshold is and don’t want to overstep it.

Organizations like Disney and the Ritz-Carlton have clearly laid out the scope of empowerment for their employees through certain measures. These measures allow their employees to create processes or experiences that help them thrive. While the scope is clearly laid, the “how” and “what” aren’t, so employees can be innovative and thought-provoking, and create awesome, people-powered moments.

Engagement isn’t a quick fix. It’s a daily collaboration between leaders and their teams. It’s bringing yourself, and the vulnerability that sometimes comes with it, to the workplace. The tips I shared above don’t fall solely on the leader’s or organization’s shoulders, nor the employee’s. They involve accountability from the group as a whole. Engage the tippers, and shift the culture to ownership, accountability and empowerment so they can go from doing well to being actively engaged to do great!


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