A Formula for Building an Engaged Workforce

Do you feel like workplace performance is down, like your managers are lacking leadership, and you aren’t seeing the success or outcomes you know your team can create? One of the easiest things you can do to fix this is review your employee engagement.

What is Employee Engagement?

Employee engagement is not a feeling employees have when the break room cupboard is stocked with their favorite snacks. Employee engagement doesn’t mean that everyone gets exactly what they want. Employee engagement means having a committed workforce, where employees operate, fully invested in the company. Engaged employees produce better products and provide more meaningful services. Employee engagement means employees inspire others to create better business outcomes. Employee engagement is not an HR initiative, it is a leadership initiative!

Mapping out their path to success

We tend to think of employee engagement as something that only happens occasionally. A workplace shouldn’t just witness employee engagement, but should build on it every day. A workplace that exhibits good employee engagement knows that it should happen daily, and not once a year, or once in a lifetime. In spite of all of this, we spend numerous hours surveying and researching what creates employee engagement, hoping to replicate the ideal conditions. Yet, our efforts miss the fundamental point: employee engagement is a fundamental business competency that successful leaders can learn and develop.

How Do You Build Employee Engagement?

It’s true that a few leaders seem to build employee engagement by virtue of personality or prior experience. Others intuitively feel their way towards an engaged workforce. Others have to get there by the more painful trial-and-error method. But, as suggested, few know how to systematically build employee engagement. Instead, we simply stumble along and hope for the best.

Fortunately, there is a better way to build employee engagement. It’s a business skill and like other skills, and it can be defined, taught, understood, measured, and effectively managed. Developing an engaged team, and enjoying the resulting success should be a methodical and purposeful endeavor, not a haphazard one.

Like any business fundamental, the starting point is the definition. Employee engagement can be simplified down to a basic formula:

The Proper Environment+A Compelling Invitation+Employee Choice
=Employee Engagement

The first element in our equation is the organization’s operating environment or what we call the “Employee Experience.” The organization’s Employee Experience (OrgX) is primarily built and established by the organization and the organization’s senior leadership team (executive leaders). OrgX is the executive leaders’ responsibility. They define the roadmap and they set the global parameters. They are assisted in their efforts by various functions, such as human resources, organization development, talent management, learning and development, etc. Executive leaders, however, should not delegate away their responsibility when it comes to OrgX. They are responsible solely for this key aspect of the organization’s strategic vision.

The second element of our equation, the compelling invitation, is owned by the day-to-day leaders within the organization. These are the “boots on the ground” managers (core leaders) who interact daily and intimately with the workforce. Core Leaders are responsible for taking the broader Employee Experience and tailoring it to their individual circumstances. They should not stray from the key mandates established by their executive leaders, but they should actively refine and tweak the Employee Experience to meet their team’s individual needs.  We might think of this as the team’s Employee Experience, or TeamX.

Our equation’s third element is impacted by the organization and its core leaders, but it is largely the employee’s responsibility. An organization can nurture success in this area by trying to hire individuals who are more likely to engage within the OrgX, and core leaders can be careful about employee fit when establishing TeamX. But, ultimately, the choice to engage lies squarely on the employee.  Employees must be accountable for their choice to engage (Individual Accountability, or IA).

To be sure, Executive Leaders and Core Leaders should work with their employees to help them see how and why they can choose to engage, but after the invitation has been properly extended, leaders have the right to demand accountability and individual employees should be willing to be accountable for their decision as to whether they engage or not.

So, let us refine our equation to look like this:

[OrgX  +  TeamX  +  IA  =  EE]
Organization Employee Experience

  • Executive Leadership
  • Organization Level
  • Strategic Vision
  • Maturity Model
+Team Employee Experience

  • Core Leadership
  • Team Level
  • Team Vision
  • Engagement Competencies
+Individual Accountability

  • Individual Choice
  • Hiring for Fit
  • Accountability Programs
=Employee Engagement

  • Business Success
  • It’s Purposeful and Planned
  • Become an Employer of Choice
  • Attract, Retain, and Engage

Our equation is far different than what we immediately think of when we talk about employee engagement.  Instead of making employee engagement a once-a-year activity handled by HR, this equation places primary responsibility for engagement (and its attendant benefits) where it should be – on the organization’s leaders. In addition, our equation provides us with not only a useful definition for leader-driven Employee Engagement, but it also helps us think about how to organize our responsibilities and direct our efforts at the organization, team, and individual levels.

A Starting Point For Workforce Engagement

I understand how some might be troubled by the huge “wildcard” in this equation, which is the fact that employee engagement depends on whether an employee chooses to engage or not. However, starting  with the notion that employee engagement is leader-driven, then at least leaders and organizations know where to place accountability once the other parts of the equation have been reasonably established.  And, instead of searching and hoping for employee engagement to naturally sprout, this equation will help you take control of your efforts as you purposefully build employee engagement within your organization, teams, and employees.

Interactive meetings work best for their business

One last point.  This equation is just the starting point.  There is so much more that defines each of the equation’s elements.  For example, our research tells us that an Org X or a TeamX are greatly impacted by the presence, or lack thereof, of 5 key engagement elements:  Meaning, Autonomy, Growth, Impact, and Connection (what we call the ENGAGEMENT MAGIC® elements). Our work at DecisionWise is to help you see the starting point, which is the Employee Engagement equation, and then help you establish the other factors that flow from this point.  Armed with this information, leaders will be able to realize significant benefits from an engaged workforce instead of hoping to catch lightning in a bottle, every once in a while.

Further Reading: “10 Questions That Need To Be In Your Employee Engagement Survey”

Young team at modern conference table.