Want Better Employee Engagement? Change may be the Answer.

Employee-Engagement-William-PowellUnless you have been sleeping under a rock for the past 10 years or so, employee engagement has quickly taken front and center. Its influence on bottom line numbers has been researched extensively and CEOs and other organizational leaders are sitting up and taking notice. According to a Boston Consulting Group report, companies that focus on being “People” Companies have “outperformed the market average in eight out of ten years“. In 2011, that difference was 99 percentage points in favor of “People” Companies. What’s a People Company? One that is committed to investing in the development of people as a means to enjoy better economic performance.

Employee engagement has to meet organizational goals and still add value to the personal and professional goals of the individual. The moment this balance is skewed in favor of one party over another, they both lose. If you’re not up to scratch on your engagement efforts and feel like you’re trying to sort out how to begin eating this elephant, take heart. You can utilize something that may already be on your radar to help.

There is little in the life of a business that captures its attention more than significant change. A laser-like focus begins to develop and people are at least expecting something new as a means to navigate the yet unfamiliar territory change tends to bring in its wake. Change provides an opportunity for questions, the openness to communicate uncertainty and the need to become more human with others in your organization.

Questions. Open communication. Human vulnerability. All key components to good engagement. Change also gives you enough latitude to revisit your values and cultural norms. Change that’s going to come anyway may be the best excuse to get off your duff and get cracking on improving your engagement levels and work towards becoming one of those mysteriously profitable “People” Companies.

Questions. Open communication. Human vulnerability. All key components to good engagement.”~William Powell Tweet this

Here are a few tips to help make change a great catalyst for improving your engagement levels:

  1. Critique your values – Will your current values support the change AND facilitate engagement? Be true to your organizational DNA, but make sure the language around your values has adequate purpose to communicate effectively enough to increase engagement. It has to speak to individual – as well as organizational – needs, desires and goals.
  2. Re-visit your mission statement – I’ve seen many organizations spend so much time crafting language around values and engagement and cultural refinement then not even touch their mission statement. Often times, this can lead to a seriously mixed message and actually decrease engagement. It’s tough to engage in something that is confusing or contradictory.
  3. Communicate alignment – As you reinforce the ranks to be prepared for change, take that opportunity to connect their roles to the vision and values and how that will make the change less painful. When people know HOW they are contributing to the success of something bigger than themselves, engagement happens much more easily.
  4. Challenge leadership – Don’t let your leaders sit in the corner and chew their nails while they wait to get run over by the change train. Completely uncool and unfruitful. Rally them around the benefits of navigating the change. How will the change develop them as a team? As leaders? What will be the individual win and the organizational win? Have them be active in the process and the communication of the benefits of it. This will drive engagement.
  5. Get your hands dirty – Find out where people feel overwhelmed and ask how you can help make it less ominous. Everyone needs to be responsible for their own engagement, but leadership is responsible for creating an atmosphere that facilitates that ownership. Provide an opportunity for people to communicate their anxieties and perceptions of the situation. Simple dialogue can do wonders for engagement.
  6. Include others – There needs to be a plan of action to effectively navigate the change. People doing the job probably have some great insight into how best to make it more effective and productive. You hired adults, so instead of being a babysitter with a manager title, listen to what they have to say. The more influence you can give them, the more effort they will put into implementing the solution they helped develop.

Change doesn’t have to be a four-letter word. It can be the biggest blessing your organization can receive if positioned properly. Imagine coming out on the other side of change stronger and more engaged, instead of beat up and only having survived the process. It’s time to make a difference. What will you do?


  1. Hi William,
    I really enjoyed your article, and how universal these concepts are no matter the organization. I’m employed with a social services agency undergoing significant change at the moment, of which I’m working with front line staff to help implement. I’ve been very consciously trying to incorporate many of these principles into how I approach these folks, and I’ve found it remarkable how the idea of involvement can really foster a sense of committment and ownership by those respective individuals.

    Very helpful article.

    Thank you,

  2. julie bullen says:

    Hi – as everyone has said – a great summary and contribution – any references for the 20 years of research? I find the principles intuitive – but for those that need formal research..?

  3. Rob Zachrich says:

    Excellent article showing the bottom line impact of organizations “doing it right” with today’s workforce.

    • Thanks for the feedback Rob. There is over 20 year worth of research and studies that show a distinct connection with engagement and bottom line numbers. Far too much to be ignored or dismissed. Thanks for your contribution!

  4. Strong essay. Business almost always succeeds when the people you deal with are authentic and genuine in every aspect of their work — R&D, sales, marketing, accounting, administration, logistics… Engaging you employees and giving them the real opportunity to share and speak freely creates freedom to achieve and energy to expand. Well done.

    • Absolutely. In my experience, that creation of freedom is what really makes things happen. Most bottlenecks in organizations come from a real or perceived lack of freedom. Thanks for your contribution Douglas!

  5. Excellent points you raise and so pertinent to the change in organisations, families and communities as well as groups and religion I feel.
    In particular I love your inclusion of point 5 and the idea of mucking in and supporting the team and how to make their work more in the flow.

  6. Hi William ~ your post was excellent and a superb reminder of how to truly engage with those around you within any team or organisation! I especially liked your first three points, as values, vision and mission, and communication add up to ‘clear purpose’ ~ and I believe people in teams and organisations need to understand and align with clear purpose to be most effective. Thanks for sharing!

    • Great points John. Alignment across all communication channels (especially with values, mission and vision) is absolutely essential to get the most out of your engagement efforts. Thanks for contributing my friend!

  7. Hi William. I found my head nodding in agreement as I read your post. All of your points are so very true. And thank you for the link to the report that will help support all of our efforts in encouraging employee investment and development. Number 6 – including others – really speaks to my philosophy of recruitment, leading and management. We trust our hires to join the company – so then why don’t we trust them to work in the company. Crazy how the shift occurs.

    Thanks for the great post.

    All the best,


    • Talent management, especially career development, seems to be one of the weakest areas for many organizations. Much of the unwillingness to include others is based in immature or inexperienced leadership…then a habit is developed and only expands if left unchecked and becomes reinforced by unhealthy culture and unchecked experience. Thanks heaps for your contribution and comments!!

  8. Excellent article William. As I often say, employees are not inventory! The moment they feel like they are an asset, then they switch off. It may require just a few small changes to begin. Showing that you care about them as individual people with distinct personalities, their passions, their family, could be a starting point. This helps a great deal in improving employee engagement, when they feel valued.

    • I think the most important point you make, Kimunya, is that it just takes “a few small changes to begin”. Many organizational leaders have this misconception that it has to be some giant ordeal. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. Thanks for contributing!!

  9. Nice article.
    Having been frustrated by the past 6 years of “head banging” and lip service re engagement, flying in the face of the data, I’m convinced that a large dose of regime change is required to unblock the minority if we’re going to liberate the creative juices of the majority. But “challenging the leadership” is especially tough when times are so “lean”, especially for internal change agents. But it has to come sooner or later………

    • Many folks share your frustration Ian. This “revelation” if you will seems to be on a gradual pace. As more and more organizations realize the benefits of engagement, it will gain more steam as things progress. It doesn’t help those in the “late-adotpers” category, but it is some hope! Lead from where you are my friend.

  10. Hi William

    Excellent take on the change conundrum. I completely agree with everything you say. What I don’t fully understand is why overall engagement, as measured, say, by the Gallup figures published every year, is changing at a painfully slow rate. Despite the obvious practical and philosophical advantages of the engagement approach, not much seems to be happening other than perhaps an increasing number of positive case studies.

    While this makes work for people like us, I still wonder why more people haven’t ‘got it’or who still seek the elusive magic bullet ( see my contribution). I can only assume that they are so caught up in day-to-day task demands that they have no energy left to either take a helicopter view that would show them the reality, or to put the engagement principles into meaningful practice if they have ‘got it’.

    I’d be very interested in whether you agree and if so, if you have any have any other theories of why this might be the case?

    I really enjoyed the article, thanks again for publishing it.

    Warm wishes


    • Great questions David. While there may be a myriad of distinct reasons, I think the overarching issue stems from one place. In my conversations with leaders, there is still this unintentional disassociation between engagement efforts and operational function.

      Engagement is still this external element that is in addition to their “job function”, in their eyes. It is something to prepare for when the survey time rolls around. It’s like cramming for a final exam in university. It’s also viewed as an intrusion to “doing business”. It’s the huddled masses clamoring for “love” in the workplace and that just has nothing to do with business. This is the sentiment I pick up.

      Once the perception of engagement gets over this hump of being external to operational functions and becomes a part of operational function and strategy, then it will gain more traction…in my opinion.

      Thanks for your contribution!


  11. Great post William. The thought occurred to me that when we increase engagement we can actually facilitate positive change without even trying to change anything. When the group as a whole, focuses more on working together productively, good things happen!

    • You completely “get it” Barry!! You’re moving in the other direction, but definitely the same path. Thanks heaps for your contribution my friend!!

  12. Hi

    I really liked this post. There can be no doubt that this is the way to go. I was at a triathlon coaching conference where the British Cycle Coach Paul Manning was speaking. They have been massively successful in recent years. Nearly all the points on your action list appeared in the list of things which helped them create so many Olympic medallists and a clean Tour De France winner.


    • Thanks for the practical example of these things in motion Dave! Great to have a different perspective outside the traditional “business world”.

  13. Great title, great picture, great content William. And I might add … there’s no “may be” about it. Change precedes all employee engagement. Engagement is about change. It’s about creating change through and with everyone in the organization.

    When leaders think otherwise, neither engagement nor change nor success materializes.

    Wonderful post. Will be tweeting this right before lunch today (ET).


  14. William – I especially like number five. When change happens and leaders are not visibly engaged and instead messaging from the corner office engagement suffers. One of the cornerstones of change management is creating a two way conversation. You put it well – it doesn’t have to be a big deal that’s over messaged… simple dialogue works wonders. Thanks!

  15. Nice post. thanks alot.

  16. Nice post William. Thank you for tips. Very useful.

    Kind regards,