Real employee engagement means involving everyone

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By Wendy Mack and Vinnie Garufi

Imagine that your firm has just completed its first employee engagement survey. The results aren’t nearly as good as you would like. What would you do?

You could sit in a conference room with other leaders and try to come up with action plans that will lead to improvements. Or you could involve your employees.

Best Buy’s former CEO, Brad Anderson, states the key to employee engagement very simply: “Prioritize first what has the energy of the employee.” Anderson goes on to explain that when leaders let employees choose where to invest their time, they will naturally choose things that give them passion and purpose.

At Adventist Midwest Health, managers share the results of their employee engagement survey with employees each fall, and they ask their staff where they’d like to focus. Of the 12 questions on the survey — administered by the Gallup Organization — employees choose two areas they’d like to improve and they develop plans with specific action steps to get there.

While the manager is ultimately responsible for the success of the action plans, employees are assigned the specific tasks.

For example, one department chose to work on “employee development” by designing and administering its own 360-degree survey. One employee drafted and administered the survey and confidentially tabulated the results. The manager reviewed the feedback with each employee and created a personal development plan. All staff members filled out the survey on their peers and met with their manager to review their own results.

By enlisting team members to create and implement the plan, this department’s engagement scores improved from the 20th percentile to the 78th percentile in just one year, 20 times the average rate of improvement for work groups in Gallup’s database.

Even more important than action planning is follow-up. Perfect plans will produce dismal results without it. Conversely, mediocre plans can get great results if teams frequently follow-up, discuss progress, and course correct when necessary.

Each month, AMH managers discuss progress on their plans with their teams. And the conversations, like the plans, are better when they are simple.

In the previous example, the department’s plan was written on a flip chart in the manager’s office. During monthly staff meetings, he pointed to the flip charts and simply asked, “How are we doing on the plan?” The team devoted five to 10 minutes on discussion and course correction.

One AMH manager decided to take follow-up to a new level. In addition to discussing progress each month with her team, she took it upon herself to ask every employee one-on-one each month about progress.

During her “rounding” with each employee, she asked if they had achieved a “5” (the highest survey score on their action plan). If the employee felt a “5” wasn’t merited, she asked what else was required to achieve top marks. She could do this because she had developed trust. Individually, employees could share concerns that they may not have been comfortable sharing with the larger group.

Because of her relentless follow-up and blended approach, this manager took her team’s engagement score from the 20th to the 85th percentile in one year.

If you want to boost employee engagement — and performance and productivity — try engaging your employees.

Wendy Mack ( is a consultant, speaker and author who specializes in leading and communicating change. Vinnie Garufi is the regional organization development director for Adventist Midwest Health.