Using a Complete Approach to Improve Employee Engagement

Some organizations do nothing more than budget for a “check-the-box” training program to help managers learn to engage employees. Instead, organizations need to implement a complete solution that includes training but goes much further.

Sometimes Training and Human Resource professionals get frustrated when leadership wants to strengthen the organization’s capacity, but doesn’t put in place a complete approach. For instance, in the case of improving employee engagement, some organizations do nothing more than budget for a “check-the-box” training program to help managers learn to engage employees, as if that will solve a complex problem like engaging employees. Using the example of improving employee engagement, here is what a complete solution might look like—it includes training, and goes much further:

  1. Make the goal of improving engagement a strategic priority. Some organizations have so many programs going on that they treat each one superficially. Improving engagement, as with most other important initiatives, requires focus. If senior leadership doesn’t make engagement an area of focus and then get behind it, the organization will not be successful.
  2. Get data with a robust and reliable engagement assessment tool. Measurement is the crux of any change initiative, and engagement is no exception.
  3. Set an overall organizational target for engagement. An overall score gives the organization a target to shoot for and celebrate when they achieve it. The score can be an absolute total or the organization’s percentile ranking compared with benchmarks.
  4. Set targets for each manager to improve his or her specific engagement score. A robust assessment tool breaks out engagement by each manager. This allows the organization to focus on managers who need to make significant improvements. It also makes it possible to give each manager a target to improve engagement and reward managers who succeed.
  5. Look at specific drivers of engagement at the organization and focus there. Many engagement assessments survey the organization to discover what drives engagement at each specific organization. Examples can include how involved employees are in decision-making, whether or not the job provides autonomy, and how much feedback employees receive about their performance.
  6. Train managers on best practices in employee engagement and specifically the most important drivers of engagement. Once data has been collected, the organization can train managers on the key factors in engaging employees and also on how to focus on the most important drivers based on the assessment.
  7. Hold managers accountable for creating and implementing an action plan. Based on their individual engagement scores and what they learned during the training, managers create an action plan and submit it. Achieving this action plan and improving their scores becomes the basis of a portion of their performance review and compensation.
  8. Base a portion of the manager’s performance review and compensation on improving engagement scores. If the organization is serious about improving engagement, it has to provide incentives and pressures, which includes putting managers who do a poor job of engaging employees on a probationary period and removing them if they cannot improve their scores.
  9. Put structures in place to give managers more time to engage employees. For instance, one organization realized that managers spent so much time in meetings that they didn’t have much time left to meet with and engage employees. They made certain days meeting free and also launched an initiative to eliminate standing meetings that were not productive.
  10. Train internal coaches to work with managers on improving engagement. Coaching reinforces training because it is an ongoing process that looks at real-time events.
  11. Coach managers who can have the most impact on engagement scores. Few organizations have the resources to coach every manager. The organization can focus on those managers who have the greatest opportunities to improve. Also, group coaching can make the process more efficient.
  12. Senior leadership models the appropriate behaviors. A common frustration among middle managers is that senior leadership doesn’t model the behaviors they are expected to demonstrate. For instance, one organization I worked with had respect as one of its core values. One day a senior leader was ruthlessly critical of a middle manager during a major meeting, humiliating him in front of hundreds of colleagues. This leader clearly failed to model the value of respect and never apologized. Employees talk about this incident a year later as an example of senior leadership not modeling the behaviors they want to see and of being hypocrites.
  13. Continue to track engagement scores. Ongoing measurement is required to make sure there is progress and to make midcourse corrections if not.

As you can see, interventions such as training and coaching play an important role in the initiative. However, this example also shows the need for many other activities and commitment to reinforce training and coaching programs and make sure the organization achieves its desired goals. The approach mapped out here applies to almost any other major organizational initiative.

Andrew Neitlich is the founder and director of the Center for Executive Coaching, a leading coach training organization based in Central Florida. He has trained more than 1,000 coaches around the world—including clients within FedEx, Aflac, Microsoft, Cisco Systems, the United States Air Force, Florida Institute of Technology, University of Minnesota, the United States Department of Defense, Macy’s, the NBA, and Deloitte Consulting. Neitlich is author of five books and received his MBA from Harvard Business School. His most recent book, “Coach! The Crucial, Deceptively Simple Leadership Skill for Breakaway Performance,” is available for purchase at For more information, visit or connect via LinkedIn.


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