Seven Best Practices to Boost Employee Engagement

Monday, July 28, 2014

What separates the best leaders from the rest when it comes to employee engagement?

Our research shows the best leaders communicate an inspiring vision. They live it, value people, and give them a voice. Here are seven of the more than 100 best practices that leaders can use to engage people.

  1. Set your top five high–level, annual priorities. Many leaders today are overwhelming their teams by trying to do too much. Both individually and as a team, set no more than five high–level, challenging but achievable, annual priorities that are aligned with your vision and mission. If you go beyond five high–level, annual priorities, it will diminish focus and effective execution by tending to overwhelm those responsible for implementation. One day each week, review your weekly plans to see that they are aligned with your top five.

  2. Know their stories. Take time to get to know the people you work with, especially your direct reports. Have coffee or a meal with them. Ask questions to learn about their lives and what’s important to them. Questions unrelated to work might include: “So you were born and then what happened?”; “What are your interests outside of work?”; and “Where did you grow up?” These questions typically open the door for you to ask follow-up questions. This will give you insight into how the people you work with are wired, including what they value at work and in their lives outside of work.

  3. Help people get into the right role. Help your direct reports get into the right role that fits their interests and strengths, and provides the right degree of challenge. If you are not able to get them a role that is a good fit, consider responsibilities or projects you can assign them that fit well with their wiring.

  4. Develop the habit of emphasizing positives. The psychologist Barbara Frederickson found that individuals in the workplace were healthier at higher ratios of positive to negative emotions. Leaders boost positive emotions by providing affirmation and recognition. They should develop the habit of looking out for ways to affirm and serve the people they lead.


    Do this by looking for task strengths and character strengths. Task strengths reflect the excellence of someone’s work. Character strengths reflect the way someone goes about her work. For example, a leader might affirm an individual by saying, “Nancy, that was an outstanding website you created. The navigation design was easy to use, the writing was easy to understand, and the color scheme was beautiful.” She might affirm Nancy’s character strengths by saying, “Nancy, I appreciate the way you persevered to make our new website happen. You showed wisdom and humility in seeking the ideas of others and applying the best ideas to the design of our new website. Very nicely done!”

  5. Provide constructive feedback in a constructive way. When providing feedback to help someone improve, always communicate it in private, be respectful in your tone of voice and volume, and begin with three positive things you like about his work or character. After sharing the three positives say, “I believe you would be even better if. . . [insert what you want them to do or stop doing].” Kindness matters and the approach you take will affect how the person receives the feedback.

  6. Provide autonomy in execution. Monitor progress and be available to help your direct reports, but refrain from micro managing unless they ask for specific help. Favor guidelines rather than rules and controls, and let people know that you are available if they have questions or would like you to be a sounding board. This meets the human need for autonomy and allows people to experience personal growth.

  7. Hold in-person meetings and regularly check in. Good relationships are maintained by staying in touch. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill understood this. Historians have found more than 1,700 letters, notes, and telegrams that Churchill wrote to his wife so that they would remain connected. Take a page from Churchill’s playbook. With your direct reports, stay connected with weekly in-person meetings, if at all possible. If you cannot meet weekly, check in with phone calls, emails, or text messages to help keep you connected. To stay connected with people who work remotely, regularly call or Skype them. Remote work can be lonely and people should feel you are on their team and want to help them achieve their potential. Besides work issues, inquire about how they are doing personally, too.

For more best practices to engage employees and to get a deeper look at the topic, join me online on September 2 for ATD’s Essentials of Driving Results Through Employee Engagement workshop.

Additionally, if you are aware of an innovative practice that boosts employee engagement, email a description to me at and I may use it (with reference to you) in a future article and in my next book.

Listen to Michael Stallard's podcast on driving results through employee engagement.

About the Author
Michael Lee Stallard ( is a thought-leader, author, speaker and leading expert on how human connection in culture affects the health and performance of individuals and organizations. He is the president and cofounder of E Pluribus Partners and the Connection Culture Group. Michael is the primary author of Fired Up or Burned Out: How to Reignite Your Team’s Passion, Creativity, and Productivity and Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy and Understanding.

Michael has appeared in media outlets worldwide including Entrepreneur, Financial Times, Fast Company, Forbes, Fox Business, Inc., Knowledge@Wharton, Leader to Leader, New York Times and Wall Street Journal. His clients have included Costco, Lockheed Martin, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, NASA, Scotiabank, U.S. Department of Treasury, and Qualcomm. Texas Christian University founded the TCU Center for Connection Culture to advance Michael and his colleagues' ideas at TCU and in higher education.
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