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August 9, 2023 | Blog | Uncategorized

Employee Engagement 101

By James Mayhew, James Mayhew Consulting

A lady giving presentation in a meeting

Employee engagement is essential for a high performing, thriving organization. It should come as no surprise that employee disengagement leads to higher turnover, lower productivity, an increase in mistakes and errors, and overall, lower morale.

Yet since 2012, the percentage of employees who feel engaged in their work has increased by only 2%.

So, what are companies doing wrong?

More importantly, what are companies doing right that results in higher engagement? What do great managers and executives do on a consistent basis?

They communicate.

But they don’t just share information or tell employees what to work on and how to do it. They create engaged employees because they engage them in the conversation. This means there’s an ongoing dialogue where both parties speak and listen to each other. The result is greater clarity about what’s expected, which things are highest priority, and the employee knows how they’re doing.

Here are the 3 essential conversations excellent managers do on a recurring, consistent basis to create clarity and ensure excellent work is happening on the most important things.

#1. The Expectations Conversation

The first Foundational Conversation to have is the “expectations conversation.” The goal of the Expectations Conversaton is to get clear answers to questions like:

  • What are the target dates and deadlines? (Note, there’s an important difference.)
  • Handoffs – who’s next and waiting on my work to be complete?
  • Is there a budget for hours or costs I should know about?
  • Do I have access to additional resources such as other people, the ability to outsource, and apps?
  • How often do you need progress updates? (This is essential for complex, deadline-driven projects where multiple teams are involved.)

Questions like these provide the basics about the work before it begins and improves the chances to stay on time, on target and within budget.

#2. The Priorities Conversation

There are two questions that keep leaders awake at night:

  1. Are the people on my team working on the right things?
  2. Are we on track to hit our goals? (Or, Why do we keep missing our goals?)

That’s why it’s necessary to have a vital and ongoing conversation about priorities.

In every company I’ve worked with, there is some confusion at almost every level in the org chart about priorities.

Here are 3 common events that lead to team members being confused about priorities:

  1. There are competing priorities.
  2. The priority changed and it wasn’t properly communicated.
  3. There was miscommunication about a deadline or due date.

If you’re concerned or even frustrated about how people on your teams are prioritizing their work, you may need to look into the mirror.

Be mindful that you don’t get caught playing the Name, Blame and Shame game. Work to identify the factors that led to specific performance gaps, break them down and then work together to ensure they don’t happen again.

Instead, create a system that creates accountability for the right conversations to happen consistently between managers and employees.

In other words, no more confusion about priorities.

#3. The Performance Conversation

The third type of conversation to make sure you have is the Performance Conversation.

Don’t miss this: people need and want to know how they’re doing.

When someone finds out they missed the mark after the fact – long after they could have done something to improve or change – is like driving a wedge between them and their manager.

At the heart of any Performance Conversion is feedback. Feedback is the #1 tool you have in your leadership toolbox to get the best from each person on your team.

When giving give feedback ensure that it hits these 4 marks:

  1. Feedback must be timely. Feedback that comes weeks or even months too late is useless and frustrating.
  2. Make sure your feedback is specific to the individual. Saying, “We just need to get better,” does nothing to help someone improve. Avoid using “we” when addressing the individual performance.
  3. Feedback must be honest. Don’t sugar coat or dance around the truth, but don’t be a jerk, either. Honesty that delivered with tact, kindness and truth builds trust.
  4. Make sure the feedback is helpful.

Telling someone “great job today” is not helpful. Tell them why you liked it. Or give them 1-2 things they could do next time. But be very careful here that you don’t overwhelm them with a list of 6-10 things to do better.

Here’s a couple of bonus things to talk with an individual about in a Performance Conversation.

  • Ask them what they would do different next time?
  • Ask them what went well and why? You’ll learn how to replicate it.
  • Ask them what didn’t go well and why? you’ll learn how NOT to replicate it.
  • And finally, ask them if there’s anything that YOU could do to be better.
  • And make sure you’re listening with a posture of confidence that’s covered by humility.

There are numerous ways that well-meaning leaders try to improve engagement. Most are ineffective because they fail to address the heart of engagement:  people don’t feel engaged by their manager.

By ensuring these 3 conversations are happening consistently throughout your company you can expect to see employees who are more conscientious, fewer mistakes, better communication across teams, higher productivity and overall, higher performance.


—– About the Author

James Mayhew helps businesses create high performance workplaces through his HPX Mastery System, which empowers exceptional people to do excellent work on the most important things. Based in the Corridor, he is a certified KeyneInsights Coach and Certified Human Behavioral Specialist with a values-centered approach to workplace optimization.

James is the host and creator of “Lead Thru Values,” a leadership podcast that discusses the connection between company culture and workplace performance, as well as a new podcast called “Confidence Covered By Humility,” where he explores what it takes to lead your company, your small businesses, your teams, and your home with humble confidence. 

When James was Chief Culture Officer for one of the country’s fastest-growing privately held companies, he was responsible for the company’s strategic culture initiative that led to the organization being recognized as a top workplace in the Midwest. James is also an active Advisory Board member for Covenant Workplace Solutions.

You can learn more about James here.