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5 Things Every Manager Needs To Know About Employee Engagement

May 3, 2019 by Kevin Kruse 1 Comment

What managers should know about employee engagement

This is an employee engagement message from the heart.

I’m doing my best to strip away HR-speak, academic jargon, and journalistic style in an attempt to actually reach crazy-busy front-line managers who’ve heard it all before. It’s my vain attempt to actually influence someone.

Despite the best intentions of so many, the truth about employee engagement isn’t getting out. You need to understand…

First, you, as a manager, are responsible for the engagement of your team members. The buck stops with you. The research is clear: managers account for over 70% of the variance in employee engagement. I wish it weren’t so, but it is. You can’t just think engagement is the responsibility of HR. You can’t blame your team’s low engagement on your vision-less CEO, or slow computer network. Whenever I look at a company’s engagement survey results, I see a wide variance in engagement levels from team to team. They all have the same CEO, the same values, the same benefits, often the very same tools…the one thing that is different, their boss.

Second, you need to care about engagement not because it’s nice to make people happy, but rather because engaged workers give you discretionary effort and they stay in their jobs longer. The “engagement profit chain” establishes links between caring, productivity, service, customer loyalty, and ultimately sales and profits. How? Engaged sales reps are still cold calling on Friday afternoon, while disengaged ones start their weekend early. Engaged customer service reps are just as patient at the end of the day as they are at the beginning of the day. Engaged software engineers write clean code, easily maintained by those who come after them. Engaged factory workers make fewer mistakes and have fewer accidents. Engagement yields measurably better results.

Third, engagement has nothing to do with parties, picnics, or balloons on your birthday. Employee engagement is the emotional connection one feels to his employer and its goals. Read that definition again, and notice it doesn’t mention fun, happy or even satisfied.  There is no data that shows that your company’s fun committee has any impact on employee engagement. (Hey, it might be nice to have fun at work, and there may be a benefit to creating some social bonds, but those things have nothing to do with engagement.) Engagement isn’t about having fun. And no committee’s work will impact the engagement on your team more than you do.

Fourth, to drive engagement focus primarily on growth, recognition and trust. Based on research on over 10 million workers and on my own experience as a Best Place to Work winner, people feel engaged primarily from growth, recognition and trust. You, as the boss, can trigger those feelings. You foster a team culture that can promote those drivers. Yes, yes, there are at least a dozen drivers of engagement and one consulting company will call it “growth” and another will call it “learning and development” and another will call it “mastery of challenging work”. Don’t overcomplicate it. In general, we all want (1) to grow and learn new things, (2) to feel appreciated and (3) to trust that leadership will guide us to a brighter future.

Fifth, increasing engagement takes minutes, not hours; you do have the time to engage your team. If you think you don’t have time to do employee engagement stuff, you aren’t thinking about it right. For the driver of recognition, how many minutes would it take for you to say “thank you” a little more often? It would only take you one minute per week to implement the habit of starting every team meeting with a positive shout out to someone who deserves the recognition (e.g., “Before we start the meeting I just want to give a big ‘thank you’ to Sheryl. Last night we got way busier than normal and I asked her to stay past her shift with virtually no notice. She stayed two extra hours which really shows her dedication to her colleagues and to customer service. Thanks, Sheryl.”) To trigger positive feelings about future trust, spend a minute reviewing the annual goal at your team meetings. Heck, spend five minutes right now to send out an email just reminding people of the mission and annual plan. Pick one person a week and ask, “Hey, just curious…do you remember what our mission is here? Do you remember what our team’s annual goal is?” Twice a year talk to people about their career goals. Your new mantra: engagement takes minutes, not hours.

Five simple things. That’s it. Somewhere along the way engagement has become complicated, expensive and often, someone else’s job. It shouldn’t be that way.

I’ll conclude by asking a favor.

Are your team members managers themselves? I hope you’ll print a copy of this article out to distribute and discuss at your next team meeting.

Do you work in HR? Perhaps you will forward this article to all the people managers in your company.

Managers are the key to engagement, and it doesn’t take a lot of time or money.


This article was originally published on by Kevin Kruse, our 27th Annual Gathering of Games Keynote Speaker.

Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author of nine books and a serial entrepreneur who started or co-founded several multimillion-dollar businesses. At the Gathering of Games, this Great Game practitioner will provide insights from his brand new book, Great Leaders Have No Rules: Contrarian Leadership Principles to Transform Your Team and Business. 

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Topics: Employee Engagement, Leadership, The Annual Gathering of Games

Kevin Kruse
Written by Kevin Kruse

Kevin is a New York Times bestselling author of nine books and a serial entrepreneur who started or co-founded several multimillion-dollar businesses. At the Gathering of Games, this Great Game practitioner will provide insights from his brand new book, Great Leaders Have No Rules: Contrarian Leadership Principles to Transform Your Team and Business. In Great Leaders Have No Rules, Kevin debunks popular wisdom with ten contrarian principles for better, faster, easier leadership. Grounded in solid research and three decades of entrepreneurial experience, his message has one purpose: to teach you how to be both the boss everyone wants to work for and the high achiever every CEO wants to hire—all without drama, stress, or endless hours in the office.

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Our approach to running a company was developed to help close one of the biggest gaps in business: the gap between managers and employees. We call our open-book approach The Great Game of Business. What lies at the heart of The Game is a very simple proposition: The best, most efficient, most profitable way to operate a business is to give everybody in the company a voice in saying how the company is run and a stake in the outcome. Let us teach you how to develop a culture of ownership, where employees think, act and feel like owners.