Ten Powerful Employee Engagement Lessons

We have one final post to wrap up our series, “Winning Employees through Engagement.” We are delighted that Vala Afshar rounds out our series on this topic. As an executive for his company which has been named one of the top places to work, Vala brings employee engagement lessons we all can learn from and apply. What we love about Vala’s post is that it’s immediately applicable. As engagement should be. It’s not rocket science. It’s human nature. (Perhaps harder than rocket science?)

I am very proud of our company. We have had incredible success with more than three years of consecutive topline revenue growth. We have also received numerous industry awards for our innovative products and services. But what I am most proud of is that the Boston Business Journal and the Boston Globe have both recognized our company as one of the ‘best places to work’ in the Boston area in 2012. Our industry-best employee retention is one of the principle drivers of our company’s success, and from a CMO and Chief Customer Officer perspective, it is clear that customers want to do business with companies that have passionate, committed, and engaged employees.

In business, winning is a team sport. Building a team that is engaged and committed starts with a mindset that celebrates collaboration. Here are ten employee engagement lessons:

1. Articulate the “Why”

“If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears.” — @SimonSinek. Employees are engaged when they understand the purpose behind direction and destination. Share with employees where you’re going and why.

2. Work Without Purpose is Just a Job

Every employee must be given the opportunity to understand and embrace your organization and company mission. Every employee must feel as though they are helping the team achieve the collective goal. Managers must frequently and purposefully communicate direction and destination. Communication creates a culture of engagement.

3. “What Do You Think?”

What are the eight words that managers can use to engage employees? Tom Peters brilliantly said the eight words are: “What do you think?” And “How can I help?” Managers, please ask these questions daily.

4. Listen Loudly

There is a difference between hearing and listening. Listening is a sign of respect. Give your undivided attention to your employees. There is no engagement without respect.

5. Cultivate Collaboration in a Safe Environment

Demonstrate to your employees that you celebrate the questions more than the answers. In a safe environment, employees are more willing to teach and be taught and to take calculated risks.

6. Leadership is About Positioning

In time of celebration, lead from the back. In time of crisis, lead from the front. Humble leaders position themselves towards success. The more credit you give, the greater the opportunity for employee engagement.

7. Remove Your Door

Nothing of significance was ever achieved in a manager’s office. The game is played on the outside, so implement a ‘no door’ policy and get in the game.

8. Indifference is Inacceptable

“The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them.” – Colin Powell. You can’t be engaged unless you are accessible. Encourage feedback and be conscious of silence. Indifference is awfully quiet.

9. Respect Failure, But Don’t Fear It

It is harder to engage when you are afraid to fail. Fail forward, fail fast and learn along the way. Most importantly, as a manager, if you make a mistake, admit it publically. Engagement cannot thrive in an atmosphere that demands perfection.

10. Break Bread

Invite employees from other departments, and your own, to lunch or breakfast. Learn about what people do to make your company great. Be interested and make connections. Interest alone isn’t enough. Learn to connect authentically.

In summary, no involvement means no commitment; no exception. So remember these employee engagement lessons because together is better. Together is how we win.

Connect with Vala

employee engagement lessons

Vala Afshar is Chief Marketing Office and Chief Customer Officer for Enterasys Networks, a Siemens Enterprise Communications Company. Afshar is responsible for worldwide services operations and technical support functions including contact center operations, field engineering, support engineering and infrastructure technologies. Afshar and his team have successfully implemented an award winning cloud computing and social collaboration customer relationship management framework that enables Enterasys to achieve best-in-class customer satisfaction and employee retention. Enterasys’ strong technical service and support capability is recognized globally by customers, partners and industry analysts as a true company differentiator.


Graphic by Shawn Murphy

Vala Afshar is the CMO and the Chief Customer Officer for Enterasys Networks, responsible for global marketing and customer service and support operations. An award-winning inventor of social technologies and customer services operations, Afshar is considered a pioneer in cloud computing, social collaboration, business intelligence and customer relationship management (CRM). Afshar is also the author of The Pursuit of Social Business Excellence, a new book that was published in September 2012.

  • An excellent post, Vala! Your 10 suggestions are not hard to do and yet make all the difference. If I had to pick one, I’d say #1 because providing the “why” allows people to use their own brains to figure out the “how.” However, I also especially like #10, break bread. Too often executive eat in a separate area. In the most efficient organizations I have had the honor to work with, the executives eat in the same area as everyone else. Not only do employees feel more respected, they have an opportunity to informally share their thoughts and it’s amazing how many good decisions get made as a result.

  • It is clear that you have the solution to creating a fully engaged team Vala. Listening Loudly is the key because from it all the other 9 listed points flow. I am making the assumption that your “listening loudly” includes responding to the satisfaction or better of the employees since without that the boss will soon have nothing to listen to. I would like to point out that,listening loudly constitutes the very finest leadership because it treats employees with great respect thus leading them to treat their work, their customers, each other, and their bosses with the same great respect. I only have one question. Were you able to achieve the 500% performance gains Stephen Covey indicated are possible? I was able to do so by listening loudly to my people.

  • What a lovely, articulate and valuable list. I am THANKFUL to have come across it, and will share it. I’d add one thing. In answer to “how can I help”, every manager or leader has a responsibility to help develop people. By recognizing the effort,contributions, process or actions that truly bring value, this can be accomplished. Doing it well can support a growth mindset. Further, well delivered, recognition can connect contributions to the larger purpose and why of a project, a team, the company, the brand experience- helping to make that shift from work as just a job to a meaningful, important contribution. Have a blessed and safe holiday. Thanks you Vala, and thank you Switch & Shift for this series.

  • Great list Vala! …. # 9 is the money… and something management needs to understand. The pace of change is so great now that there us not way to get things right… Failure needs to be part of business, with fast corrections… If your not failing, you are not innovating! :D

  • Vala Afshar is one of the smartest people I know in business. Engaged employees has amazing benefit to the company and their customers! Anybody in a leadership position in any company can benefit by implanting some, if not all, of these ten strategies on employee engagement.

  • Good post on what to improve in your company to increase the engagement of your employees. Though it’s good as well to start measuring employee engagement in order to be able to set some focus in what to improve.

  • Don’t forget about the first and most important lesson: start with measuring. If you start measuring employee engagement you know where to focus on.

  • “What do you think?” is arguably one of the most important questions a manager can ask. Employees want to feel like they are real, valuable part of the business, not just another cog in the machine. Ask, listen and actually do something with your employee’s ideas!

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  • I agree with others, this is a terrific – and practical — post. I am about to post a link to it. The focus of my work is on resistance and building support for change. I agree with Jesse about the importance of 1. I often refer to it as Why before How to help my clients differentiate the difference. Oh, and I love the General Powell and Simon Sinek quotes.

    Rick Maurer

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  • Have you ever read something so wonderful, so brilliant and on target that you wish you’d written it yourself? That just happened to me.
    Vala, you’ve spoken volumes in this brief post – the simple, powerful essence of the ideal organization. My experience tells me that the challenge in executing can be met only by a visceral, compelling commitment by leaders to own this and to be this in their bones.
    Congratulations and thank you.

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