The Keys to Fostering Sustainable Engagement

Susan Mazza is certainly singing our tune with her post on engagement. She takes us into the belly of the often nebulous construct of engagement and provides insight into how it works. Susan links accountability to engagement. The relationship is critical, deeply personal, and overlooked too often.


“Do you see people on the asset or the liability side of the balance sheet? Are employees an opportunity–that is, a source of strategic advantage–or a cost to be reckoned with and minimized whenever possible? Are they viewed as little more than plug-and-play cogs in the operating process? Or do you see them as real, pulsating, thinking, idea-generating, responsibility-taking assets?”

From Fast Company Article: How to Foster Outrageously Awesome Employee Engagement By Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden

If we want employees to be sustainably engaged they must be able to experience themselves as the “real, pulsating, thinking, idea-generating, responsibility-taking assets” Callette and Hadden refer to, rather than as “plug-and-play cogs in the operating process”.  For this experience to become a reality a serious shift in context and practice is often in order.

The starting point for that shift is FROM a hierarchical, command and control construct in which directives flow down the chain of command and individual objectives roll up from the bottom to the top.

This context, and the practices that naturally arise from it, have the following implications for the people leaders want to engage…

  • When all an individual owns is their box on the org chart there is incentive to protect and defend their position rather than engage for a larger purpose.
  • When an individual’s role is defined only based on the things they do rather than the promises they make to others within and on behalf of their enterprise they declare success upon completing tasks rather than delivering results that matter.
  • When objectives are set in a way that “rolls up” the org chart, individuals are systematically disconnected from the results that really matter to the organization and their focus is unwittingly placed on their own personal job performance as their primary measure of success.
  • When the only person who can hold someone accountable is their boss or someone higher on the org chart, both the effectiveness of the team and ultimately personal satisfaction are often sacrificed.

The shift leaders must cause in their organizations if they are to foster engagement sustainably is TO a network of relationship construct that fosters individual ownership of outcomes, and a culture of accountability that ensures relationships work.

Relationships that work are those relationships through which people get what they need from each other and the enterprise to keep their promises, as well as experience satisfaction both in their experience and results.

When you make ownership and accountability cultural and strategic imperatives, you inspire a culture of personal responsibility where individuals truly believe “our future is up to me”.

This doesn’t mean “I have to do it” all or “I get all the credit or blame”, but rather that my contribution is essential and I am 100% responsible for giving the best of myself for the sake of our success.  This is the prevalent mindset of a truly engaged workforce.

This context, and the practices of being accountable and holding others to account that it facilitates, has the following implications for those leaders want to fully engage…

  • When individuals are empowered to own outcomes that matter to both themselves and the enterprise, they naturally to step outside their box on the org chart to engage however and with whomever it is necessary to deliver the results they promise.
  • When you invite individuals to meaningfully engage with the mission, purpose and strategic objectives of the enterprise, they will naturally identify the outcomes they can own to contribute to its success.
  • When individuals can directly and freely make requests of and promises to each other, they naturally engage with each other rather than wait for the often painfully slow and ineffective transmission of requests and information through the chain of command.
  • When individuals are freed from the shackles of meaningless meetings and interactions based purely on organizational lines, they will engage in those interactions that are essential to delivering on their promises.

Said simply, a context of ownership of outcomes and strong practices for accountability are the keys to sustainable employee engagement.

If you want people to engage they must be guided and supported in seeing themselves as owners.  And if you want to sustain their ownership, you must create the culture and nurture the practices that support them in being and doing their best work in service of their shared future and holding others to account for the same.

Connect with Susan

The Character Based Leader

With her unique understanding of human systems and an unquenchable thirst to unlock the potential of the human spirit, she has worked successfully with many types and sizes of organizations and with people around the world including: Fortune 500, small and medium sized businesses, non-profits as well as educational institutions. Susan’s blog is Susan is co-author of The Character Based Leader. It’s the first book from the Lead Change Group. Follow Susan on Twitter at @SusanMazza


Photo courtesy of  Pavol  Cickan

CEO of Clarus Works, Susan Mazza works with leaders and their teams to create exceptional performance, relationships and work environments. She has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders by Trust Across America/Trust Around the World in 2013/2015 and has also been named a 50 Top Thought Leader in Leadership and a Top 100 Conference Speaker in Inc. Susan is the author and founder of the highly acclaimed blog, Random Acts of Leadership™, named a top 50 leadership blog and one of the top 100 most socially shared Leadership blogs in the world. She has also co-authored two books, The Character-Based Leader and Energize Your Leadership. Her soon to be released Leading In Action System™ offers a refreshingly simple yet potent method to developing the leadership mindset and skills essential to effectively and authentically leading to make a difference where you work and live. For more information visit

  • It is a great article on what to do, but not exactly how any executive or manager can do it. How is how is how to listen and how to respond to in such a way that employees will individually make the choice to become engaged. The 500% performance gain Stephen Covey said was possible is possible. At least that is what I learned in the process of creating several fully engaged workforces.

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  • As you say Susan, what is more important than how as concerns understanding. I have found that why, the science of people and how they react to managerial actions and inactions, is more important than the whats.

    That said, when I took over a 1300 person unionized group exhibiting very poor performance, I very frequently demonstrated the hows in the presence of my subordinate managers and supervisors until they finally picked up how to treat their employees with the greatest respect. From that we went steadily upward to a fully engaged, highly motivated and highly committed workforce with high morale and innovation literally loving to come to work and at least 300% more productive than if poorly engaged. I did do some teaching of the whys, but mainly only to the most senior managers.

    Good subject, Best regards, Ben

  • I’ve been having this same conversation with a lot of small but growing nonprofits as I’ve been working on my blog. It’s very difficult for a leader, especially some one who has built something from the ground up, to learn to do this as they begin to take on more staff. I think it’s especially true in nonprofits where people are often choosing to work for less compensation. The pride in the organization and their work is one of the “perks” that leaders need to give their staff AND it’s the only way they will see their vision grow.

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