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The First Step To Improving Employee Engagement Is To Connect With Your Team

dan pontefractI used to live at the corner of Robson Street and Howe Street in downtown Vancouver. It was a splendid rooftop, corner suite flat facing Northwest with a view overlooking the Vancouver Art Gallery, itself a wonderful piece of architecture.

Well, it was a splendid flat until we started having offspring — who now outnumber Denise and I in a household that is now a helpless facsimile of zone defence gone mad — so we eventually moved to the once über hippie neighbourhood of Kitsilano.

Below the flat was a rather large bookstore. Denise and I treated it like a library. Instead of taking out the books as you would in a library we’d bring our own bookmarks, hide the books we were reading, fetch them when we returned while continuing on to sip extra hot lattes in superbly comfortable beanbag chairs.

It was a blissful, carefree life until the goats took over our ‘dual income no kids‘ rodeo.

Anyway, in this bookstore (ahem, library) I witnessed a remarkable leadership action occur on more than one occasion.

Bookstore management (aka. leadership) actually asked the various staff members working in the shop for their opinion.

Amazing, isn’t it?

The manager would huddle together with the employees and begin a short discussion with them about issues like book displays or signage or even the location of chairs and bean bags.

Flat_Army_CLAM_FINALThe manager was in fact ‘connecting‘ with his or her team to solicit feedback and ideas on how best to operate the bookstore. (connecting, of course, is the first stage in the Flat Army ‘Collaborative Leader Action Model’)

Amazing, isn’t it?

How do you think the team felt?

Were they inclined to be more engaged, stay the same or would they become disengaged?

The simple act of connecting first with your team to surface ideas, options and alternate views to your own (as the leader) is such a simple behaviour to establish at an organization — as an enterprise-wide norm — it shocks me that it’s still not done more pervasively today.

How hard is it to connect first and consider options before creating the end result?

Gallup finds global employee engagement in 2013 sits at a paltry 13%.

AON Hewitt report 40% of employees are actively or passively disengaged.

BlessingWhite believes only 40% of global employees are actually engaged.

Whichever organization that is studying employee engagement you fancy, the data doesn’t lie.

Employees are not at a level of engagement that is conducive to feeling good about their place of work and thus organizations are left with productivity losses, attrition/absence issues as well as stagnating business growth.

Let’s not get into whether or not the employee is recommending his or her friends to utilize said service or to even contemplate working at the firm.

My theory?

The simple act (the first step) is to ‘connect’ with your team members and ask them to be involved in the operation of your team, your business and your organization.

The employees may not be involved in the final decision, but at least they are involved, at least you are connecting with them … and to me, that is the very essence of being ‘engaged’.


  • Jenn_lee_ca / 22 January 2014 10:03

    Easier said than done. How about leaders who profess to want engagement however do not take the recommendations of the staff? I think your library/bookstore may be an anomaly in wanting true open feedback to improve the customer experience.

    The first step of leaders to increase engagement is to put aside one’s ego & recognize that employees have a stake in the sustainability of the organization. Too often leaders just want to be the one who knows all and tells all. How do we as staff get leaders to “engage” with the staff in an open honest relationship?

  • David Bradford / 24 January 2014 2:16

    Sorry, you lost me at the point where two well enough-off earners living in a posh flat couldn’t put out the cash to buy their books. I’d redo the intro, makes you seem cheap.

    • Dan Pontefract / 24 January 2014 8:57

      Hey @Jenn — judging from various levels of disengagement and anecdotal feedback via employees, it’s probably safe to suggest that you’re right. But that is perhaps the point of my post … I’d like to see more leaders/organizations adopt the “Connect First” mantra with their people.

      @David — fair enough, I can take a brickbat as well as a bouquet, thanks. To be clear and perhaps position Denise and I somewhat more humanely, we did in fact purchase the books (not always mind you and to be 100% honest) but the joy of reading with the general buzz and ambient noise level of the bookstore was what we enjoyed. (in addition to the lattes) We rented our flat and it was 626 square feet … nothing opulent.

  • Brian Hutching / 7 February 2014 11:58

    Very interesting. So just inviting employees or members of a team to comment and contribute is the trick. Wish it was that easy. Still there is a lot of common sense here.

Want to leave a comment? I'd love to hear from you. Cheers, dp.