5 Key Ways to Get and Keep Employees Engaged


… And, Encouraging Them to Speak Up Isn’t Enough!

One of my favorite columns comes out every Sunday in the New York Times’ Business Section entitled “Corner Office.” Each week they interview a different (usually small) company CEO and it’s always thought-provoking. In fact, I even wrote an entire blog post based on one of them.

The title of this week’s interview of Bracken Darrell, CEO of Logitech (you’re probably using a mouse from them) was “Be Sure to Tell the Boss What’s Wrong.” The essence of it was his feeling that it was critical to encourage employees to speak up, which I absolutely agree with. But the real crux of the issue is that no matter how much you encourage employees to speak up, if nobody is listening, soon they stop speaking up.

But it really goes further than that.

Even listening is not enough. Here the old saw, “actions speak louder than words,” applies. Because listening without action, be that deeper questioning or more research on what was heard, to say nothing of resolving the issue, simply makes the whole process fake. And many companies, regardless of size, fool themselves into believing they’re tuned into employees because they encourage speaking up. And employees who think you’re “going through the motions,” will check out mentally. Then it’s just a job!

You’re all in this together. Engaging employees is not easy, especially, if that hasn’t been part of your culture. Not everybody does it right, starting out. But, no matter, it does start with encouraging them to speak up about what’s right or wrong with the company, their job, etc. But it surely doesn’t end there.

So how do you go about getting employee engagement that you need? Here are five key ways to effect it in your organization.

Walk the talk: It starts with, credibility of and trust in, management.

Most often when it comes to engaging employees, credibility and trust can be the biggest hurdles to overcome. This is, usually, built up over time, with either empty promises or “going through the motions” of listening to employee “gripes.” Too often small business owners think the way to fix a problem is to tell folks that you will. The thought being that the promise is more important than the delivery. If this has been the case in your company, you have to re-build credibility and trust by “walking the talk.” Do what you say, say what you mean. Start with small things. But you need to build their confidence that “this time,” will be different. Fix a problem that employees have complaining about for a long time – maybe something as simple as the offices getting a new paint job; or more flexible summer hours. Whatever you do, tell them you’re going to do it, do it and then tell them you did it.

Encourage not just speaking up but speaking out.

You want your employees to adopt a theme of “if you see something, say something,” meaning if they see something that doesn’t make sense, even if it’s not in their sector of responsibility, ask why? Whether that’s a minor thing like why are we always out of paper towels to a big thing like why department A is always waiting for parts from department B, which delays shipments. And as important, open lines of communication further by having periodic company-wide meetings, where employees hear from folks in all functions and where employees are encouraged to ask relevant questions in that forum. “Why” or “why not” should begin the most important questions employees ask.

Listen, consider, respond and act.

Having employees raise hard questions is but the beginning. Having management listen, consider, respond and act is where the “rubber meets the road.” This is where further credibility and trust, that we touched on in the first point, is built. How well the company not only listens and considers an employee question, but how it responds and acts is really where employee engagement is fostered. That doesn’t mean that every question raised or suggestion offered is immediately accepted, but that it’s given a thoughtful response with an action plan or a rationale for why it can’t be done.

Scoreboard:post-act review/re-visit/revise.

If the speak up/speak out activity become regular occurrences, then there should be regular communication about those activities and what’s happening with them, with all employees. Nothing works on credibility and trust like a public “scoreboard” of sorts that describes key employee-initiated activities, progress, schedules, etc. Now, it becomes a company-wide initiative with high visibility.

Make the workplace a fun place.

This last one is a favorite of mine and if you’ve read much of the other stuff I’ve written, you already know this. While it may not sound like it has much to directly do with employee engagement, it has everything to do with it. It creates the right environment. When it’s challenging and fun at the workplace, it becomes a place employees look forward to coming to and contributing. And that starts at the top, at the CEO, owner, whoever runs the show’s office door. You don’t have to be Jimmy Fallon, but you also don’t have to be some stiff who rarely cracks a smile or finds anything humorous. People will react to you. You set the tone, more than you know. Periodically, don’t be afraid to be silly. It makes you and your company human. Plus, it engages your employees.

The more they are engaged the bigger their contribution, the better and more substantive the growth.[su_spacer]

“The Entrepreneur’s Yoda” knows these things. He’s been there.

May success be with you!


Lonnie L. Sciambi
Lonnie L. Sciambi
LONNIE “The Entrepreneur’s Yoda,” is Managing Director and CEO of Small Business Force, LLC ( and author of the best-selling book, “Secrets to Entrepreneurial Success.” For entrepreneurs and small business owners, he brings a unique viewpoint to help them avoid many of the pitfalls that they, invariably, face, through mentoring, providing assistance with strategic alternatives for growth or under-performing operations, strategic exit guidance or just a valuable blog post. As an entrepreneur, he founded, grew and sold two of his own companies (although he did start several others – so he understands both success...and failure), advised more than a hundred companies at various stages of their growth and invested in more than a dozen (some successfully, some not so). Lonnie’s experience also includes fixing "broken" companies, having completed a series of successful turnarounds for eight small companies (all under $25 million) in disparate markets. He also been involved in raising more than $350 million in capital, as an investment banker and senior executive, and had primary responsibility for nearly forty merger and acquisition transactions, more than a dozen of those, entrepreneurial exits. Lonnie also has some large company experience, earlier in his career, that includes senior management positions with EDS and Citicorp. He is a frequent speaker on all areas of entrepreneurship, from start-up through exit. He began in business with IBM and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Drexel University.

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  1. I enjoyed the article. Thank you.

    If you’re dealing with an employee who has already learned not to trust you, how do you get the person to even give you a chance again?

    “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

    I have a way of doing it but I’m wondering how you go about it. It sounds like you recommend just start behaving differently but if someone has developed a belief that a specific person isn’t trustworthy they’re not going to interpret different behaviors as being different. Their mind will filter the new behavior and create back stories that match the established belief.

  2. Few leaders/managers ever address their own failures.

    People get to be managers because they were very good at doing the work of the people they will manage or they earned management degrees neither of which insures job success as a manager.

    As managers move up the career ladder they focus on what they had focused on to get them there. Once at the top they focus on what they are interested in doing. That may be what got them to the top but may not be what they need to do. However, who is to tell the boss he is focusing on the wrong things? Even if he is told who can influence him to change his focus?

    Leaders often ask the wrong questions such as questions that start with “Do you know what I…”

    * Do you know what I mean?

    * Do you know what I want?

    * Do you know what I said?

    * Do you know what I want you to do?

    * Do you know what is required?

    All such questions presume the listener knows but is that reasonable?
No, because the answers are almost always “yes”; no one wants to tell the boss that they don’t know what he just said, means, wants, etc. The problem and the fix resides with the boss, too many leaders and managers speak too quickly. People hear what they hear and remember what they remember but all too often what they remember is not what was said or only part of what was said or was not said at all.

The listener’s reaction determines the quality and quantity of future questions. 

    Employees are not stupid and they learn in multiple ways… 

    Employees learn the culture from… 

    – pre-employment interviews 

    – the employee handbook 

    – what HR says 

    – what the manager says 

    – what HR does 

    – what the manager does 

    – what the manager rewards
    – what the manager punishes 

    – what the executives say
    – what the executives do 

    – what the executives punish
    – what the executives reward 


    1. employees read the words 

    2. employees listen to the words 

    3. employees read the face that speaks the words 

    4. employees hear the voice that speaks the words 

    . employees watch the behaviors of the person who speaks the words. 

    If Items 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 all send the same message, then the employee is fortunate. 

    If Item 1 and 2 do not send the same message, Item 2 controls. 

    If Item 2 and 3 do not send the same message, then Item 3 controls. 

    If Item 3 and 4 do not send the same message, then Item 4 controls. 

    If Item 4 and 5 do not send the same message, then Item 5 controls. 

    If we want to build loyalty then all words, faces, voices, and behaviors need to send the same message.

    • Are you agreeing with what I wrote or disagreeing? Not sure I see we differ. But clearly, your perspective appears to be one from a large company viewpoint. Mine is from a small company. No leader up the ladder. The leader is the owner. He/she often have to learn (or unlearn) stuff they have to do to create a culture that is employee-centric.

    • Thanks for your comment, Bob. But I’m not sure if you’re agreeing or disagreeing with what I wrote. I agree with much of what you’re describing. Basically it’s “walk the talk.” However, your perspective seems to be bigger companies. In a small company, the leader up the ladder is the owner. Oftentimes, not having the training or skills necessary to accomplish what they need so they have to learn them or acquire them. Either way, it’s about creating a culture that is employee-centric so that your business can be customer-centric because employees treat customers exactly the way they are treated.