The five enablers of employee engagement

Lee Smith

04 Apr 2023
Employee Engagement
Employee Experience
So, how do you create a workplace environment where employees are engaged?
Dan Pink offers an approach in his book Drive (2009) for engagement and motivation which involves three essential elements: 
  1. Autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives
  2. Mastery – the urge to get better and better at something that matters
  3. Purpose – the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves
Pink’s theory on what motivates us across the areas of our lives, is supported by four decades of research on human motivation, and demonstrates a huge discord between practices in the workplace, with practices that actually work.

So how can we bring these essential elements to life in the workplace?

This is where the enablers of engagement can help! While there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’, the four below are detailed in the original Engage for Success report (2009) by David MacLeod and Nita Clarke:

1. Strategic narrative

What this means is a visible, empowering leadership that provides a strong strategic narrative about the organisation – where it’s come from and where it’s going.

Purpose: Focusing on strategic narrative is a great way to build purpose for employees in the workplace. For example, have you heard the story about the janitor working at NASA? When asked what he did at NASA, he replied: ‘helping put a man on the moon’. By baking your organisation’s purpose into your strategic narrative, you can help provide ‘line of sight’ for employees, helping them see how what they do contributes to the bigger picture. 

2. Leadership

What we mean by this is engaging managers who treat their people as individuals and coach and support them. 

Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose: Your leaders and line managers can help facilitate all three elements of Dan Pink’s approach. Leaders can promote the strategic narrative with their team, provide opportunities to voice their opinions and ideas, and discuss help them progress in their role. Line managers can coach and guide their direct reports, whilst also providing the autonomy they need to thrive.

3. Employee voice

This is not just giving your employees a voice, but demonstrating that you are actively listening and acting upon feedback as well.

Mastery, Autonomy: Giving employees a voice provides them with the opportunity to positively impact your organisation in a variety of ways. Having the freedom to ask questions and share ideas helps reinforce a sense of autonomy too.

To ensure conversations are genuinely two-way, and not just paying lip-service, encourage openness, good communication and approachability. Listening needs to permeate the organisation and can be seen in numerous ways, from the how leaders and managers interact with their teams, to the way formal employee research is conducted and the actions that flow from it.

4. Integrity

Where there is organisational integrity there is no ‘say-do’ gap. Employees can trust the organisation – and the leaders and managers within it - to deliver on promises.

Purpose, Mastery: There is no quicker way to erode trust and engagement than to talk about values, and make promises that don’t reflect employees everyday working lives. If there is little integrity in your organisation, employees trust will suffer and impact their engagement. And where trust suffers and engagement drops, departures usually follow. 

Focus groups are a great way to gather employee insight and establish if there are any gaps between your values and actions. They can enable leaders to understand any inconsistencies from the perspective of employees; once the gap has been established, the work can begin to close it.
There is a further enabler that our employee engagement expert Emma Bridger recommends adding to the list:

5. Involvement

Employee involvement, quite simply is the extent to which employees are personally involved in the success of the business. The organisation actively creates opportunities for employees to get involved – to be active participants in the life of the organisation, rather than casual bystanders.

Autonomy, Mastery: When you want to make changes in the workplace, setting up a group of Change Champions can help. They are employees who volunteer to help agree a small set of non-negotiable behaviours, to spark change by showing everyone else how they can get involved in it too. This gives the chance for employees to take some control and make a difference across the organisation.
These strategic enablers are a great place to start when assessing the effectiveness of an organisation’s employee engagement approach.

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