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Applying Employee Engagement to a Specific Business Problem
Business Journal

Applying Employee Engagement to a Specific Business Problem

How one manager got his team to work more effectively -- and experience engagement in a whole new way

by Brian J. Brim

Often when managers review and evaluate their team's level of engagement, they treat it like an annual affair. Employees take a survey, discuss the results with their supervisor, and commit to taking some actions. For the most part, the manager and the team deal with engagement in general terms not related to specific, real-time business problems.

The store renovation was the opportunity Ron was looking for -- a business problem that could put the 12 elements of great managing to work.

A manager I know, Ron, took a different approach to solving a business problem and found it to be very effective at building engagement on his team. He asked his team to apply Gallup's 12 elements of great managing to an immediate challenge.

Ron, a manager of a department store, recently sat down with his team to begin discussing an upcoming store renovation. In the past, this conversation would have covered the timeline and main phases of the work, their strategy for staying productive during those phases, and a question-and-answer period.

This time, Ron asked questions based on Gallup's 12-item employee engagement survey, the Q12. The 12 elements weren't new to Ron's team. They had been discussing them for nearly five years, but they hadn't used them to solve a specific and immediate business problem before. (See sidebar "The 12 Elements of Great Managing.")

The 12 Elements of Great Managing

In the past, Ron and his team used the 12 elements as part of their annual measurement process; each team member had rated his or her level of agreement with each element. Once the results were compiled and sent back to the team, they would discuss which items were most important to them. They would pick one strong item and one weak item to work on. Then they would build an action plan based on those items.

This process worked quite well for several years, but then the team's engagement began to plateau. Ron was concerned, so he asked if I had any ideas about how he and his team could "live engagement every day." It seemed to me that the store renovation was the opportunity Ron was looking for -- a business problem that could put the 12 elements to work.

Applying the 12 elements to a business problem

That's when Ron brought the 12 elements into the renovation planning meeting. Step by step, he walked through each element and related it to the challenges the team would face in the weeks ahead. He started with the first 10 items, which he wrote on big flip charts at the front of the room.

1. I know what is expected of me at work.

  • How would we describe what needs to be done and the timelines to accomplish it?
  • How -- and how often -- should we check in to make sure we are on track and on time?

2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.

  • What specific materials, information, equipment, or other things do we need to be successful?
  • If we don't have or can't acquire something that we feel we need, what other options do we see?

3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.

  • Are each person's talents, skills, and knowledge aligned to the project?
  • Do any of us feel we could contribute to this project in different ways than we are currently being asked to?

4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.

  • How can we make sure we appreciate one another throughout this project?
  • What are the best ways to celebrate with one another when we complete the project?

5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.

  • How often should we check in with one another to make sure someone isn't feeling frustrated or disengaged?

Engagement is not something that happens once a year.

6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.

  • How can we use this project to develop individually and as a team?

7. At work, my opinions seem to count.

  • How can we involve every team member on this project?
  • How often should we check in and update our progress and understanding?

8. The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.

  • How does our work support or advance the organization's mission?
  • How does this project support or advance our team's mission?

9. My associates (fellow employees) are committed to doing quality work.

  • How can we make sure the end result meets or exceeds the expectations we have set?
  • How -- and how often -- will we check our quality along the way?

10. I have a best friend at work.

  • How can we build stronger relationships as we work together on this project?
  • How will we build trust along the way?

Ron got the entire team involved in the discussion and asked different people to take notes on the various flip charts. He said that the room came to life and the team got really involved in discussing and planning the remodel. This created a great deal of positive and productive conversation and produced clarity in areas that Ron says might have been overlooked.

Tying the 12 elements to tangible work issues

As the team worked through the first 10 elements, Ron found himself sitting in the back of the room watching his team. He told me he realized that if he had run this meeting in the typical way, he would have come in, covered the highlights, and asked a few questions. Then the team would have moved on. Tying the 12 elements to tangible work issues changed his approach to engaging employees -- and it changed his team's approach to their work.

After the team covered the first 10 elements, Ron brought up the final two. He asked each person to keep them in mind during the project, and he committed to follow up with each team member after the remodel to discuss their answers. These items would be a good way for team members to reflect on their experience and think about how the remodel helped them make progress and learn and grow.

11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.

  • How can I connect this project to my own progress?
  • What personal goals has it helped me achieve?

12. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

  • How have I grown from this experience?
  • What did I learn to do -- or learn to do better -- because of this experience?
  • What relationships were strengthened as a part of this experience?

When the renovation was complete, Ron and I discussed the process, and his reaction was overwhelmingly positive. He said that he had truly experienced his team living engagement every day. They kept the notes from their initial discussion on the wall in their war room, and they revisited them weekly throughout the project.

Ron gave brief status reports during each staff meeting, but most of the meeting was a group discussion about the 12 elements. This approach allowed the team to adjust plans and expectations on the spot and clarify anything that was confusing or bogging down their efforts. This helped keep the team on track and kept them engaged along the way.

In the end, Ron accomplished something that all managers should aspire to. Not only did his team members get the work done, but he also got them engaged by working together to meet an important goal. This approach changed how Ron and his team look at engagement and the 12 elements -- they are no longer simply indicators of team engagement; they are indicators of effective work being done in an engaging way.

As Ron told me, "It's hard to help employees be engaged when they feel like things are happening to them. But when they feel that things are happening because of them, engagement is nearly impossible to stop."

Lessons for managers

Engagement is not something that happens once a year. It's an integral part of getting your team members energized and involved on an ongoing basis. Ron's story shows how all managers can ignite engagement by applying the 12 elements to a critical need.

By using the 12 elements to solve real challenges, managers and their teams can learn to live engagement every day. When this is done right, employees feel connected, they feel like they matter, and they get involved in getting things done.


Brian J. Brim, Ed.D., is a Senior Practice Consultant at Gallup. He is coauthor of Strengths Based Selling.

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