Whether you’re the CEO of a small startup, or the leader of a large company, employee engagement should be one of your priorities. In today’s fast-moving economy, having a well-performing workforce with a high retention rate is essential for business growth. Smart leaders understand that and they also realize that the only way employee engagement strategies are going to work is if they are connected to business strategy.

Before diving into the creation of an employee engagement plan, take a closer look at what engagement means to your company and how it manifests itself. How do you make engagement happen? What are the key engagement drivers in your team and how are managers influencing employee engagement?

In order to deliver results, employee engagement has to be aligned with your overall business and talent strategy. Every activity you’re planning has to be integrated with your particular way of doing business, your company values and your culture.

1. The strategy of running employee engagement activities

The easiest starting point is the “Who” of the matter. Who are the people who should design and implement these activities? This white paper by Bain & Company shows companies like Rackspace, AT&T, Progressive Insurance, Intuit and Cintas having improved results with line managers leading the change in employee engagement, rather than HR managers. This business lead approach empowers supervisors and holds them accountable for their team’s engagement, fuelling a two-way information flow through closed-loop feedback. Gallup also determined that the primary determinant of an engaging and high-performing workplace is the manager, so perhaps they should be managing employee engagement strategies.

Generally, the four main stakeholders involved in employee engagement are HR, people managers, the individual employee, and senior leaders. But in order for employee engagement to become part of the fabric of your culture, you need to top-down commitment across all departments.

Even if your employee engagement activities will be designed and carried out by your HR manager or by a group of middle managers, every team and every department should feel the ripple of an activity, as opposed to viewing this as an isolated event that they can simply observe from a distance.

Every activity you design has to be based on the overall context of your company: business performance, employee productivity, recognition programs, payment plans, these are all part of your company context.

Avoid making employee engagement activities seem like an unnecessary hindrance, a fun program or a background noise in the everyday hustle. Your goal is to mold behaviors, inspire loyalty and increase energy levels to a point that everyone takes responsibility for their results and their personal improvement, and delivers their best work. 

Another key element of designing employee engagement activities is having measurable goals. Each activity has to come with a goal of its own, that you can track and measure to assess the effectiveness of your work. For example, you could create an internal learning academy, where less experienced employees could benefit from the knowledge of senior, more experienced peers. Measure the degree of involvement in these activities and compare it to the performance and retention levels of the newbies involved.

Again, don’t just do employee engagement activities because they sound fun or because they will magically improve your business outcomes, because they won’t. The only way this works is if it’s an business process that has measurable goals and a performance report at the end, to help you determine the next steps.

2. Choosing the right employee engagement activities for your team

What makes your team tick? Why do your team members come to work every day and what are they expectations for this partnership? It could be money, camaraderie, performance, workplace environment, recognition or a desire to innovate. We call these engagement drivers.

Employee engagement drivers are different for every team. The fourth report in Deloitte’s Talent 2020 series, surveyed 560 employees across virtually every major industry and global region.  One of the three main emerging challenges that they identified was meaningful work.

“Engage employees with meaningful work…or watch them walk out the door.”


Aon Hewitt’s 2015 Global Trends in Employee Engagement report identified employee value proposition as being an increasingly important driver (3% more important than the previous year), along with innovation. This is also supported by Quantum Workplace’s 2015 Workplace Trends report, which reveals that one-third of the top six engagement drivers they’ve identified globally center on whether organizations value employees and support their growth. Company reputation, confidence in leadership, pay and career opportunities were also cited as top engagement drivers in both reports.

How do these findings apply to your team? They give you a place to start. You’ll never be able to design an effective engagement strategy as long as you don’t identify your team’s drivers. Then, and only then will you be able to find the right activities and implement them successfully.

3. Measuring the impact of these activities

Focus your activities on key engagement KPIs that can give you an accurate reading of how your employees are feeling and why. Go beyond the classical number of participants and ask for real-time, constructive feedback and measure the actual impact that these activities are having.

“An emerging view is that engagement needs to be characterized as transformational. Organizations dedicate 90 percent of their engagement effort on ‘post survey’ activity to inspire people to do great work and match their efforts with business needs.

The other 10 percent is attributed to ‘transactional’ engagement – the often sterile process of capturing survey-based evidence to support the transformational programme of engagement activities.”

Dr Martin Reddington DBA, Academic Fellow CIPD (Source)

Make it easy for participants to express their opinions and voice their feedback. Anonymous feedback is a key instrument that we value at Hppy. Companies we’ve worked with have tried both approaches to feedback: anonymous and non-anonymous. The data collected from these two types of feedback was considerably different. The real issues wouldn’t come up in a non-anonymous feedback because employees were afraid of being judged or ridiculed. Managers felt that these reports weren’t accurate. In a non-anonymous feedback report, managers got genuine, constructive insights that helped them improve the overall work experience of their team and build performance.

Here are some other KPI recommendations from Harvard Business Review, that you can use to measure the effectiveness of your engagement activities:

  • The amount of work that occurs outside of normal working hours (e.g., evenings and weekends). This is a good indicator of discretionary effort.
  • The number of network connections and time spent with people outside of immediate team or region. Building of broad networks beyond core team is a sign of high engagement.
  • The percentage of participation in ad-hoc meetings and initiatives vs. recurring meetings and processes. Participation in only highly structured events can be an indicator of low engagement.
  • Time spent collaborating directly with customers outside of normal scope of work.This and other measures like it can indicate people are highly engaged enough to help their colleagues even though they might not get credit for it.

Ryan Fuller, A Primer on Measuring Employee Engagement


Isolated employee engagement activities are not enough. In fact, they might do more harm than good. Effective employee engagement is a culture, a way of doing things and managing talent, combining strong leadership, company values and a compelling employee value proposition.

It’s important that you design them according to your team’s needs, and that you measure their effectiveness and their impact on your overall engagement strategy. And last but not least, implement an engagement strategy because you believe that happier employees live better lives, and positively impact the company in the process. Don’t do it just for the bottom line.

Image via Dollarphotoclub under standard license