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Developing Employee Engagement through Leadership


~by Heather Strohm

Regional Extension Educator, Community Development – Purdue University


Since the COVID-19 crisis began, companies and communities have been running extremely lean on virtually every front, especially in the human resources department. While internet searches have traditionally centered around “manager training” and “leadership development,” Google Analytics indicates a declining trend of interest in these keywords. These terms are being replaced by the phrase, “employee engagement.” So why the increasing interest in employee engagement? Employee engagement, which can boost resiliency during times like these, is an important area of focus.

In fact, the evidence of a good leader is engaged employees. The purpose of leaders is to excite others to provide exceptional performance. Leaders set the vision and clearly communicate the direction for others to follow. They also inspire workforce to focus on their talents and the goals of the organization.

Leaders establish a culture—or are effective at building a culture—of engagement. The culture they build or establish is sustained by results that reinforce and support goals. Leadership and engagement are two sides of the same coin: engagement and leadership must be balanced within the organization in order for them to be successful.

Essentially, leadership is effective engagement, made possible through two-way communication, clear business goals and a set of metrics you can track. Having leaders who inspire others to exceptional performance is critical in making your team, department and company successful.

A few ideas for fostering engagement are listed below:

1. Hold career-path meetings: A manager should have a conversation with each team member to discuss their career path. What is the person’s career goals over the next 5 years? What does that person need to learn or experience between now and then to reach their goals?

2. Design informal learning opportunities: People are engaged less by formal training courses and more by experiences that enable them to grow.

3. Leverage “lunch and learn” sessions: One of the easiest and cheapest ways to foster ongoing growth is to implement a weekly or monthly lunch-and-learn program.

4. Give real feedback: Too many managers wait for the annual review process to give “feedback.” It can be hard to share with people honestly what they should be doing better, but communicating on a continual basis, reacting to “teachable moments,” is more helpful than waiting for one sit-down meeting to discuss all their transgressions. People need “formative,” not “summative” evaluation.

5. Say “thank you”: Employees need to feel appreciated. In fact, this is often cited as one of the No. 1 reasons people leave a company/community in search of greener pastures.

6. Write “thank you”: In addition to saying thanks, all great leaders write thank you notes.

7. Give them a voice: A great way to make employees feel appreciated is to ask them for their opinion and ideas.

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