Strategies for Solid Employee Engagement

Does it seem like some of your teammates are just showing up for work (sometimes not even that)? If so, you are not alone. A recent Gallup poll finds that only 15% of employees worldwide are engaged at work. In the U.S., employee engagement numbers are better, but it is still a paltry 35%, leaving 65% of employees either not engaged or worse, actively disengaged. What a lost opportunity. Consider the impact of low engagement on employee recruitment and retention, customer service, and productivity. Not good.

We all know engaged team members are important for success. However, many organizations struggle with how to get employees engaged. Employee engagement is challenging work and takes patience.

Leaders, from the c-suite to front-line supervisors, must have respect for people; believing people are capable and competent. Through respect, good leaders can challenge people and teams to stretch, learn, and grow. If you truly want to get your team engaged you must demonstrate care, understand their work, ask great questions, and enable problem-solving and experimentation.

Leaders must commit to self-development and learning basic engagement principles, including continuous improvement, visual management, and coaching /mentoring best practices. Like with any change, commit time and focus effort.

In the end, an environment must be created whereby employees WANT to participate and are encouraged. Fortunately, engagement, and the continuous improvement you get from it, is good for the people in your company, and for the company itself.

Utilize these six strategies to help spark employee engagement:

Go to Gemba (real work) to SEE and LISTEN
Help foster an environment of engagement and empowerment by going to and seeing what your front-line workers are facing. We have two eyes, two ears, and one mouth for a reason. Use them in that order. Understand where the work is hard. Where does quality suffer? Find out what works well and what doesn’t. Look at the work environment. Is it world-class? Take the time to find out what challenges they face and what concerns them most. Then act. Provide training, resources, and time to make work easier and better.

Help team members connect with end customers
People want to do well for their customers. Except for customer-facing staff, organizations often do a poor job of helping employees understand what customers value and need. Leaders should help their teams understand how their work specifically impacts the customer and their perception of your organization. Focus on making the customer connection simple, clear, and direct. It will help employees engage and develop solutions to enhance service and value. Set new customer service targets and challenge employees to use PDCA cycles to achieve them.

Recognize that every team member is unique
Each individual has their own set of needs and wants; their own strengths and weaknesses. Make the effort to find out what each person values at work and put them on teams that need that value. Utilize the natural talents people bring to the table. If you have a design problem, do we only want design engineers involved? Probably not. Find out who else in your organization is a creative problem solver and get them involved.

Be sure to align your improvement projects in a way that gets the company closer to its targets, but also helps your employees get more of what they want.


Don’t assume the corporate goals inspire your team or lead to engagement
Team members want to do well in their jobs, but not everyone will get excited over increased inventory turns or working capital reduction. Associates just want the company to be successful. Make the connection for people. If the company does better, how exactly will the employee’s life and work improve? Help people set target conditions for their localized work while using visual management and daily improvement to make work easier.


Provide timely and relevant training
It is hard for employees to support something they don’t understand. Training lets your team know what to expect and combats the feeling of helplessness during endless change. Training should be hands-on and experiential. Training that does not engage people will not have a lasting impact. Ensure you have an environment where you can make improvements based on employee input quickly. Follow a process of “teach a little, do a lot.”


Don’t forget MURI and MURA
Overburdening and uneven work patterns are real stressors. It’s hard for employees to engage or see the benefit of working on continuous improvement if the company is always facing a crisis.

People should not be running down the halls like their hair is on fire at the end of each month.

Teams should not be relying on daily heroics for every big customer order.

If it happens occasionally, that’s OK. If it happens too frequently, teams will not be willing to put in the extra effort… the ultimate definition of engagement.


Use these employee engagement strategies to start the process of communicating and building engagement in your organization. Once individuals see they can impact their daily work and environment, engagement will start to take hold. Then, continue to work the garden by being a better leader, empowering people to make positive change through daily kaizen, and using visual management to keep the conversation and improvement going.

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  1. Great article Steve and very timely for me as I begin to think about 2021 LSS strategy and deployment. Would love to hear your thoughts on how we can be more effective in our current remote/digital work environments. This is a concern for me as we make progress against the pandemic, but there is some discussion that going into the office might be more the exception than the rule. Competing priorities at home can make the daily and weekly meeting structure more a stressor than an improvement tool. Thanks!