Six Steps to Engage Employees and Maximize Performance

November 30, 2016
Written by: Karen Roberts, CREW Washington DC

It’s no secret that having great employees is critical for any business. Likewise, it is undeniable that engaged employees, meaning those who truly care about their job and feel vested in their employer’s success, are more productive and perform better.

Yet engagement levels in businesses, particularly in the U.S., remain very low. According to Gallup, only about 33 percent of American workers are engaged in their jobs. The percentage for millennials is even lower. So what can savvy leaders do to counteract these lagging numbers? To truly reap the benefits of improved productivity and performance, employers need to adopt a thoughtful, strategic approach to building engagement.

Getting employees to invest in your mission is an art, not a science. There is no single solution that works for every company. Each business has a unique culture and needs to develop its own tailored approach. What can you start doing today to build employee engagement?

After more than 20 years in business, management and team building, I have found a few simple steps are key to building a winning employee engagement strategy:

1. Start off on the right foot. 

Engaging employees starts during the recruiting process before they are even hired. The first crucial step to having an engaged team is bringing in people who are a good fit for your organization. Too often the recruiting and interviewing process is narrowly focused on skills, capabilities and work experience. However, there is also a tremendous opportunity to evaluate potential employees on how they fit your company’s culture and environment.

Do they share the same values? What are their career goals? How do they fit into your business plan? Answering these questions as part of your selection process will help you pick employees who not only have the right skills for the job, but also are more likely to invest in their work and in the company.

Once you have made the hire, remember that the new employee will never be more open to engagement than in the first days and weeks. Most start new jobs with enthusiasm and a bright outlook on the future. Managers can capitalize on this with a strong onboarding process. Make sure that they are folded into the mix early, help them understand your goals and their role, and make an effort to get to know them. This approach helps new staff become productive faster and lays a strong foundation for engagement that will last throughout their time with your company.

2. Help them see the future. 

There are few things worse than feeling uncertain. Employees who feel uncertain are rarely fully engaged. This is because uncertainty leads to distraction. Without information, it is human nature to speculate, and when employees do not understand your firm’s direction, they often try to fill in the blanks themselves.

Business leaders can clear up uncertainty by helping employees see the future. Share with them your long-term vision, business goals, and plans. By giving employees a clear picture of where things are headed, they feel connected to your mission, and confusion is dispelled. At my company, Forrester Construction, we have long made it a practice to communicate to Team Members the company’s short- and long-term goals. The company’s strategic vision is distilled into a clearly communicated plan with measurable benchmarks. Each individual is asked to find ways he or she can help to achieve these objectives, and the company gives frequent updates on our progress.

We do this because showing employees what the company’s future looks like builds their confidence and engagement with the organization. Equally important is that each individual understand his or her role in the business’ success. A staff member wants to know, “How do I fit in?” Whether a company has 10 or 10,000 employees, your teams’ engagement relies on them understanding their places in the big picture.

3. Engage your managers

Your managers are your engagement ambassadors, and their individual engagement is a critical component in having a high-performing workforce. Forbes tells us that “People leave their managers, not their companies.” The implication is that organizations cannot afford to have leaders that hinder employee engagement.

Setting clear expectations about a manager’s role is the first step to avoiding missteps. Do not be afraid to ask them to play a strong role in aligning their team with your objectives. Managers should have the knowledge, access, and personal relationships with their staff to influence alignment. Try asking your managers these questions to guide them:

  • Have you communicated how your group’s goals align with the company’s goals, culture, and values? How often do you discuss these with your team?
  • Do each of your direct reports understand their role in the company and understand the value in that role?
  • How do you feel about the company’s goals and culture? What do you see as your role in promoting and maintaining these?
  • Are you giving your staff clear feedback on their work and how it fits into the big picture?

4. Build a sense of belonging. 

In general, people want to feel that they belong. We crave personal connections. According to a Gallup poll, individuals who have close relationships with their colleagues and feel that their company actively encourages friendships are much more likely to be engaged with their work.

Leaders develop connections between employees and their organization by creating ways for teammates to interact and build relationships. Hosting events that bring people together in a social setting, like picnics, potlucks, contests, games, and awards, are effective ways to do this. Even low- or no-cost options form strong bonds between coworkers. For example, Forrester sponsors an annual community-involvement day during which team members volunteer at a local nonprofit. They spend the day working together, doing some good for our neighbors and building a sense of community that carries through to their day jobs.

5. Be invested in their future.

When companies ask employees to invest in their mission, they are asking for a big commitment. As with any commitment, it will be much more successful if it is mutually respected. Show your dedication to your team by supporting their individual goals. Investments can be financial, but other things also encourage engagement. Training on a new skill, giving them an opportunity to perform a different task, or allowing them to provide mentoring or training to others are all great ways to show your commitment to their growth.

Aligning an employee’s goals with the goals of your company ensures everyone is pushing in the same direction. Showing support for your employees also sends the message that you are committed to them.

6. Give them a voice. 

Fostering a workplace that is built on mutual respect is a great way to engage your people. Empower your team to speak up and be heard. Surveys, town hall meetings, and skip-level meetings all provide opportunities for open communication.

I manage several groups at Forrester, and I make sure that every person I work with knows I have a strong open-door policy, and I actively encourage each of them to share concerns and opinions. Having a culture of openness empowers staff members and gives them a strong sense of engagement.


Executive Vice President Karen Roberts is responsible for Forrester Construction’s human resources, organizational development, workforce planning and corporate communications. With more than 25 years of business and talent management experience, Karen oversees multiple groups that support construction operations at Forrester leading a diverse team in the development and implementation of the company’s strategic plan. She is also responsible for internal and external communications, organizational alignment and team member engagement. Karen is a Certified Compliance & Ethics Professional (CCEP).