Employee engagement is the responsibility of functional leaders

As a sequel to their article on talent management last week, Andy Lane, a partner at CTI Consultancy and Axel Knudsen, a certified talent optimisation consultant, offer more insights on attracting and retaining the talent of the future through improving employee engagement.

Predictive Index recently revealed that only one in five employees are actively engaged in their work. Gallup suggests that employers in the top quartile of employee engagement experience 17% higher productivity than those in the bottom quartile. Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower in their 2018 year-book bemoaned stagnant or declining productivity, measured as GDP over the quantity of people employed.

Suppose you have a team of 50 people, 80% are not actively engaged and therefore not fully productive – that’s 40 people. If 20 of these could be actively engaged, and be 17% more productive, your overall productivity would increase by 6.8%. No capex is required.

There are three levels of engagement:

Actively Engaged – these are your stars, they bring their full selves to work and then some. They have the ability to energise those around them. They need to be identified, recognised and retained.

Moderately engaged or disengaged – they run through the motions, they do not really care and your customers will experience that first hand. They are also a flight risk. With the right leadership, many of these can be further motivated and become actively engaged, but not without change and action.

Actively disengaged – these are more likely to sabotage team efforts, and make life generally miserable for all whom they interact with. The vast majority of people are however not naturally inclined to be this way, they are most likely disengaged by one or more of the below.

Predictive Index (PI) have outlined four major causes of disengagement or a lack of engagement, these are:

Job match and fit
Relationship with the manager
Misalignment with team
Cultural fit

Job match/fit

Research by PI reveals that 46% of new hires fail within 18 months.

Do you consciously place people for success, or unconsciously set them up for failure?

By the time that we reach around six years of age, our basic human traits (preferences) have been established, we are then who we are, and we are all different. We might be; highly competitive or hugely cooperative, outrageously extrovert or less so, comfortable with routine or restless and craving change and diversity, risk-adverse or thrive in ambiguous situations. We need to know who we are, and we need to know our people.

Job roles also have different characteristics, and we need to be intimately cognisant of these if we are to match the right people to them. A person who enjoys task variety and creating innovative solutions is unlikely to find much job satisfaction as an auditor. They would be more effective (and more engaged) in a business development or sales role.

Humans are adaptable, so within reason and for limited periods of time can survive in just about any role, however if required to dramatically adapt for a long term, they will ultimately check-out either mentally or physically. Adapting also requires energy, and the total quota has a limit, so adapting reduces energy deployed on the job.

The good news is, decades of research have resulted in some great products which can be quickly and easily deployed to assist organisations do better in this important discipline.

Relationship with the manager

Gallup reveals that only 21% of employees surveyed strongly agree that their performance is managed in a motivating way. Some managers get promoted into leadership positions based on their functional excellence, and not their leadership potential – the result is not only disengaged employees but also managers. Many of these have not been well-trained in coaching, mentoring, performance management and motivation techniques – and therefore do not perform well in these critical areas.

Have we invested in our leaders? And if so, was the return on that investment achieved?

Linked directly with ‘job fit’, individuals have differing motivational needs and drivers – one size (method) does not fit all. Knowing better your employee’s personal traits can assist leaders to use appropriate motivational techniques.

Misalignment with team

In a blog on, 86% of employees blame workplace failure on a lack of collaboration and poor communication.

Diverse teams are believed to achieve the best results, as you bring together a wide variety of skills and knowledge, however conflict within such a team is highly probable. Managing this requires some mastery in communicating; clarity of roles, conflict protocols, rules of engagement, purpose and wildly important goals. The team leader must exercise; inclusion, fairness, integrity and consistency in order to establish trust and a psychologically safe environment for team members to flourish.

Misalignment with culture

When employees are not feeling in tune with company values, lack purpose and/or distrust leadership – they miss a feeling of belonging which negatively impacts performance, and in the extreme can result in a toxic environment.

Discussions on company culture must take place during the hiring process, but it does not end there. Your leaders need to consistently walk the talk, lead by example, and espouse the organisations values through everything which they do and say.

Do you hold your leaders accountable for their leadership performance and culture conformity?

We hope to return next week with a final article on motivating talent and leadership excellence.


  1. I fully agree that engagement is the function of operational managers, not HR. To help these managers, it is useful to create a managerial system that fosters results and engagement. Industry leaders like Southwest Airlines and Capital One empower employees to think and act like owners. They economically engage their employees as partners in the business, driving and participating in the profitable growth of the company. They offer challenges, not perks. Their engagement and profit results speak for themselves. These Forbes and Harvard Business Review articles provide more background:

  2. Very good article and great comment by Bill. Clear communication of goals, milestones and a helping hand is needed to motivate employees
    It’s just like teaching a child to walk or cycle – you support and celebrate success not instill the fear of failure

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