Kevin Kruse on Employee Engagement

How to improve employee engagement with Kevin Kruse of LEADx

What’s the true measurement of leadership success? Is it being able to do a line item budget? Meeting deadlines? Resource management?

Really it’s none of those traits. The true measure of a successful leader is the satisfaction, engagement and productivity of our workforce. Giving the very best experience to our clients and customers comes from that effective workforce.

According to the Gallop Association, close to 70% of our workforce is disengaged or actively disengaged. So how realistic can it be to have an engaged workforce with such staggering numbers. We’ll be putting these questions to today’s guest.

With a dream to become the next Bill Gates, our guest started his first company when he was just 22 years old. Despite his hard work the company failed after just one year.

But after discovering the power of leadership and extreme productivity he went on to start, build and sell several multimillion dollar tech companies that have won both “Inc 500” awards for fast growth and “Best Place to Work” awards.

He is a New York Times bestselling author of six books including 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management and Employee Engagement 2.0. And his new podcast is the LEADx Show. Please welcome, Kevin Kruse.

In this week’s show:

  • What is employee engagement?
  • Getting buy-in from your organisation is about a sense of ownership
  • What are the effects of low employee engagement?
  • How do you identify a disengaged workforce?
  • How do you ensure front-line managers have the time and resources to engage with their team and inspire employee engagement?
  • Training our managers for a changing workforce
  • How do you improve employee engagement?


What is employee engagement?

Part of the struggle with getting people to care about engagement is due to the fact that there are a lot of different definitions and confusion around the subject.

A lot of people think it’s about employee satisfaction, but actually, that is not enough. A satisfied employee is not the person that’s going to come to you with great ideas or give 100% at all times.

Other people believe it’s about employee happiness – creating an enjoyable environment with great perks. But you can be happy at work and not really be working on behalf of the organisation.

So Kevin defines employee engagement as the emotional commitment that employees have to an organisation and its goals. When you care about the organisation you work for, you are going to give discretionary effort. Employee engagement and discretionary effort are not one and the same, but employee engagement leads to discretionary effort.

Getting buy-in from your organisation is about a sense of ownership

It’s a fundamental thing to protect something that we feel a sense of ownership of. We don’t wash a rental car, we wash the car we own!

Giving the workforce a sense of ownership of the organisation, the projects and the work they are a part of encourages a level of engagement that automatically generates buy-in to new projects and ideas.

What are the effects of low employee engagement?

There is great research that shows a correlation between engagement or lack of engagement and all kinds of business measures.

In terms of quality, a disengaged worker is going to have more accidents. A disengaged sales person isn’t going to work as hard on a Friday afternoon as a Monday afternoon. Disengaged workers are less loyal, looking for other jobs and are likely to leave the organisation for a slight pay increase.

And it’s not as simple as paying these employees more.

People need to know they are being paid fairly. But all else being equal, people would rather work for a purpose than a paycheck. It’s about Mission Not Money.

So if it was just about those benefits plans and salaries it would be an easy solution and we wouldn’t have 70% of our workforce disengaged.

Money is not the answer.

How do you identify a disengaged workforce?

At a gut level, you can often see it. A manager, department or team that has a high turnover or missing deadlines consistently.

Quantitatively though, any mid to large-sized company should be working with an outside firm to do employee engagement surveys.

The Society for Resource Management (SHRM) offers an engagement tool. Survey Monkey has a bundled survey for this also.

Alternatively, you can develop your own survey internally, but this can compromise confidentiality etc. So for accurate scores and comments, your team members need to know that their comments and ratings will be completely anonymous.

How do you ensure front-line managers have the time and resources to engage with their team and inspire employee engagement?

Everyone out there that has the word ‘Manager’ in their title, should be replaced with the word ‘Coach’, says Kevin. Pushing papers, creating budgets, reviewing documents is task management, not leading our people, which is what managers should be doing.

Realising that the number one job of managers is to be coaching each individual within that team to ensure long-term success (as well as being responsible for the output of that team), rather than administrative tasks, will make a huge difference in this area.

Other than the military, most organisations do a bad job of training their front-line managers. Even in large organisations, Kevin sees Director to VP-level executives going on retreats, executive MBA programmes, bringing in expensive speakers for quarterly meetings etc.

But if you are a front-line manager in a large organisation you either get no training, or the 1-2 day training that covers basic hiring and firing protocols. It doesn’t cover how to engage or how to coach.

Training our managers for a changing workforce

New challenges around engaging and managing the workforce come in when you look at the next generation of managers and their connection to and relationship with technology.

Remote work becomes a new challenge – there is often no training around managing and engaging the workforce when they spend much of their working time outside of the office.

How do you improve employee engagement?

No matter how old your organisation is, it is possible to improve engagement and your survey results over time. Kevin gives the example of Doug Conant at Campbell Soup changing their scores over 10 years from the worst in the Fortune 500 to the best.

Most organisations either don’t care and don’t survey, or they survey every year or two and the data stays in the C-suites. The problem is that it is the front-line managers that determine the engagement of the workforce.

The surveys need to take place throughout the organisation and each manager has to be shown her own data. Showing each individual manager where their strengths and weaknesses are in terms of managing and engaging their teams so that they can spend time with those teams discussing how they can address issues within their specific part of the organisation.

So most of the work has to come from the ground up. There are some universal truths though.

One of those is that there are three things that most of us want:

  • Growth
  • Recognition
  • Trust

So as leaders we need to be cognizant of our team, their performance, and communicating successes and how their work contributes to the wider strategy of the company on a regular basis.

Relating the workforce’s efforts to the vision statement of the company is crucial to employee engagement.

How to learn more about Kevin Kruse and engage with him

You can reach Kevin by email on kevin [at] leadx [dot] org

Listen to the LEADx Podcast