Often the motivation to take action on employee engagement usually begins with the same compelling factor —leaders feel pain. The sting of high turnover rates, the anguish of seeing many empty slots on the schedule, or the apprehension of not being able to find qualified employees to fill those slots: Tthese are the things that spur leaders to confront reality and say, “We have to do something!!”

But what happens next is the make or break decision.

From my observation working with many organizations on their engagement strategy, it all comes down to the mindset of leaders. Two very different mindsets lead to two very different outcomes.

SCENARIO 1: Leaders view engagement as a ‘program’

Leaders who view employee engagement as a program see it as a distinct project, and usually delegate the development and implementation of the program as an add-on to somebody’s job. This often falls to someone in human resources or quality assurance. This project coordinator arranges for some type of satisfaction survey to evaluate the current workplace experience of employees. The survey results are then given to leaders for their review.

From there, one of two things happen:

  • Leaders take a cursory glance at the results, look at each other and say, “That’s interesting,” and then do nothing. If the survey scores are lower than expected, it’s not uncommon to explain away the results. “We conducted the survey right after we implemented our new payroll system and people weren’t happy.” “We were going through our reorganization at that time. No wonder why we have bad results!”


  • Leaders scan the results and brainstorm ideas about what actions could be taken. They come up with a couple of ideas (e.g., “Maybe we should start an employee-of-the-month program” or “Maybe we could offer tuition reimbursement.”) These initiatives may or may not get any traction. But for the most part, everyone goes back to business as usual.

Either way, with this view, employee engagement is seen as peripheral to the core business, “something nice to do if we get around to it.” Once the survey is done, leaders “check the box” until the following year, when someone determines it’s time to do another employee survey.

Outcome: Nothing changes. Engagement doesn’t improve and, in fact, may further decline. When leaders ask employees for their input and then do nothing with the results, employees get the message: “Your voice is irrelevant, and your needs aren’t important.”

SCENARIO 2: Leaders view engagement as a business priority

Leaders who view engagement as a priority lead engagement efforts very differently. At their core, they recognize that engaged employees are foundational to organizational success.

  • These leaders own engagement as a core business strategy. While various tasks related to coordination, training, and tracking may be delegated, leaders take accountability for ensuring engagement stays at the forefront of operational focus.
  • An engagement survey is used to measure engagement levels (not just satisfaction), and the results are used to garner valid, reliable and actionable data. These are management-by-fact leaders. They use a measurement instrument that specifies a high-leverage improvement area by department, allowing each department manager to take improvement steps specific to their work group (versus one or two global initiatives that may only impact some employees).  
  • These leaders establish a process for disciplined accountability for systematic improvements. Departmental action plans are not seen as extra work, but as an integral part of a manager’s job.
  • When improvements are found to be effective, they are integrated into workflows and processes. This is done through cycles of continuous improvement, which serve to progressively shape a culture of engagement.


This disciplined continuous improvement approach not only systematically improves engagement, it actually drives meaningful change. Workplace engagement becomes sustainable because it’s embedded into the culture.

Which scenario describes your approach to engagement?

There are now mounds of workforce demographic statistics that tell us that organizations will be in a world of hurt unless they take workplace engagement seriously — and take aggressive action. If your employee engagement initiative looks anything like Scenario 1, I can pretty much guarantee you will not see any improvement in employee engagement.

Now is the time for leaders to assume the mindset of engagement as a business priority. Now is the time to turn the rhetoric of “employees are our most important resource” into reality.

Nancy Anderson, RN, MA, is the SVP of Engagement Solutions for Align. In her role, she provides strategic leadership and supports development of solutions to help providers successfully build and sustain a culture of engagement.