The best way to improve employee engagement

When you peel back the layers of any customer-centric organization, you’ll find a culture of honoring employees, encouraging their insight, and engaging them every step of the way. Customer experience is built on a foundation of employee engagement. I don’t know of any exception.

What is employee engagement? We know it’s not the same as employee satisfaction. An employee can be satisfied with their job for various reasons – geographical convenience, friendships, compensation – without really being engaged.

I define engagement as “the enthusiasm and emotional commitment an employee has to the organization and the work they do.”

How do you encourage engagement and grow it across your team and organization? As it turns out, the key driver is purpose: Do your employees believe that their work matters? Do they feel they are making a difference?

One of my favorite commercials, which ran years ago now (it clearly made an impression on me!) was from Home Depot, the building supply company. It reflected a time of turnaround following a season of cost-cutting and poor service that almost drove them to bankruptcy.

The commercial depicts a confused and stressed dad getting advice from a knowledgeable employee on how to build a treehouse. The last scene shows the dad and his young son in sleeping bags, settling in for the night in the new treehouse. “Thanks Dad,” his admiring son says.

This was just an interaction with a customer in a building supply store. But who knew how important it was to that customer? Sure, it was just a commercial. But the short story reflected a new mindset at Home Depot, where they emphasized the importance of each employee. That perspective sparked a turnaround at the company.

You’ll want to survey your employees—you need that baseline. But surveys aren’t enough. Here’s a power tip, something that I’ve found to be more effective than just about anything else in building support and engagement. Ask employees if there are requirements in their jobs that are at odds with doing what’s best for customers. They can be rules, procedures, technology barriers, whatever. Look for themes, and work hard to fix them.

This question and the work it will require is not once and done. But you’ll see the impact on employee engagement—and on the customers they serve.