Employee Engagement: The Key to Growth, Creativity, and Customer Satisfaction

Employee Engagement: The Key to Growth, Creativity, and Customer Satisfaction

Introduction by Jim Bell, CFP®, President and Founder, Bell Investment Advisors

Business owners, managers, and supervisors all need to have conversations about their roles and their relationships with their team. At Bell Investment Advisors, we have found that some of the most useful insights come from working with the coaches and consultants at ALTUS, the authors of this white paper. Our goal is to create a team of fully engaged employees at every level, and our team members appreciate the outside expertise we provide them through access to ALTUS Consulting and Coaching.

As the U.S. economy continues its steady recovery, midsize firms (100-1000 persons) and smaller businesses face a new set of challenges and opportunities to position themselves for success. Small and midsize companies have been the engines driving economic growth and fueling innovation for some time now, and they must constantly adjust to a rapidly changing global marketplace. They can take credit for 65% of global GDP and employ 90% of the world’s workforce—so how can you, as a company leader, get the most out of your workforce?

Post Recessionary Desires and Drivers

A recent study, Inside the Midmarket: A 2011 Perspective, sponsored by IBM and independently conducted by KS&R, Inc. of 2,000 small-to-midsize companies (representing 20 countries) showed that in 2009, 53% of small-to-midsize companies were only concerned with reducing costs and increasing efficiencies. With greater confidence about their economic futures in 2011 and beyond, small-to-midsize companies stated their most critical business priorities:

  • 76% want additional cost reduction and improved efficiency.
  • 73% want improved customer services.
  • 70% want increased employee productivity.
  • 67% seek new ways to reach customers.
  • 62% want to optimize key business processes.
  • 62% seek increased insights for better decision-making.
  • 60% need to create increased flexibility and nimble enterprise.
  • 58% need to create greater collaboration to drive innovation.

Improving efficiencies through further cost reduction can be difficult after a lengthy recession and intentional/regular reduction in expenses. The best opportunities for finding new ways of streamlining are through an engaged workforce that discovers and demonstrates new processes that support clients better while still minimizing both invested time and expense. Engaged workers will improve customer service, increase productivity, reach new customers, and optimize business processes . . . just to mention the top five on the list above. Many of the six million companies operating in the United States alone are actually incubators that will create new “transformational” products and innovative ways of creating new customers—the big question is, will they do it within your company or leave and use their talents and drive in another company?

Workforce Profile

Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO of Gallup, the 70- year-old research company of over 2,000 professionals, feels that an engaged workforce is the key to achieving these outcomes and building innovation in America:

Raising the percentage of America’s engaged employees from 28% to 60% would double innovation and double entrepreneurship. It would create the conditions necessary to suddenly overwhelm competing nations because engagement creates new customers.

In his book, The Coming Jobs War, Clifton states that in the U.S. there are just over 100 million workers employed in full-time jobs. After 75 years of employee surveys, Gallup has determined that 28% of the American workforce is “engaged” (Q3, 2011 data). These are your best colleagues. They cooperate to build growth. They are the creative force behind everything that is good, and in particular, they create new customers often through innovative products.

Gallup says 53% of your staff is likely “not engaged”—this means they are not hostile, disruptive, or trouble makers, but they are just there, killing time with little concern about customers, productivity or profitability.

And then, there are the 19% “actively disengaged” who exhaust your management team, have more on-the-job accidents, contribute to “shrinkage” or theft, miss more days and quit more frequently. They persistently “disengage” what the engaged do. Call it the “bad apple” syndrome.

Engaging Your Workforce

How does a company leader build engagement in his or her staff? Well, it’s logical and clear: become a fully engaged leader and manager!

You can’t expect your staff to be engaged if you are one of the bad apples. In many “organically grown companies” where high performers were promoted into management positions with little management training, improving their leadership capabilities may be required. At a minimum, building an engaged team requires personal focus, skills, and excellent communications:

  • Communicate clear expectations.
  • Leverage individual strengths.
  • Equip staff with the best technology to do their work optimally.
  • Provide praise and recognition regularly.
  • Authentically care about the employee as a person.
  • Have a concrete development plan that the employee believes is achievable.
  • Actively solicit staff opinions, provide feedback, and create opportunities where good suggestions are implemented.
  • Create an environment where growth and learning is a constant and valued.

The Impact

Sounds like management nirvana? Well, the results can be profound when your workforce is energized. ALTUS recently supported a growing mid-size organization leadership team through a uniquely designed leadership training program with ongoing team coaching. Each manager’s business and personal strengths were defined, and a growth plan was developed for each of the 32 supervisors, managers, and directors.

The result has been that each manager now knows and is looking at new ways of leveraging their own staff’s strengths, a powerful “trickle down” outcome. They connect weekly with them on performance goals and achievements, giving appropriate attention for achieving or surpassing goals. This focus has resulted in improved margins because of cost reductions and departmental consolidation, increased revenue because more clients are supported, and importantly, reduced recruiting efforts and costs as staff are recommending the company as a “great place to work.” Interestingly, personnel costs have actually stayed flat, despite year-over-year growth in revenue.

The first step in successful change management is to create the change within the business’ leadership. When leaders become engaged and energized, staff begins to match the behavior or leave the organization because they simply do not “fit.” Motivated employees are pleased to step up and not only achieve results, but also define bigger goals for themselves. What parts of your business do you want to focus on? What choices will you make about your own leadership behavior style?

As Jim Clifton noted in his book, For all of you Six Sigma enthusiasts, a miserable employee, particularly a miserable manager, is a defect . . . And miserable employees (at all levels) create miserable customers.

Perhaps companies should look at their leadership “defects” as a first step to changing their organization or company into the engaged workforce America so desperately needs to accelerate out of this recession.


ALTUS is a new kind of consulting and coaching company. We didn’t learn about business from a book or in a three-day certification course. As entrepreneurs and executives, we know firsthand what it means to run a business successfully. We can relate to where you are today, because we’ve lived it.
We blend business savvy, analytical tools, and our experience as business owners to address your whole business — operations and people; management and stakeholder goals; revenue and culture — giving you and your people the perspective and expertise to make their next big leap. Most importantly, our success is invested in building your skills and getting out of your way. We create practical solutions that deliver REAL change and benefits – while you work with us and long after we’re gone.

Rebecca Young and Gina Danford, Founders, ALTUS Consulting and Coaching. www.altus-cc.com

Rebecca Young
Rebecca Young has unmatched energy and a compulsion for action that drives results. As a VP, SVP, COO and a Co-Founder, she has built and sold successful businesses in many industries including Financial Services, High Tech and BioTech. As a Business Coach and Consultant, Rebecca leveraged her deep experience, keen sense of innovation, and natural ability to authentically connect with people to ignite change and deliver exceptional results.

Gina Danford
As an internationally educated and experienced professional, Gina Danford has coached and consulted with mid to large tier companies across Europe, Asia, Australia, North America and Latin America. Gina works alongside CEOs and Senior Executive Teams to reveal possibilities and devise creative strategies that drive growth, increase revenue and execute turnarounds.

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