The most significant employee engagement tool you can use

Chris Lema


Employee Engagement is a Global Issue

A friend of mine today wrote me this tweet:

As I’m the guy that’s written an eBook on Virtual Teams and another one on High Performers, I appreciated his framing the question in an easy way for me to answer.

But what he was really asking about was employee engagement – and that’s something that isn’t just an issue with distributed teams. It’s an issue for everyone.

Some really sad statistics

One study suggests almost 80% of senior executives know they have a serious employee engagement problem.

Another shows that 89% of employers think their employees leave for more money. Only 12% really do.

75% of employees who voluntarily take off, quit because of their bosses, not their jobs.

Only 6% of those interviewed in this study felt like their performance management solutions were even worth it.

The real issue is communication

The real issue – the hard reality – is that the most effective tool you have is free. It’s all about sharing and listening. And you don’t need to pay tools to create a culture that embraces it.

Check out this infographic (source).


If you look at the four enablers of employee engagement, they focus on:

  • Having a strong and compelling story (and sharing it)
  • Engaging your managers
  • Engaging employees and hearing them
  • Corporate integrity

This isn’t rocket science. It’s not stuff you’ve never heard before. But you know what it is?

It’s hard work. Because it means you need to develop a culture around this kind of communication.

Why I don’t recommend software tools

And this is precisely why I don’t suggest tools like

It’s not because I don’t think it’s cool. I do. I think it’s very cool and likely useful.

The reason I don’t recommend tools is because they’re not magic. They don’t solve employee engagement. They assist it.

If your culture is awesome already, you’ll love it. And if your culture sucks, it won’t save it.

They have a cool little infographic that shows a little employee at the bottom of a big org chart saying “I feel heard.”

But ask yourself this – what causes an employee to feel heard? Is it the work of writing an email summarizing their tasks for the day or week? Or is it their supervisor listening to them and engaging them?

Simply collecting my feedback on my own efforts is actually  more work, not less. And if it sits there without you doing anything, or changing anything because you heard me, then it hasn’t resulted in making me feel any more heard.

In a great article on the topic, one writer called this a myth: “Managers know how to engage their employees.”

That’s right – a myth.

Managers don’t know how to help with employee engagement

The real issue comes down (at least on one level) to this. Managers are neither good, nor naturally equipped (simply by title) to help drive better employee engagement.

Remember: 75% of employees who voluntarily take off, quit because of their bosses, not their jobs.

So teach your managers to communicate more effectively. To ask better questions. To tell better stories. To engage with the overall strategy of the company. To listen and observe their staff.

It’s something you can do. It’s free. And you already have it with you.

Your single best tool is you. And no digital hosted solution will beat you. Ever.

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  1. You’re right Chris, no technology will solve a company’s employee engagement problem if the CEO or manager doesn’t support and empower his/her employees. That said, implementing a solution like 15Five, which makes it easy to quickly learn about the team’s accomplishments, challenges, and ideas, goes a long way in helping that CEO do a better job improving the culture and organization as a whole.

    • I’m ok to agree to disagree. Data flowing up is an issue. But when it comes to employee engagement, I find that the culture is more about how it flows down, and how well people are heard and reacted to. As someone who’s been studying high performers and high performing cultures for years, I’ve rarely seen the issue solved by better reporting up. That said, I think 15five will likely add tons of value for organizations that are already working at this.

      • I actually think we agree more than you think! :-)

        I too am a student of high performers and high performing cultures, and agree 100% on your four key points — first, that no technology can solve employee engagement issues (although I do believe as you do that tools can assist and help in the process if you’re sincere about what it takes); second, that culture is more about how people are heard and reacted to rather than reporting up; third, that communication is the underlying issue behind lack of engagement — that if leaders actually take on the practice of engaging their employees to share, and then listen and respond appropriately, it goes a LONG way to improving engagement; and fourth, that managers often times don’t know how to help Improve employee engagement — often, they just don’t know the right questions to ask, nor have the time, resources, or discipline to follow through.

        Highly engaged cultures all share a similar trait — namely that leaders actually care about their employees, and about what they need to succeed. So whether a manager institutes an offline mechanism for soliciting regular feedback and responding to employees or uses a tool like 15Five, the key is that it only makes a difference if he/she actually cares. Once employees feel that their managers, executives and CEO actually care about their concerns and are listening, it naturally follows that they, in return, begin to care more about the company, their work and their contribution.

        That’s a key part of our underlying philosophy and product design; it’s why the “reporting up aspect” is only the first part of the equation. People do report in weekly, but that’s only a conversation starter. 15Five then gives mangers an efficient way to review each of their employees reports, respond to specific answers, loop in others relevant to the conversation, flag issues for followup to ensure they do get addressed, and even escalate points further up in the organization so important issues see the light of day. It’s the second half, when done consistently, that leads to stronger relationships between employees and managers, greater trust, and ultimately more engaged people across the board.

        Furthermore, none of our default questions ask people to summarize their tasks for the week. We actually recommend asking questions like “What are you successes?” so they can be celebrated, “What challenges are you facing?” so managers can jump in to help, “Do you have any new ideas to improve your role or the company?” so they feel they can actually make a contribution, and “How are you feeling? What’s the morale you see around you?” so managers can really check in on how people are doing on the very human side of things.

        Simply asking your employees these questions on a regular basis, whether you use a tool like 15Five or try to do it manually, announces to employees that you care. But following up and really listening and responding is what sets apart companies who are successful with 15Five from those who aren’t.

        Lastly, I agree you can do these things offline, but it’s hard and it’s time consuming, especially once you reach 20+ employees. In fact, before we even set out about building 15Five, we asked 10 companies to try to implement the 15-5 practice using email and in-person meetings. We were in love with the idea, but figured if it could be done easily without a tool, why bother? 9/10 of those companies failed to keep it going after just 8 weeks, and the 10th became a customer because it was a very messy process, but they were getting tremendous value from it. So we built it.

        So, I agree with you that if you think you’re going to solve your engagement issues just by purchasing 15Five, it won’t work unless you’re actually willing to listen and engage. But going to back the original tweet, if you are, 15Five can help you rapidly accelerate that process and dramatically increase your chances of success, especially for distributed teams (or so our customers tell us).

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Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


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