Where to Prioritize Employee Engagement Efforts for Maximum ROI

Jan 25, 2019 | Culture, Leadership, Strategy

Countless studies – too long and painful a list to recite here – have demonstrated that when people are more highly engaged, your organization is more likely to thrive and achieve its goals and objectives. An engaged employee feels passionate about their job, is more committed to their organization, and puts more energy, blood, sweat, and tears, into their work.

According to a recent Gallup poll, only 33% of all employees are engaged in their work, meaning 67% – 67%!!! – are not engaged or totally disengaged in their work.

We should be treating this as a crisis.

So how do you prioritize employee engagement efforts for maximum impact?


Focus. We all have the mandate to do less with more. And with finite resources, we need to think differently about where to focus effort to on improving employee engagement. Determining the individuals that will have a disproportionate impact is a good place to start.

Begin with pivotal roles.

Rather than trying to attack the whole system top-down and bottom-up, start with pivotal roles – the internal roles that have the greatest impact on what matters to your organization. These roles are vital to the health of your organization and are often difficult and expensive to fill in case of unplanned vacancies.  When considering your pivotal roles, consider the part of your business where improving performance could make a difference to your success.

Our favourite example of a pivotal role is from Disney Parks & Resorts as described by John Boudreau. While Disney’s most important characters may be Mickey and Minnie Mouse, they are not pivotal roles. When your six-year-old needs a Band-Aid or the best seat for the parade, a character can’t help you, but the street sweeper can. That street sweeper has the opportunity to delight you – and personally walk you to the first aid desk or best spot on the parade route. In Disney’s case, they can create more magical experiences for guests by focusing engagement effort on the sweeper.

Another example is West Jet Airlines where the flight attendants play a pivotal role.  The flight attendant that shows genuine empathy and helps a single mom with her screaming toddler will win the loyalty of that family. On the flip side, we’ve seen the fallout of undesirable actions from airline staff with United Airlines when their stock dropped $1.4B after the controversial passenger removal controversy – talk about pivotal roles having an impact on what matters!  Beyond the flight staff, another pivotal role for an airline is the legal team responsible for negotiating with airports for landing – they have an inordinate differential impact on the business.

Find the right people

Start by identifying your pivotal roles.  Look beyond expected places. You may find that – like the Disney street sweeper – your organization’s pivotal roles may not be entirely obvious, which is why engaging a talent firm could support your approach.

Separate the role from the person. You may have a pivotal role that has the wrong talent. The person most adept at working a broom would not be the right person for Disney’s street sweeper – they are looking for those that excel at customer service.

Invest and engage.

Once the pivotal roles have been identified, and you’ve put the right talent in the roles, leadership needs to invest time and energy with those individuals. Define their role so that they have clear expectations, give them the materials required to do their job, let them have opportunity to do what they do best every day, praise them for their work, and encourage them to learn and grow. And importantly, train them on your culture so they contribute to making it stronger for everyone.

Focus on engaging and nurturing your pivotal talent. Determine what matters most to them and what they need to be engaged and successful.  This will improve how invested they are in making your organization stronger, thus increasing the retention of these roles.

Ultimately, you will drive strong employee engagement where it matters most, which will show up as success in your bottom line.  

By: Christi Mertens


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