August 21, 2023
Employee Engagement Plan: 6-Step Strategy and Template
Ask leaders what’s most important for a successful business and many of them will point to a single critical factor: employee engagement. Once a team is “all in,” any business is far more likely to thrive.
Yet even as leaders recognize its importance, actual engagement remains disarmingly low. According to the latest data from Gallup, just 32% of full- and part-time U.S. employees are engaged at work, while 18% are actively disengaged. All those disengaged employees cost the world $7.8 trillion in lost productivity, according to Gallup's 2022 report on the state of the global workplace. That’s equal to 11% of global GDP.
Why does all the concern over engagement not result in a boost in employees feeling motivated and excited about their work? In large part, it’s because organizations often don’t develop thoughtful and strategic engagement plans that reflect the actual needs of their employees.
In our work with scores of clients from top companies, we’ve learned a lot about the types of engagement plans that win and those that fall short. Through this blog, we’ll walk you through the six key steps for success and share details on other critical factors to consider as you craft a winning plan.
What Is an Employee Engagement Plan?
An employee engagement plan is a tool for leaders to enhance or transform employee engagement, which is essentially the emotional connection employees have with their work. Like all successful business plans, employee engagement plans should spell out specific desired business outcomes.
The best employee engagement plans lead to a myriad of behaviors that engaged employees demonstrate, such as a sense of excitement about coming to work and a feeling that the work is meaningful and interesting.
Employee engagement plans should be updated or tweaked every year to support the business strategy, rather than on an ad hoc basis or as an afterthought. When a plan is truly strategic, it is also given the appropriate priority and resources to have a real and lasting impact.
Benefits of an Effective Employee Engagement Plan
The most obvious and tangible result of an effective employee engagement plan is that it helps to transform the company culture. When people are excited about the work they do, appreciate the colleagues they work for, and feel protected and respected, they are naturally more productive. This is why so often engagement is directly tied to key business outcomes.
Engagement often results in employees feeling compelled to give something extra – extra time, extra energy, extra brainpower. Employees go above and beyond with discretionary effort because they’re motivated to do so.
Research has consistently shown that engaged teams do better on several key performance measures. Gallup’s latest employee engagement research found that business units and teams scoring in the top quartile in engagement had the following impressive differences in business outcomes when compared to the lowest quartile group:
- 81% less absenteeism
- 58% less patient safety incidents
- 18% less turnover in otherwise high-turnover organizations
- 43% less turnover in the low-turnover organizations
- 28% less theft reports
- 64% less safety incidents or accidents
- 41% less product defects
- 10% higher customer loyalty/engagement
- 18% higher productivity (sales)
- 23% higher profitability
Further, recent studies have found that when employees are involved in decision-making, employees tend to be more innovative and engaged.
In the Deloitte 2023 Global Human Capital Trends survey, organizations with higher worker involvement in designing and implementing organizational change were more likely to experience positive outcomes.
Specifically, organizational leaders who said they co-create with their workers stated they were 1.8x more likely to have a highly engaged workforce, 2x more likely to be innovative, and 1.6x more likely than their peers to anticipate and respond to change effectively.
Employee Engagement Best Practices
There are multiple ways to craft an effective employee engagement plan, but it’s important to keep in mind some tried and true practices for making engagement an integral part of your overall strategies and goals.
Best Practice 1: Connect the Tactics to the Overall Vision
A strong employee engagement plan should never simply list a set of tactics. Rather, the tactics should be incorporated into the overall plan and reflect the vision you have for the organization and the kind of work environment you want to build.
Communication needs to be a key component of the engagement plan, which means that it’s critical to have both human resources and communication leaders collaborating on the design and roll out of the plan.
As you dive into your strategic planning, consider the key components of any strong business strategy for employee engagement:
- A clear explanation of the current business environment and any challenges your business faces with employee engagement today
- What you want to accomplish (your business goals and communication goals)
- Who you need to talk with (which leaders and employees you should consult to help craft the plan)
- What you want to say (your core messages)
- How you will communicate (your internal communication strategies for the engagement plan and the tactics and channels you’ll use)
- When you will communicate (your calendar), and
- How you will measure your progress
Best Practice 2: Take Employees on a Journey
The difference between a strategy on paper and a winning employee engagement strategy that accelerates performance is how well leaders bring their teams along on the journey.
It’s not enough to be the leader’s strategy… it has to be the team’s strategy, too. And the only way to make it the team’s strategy is to let them be a part of your plan to elevate engagement.
Often communication leaders are great at informing teams, flooding them with emails, videos, social media, charts, newsletters, strategy wheels, and meetings. Yet, great strategy activation and communication are marked by three key elements: involve, inform, and inspire employees, so they want to help you make it happen and achieve the results.
We can all relate to how much better it feels to be part of something rather than having something pushed on you out of the blue without understanding the why or story behind it. That’s why it’s essential to involve those closest to the challenges and opportunities with engagement, such as HR and other people leaders, and employee ambassadors.
Listen and learn from them and help them feel heard. Test strategies and approaches to see how they react. Ask them what they think is needed to propel the business. When you do, they’ll bring forward great ideas and solutions, give more to execute, and you’ll go further faster, together.
Best Practice 3: Incorporate a Storyline
We can’t underestimate how essential it is to define the destination. Help employees see why the journey to better engagement is a good idea for the company, for customers, and for them as individuals. Be sure to share the “how” – of both priorities and focus areas – to get to the destination and what you expect of employees. Help them know their role in reaching the destination, so they know how they fit in and what success looks like.
Finally, answer the “what’s in it for me” question that employees ask. They need to know that the destination will be beneficial for them as well as the company and customers.
How to Create an Employee Engagement Plan in 6 Steps
Step 1: Understand Your Audience and What’s Important to Them
It’s really important to first start with an analysis of the current level of engagement among your employees. How excited and motivated is your team about their work today? What’s working well and not so well? What do employees say they want and need from the organization to be more excited about their work?
There are many ways to go about getting a pulse on employee sentiments. A survey of a sample of employees or a larger group (when that’s feasible) is one great way to start. If your human resources group already has an annual employee survey, the communications team should engage with them to ensure the right kinds of questions are asked, those that get at the heart of employee satisfaction and motivation. You can also use other great options as supplemental sources of information, such as focus groups with a select group of employees or leaders. It’s also critical for HR and communications to work in tandem on gauging the level of engagement and trends in engagement in recent years.
Another key source of data is the retention levels of employees. If you’re seeing a spike in turnover, that’s often a big clue that job satisfaction is declining. Consult with HR leaders for details on exit interview information. If your organization is not currently conducting formal exit interviews, be sure to begin doing so.
Once you’ve collected the feedback from leaders and employees, you’re ready to identify the key areas of opportunity for improvement.
Step 2: Determine Your Desired Outcome
We spend a good amount of time talking with our clients and leaders we work with about “desired outcomes” – the first step in planning any kind of new program or communication.
When we ask, “What’s the outcome you seek?” in regard to engagement, sometimes clients will say, “We want to produce more leader email messages on engagement, or we’re thinking about a newsletter or video.”
We always caution teams when they answer this way because those are just the tactics. What they really need to start with is the answer to this simple question: What do you want to achieve in terms of employee engagement? What are the tangible things you want your employees to know, feel, and do that would reflect a higher level of engagement?
Once you know that, you can then decide what plan and communication tactic is best suited to achieve that business goal.
Here’s the two-step process we suggest you walk through to identify your critical outcomes:
- Define Organizational Outcomes (the business need) – When you define the business need, don’t start with what you need to do, but why you need to do it. Indicate – as best you can – a direct connection between the organization’s objectives or bottom line. Be sure to list specific and measurable desired organizational outcomes in this section. Think: What will be different in employee engagement when we’ve achieved our plans?
- Determine Communication Outcomes / Objectives – Think about the business outcome you want to achieve through communication and what role communication can play to help achieve the business need. For example, is it to increase engagement, so you can benefit from things that come from higher engagement – like less absenteeism and better safety and quality performance? Is it to increase order fill or to create a behavior change among employees?
Consider using a template like this (below) to define what you want all employees to know, feel, and do as a result of your communication. It’s a great way to stay focused on the key audiences and outcomes you want to achieve.
You don’t need to limit yourself to one desired outcome, but you should try to cap it at three.
Note: All too often business and communication plans only focus on communication goals. Remember to take your plan to the next level by linking the communication goals to specific business or organizational goals.
Here’s an example of a template you might use to help describe the current state of engagement and the future state that you are working toward:
There’s little connection to the work I do and the overall business goals of my organization.
There is only limited collaboration across business units here.
I’m part of a team here.
There is effective collaboration across work teams here.
I often think about looking for a job with another company.
I don’t feel my ideas and suggestions matter.
My current job is great. I’m not interested in working for another company.
My company cares about how I feel and wants to increase my overall job satisfaction.
Don’t share ideas with leaders because it’s a waste of time.
Participate in group discussions about what’s working well and what could be better inside the organization.
Take the time to help my colleagues when they need it because I know they would do the same for me.
Step 3: Develop Your Engagement Plan and Messages
Based on your audiences, next outline the most important components of your plan and the messages you want to communicate to them.
Remember to keep it to about three main messages (that’s usually all that people can retain!). Then consider supporting points to reinforce those key messages.
Consider incorporating the critical facts, anecdotes, and stories that support your plan and help the audience see how you plan to transform engagement within the organization.
5 Ws and an H
Want to ensure you don’t forget a critical detail in your communications? Think 5 Ws and an H to ensure you’re not missing an important detail, sharing the all-important context, and making it relevant for your audience.
- Why – Why is this new engagement initiative the right decision? Why now?
- What – What’s the current state of engagement, motivation, and well-being among your employees? What does it mean for the organization to have better engagement? What should all employees know? What’s in it for me? (In other words, why should an individual employee care about the company’s goals for engagement? How will the new engagement plan help improve the work experience and an employee’s daily life, etc.)?
- Where – Where is this decision and new plan coming from? Where can I get more information?
- When – When is this happening?
- How – How was the decision made? How will it be implemented? How will communication flow internally and externally? How will this new program impact my team?
- Who – Who made the decision? Who’s in charge? Who does it impact?
In communicating your messages, the order is important. Adult learners want to know the “why” first and then the “what.” The rest can follow logically.
No matter how you develop your messages, be sure to use a template to keep yourself organized, consistent, and concise. For example, we use our award-winning messagemap methodology to get all the most important messages organized and prioritized on one page.
Step 4: Choose or Create Channels
Once you’ve solidified the messages, look at the best ways to launch and regularly communicate with employees about the new initiative. You may use existing channels or create new ones.
Keep in mind that feedback channels about the launch and ongoing implementation can be informal – such as leaders “managing by walking around” or supervisors asking for input.
Alternatively, the communication can be more formal communication opportunities, where employees are invited to share ideas and questions via print, online publications, or social media. When determining which channels work best, consider employees’ time, commitment, availability, and access to technology. Be sure that employees can share feedback during and after work hours.
Remember that no engagement plan should ever be considered final. You can’t just launch it and hope it will naturally stick. Instead, employees need regular communication about the initiative and repeated opportunities to share their feedback about what’s working well and what needs improvement.
Step 5: Populate Your Communications Calendar
Having a full view of the variety of communication channels and tactics used to implement your plan (and timing to go along with it) will be most effective when you have a project tracker to work from.
Look at the year ahead and note which communication will be happening when. That will help ensure you have a consistent cadence of communication about the new engagement plan, which will contribute to a more informed, involved workforce.
Use a template like this to map out your action plan (adding as many rows as you need):
Vehicle / Deliverable
Owner / Sender
Step 6: Act On Feedback and Regularly Measure Your Success
Once you are ready to implement and promote feedback channels throughout the organization, recognize that what you do with the team’s input speaks volumes to employees.
When leaders respond quickly to ideas and questions, employees get the message their input is valued and they become more committed and engaged. To ensure feedback gets the respect it deserves, assign someone to respond personally and promptly to all employee concerns and ideas.
Be sure that all employees know how their colleagues’ suggestions or ideas are being implemented. Regularly sharing results and requesting additional feedback creates predictable, consistent two-way communication that encourages employees to take ownership and understand their ideas are valued by the organization.
Remember – what gets measured, gets done. That’s why it’s so important to measure what success looks like for the new engagement plan. For example, will it be measured by improved employee survey scores that measure overall employee satisfaction, motivation, and enjoyment with their jobs? Increases in retention? More involvement in various discretionary programs?
You can use a combination of measurement techniques, but the main thing is to make sure you measure. Here are some key tips for measuring your plan’s effectiveness:
- Use measurement strategies that already work for the organization.
- Use measurement strategies that can live on after the initial communication metrics are complete.
- Ensure senior management will champion employee engagement strategies.
- Encourage staff who participate in the evaluation process to feel comfortable being candid and make sure they can see the results and have the tools to apply the feedback and/or results.
Employee Engagement Action Plan Examples
Many organizations we’ve worked with have done an excellent job surveying the current state of engagement before finalizing any new plans. Sometimes that starts with a SWOT analysis. Through this process, leaders engage a strategic group of leaders to determine and then synthesize the most important strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats associated with the organization’s current state of employee engagement.
Once that feedback is generated, you can then use those insights to gather additional input from a key group of employees and other leaders. That feedback, along with a larger survey of employee engagement, begins to paint a clear picture of what the new engagement plan needs and how best to start changing the culture inside the organization.
For surveys, the questions are critical. Here’s a sample of some of the best questions some companies employ to get at the heart of the current state of employee engagement:
Sample Employee Engagement Survey Questions
- Generally, I am extremely satisfied with my company as a place to work.
- I rarely think about looking for a new job with another company.
- I am proud to work for my company.
Involvement and Belonging
- I feel that I am a part of a team.
- I am appropriately involved in decisions that affect my work.
- My immediate supervisor/manager really cares about my well-being.
- My immediate supervisor/manager is an effective listener.
- I receive the information and communication I need to effectively do my job.
- My ideas and suggestions count.
Growth and Development
- I have the training I need to do my job effectively.
- My immediate supervisor/manager has made a personal investment in my growth and development.
- I have opportunities for advancement in my company.
- My company values my contribution.
- I regularly receive appropriate recognition when I do a good job.
- My company recognizes productive people.
- My company shows a commitment to ethical business decisions and conduct.
- I trust the senior leadership here.
- My immediate supervisor/manager keeps his/her commitments.
- I believe in the shared values and vision of my company.
- The behavior of my local leadership team is consistent with my company’s shared values.
- Supervisors/managers in my company are active role models for our shared values.
How a Winning Plan Looks
One organization we recently worked with wanted to ensure their engagement plan was clear and straightforward, but also inspiring. A few key components this company used when presenting their plan to the full team included:
- Opening statement about the three clear goals the organization was seeking in its engagement plan, including:
- Building a purposeful roadmap for change.
- Inspiring and motivating employees at various sites within a national team.
- Demonstrating what good communication about the plan should look like, so each leader can effectively play their role.
- List of 15 leaders across divisions who were interviewed to inform the plan.
- “Today’s reality,” which summarized the challenges with engagement, particularly with frontline workers scattered across sites nationwide.
- Opportunities to solve for, including a “from/to” analysis that included what the current state is and how the desired state has been defined.
- 4 “Core Strategies” the organization is employing to achieve success.
- A short one-page “Narrative draft” that includes why engagement is so critical, what needs to be done, and how the team can work together to achieve the future vision.
- Recommendations for communication channels to be used, including Town Halls, videos, conferences, mid-year check-ins, site visits, and new channels, such as monthly newsletters and monthly calls with leaders.
- Calendar for when and how the communication about the initiative will take place throughout the year.
- Next steps for the roll out of the plan over time.
Employee engagement plans are a vital tool in helping a company build the kind of exceptional workplace culture that many employees value today. After all, a sense of purpose and motivation is one of the top things employees of all generations are looking for. Many of us spend a lot of time at work, and we’re becoming much more conscious of whether that time truly matters.
Companies that take the time to build a strategic engagement plan, tailored to the needs of their specific organization, will undoubtedly see many positive results in the future – for both employees and the organization as a whole.
When you consider employee engagement in your organization, what one or two changes, if made today, would have the biggest impact on engagement and business performance?
Take leaders and employees from skeptical bystanders to inspired catalysts of your organization’s new strategy, vision, and path forward with the help of this leader guide, Maximizing Strategy Development & Rollout with Top Leaders. Get the methodology today!
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