Five Keys to Employee Engagement, Retention and Attraction


It can’t be forced. It doesn’t have to be complicated. And…it’s largely in your control.

Companies spend time and money to measure, maximize and promote, often with posters and making impressive-sounding proclamations. Yet they rarely encourage leaders to do the simple, everyday things that make a sustained difference.

This article highlights what great leaders do to create an environment that inspires all employees to be their best. Emphasis on “inspires,” as you can not coerce engagement. Emphasis on “best,” as most employees are hungry for work that maximizes their strengths and challenges them to improve.

A seminal report by the Conference Board summarized findings from a number of research studies on employee engagement. They define employee engagement as “a heightened emotional and intellectual connection that an employee has for his/her job, organization, manager, or co-workers that, in turn, influences him/her to apply additional discretionary effort to his/her work.”

The report also found that the most powerful driver of employee engagement is the employee/manager relationship – specifically, managers who care about their employees’ well being, foster trust, and lead with integrity.

In the quest for true engagement, what matters most are leaders who are tuned in, turned on, and who consistently call forth the best effort and best attitudes of employees. And not only does this pay off big time for the organization, but it pays off big time for YOU as well!

So, if you are ready to improve business results and eager to retain top talent, then you are ready for the 5-A Model for Engagement. It details specific tools and practices to cultivate personal and productive employee relationships.

5-A MODEL for Engagement

1. ALIGNMENT: Fit of employee talents and capabilities with role
2. ATTENTION: Ways a leader pays attention to employee
3. ATTITUDE: Positive thinking and positive guidance for positive outcomes
4. APPRECIATION: Cultivating and expressing gratitude and recognition
5. AUTHENTICITY: Leading in a way that is true to one’s own unique strengths, personal style and professional perspective


Alignment addresses the fit between an employee’s strengths and interests with their job responsibilities. For many people I’ve coached, their biggest challenge is that they are asked to do what they cannot do or be what they are not, and the individual is seen as having a “performance issue” rather than being in the wrong job.

So the first task if you want to engage your employees is to be vigilant about uncovering, articulating, and advocating their strengths. This is not always as simple as it sounds. Most managers are trained to find and address what’s lacking in an employee. But research tells us, that we would be wise to spend our time developing and utilizing a person’s strengths as opposed to eliminating their weaknesses.

Additionally, employees feel better and do better when their strengths are aligned with their work. In fact, using the other 4 A’s in this model – and not aligning an employee’s skills and interests with the work – will not result in full engagement.

Tips to Create Alignment:

Two of the many tools on the market that help capture strengths I recommend are: StrengthsFinder found in the book, Now Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, and VIA Signature Strengths survey which is free and can be found at

Ask your employees, “Tell me about a time when you felt most engaged at work…what was happening? What skills were you using?” Ask your employees, “Do you feel you have a chance to use your best strengths in your job?” When promoting or moving people into new roles, ask yourself if the employees will still have a chance to use their strengths. This is especially important when promoting stellar individual performers into management positions.


Attention includes the physical and non-physical ways you focus on employees. Your most valued resource is your attention. And the quality and nature of how you pay attention speaks volumes about you and the value you place on your employees. Paying positive attention to your employee’s strengths and interests is critical to engagement.

Additionally, you should also look at all they do right, their career ambitions, families, hobbies, concerns, goals. Even employees who prefer some privacy appreciate your asking.

Body language is BIG. Notice how you physically give attention to your employees. Do you use their name when speaking to them? Do you look them in the eye? Shake their hand? Restate what you hear them say? Do you show up at meetings on time? And very important, when in group meetings or one-on-one discussions, do you eliminate distractions like email and phone calls?

Tips for Giving Attention

Turn off all appliances and tune in to your employees.
Ask employees about their career ambitions, hopes, and fears.
Ask employees about their outside interests and families.
Make eye contact and use the name of the person you are speaking with.
Give employees at least 3 positive statements for every critical one.
Say good morning and good evening.
Celebrate the good stuff!


The two key behaviors that contribute to displaying and inspiring a positive attitude are positive thinking and positive feeling.

With positive thinking, you approach challenges from a realistically optimistic perspective rather than a pessimistic or victim-oriented one. Realistic optimism doesn’t mean denying problems: It means applying your efforts – and the efforts of others – on what you can control, expecting that by doing so the future will be better.

Pessimistic managers see organizational challenges as pervasive and out of their control, “I’m such a bad manager. This company is going down hill.” Realistically optimistic managers see challenges as opportunities, consider the bad stuff as temporary, and believe in their own resourcefulness and the resourcefulness of others. “It’s true that we’re going through a rough patch. Now what can we do to make it better?”

While some leaders tend towards pessimism or optimism, anyone can choose an optimistic approach to work. Doing so not only feels better but results in better outcomes. Employees want to be engaged with positive people and rewarding endeavors. You must lead the way.

Second, use positive emotion to promote useful outcomes. We all recognize that the simple cold is quite contagious. What is less obvious is how contagious a bad mood can be — especially when it belongs to the manager. Science has established that like physical viruses, moods are indeed contagious. Additionally, negative feelings such as anxiety and anger not only feel bad but shut us down and close us off to new ideas; we become less creative and resourceful.

Barbara Frederickson developed a “broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions” that finds that “There is now hard data showing positive emotions give us access to cognitive, social, psychological and physical resources. In other words, they make us smarter, more creative, more social, and healthier.” And not surprisingly, people in positive moods are more liked by others and more open to ideas and experiences (Frederickson, 1998). The bottom line is that negative emotions tear down — positive emotions build up.

This research, and our own anecdotal experience, suggest how leaders lead and employ smart behaviors that you can use to enhance your — and others’ — emotions.

Tips for Creating a Positive Attitude

·Before going into a meeting, ask yourself what kind of attitude will help work get done at the meeting. The answer will lead you to some ideas for how you want to behave.
·Ration the time you spend with people with negative attitudes.
·Ask yourself and/or your team, “What’s in our control?”
·If someone responds negatively try saying, “That may be AND…”
·To promote positive feelings in yourself, consider the following 5-minute attitude adjustment activities:

oPay attention to your thinking

oGo for a fast power walk in the parking lot

oSpend a few minutes paying attention to your breath

oWrite an email to yourself stating what your goal is and note what thoughts and feelings will assist you in attaining

your goal

oLook at a picture of your family or favorite vacation spot

oAnd yes, one of my clients played the theme song to Rocky every time he wanted to psyche himself up for a big

meeting or moment.


“The deepest principle of human nature is the craving to be appreciated” – William James.

Not only is appreciating a smart strategy for engaging others, but taking time to deeply appreciate what we have fills our tank as well.

You might be thinking that cultivating appreciation is well worn advice–something we heard from our parents or teachers. And that may be. But good common sense is often uncommon. Further, while appreciation is indeed an underused strategy for engagement, there are actually many barriers to practicing it.

For starters, if you are like many leaders, you may consider yourself a high achiever. One thing we know about high achievers is that they are often focused on future goals. And that future orientation makes leaders vulnerable to not seeing all that is currently happening and all that has already been achieved.

Managers are paid to solve problems and put out fires. You’re quick to see what’s not working rather than what is working. You usually look three steps ahead. Again, this tendency can come at the expense of appreciating people now and accomplishments now.

And it’s easy to rely too heavily on reward and recognition programs instead of smaller, sometimes more impactful displays of genuine appreciation. Employees make countless contributions made by employees every day that may not merit formal recognition, but without them we and our organizations could not succeed.

And the last barrier to appreciating is simply the pace of our lives: We forget to stop and appreciate.

Tips for Cultivating Appreciation

·Start or end your meetings with “thank you’s” or personal acknowledgments, (even better if you invite everyone to join in).
·Keep a supply of monogrammed note cards in your desk and make it a point to write a few each week.
·One client enjoyed keeping 10 pennies in his left pants pocket, and every time he gave a sincere acknowledgement he moved a penny from his left pant pocket to his right pant pocket. His goal was to have all 10 pennies moved by the day’s end.
·Spend 5 minutes at the end of each week writing down what you appreciate that week – feel free to include non-work happenings, and by all means, feel free to engage your team and/or your family in the activity. As they say, “What we appreciate appreciates…”
·Leave a note somewhere reminding you to be appreciative.
·And lest you think showing appreciation is just something for the good times – it is even more important when things don’t go well. Consider the manager who when his team was faced with a setback, instead of pointing fingers, asked, “What’s here for us to learn? What can we appreciate about this challenge?”


Being authentic means expressing yourself in ways that are in keeping with your own authentic style and temperament and with a sincere desire to make your relationships work. Employees can see through technique, so by all means adapt these suggestions in ways that feel good to you. The only caveat is if for instance you recognize an opportunity to be more appreciative, and choose to use a new behavior such as sending thank you notes, realize that at first it may feel awkward because it’s new – which is different from not being authentic.

Tips for Cultivating Authenticity
·Clarify and articulate your core values – use them as anchors and guideposts to inform your leadership actions.
·Tell the truth — and if you don’t know, say so.
·Tell personal stories that demonstrate times you have overcome adversity, managed change, or accomplished an important goal.
·Invest in your own development – know and claim your strengths and weaknesses.
·Honor your commitments.
·Lead by example.

So What’s in it for You?

I love win/win/win propositions, and the good news is that using these 5 A’s of Engagement results in increased engagement for your employees, your company and you!

Align people’s strengths to their job, attend to their needs with keen focus, bring a positive attitude (via thoughts and feelings) to work challenges, consistently convey appreciation for your employees efforts. Practicing these behaviors will inspire higher levels of performance, enhance retention and generate greater commitment to results. You will feel GREAT about yourself as a leader, and the increased commitment and contributions from those you work with will wow you! Promise. Now, here’s to you!


Conference Board Report: Employee Engagement: A Review of Current Research and its Implications, 2006. “What Good are Positive Emotions?” by B.L. Frederickson, 1998. Review of General Psychology, 2, pp. 300-319.

Author: Cheryl Rice



Growth is vital to prosperity. Every person, every company, and every national economy must grow. Are you working for a company that is growing? Is it growing profitably and with no decline in velocity? What happens when the growth rate is low or even negative?

If the company as a whole or your business unit lags behind competitors, your personal progress will suffer. If the company’s sales are flat for five or six years, people will not have the opportunity to be promoted and move forward. Top managers will begin to cut costs, cut the number of employees, cut layers. They’ll start reining in R&D and advertising, good people will leave, and eventually the company will go into a death spiral. People will suffer.

In today’s world, no growth means lagging behind in a world that grows every day. If you don’t grow, competitors will eventually overtake you. Westinghouse, for example, used to be compared with GE. It lost its way, didn’t focus on growth and productivity, and no longer exists. Then there was Digital Equipment Corporation, not long ago the world’s second-largest computer company. It stuck with making mid-sized computers when the world was going to PCs. While upstart PC makers like Dell and Compaq grew, Digital Equipment did not. It lost its independence when Compaq acquired it.

Growth has a psychological dimension. Growth energizes a business. A company that is expanding attracts talented people with fresh ideas. It stretches them and creates new opportunities. People like to hear customers say they’re the best and that more business will be coming their way.

Look at what is happening in the world of Internet and other technology companies. Until very recently, young people were so anxious to get jobs working for dot-com companies that they were postponing their formal education. And venerable old companies had trouble luring graduates from the best schools and retaining their top performers while companies like Cisco, Intel, Nokia, Microsoft, and Oracle attracted a disproportionate number of them. Even a small start-up like Teligent attracted the former president of AT&T, Alex Mandl. What is the attraction? Growth, and all the opportunities and excitement it brings. The chance to build something, make something happen, and prosper.

Growing the Right Way

But growth for its own sake doesn’t do any good. Growth has to be profitable and sustainable. You want growth to be accompanied by improved margins and velocity, and the cash generation must be able to keep pace.

Many entrepreneurs taste success on a small scale and become obsessed with growth, losing sight of the money-making basics along the way. The case of one entrepreneur who supplied beverage equipment to restaurants is typical. He built a profitable business installing beverage equipment at a cost of $2,000 per installation and thereafter collecting $100 a month from the restaurant for the ingredients he supplied. He borrowed money to make the installations. The margin on the ingredients was so slim that it did not cover the interest payments on the borrowed money. Yet he was obsessed with growth.

As this ambitious young man expanded the business, the outflow of cash soon outpaced the flow of money into the business. Eventually, the company went bankrupt, and the lenders decided that the company needed a new CEO.

Sometimes senior management inadvertently encourages unprofitable growth by giving the sales force the wrong incentives. For example, one $16-million injection molding company rewarded its sales representatives based on how many dollars’ worth of plastic caps they sold, regardless of whether the company made a profit on them. Everyone was excited when the company landed $4 million in new sales from two major customers. But in the following three years, as sales rose, profit margins shrank. Finally, the CEO realized that the new business everyone was so excited about was actually a money loser. The price of the new caps did not cover the costs of producing them. Worse, the sales team lowered the price each year to retain the business.

Bankruptcy is often the sad end of misguided expansion plans. In August 2000, one of the largest equipment retailers in the United States joined the list of companies seeking bankruptcy protection when its ambitious growth plans went awry.

In the 1990s, the company had kicked off a rapid expansion that included opening eighty to a hundred stores a year, some outside the United States for the first time ever. Sales grew steadily through the 1990s, from well under $500 million to well over $2 billion, and at least in the early years, earnings per share inched up, too. But beginning in 1995, as the pace of its acquisitions quickened, earnings moved sharply downward for several reasons.

For one thing, the company was conducting business much as it always had, trying to make money on the sale of the equipment itself and also on the highly lucrative business of extending credit to customers. Meanwhile, the credit card industry was blossoming, and customers were using credit cards instead of store credit to buy their equipment. The company lost a main source of income. The loans it did make were more often to high-risk customers, some of whom didn’t make their payments. Also, sales from the new stores didn’t always meet expectations, and sales from older stores were dwindling as the company failed to make needed renovations.

By 1998, the company was losing money, and in 1999, it began to retrench. It closed stores and sold off some of its business units. Still the debt burden was too great, and in August 2000, under the leadership of a newly appointed CEO, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

So don’t use size as a measure of success. Pushing for more sales dollars isn’t necessarily good business. You have to know how and why you’re growing. And you have to consider whether you are growing in a way that can continue.

Look at what is happening to your cash. Maybe sales are increasing, but the cash situation is getting worse. Step back. Are you growing in a way that is generating or consuming cash? Is your profit margin improving or getting worse?

If the money making is improving and the cash is growing too, you have some interesting choices. You can use the funds to develop a new product, buy another company, or expand into a new country. Maybe you want to add some new features to make your product more appealing. Maybe you can cut the price and expand demand profitably.

Finding opportunities for profitable growth when others can’t is part of business acumen. Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, knew how to grow a business, even when his industry peers thought it was impossible. In 1975, the CEO of Sears, Roebuck told my class at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business that retailing in the United States was a mature business and a no-growth industry. That’s why he diversified into financial services. Meanwhile, Sam Walton was opening new stores while maintaining a return on assets substantially above the industry average.

Wal-Mart has widened the gap between itself and Sears. Though the businesses were roughly equal in size in 1992, Wal-Mart had sales of $165 billion for the year ending January 31, 2000, versus Sears’s sales of roughly $40 billion for the same period. In the process of expanding, Wal-Mart’s margin and velocity have both improved. Wal-Mart’s superior return on assets provides resources for it to expand internationally.

Opportunities for profitable growth may not be obvious, especially for big, established companies. But with drive, tenacity and risk taking, you and your colleagues can discover them. Take, for example, Ford. As Jac Nasser told the investment community at a meeting with securities analysts in January 1999, Ford was evaluating several avenues of growth and would pursue those that had the greatest potential to create value. One of Ford’s growth options was to provide a range of services that have to do with vehicle ownership. Nasse intended to have Ford venture down this path by making acquisitions and exploiting adjacencies. Adjacencies is the word he uses to describe market segments that are different from but closely related to the core business — like Nike’s selling of athletic apparel along with its core business of selling athletic shoes.

As Ford saw it, a consumer who buys a vehicle needs to finance it, insure it, and, over time, maintain and buy replacement parts. Financing, insurance, maintenance, and auto parts are separate market segment: but they are closely related to the initial vehicle purchase. Over the life of the car, an average person spends $68,000 in total — almost three and a half times what the average consumer pays for a vehicle. Ford hoped t grow and create shareholder value by participating in all these segments. That’s why in 1999 it acquired Kwik-Fit, a European auto repair chain, and Automobile Protection Corporation, which provides extended service contracts on all makes of cars.

Ford also planned to fuel growth by using e-commerce aggressively. The company plans to use the Internet to connect with more customers more quickly and to communicate with suppliers and dealers to shorten the time it takes to provide consumers with the vehicles they desire. That way both customer satisfaction and sales would rise.

Excerpted from the book What the CEO Wants You to Know by Ram Charan.
Copyright © 2001 Ram Charan. Published by Crown Business a division of Random House, Inc.; February 2001;$18.95US/$28.95CAN; 0-609-60839-8

Ram Charan is a highly acclaimed business advisor, speaker, and author, well known for his practical, real-world perspective. He was a Baker Scholar at Harvard Business School where he earned his MBA degree with Distinction, as well as his DBA. Dr. Charan is also the author of What the CEO Wants You to Know, Profitable Growth Is Everyone’s Business, The Leadership Pipeline, and Boards at Work. His articles have appeared in Fortune and Harvard Business Review.

Author: Ram Charan
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