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Your Employee Engagement Strategy Needs an Owner

Traci Cumbay
Traci Cumbay

Watch little kids play soccer, and you get a sense of why ownership is important. Four-year-olds have no understanding of what’s happening beyond their drive to get a foot on the ball. Bodies move en masse, kicks fly without objective, the wrong goal gets targeted, and teammates struggle against teammates for a chance to make contact with that precious orb.

What the teams lack in skill or strategy they make up for in pure, joyful energy. It’s entertaining, at least, even though it bears little resemblance to professional soccer (or even the rec league stuff played by the coaches and parents of all those wee rookies).

Players figure out the game over time. They learn how playing forward differs from being a defender. They get organized. They own their roles. They grow! And what happens on the field starts to make sense.

An employee engagement effort that has anything in common with preschool soccer is going to leave shins bruised and goals empty, no matter how enthusiastically it’s pursued. Role clarity is essential for moving a business forward; if nobody knows what expectations they’re striving to meet, things get messy fast and go downhill from there. Confusion leads to waste, not so much to success.

Those bitsy Wambach wannabes aren’t getting their roles figured out on their own. Enter the coach — that generous, patient grownup with a high tolerance for saying the same things over and over to a rowdy assemblage of peewee attention spans.

Owners need authority to lead

There’s no outgrowing the need for a leader who will define and drive a process forward, managing team contributions and assuming responsibility for successes and setbacks. The best-functioning companies name owners for every initiative they take on. These leaders take charge of decisions and offer direction to key stakeholders. They’re empowered by the executive team whether in their cohort or a level up to set goals, oversee communications, and collaborate to drive the initiative.

They are responsible, too, for measuring what matters. We work with initiative owners to guide employee engagement measurement processes so they make sense for where an organization stands — and where it wants to go. Whoever owns the project doesn’t just share engagement survey results but helps interpret them so that they can be used to design an effective engagement strategy.

This is the person who can absorb the slings and arrows of disgruntled colleagues with humility and turn missteps into victories. A thoughtful, analytical type who appreciates planning and especially data and values the people those things reach. It’s also a master collaborator who appreciates and encourages the unique strengths of others instrumental to the initiative. Someone who can build consensus and keep contributions energetically on track.

How do I identify my employee engagement owner? Glad you asked.

If you don’t already have a clear owner of employee engagement, it’s important to decide as a leadership team who is best positioned for heading up the effort and who’s likely to be most successful at getting things moving toward desired business outcomes.

We’ve found that too much gets lost when ownership isn’t clearly defined, or the owner doesn’t have the proper authority to make decisions. Good ideas drift away; efforts get repeated or go off course; goals get forgotten. Worse, when the splashy initiative that launched to tremendous enthusiasm becomes a lost opportunity, employee engagement plummets along with trust.

Running around the field willy-nilly isn’t cute for long.

Are you the owner of employee engagement for your company (or need some help figuring out who should be)? We can help. 

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