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How to Build a Team With Dedication: The Five Best Books on Employee Engagement
Have you ever been called an “asset” or a “commodity” by human resources during an onboarding session? Surely, they lost you at hello.
Once employees figure out the organization sees them as “just a number” (right alongside equipment and other assets on the balance sheet), they start to behave like one. They deliver a perfunctory job performance, showing up late every morning, sneaking away for long lunches, then leaving the cubicle just as the clock strikes six to head out to the karaoke bar, where their first song is “Take This Job and Shove It.”
This certainly isn’t the path a successful company pursues.
Rather, when an astute company celebrates a significant milestone, it doesn’t sit back on its laurels, eating cake and drinking champagne. The leadership is quick to acknowledge where the success originated. It started with talented people who saw a mission or movement they wanted to be a part of. And so they gave their jobs their all.
Most HR executives and CEOs understand this. They don’t need to be sold on why employee engagement is integral to success. It’s in the “how” where most find themselves stuck.
They have a talented staff, plus a product and mission that people could get behind. And so why do they have meetings where half the attendees stare at their phones? Why do they receive one and two star reviews on Glassdoor?
The experts have insightful answers to these questions, plus all sorts of hacks for turning an apathetic workforce into an inspired one. Let’s peek inside some of the best books on employee engagement. Chances are, we’ll discover some pearls of wisdom to help build a company of dedicated, engaged employees.
The Seventh Level: Transform Your Business Through Meaningful Engagement With Your Customers and Employees by Amanda Slavin
Publisher: Lioncrest Publishing
Year Published: 2019
Number of Pages: 254
Did you ever wait in line overnight for the release of a Harry Potter book back when they were all the rage? Or do you ever drive all the way across town to your favorite smoothie bar, where the staff is super-friendly and the atmosphere is upbeat?
This is the sort of devotion Amanda Slavin writes about in her book, The Seventh Level. It’s a “beyond visceral” attachment we develop to a place, product or experience.
“We all go through life striving for meaningful connections. But that doesn’t always have to mean connection with a person. Sometimes the most meaningful connections in our lives are with a job, or experience, or piece of art, or a brand.”
Slavin points out that people don’t want to be sold to in the traditional sense. The Seventh Level describes how to engage with employees and customers in the new marketing framework. Marketing now is about making deep connections with customers and having them rave about you.
“We want our employees and customers to be our brand advocates, carrying our flag proudly and waving it in the air; we want them to care because we’ve inspired them, not because we’ve told them that they should.”
Employees are “internal customers” in Slavin’s view, and they’re looking for employers who provide them with a sense of purpose and a balanced life, not just a salary and status.
Slavin defines engagement as “authentic, meaningful human connection that leads to the granting of time and attention.”
In her book, she presents a framework for scaling engagement. The framework has seven levels, beginning with “Disengagement” and traversing through “Systematic Engagement” and “Self-Regulated Interest” and ending with the Seventh Level, “Literate.”
She acknowledges that metrics are useful in the process of scaling, but points out that you need to look at the right metrics. Likes and followers aren’t necessarily a measure of deep engagement.
“Literate” or “Seventh Level” engagement “is focused on delighting, inspiring and empowering your audience. These levels of engagement occur when your message meaningfully aligns with your audience’s personal values and beliefs, allowing you to transition them from customers to brand loyalists.”
Slavin has worked with Coca Cola and WeWork. She is also the founder and CEO of the consulting firm, CatalystCreativ.
Readers have found her book refreshingly simple, with great anecdotes and a clear message about meaningful connections.
Win the Heart: How to Create a Culture of Full Engagement by Mark Miller
Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers
Year Published: 2019
Number of Pages: 161
Do you like a fast-paced story with colorful characters and snappy dialogue?
Win the Heart feels like you’re reading a paperback from one of those stands at the grocery store. And you’re learning about employee engagement at the same time!
Mark Miller’s 160 page “novel” tells the story of Blake, the CEO of a team he’s sadly discovered has lost interest in the company. His employees come to work to receive a paycheck, but beyond that don’t care much about thee job at all.
Miller weaves his philosophy on employee engagement into the adventures and misadventures of Blake, his wife Megan and the rest of the gang. Miller believes in a “top-down, trickle down” approach to employee engagement. In the book, Blake realizes that “the malaise that had now overcome his organization was a direct consequence of his choices as a leader.”
It’s the perfect read for a boss wanting to learn how to foster a more engaged employee base.
In order to drive his main points home, Miller inserts text boxes throughout the book, with lessons such as: “If people see their work as just a job, why would they bring their full, best self to work?”
Win the Heart is the third in a series of books Miller had written that draw on lessons he learned during his career at Chick-fil-A, where he started working as an hourly employee in the 70s. From there, he worked his way into leadership positions within several departments.
Although some readers don’t agree with Miller’s top-down approach to employee engagement, many enjoy following the characters through the series.
Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Mastering Employee Engagement by Tim Eisenhauer
Publisher: Resultris Publishing
Year Published: 2018
Number of Pages: 239
At the beginning of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You, author Tim Eisenhauer defines “job” as “drudgery…doing something you don’t care about…something done against one’s will for the sake of a paycheck.”
He finds that employees’ default position is to loathe their jobs and to disengage. The leader is responsible for creating an environment where people want to be.
“People are already wired to work with passion if…their work environment calls for it. Who is responsible for your employers’ work environment? That’s right, you are.”
This book is for someone leading a team of employees who have quit their jobs emotionally, even though they keep showing up for work. It provides “hacks” to increase engagement, and also explains the principles behind the hacks.
Who the Hell is written in 3 parts: Empower the Individual, Empower the Relationship and Empower the Culture. It covers 23 work principles that apply to every work environment. The principles include: “Let Go of Your Inner Micromanager,” “Reward Like a King” and “Give Them a Break.”
As one might suspect from the title, Eisenhauer is a funny guy. After dropping out of college and working for a stint as an electrician, he writes that he “suddenly rediscovered the joy of higher learning. It happened at the exact moment when my foreman told me to plunge into a six-foot-deep mud hole and pull wires.”
The book also facetiously expands on the title’s reference to hell. For example, the heading for the introduction reads: “When You Get to the Bottom of It.”
Readers say the funny stories and personal anecdotes make Who the Hell a quick read. It’s also been helpful for human resource employees, as it provides technological solutions on establishing connections in the digital age.
Eisenhauer gained his knowledge on employee engagement from working as a leader. He is the president and co-founder of Axero, a social intranet and collaboration platform.
Build It: The Rebel Playbook for World-Class Employee Engagement by Debra Corey and Glenn Elliot
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Year Published: 2018
Number of Pages: 272
Debra Cory and Glenn Elliot dedicate their book, Build It, “To the rebels, the misfits, the troublemakers. Let’s make the world a better place to work.”
Then, with compelling evidence, they make the claim that companies with high employee engagement have a competitive advantage over a disengaged workforce. Employee engagement leads to low turnover, excellent customer service and cutting-edge innovation.
Their book is a “how-to” on building employee engagement. But it won’t happen easily, they forecast.
“You will have to rebel against the standard practice—the status quo has failed and rebelling is the only way to make a difference.”
“To fix company culture and allow people to choose engagement, we don’t need fancy initiatives around the edges; we need to fundamentally change how we treat the people who work for us.”
Build It is a “how-to” on improving employee engagement. Corey and Elliot present their “Engagement Bridge,” a model with ten elements that shows where to look within a company and what levers to pull in order to boost engagement. They point out that it is not a one-and-done task. Rather, engagement is achieved in degrees.
The book receives an A+ for its layout and organization. They provide an “Alphabetical List of Plays” before the first chapter, which lists all the companies referenced in graphs and cast studies throughout the book. The list includes The Gap, Hershey Company, HSBC and Southwest Airlines.
They also bullet the learning objectives and key points at the beginning of each chapter.
The chapters cover things like “Understanding Employee Engagement,” “Leadership,” “Pay and Benefits,” and all of them include clear headings and easy-to-understand graphs.
This organization makes it easy to grasp key concepts right away, and the book has received strong reviews for its content and readability.
Both authors take a practical “We’ve been there” approach to employee engagement. Glenn Elliot began his career as a software engineer, and later founded Reward Gateway. Debra Corey spent 30 years as an executive in HR and has written four books, including, Appreciate It: The Playbook for Employee Recognition.
The Employee Experience: How to Attract Talent, Retain Top Performers, and Drive Results by Tracy Maylett, EdD and Matthew Wride, JD
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons Inc.
Year Published: 2017
Number of Pages: 241
Normally, when you pick up a book written by two academics, you’d expect dense writing with way too many big words and lengthy examples taken mostly from research labs, not the real word.
Tracy Maylett, EdD and Matthew Wride, JD defy the odds with The Employee Experience. It’s funny and easy to read, with tons of “learned-on-the-job” insights.
Maylett and Wride believe we’re entering into a new era with organizations, one in which employee experience is part and parcel to success. AirBnb has even created a position for employee experience: The Global Head of Employee Experience. It’s the first company to do so, they write.
They describe employee experience (EX) as a “band of brothers” feeling amongst a team, where values and expectations are aligned.
“Every important business outcome lies downstream from the experience and engagement of the people who make the organization go….success does not begin with a spreadsheet, a slogan or even a piece of game-changing technology. Success begins and ends with human beings.”
This book is the perfect companion to their 2014 book, Magic: Five Key to Unlock the Power of Employee Engagement. Whereas Magic provides the “what” of EX, The Employee Experience explains the “how” of it.
Both authors are academics. Maylett earned a PhD in organizational change, and Write has a JD and a Masters degree. They co-run Decision Wise, where they advise companies on employee engagement.
All the experts agree. Hiring talent is only half the battle. Maybe even only a third. The other portion is passion. Employee engagement is a key ingredient to an innovative and productive organization.
When building employee engagement, you need the right foundation. The first step is to look at your underlying assumptions around employees. Are they treated like autonomous adults or like “things” the company has acquired?
And the second step is about tactics. Each author has his or her distinctive approach and method to building employee engagement. Which book resonates the most with you?