Book Review: The Truth About Employee Engagement

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Last night, I finished reading The Truth About Employee Engagement: A Fable About Addressing the Three Root Causes of Job Misery by Patrick Lencioni. Lencioni is also the author of the National Best-Seller The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (which I also read not long ago). I absolutely love Lencioni’s writing style and choice to provide business lessons within a fable format. It makes for an easy read and even easier to digest, remember, and discuss with others.

The Truth About Employee Engagement provides an interesting perspective through the eyes of a CEO, Brian Bailey, that is involved in several businesses through his career and even after retirement. Bailey’s character has a knack for engaging employees, thereby increasing productivity, morale, and an organization’s overall success. Unsure of whether his concept for employee engagement only applied to one business (a small Italian restaurant), he had the opportunity to test his theory again in his next job (at a large sporting goods chain).

His theory is a three-prong approach to explain job misery, which includes: anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement (the last, a term Lencioni coined).

  • Bailey believes that managers need to know who their employees are and Lencioni later gives an example of not just knowing that someone’s daughter is into ballet, but knowing that she had a recital last Friday and asking the employee how it went. Making a more personal connection is important to building trust and a strong relationship, in turn creating a more faithful and productive employee.
  • Next, employees need to know who their work impacts (not just that outer shell of what they provide whether it be a product or service), but also what that means to the customer. An example Lencioni provides is the night shift hotel room service attendant, and how the delivery of an item to a hotel guest not only provides that necessity to the guest, but also may play a part to relieve some stress they are facing during their travels. This may be a bit more challenging for employees that are not client-facing, yet those employees need to consider what they provide to their business partners, or as part of the organization, as their work typically lends towards the success of those on the front-lines.
  • Lastly, immeasurement, the term Lencioni mentions, relates to employees’ ability to measure their progress. While widgets are easily measured, there are other measurements that are more difficult to come by. When Bailey was working in the Italian restaurant, he had the drive-thru associate track the number of times he made a customer smile. There are often opportunities to use customer satisfaction surveys and qualitative customer feedback (360-degree feedback, comment cards, etc.) to measure results in instances where that is most appropriate. If employees can measure their work and help in identifying what those measurements should be, the level of interest in meeting or beating those metrics will increase.

Through Bailey’s experiences, his ability to decrease the levels of anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement within the organizations he worked provided a positive impact and a culture of engaged employees. I like that Lencioni included Bailey’s struggle to get buy-in from his leadership team while the CEO at the sporting goods chain, as I can see this being a challenge because employee engagement is often viewed as a soft skill that has little overall impact to the bottom line. Bailey proves otherwise, and what I like about that is the time it took for the change at the sporting goods store to impact revenue and help turn the store around. Another aspect I appreciated was when Bailey said everyone needed to be on board with integrating the three concepts or it would not work. It takes a village, and not just a couple people, to change the culture and make an impact.

One concern I have is how managers figure out the proper balance between all the responsibilities they have on their plates and incorporating these concepts. I agree that they are important, and believe it takes time and practice for managers to learn to balance them with everything else (and without it feeling like a check-the-box activity, which it should not be). As Bailey and Lencioni prove, there are many simple activities that managers can integrate into their day-to-day interactions to help decrease the elements of job misery among their employees.

Click here to purchase on Amazon!