Anne Thompson is a guest contributor covering the topic of culture and engagement in the workplace.

In my work with leaders, I often hear them grapple with these questions:  What really motivates people?  How do I tap into motivation to foster engagement?  Unraveling the mysteries of human motivation is important not only to the individual but to the leaders who are accountable for inspiring people to move to action.  In fact, the success of organizations frequently comes down to how well the organization understands and intentionally focuses on the motivation of its members.

Think of motivation as the internal energy we have that drives our actions.  When we are able to positively tap into that energy, we become engaged.  Research shows there are many benefits to a highly engaged workforce.  Organizations with highly engaged workforces show a three-year earnings growth that is three times higher than their peers’ average.  And highly engaged employees are 87 percent less likely to leave the organization.

Responsibility for creating a culture of engagement rests with both employees and leaders.  As an employee, it is our responsibility to know our needs, wants and motives, and tap in to those to become engaged.  As a leader, it is our responsibility to create a climate that engages positive motivation.  Here are 6 ways to cultivate engagement:

As an employee, there are several ways to increase our sense of engagement.  They include:

  • Managing your stressors. Feeling over-stressed can cripple our ability to access our internal energy reservoir.  Ask yourself:
    1. How can I limit my exposure to negative emotional states of feeling judged, out of control, incompetent or helpless? What different mindset can I hold?
    2. How can I maximize a positive emotional state and mindset that helps me feel valuable, respectful, hopeful and encouraged?
    3. What are my stress triggers? How can I build mindfulness practices into my day to help me notice my stressors and pause before responding?
  • Engaging your energy. Continue to get clear on your sources of motivation and share those with your leader.  Ask yourself:
    1. What does being in flow mean to me?
    2. What was the situation? Where was I? What was I working on? Who was I with?
    3. What were the critical factors that supported my ability to perform in this way? Consider skills, environment, leadership, tools, and collaboration.
    4. What does this tell me about my sources of intrinsic motivation?
    5. How might I increase the number of optimal “flow” experiences in my day and reduce the moments I feel disengaged or distracted?
  • Increasing your impact. Seek out work and responsibilities that help you learn new skills and grow your span of influence.  Ask yourself:
    1. What new experiences can I take on that stretch me and add value to the team or organization?
    2. What skills are important for me to develop for the future?
    3. What do I do that positively impacts the lives of others? What more can I do to positively affect someone else’s life?

Leaders and managers in organizations play a vital role in cultivating engagement.  According to research from Gallup, managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores.  However, C-Suite leaders play the pivotal role in setting the ground work for prioritizing and cultivating a culture of engagement.  Employee’s perceptions of culture emerge based on what the leaders say and do.  Leader’s behaviors shape the culture and behaviors that evoke fear dissolve or dissipate employee engagement.  Therefore, leaders need to pay close attention to their daily behaviors and the impact they are having on others.

As a leader, you can cultivate engagement by:

  • Fostering connection and a sense of belonging. One of our primary human needs is to feel a sense of belonging – to be seen, heard and accepted as a member of the group and to feel we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Behaviors to model include:
    1. finding ways every day to be visible and intentionally reaching out to those in the organization to listen and ask questions.
    2. consistently communicating the purpose of the organization and sharing stories of how we improved the lives of others and/or had a positive impact on the community.
    3. helping employees see how their unique contribution fits into the overall purpose of the organization and the impact they are having.
  • Providing clarity. Our brains crave the ability to predict.  When things feel too uncertain, the brain can quickly move into a fear-based threat space, pulling our energy away from engagement and moving to a place of protection. Leaders and managers must work to create a perception of certainly to help build confidence and engagement. Behaviors to model include:
    1. setting, sharing and reinforcing clear expectations for individuals. Clarity of expectations drives predictability, focus and engagement
    2. being open about what is happening in the organization and why – especially when things are changing. It is not enough to share the “what”.  Employees want to understand the “why”  and are more likely to positively engage in the change if they understand the motive
    3. being transparent about how decisions are made. Transparent practices are the foundation on which the perception of certainty rests
  • Encouraging autonomy. We all have the need to feel we have a degree of choice and freedom in our work. A sense of autonomy and acting with choice fuels engagement. Behaviors to model include:
    1. coaching team members to manage their own problem solving efforts by providing them the information and feedback they need to do this. This helps build their capacity to innovate and take calculated risks
    2. holding people accountable for their own performance by allowing them to experience the success or failure of their efforts. This promotes learning and improved performance.
    3. delegating authority to individuals and providing support, ideas and encouragement as needed. This reinforces a feeling of empowerment and responsibility.

I encourage you to take time to reflect on your degree of engagement and the extent to which you are cultivating a climate of engagement.  Then chose to take one small step forward to activate the energy of engagement within yourself and others.



Anne Thompson, Executive Coach and Leadership Development Consultant

Anne specializes in organizational behavior, team dynamics, emotional and social intelligence, leadership development and executive coaching. She has over 25 years’ experience in her field and has worked internally and externally for a wide range of organizations including Ford Motor Company, The Robert Bosch Corporation, Ivy Tech Community College, Butler University, The United Way, McGohan Brabender and Barton Malow.  She has a particular interest in understanding the brain’s role in learning, leadership and engagement and actively works to bring cutting edge, evidence based neuroleadership frameworks and perspectives to her clients to help them innovate, grow and adapt.

She also has a deep passion for supporting women.  She serves as the President for Rebellious Dreamer, a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide financial and mentoring support for women to reclaim their dreams.  And for the past 18 years, she has co-led a multitude of leadership development experiences for women to strengthen their well-being, emotional and social competence, influence and leadership impact.

Anne holds a Master in Organization Development from Bowling Green State University and accreditations in Brain Based Coaching through the NeuroLeadership Institute, the Emotional and Social Competence Inventory and the Myers’ Briggs Type Indicator.

Anne lives in Dublin with her husband, son and sweet pup Bailey. They love to travel and experience other cultures, having traveled to 6 continents and 30+ countries.  She is an avid reader of mystery novels, a dog lover, an advocate for women and Ohio State Buckeye fan.