Engagement, Extrication, & Light Saber Leadership

Methods of Listening through Engagement

It seems like everyone these days is talking about engagement. Whether it’s employee engagement, customer engagement, client engagement, or candidate engagement.  In our Conversation Culture series, I focus specifically on workplace culture and engagement because things impact your customer, client, employees, candidates, and even social media.

Companies like Zappos create an engaging workplace culture to draw candidates and customers in.  Tony Heish’s use of paying new employees to leave his organization is seen as a risky engagement tool by many.   Imagine all the headaches that could be avoided if provided new disengaged workers opportunity to leave the workplace before they interacted with our customers, and we spent the time training them.

The Extrication Process

The process that Zappos employs is called extrication.  Eliminating and removing those unhappy, miserable, and organizational cancer causing employees before the cancer spreads.  Some companies unlike Zappos wait months or even years before the extrication process begins.  Sometimes dragging their feet or providing their disengaged workers stellar employee performance reviews only weeks later requesting their removal from the throes of the organizational culture.  And without documentation or conversation.

I know what you are saying.  The interview and hiring process must be flawed.  How can we let our leaders hire disengaged and disenchanted employees in the first place? (a topic for another day)

Keeping Employees Engaged

Engagement on the other hand encourages conversation.  Defined as the act or state of being engaged.  It is also referred to a promise or agreement.  Engagement is a state to which one can fall in and out of.  Similar to love except divorce is a much more messy process unless your extrication results in a big fat lawsuit.

Engagement can happen a number of different ways to promote a Conversation Culture.  And conversation involves an engagement.  While talk may be cheap, the real magic of engagement isn’t talking, it’s listening through a variety of methods.

  • One on Ones. Individual meetings with your team members to talk about projects, the job, results, and life.  One on Ones are a two way conversation where the employee controls most of the topic selection allowing for brainstorming, developing a relationship, and creating a sense of involvement.
  • Skip Level Meetings. These are meetings where upper level management meets with their manager’s employees just to touch base.  Effective Skip Level Meetings are a small manageable size focused on a particular topic.  This should scheduled at regular intervals and involve an employee base selected at random.  (I recommend using an online random number generatorwith your employee roster corresponding to numbers.  Use an Excel spreadsheet. )
  • Town Halls. Groups of employee populations with the purposes to generate discussion either around an assigned or random topic.  These are a great way to get the pulse on a location.  The meeting allows for ground rules or respecting others, be open, and solution focused.  Actionable items should be followed up with the corresponding attendees so that you can demonstrate progress.
  • Employee Committees. Let your employee population become your marketing team.  Get them involved in an employee committee lead by their peers focused on something like actionables from the employee survey or a group focused on the company culture.  The committee is volunteer/hand selected.  They can help be the champions for Conversation Culture.  Past committees have presented location initiatives like flexible scheduling, the need for a wii in the breakroom, or moving the management team to the cubicle floor.

Not sure that engagement works?  Consider companies like Rackspace and the Conversation Culture strategies they employ.  Visit their Racker Blog to learn more and check out a video of the workplace culture an impromptu Light Saber Flashmob below.

May the force be with you…

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.

Reader Interactions


  1. carmen says

    Came across something from the Corporate Leadership Council the other day that echos what you’ve stated in your article. I’ll paraphrase:
    Employee engagement starts with your leaders. Engage your employees emotionally to get them to perform outside of their job description. This creates an emotional commitment (rather than a rational commitment) which drives effort. Employees that are emotionally committed are 4 times as valuable as rationally committed employees in producing “discretionary” effort.

    So. Very. True.


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