Leadership Strategies That Increase Employee Engagement

Ted Ma

Everyone knows that employee engagement is the key to a company's success - but just knowing that fact doesn't make it any easier to inspire engagement within your team! Our guest for this week's ProjectHR is Ted Ma, a leadership expert and speaker with over 17 years experience in leading teams and developing leaders. He’ll also be serving as the keynote speaker at the Spring 2020 CUE conference. In this episode, he'll explain:

  • If a leader can compel engagement;
  • How to get buy-in from other leaders;
  • The role of mentorship; and
  • Three actionable steps you can use to improve engagement.

This episode also includes a short interview with Anne Cooper, Interim Director of CUE, who will tell us about CUE's move online for this year's Spring CUE Conference!

Ted Ma


“For us as leaders, it’s not just about engaging others, but it’s about being the example that inspires the engagement in others, it’s about intentionally empowering those on our team and developing new leaders.” 

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Compelling Engagement

  • You can’t compel someone to feel engaged in their work, however you can create an environment that is conducive for employees being engaged.
  • “The responsibility is on us to say - what are the things that lead to engagement? What are the things that can inspire, encourage and motivate people to perform up to their potential? What are we doing to work with them specifically as individuals to identify what their goals, their needs and their aspirations are and how can that fit into the overall plan and vision that we have?”


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Who Is Responsible?

  • Employee engagement is the responsibility for anyone in a leadership role. 
  • It’s about collaboration, a shared responsibility. 

Getting Buy-In From Other Leaders

  • Begin with an awareness of the problem: the need for change;
  • Start with yourself. What can you do to focus on the solution and not the problem?
  • Whose support can you elicit? Who can you work with that can be a change agent? 
  • Bringing others into the fold allows you to exponentially increase the creation of ideas, strategy and execution of those ideas and strategies.

Getting A Baseline

  • How can we improve something if we don’t know where we’re at? We can’t grow something we haven’t measured.
  • Baselines help us determine where we want to grow, where we have deficiencies, and help us set benchmarks along the way.

Individual Engagement Efforts vs. Group Engagement Efforts

  • Individual efforts can make a difference, and can create short-term change, but to see long-term, sustainable change, you’ll need to get buy-in from others.
  • Regardless of your approach, focus on small, incremental improvements, the compound effect will kick in. 
  • It’s a fine balance: push the growth too fast and you put unrealistic pressure on you and your team, and you set yourself up for failure. Don’t push hard enough and you’ll never reach your goal, or place it too far off in the future to be inspiring. Find the happy medium that will challenge and inspire yourself and your teams, but remain realistic in it’s achievability. 

How to Improve Engagement

  • Develop a Culture of Appreciation  - Sincerely celebrate your team for the work they do. Do it frequently -- once a month, once a week, make it a consistent effort. Specificity in praise is ideal -- be specific in the behavior you want to see repeated!
  • Have a Development Plan for Empowering Other Leaders - Employees are looking for meaning in their work, they are hoping to develop their skills and careers. Having a plan in place can help employees picture their future at the company. 
  • Feedback - Make sure you are generous with your feedback -- both in giving it AND receiving it. Again, this should happen not once a quarter or once a year, but on an ongoing basis.

Advocacy is Key

What Happens With A Wrong Fit?

  • Retention and hiring are symbiotic: if an original hire isn’t a fit, all the engagement efforts in the world will not make an impact.
  • Often, the right attitude can be more important than skills!

The Role of Mentorship

  • Training and mentorship is essential to encouraging engagement.
  • “As long as you're green you're growing, as soon as you're ripe you start to rot.” Ray Kroc, Grinding It Out: The Making of McDonald’s
  • How do people feel after they talk to you? People should leave the conversation feeling better about themselves. Having tact, being sensitive and empathetic is a critical part of mentorship. 
  • Avoid a scarcity mindset: if you train people to be as good or better than you, it opens new opportunities for YOU to ascend!
  • Have a growth plan in mind for the people that you are training/mentoring, and explain it to your mentee. Don’t just tell them what they need to do, tell them why. That gives them more purpose and meaning behind the work.

Talking About Engagement

  • It’s good to talk about engagement with employees, so long as it’s not presented as a performance objective.
  • It should be a topic leaders approach with curiosity - “Hey, what can I do to better support you?” “Are there resources you need, or some blindspot that I’m not seeing that would help you and your co-workers succeed, because I know you see things I don’t see.” 
  • The concept should be that of going on a journey together!

The Kind of Leaders (And Co-Workers!) Who Inspire You To Do Your Best

  • “For us as leaders, it’s not just about engaging others, but it’s about being the example that inspires the engagement in others, it’s about intentionally empowering those on our team and developing new leaders.”
  • Creating a culture of engagement comes from leaders, but it can also from engaged employees. That joy and enthusiasm that people can bring to their jobs can infect the people around them with positivity.

Ted Ma: Backstory

  • B.S. in Entrepreneurship/Business Management from San Francisco State University

  • Served as Executive Director for LegalShield Mr. Ma has been a professional Keynote Speaker for over 17 years. 


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