The Difference Between Employee Satisfaction, Employee Engagement, and The Employee Experience

employee engagement and the employee experience
The difference between employee satisfaction, employee engagement, and the employee experience

What’s the difference between employee satisfaction, employee engagement, and the employee experience? All sound like they fit together, but all have key differentiators necessary to an organization’s success.

A well-known business proverb is that a client wants three things from a service provider:  quality, timely service, and good a price. The service provider typically responds in exasperation, “Pick two, because you can’t have all three.” As someone who is both a service provider and a person who hires them, I relate to both sides of the fence. Yet, I don’t think this advice holds true in all instances. Consider these three HR hot buttons:

  1. Employee Satisfaction
  2. Employee Engagement
  3. Employee Experience

In my view, there is no reason why HR leaders cannot deliver stellar results in all three areas, but it requires a clear understanding of how these areas differ and how they are related.

What is Employee Satisfaction? Are Employee’s Needs Being Met?

Let’s begin with Employee Satisfaction. Our definition is that Employee Satisfaction measures whether an employee’s needs are being met at work and how satisfied they are with their overall work experience. The focal point in Employee Satisfaction is on the employee’s individual feelings, positive or negative, about their employment relationship. Thus, Employee Satisfaction is subjective in nature and is internally-focused on an employee’s emotional state of happiness, which is often fleeting.

Download Your Employee Satisfaction Survey Sample

What is Employee Engagement? Do Employees Feel Committed?

Employee Engagement, on the other hand, goes beyond happiness or those temporary feelings of euphoria and is focused more on commitment.  While it still centers around emotions, the emotions at stake are lasting, and they provide direction and purpose.  My business partner, Dr. Tracy Maylett, has defined Employee Engagement, in my view, better than anyone else:

Download Your Employee Engagement Survey Sample

Employee Engagement is an emotional state where we feel passionate, energetic, and committed toward our work.  In turn, we fully invest our best selves – our hearts, spirits, minds, and hands – in the work we do.

The difference between employee satisfaction, employee engagement, and the employee experience

I like his definition because it demonstrates that Employee Engagement is focused on the potential of an employee’s emotional state as opposed to the mere nature and classification of the underlying emotions. His use of the terms “energetic,” “passionate,” and “committed” suggests that engagement is a powerful motivating force and that it compels a person towards positive contributions in the workplace.

There is also something else interesting about Employee Engagement and Employee Satisfaction that he has taught me: sometimes they do not overlap. In other words, engaged employees are occasionally unhappy, but they remain engaged because they are driven by values that are more important than mere contentment with one’s job. So, when dealing with engagement, it is important to address the drivers of engagement rather than working on satisfaction measures.

Perks address happiness, but they fall short in other key engagement themes, such as providing meaning or personal growth opportunities. This is one reason why perks such as Taco Tuesdays don’t drive engagement forward. Of course, engagement will decline over time if satisfaction isn’t present, but engagement is typically strong enough to overcome the traditional “bumps in the road.”

These definitions, however, do not explain how the measurement of an employee’s emotional state, whether in terms of satisfaction or engagement, relates to an organization’s Employee Experience. This is because they are not the same thing and cannot be compared on an apples-to-apples basis.

What is the Employee Experience? Are Employees Satisfied and Engaged?

Satisfaction and engagement are outcomes of the Employee Experience. What ultimately drives satisfaction and its more powerful cousin, engagement, is the Employee Experience that an organization’s leaders have either designed and built or haphazardly accepted along the way.

Download Your Employee Experience Survey Sample

Our definition of the Employee Experience (EX) is the following:

The Employee Experience is the sum of the various perceptions employees have about their interactions with the organization in which they work.

Distilled to its essence, EX is the organization’s cultural environment that produces those critical employee perceptions, which in turn drive engagement and satisfaction (whether good or bad).  A simple way of thinking about EX is that it answers the proverbial question, “What’s it like around here?” Imagine, if you will, a current employee explaining to a recently on-boarded recruit how things work in their department, including the current gossip and the well-trod stories from the past. That’s EX.

What Creates Employee Engagement and Satisfaction?

For years, we have fastidiously measured both satisfaction and engagement. We have even learned what themes drive engagement, but we never really stepped back and asked the following question: at a fundamental level, what actually creates these two emotional states – engagement and satisfaction. The answer? The Employee Experience.

Okay, so let’s go back to my premise that you can simultaneously improve Employee Satisfaction, Employee Engagement, and the Employee Experience. Again, I reiterate – the answer is yes!  You can build all three areas at the same time because it should be evident that you only need to focus on the one independent variable, which is EX. The other two are dependent variables, or outcomes, that ebb and flow on how well your organization’s EX is functioning.

The difference between employee satisfaction, employee engagement, and the employee experience

Of course, this is all fine and well from a theoretical standpoint, but where should a practitioner start? Unfortunately, there is no universal guide on how to build your EX – that’s like saying there is only one way to parent a child. Your EX depends on your organizations’ unique strengths, challenges, needs, and goals.

A simple thought experiment, however, might be of some use. Using my example from above, think about all the questions that might arise as a new employee asks a seasoned veteran for advice on “how things work around here.” What are some of the questions that might come up?

Questions That Might Arise About Your Employee Experience

To get your creative mojo flowing, here are some suggestions to prime the EX pump:

  • Is creativity rewarded around here?
  • Will my boss be mad at me if I make a suggestion?
  • Is there a well-defined chain of command?
  • How long before I must respond to an e-mail?
  • Is the customer always right?
  • Will I be thrown under the bus, and, if so, who’s most likely to do the throwing around here?
  • Will people steal my ideas and claim them as their own?
  • Is it better to come in at 9am and work to 9pm, or could I work from 6am to 6pm because I coach my kid’s soccer team?
  • Is it all about “face time?”
  • When do performance reviews take place?
  • Are performance reviews brutal, or do we not take them very seriously?
  • Is it more important to be on time to a meeting or to actually contribute in the meeting?
  • Is the dress code Dockers and polo shirts or jeans and flip-flops?
  • What if I swear?
  • What if I tell a joke?
  • What if I make a mistake?

Expectation Gaps and The Employee Experience

What is the common element to each of these questions? At their core, they all involve an expectation, whether by the employee or the organization. This observation suggests that a key to a successful EX is to align your employees’ expectations with the organization’s requirements that are crucial to helping the organization win.

You should realize by now that it will take some time to create your list. That’s because your list needs to be hundreds of questions long to be effective. So, keep a notebook handy, and jot down those questions whenever they come – even if it’s in the line at the dry cleaners. Be diligent, and be patient.

After a while you will see themes start to develop within your questions. As you categorize those themes, you will see those areas that need attention. These are those areas where your employees’ beliefs and what the organization expects are no longer aligned. We call these expectation gaps. The starting point in improving your EX is to close your expectation gaps.

Again, this is just the starting point. But, it’s a great place to get going! Don’t delay – things will stay the same or deteriorate if you don’t start focusing on your Employee Experience.  It’s rare, if not impossible, for positive organizational change to occur spontaneously.

For more information on how to build the right EX for your organization, consider reading our most recent book published by WILEY, The Employee Experience, How to Attract Talent, Retain Top Performers, and Drive Results (2017)

Podcast: Meet the Consultant – Chris Storey

In this episode, we sit down with DecisionWise Consultant, Chris Storey. We discuss his education, career, and approach towards engagement, consulting, and leadership.

Chris brings more than a decade of professional experience to DecisionWise and its clients. His expertise includes 11 years in training and development as well as organization strategy, data analytics, and curriculum design, with extensive experience in employee coaching. His natural passion for helping people succeed professionally and businesses to grow has only grown through the years.

Prior to joining DecisionWise Chris worked as Manager of Training at a world-renowned language and leadership training organization. In that role he hired and trained over a hundred employees and executed coaching and performance management for an internationally diverse team who trained up to 400 volunteers per year. He initiated a vision for culture change resulting in a 100% increase in compliance and client-side reports of vastly improved outcomes. He also devised a significant compensation restructuring for a 1,000-person division. As an instructional designer he created a training program addressing low-utilization rates for company-developed learning software, doubling user satisfaction. He also conceptualized a self-assessment tool, now used globally.

Additionally, Chris worked in the Analytics Group at doTERRA International where he redesigned the hiring process and helped create a statistical model for predicting employee attrition. Most recently he worked as an independent organization consultant for a non-profit in Baltimore.

Chris holds an MBA from Boston College with an emphasis in Data Analytics. He carried out consulting projects for Boston College and Wayfair utilizing advanced analytics techniques. He also earned learning certificates in R, SQL, and is fluent in Russian.

Infographic: The ROI of Employee Engagement in 2020

View the PDF of this Infographic

Employee engagement drives individual performance in an organization, but do companies with more engaged employees outperform those with a less-engaged workforce? Can the company show a stronger financial performance and operational efficiency with engaged employees?

Scholars, consultants, non-profits, and companies have been researching the ROI of employee engagement for quite some time. The correlative data revealed in their research initiatives is significant. View some of the findings in the infographic above.

Read our blog, “The ROI of Employee Engagement: Show Me the Money!” for more.

Podcast: How Focusing on Safety Can Improve the Employee Experience

In this podcast episode, DecisionWise President, Matthew Wride, discusses how focusing on not only the physical aspects of safety, but also the emotional and psychological aspects can greatly improve the employee experience.

Safety is something we typically consider a “satisfaction” element; meaning something that must be met on a basic level for most people to be satisfied with their jobs. But when you start to consider the emotional and psychological dimensions of safety, such as whether an individual can trust their employer, it plays into whether that individual feels engaged in their job.

As a manager, you should ask yourself, “How do I start building an environment where people feel safe?” It starts with openly setting expectations, modeling the behaviors that you want, and emphasizing that it’s something you’re going to watch for with every meeting and interaction.

The goal is for your employees to reach a point where they can say, “I feel heard” or “I feel understood.” If your employees are only telling you that everything is okay, it means they don’t feel comfortable bringing up concerns and you have a problem.

One company with a strong safety focus is Hugo Boss. They recently made changes to enhance safety, such as having employees switch tasks every two hours to avoid the injuries that come from performing repetitive tasks and burnout. They also looked at other health and wellness improvements, such as teaching yoga and mindfulness habits. These changes have resulted in a 0% injury rate and through the act of working on safety, the employees have felt cared for.

Learn more about these concepts and ideas on safety in this insightful conversation.

Do Your Company Values Drive Employee Engagement?

What does your company stand for?  Better yet, what do you—as an individual—stand for?  Identifying and understanding the values and beliefs that define you (or your company) is a critical step in solidifying personal or corporate branding.

To put it simply, company values define culture, and a company’s culture determines how employees act.  At DecisionWise, our team came together and defined our values—what we as a company, and as individuals, believe in and stand for.  Here’s what we came up with.

  • Vitality—Be alive; be strong.  We thrive on physical, intellectual, and emotional health and energy.
  • Authenticity—Be honest and real.  We share our true selves and expect others to do the same.
  • Drive—Own the outcome.  We embrace challenge and relentlessly deliver results.
  • Expertise—Know your stuff.  We achieve mastery in our work and are the recognized authority in what we do.
  • Care—Think beyond yourself.  We have genuine interest in our team, our clients, and the communities in which we live and work.
  • Family—Personal relationships matter.  We refuse to believe that work and personal life cannot coexist.

To reinforce these values, our recognition team developed an internal peer-to-peer reward program to catch people living our values.  At different times throughout the year each employee receives five tokens representing the values.

Having an internal recognition program with our core values at its foundation helps us all remember who we are and what we stand for and strengthens our engagement.  Being able to redeem the tokens we earn for prizes makes the program even more enjoyable.

Think about your company values.  What do you stand for?  What makes your company different from its competitors?  How do you measure success? Do your company values drive employee engagement?  If you already have a well-defined set of values in your organization, that’s fantastic!  Keep engaging your employees in a value-driven workplace.

Spencer Taylor, Christopher Storey, MBA, Join DecisionWise Consulting Team

SPRINGVILLE, UTAH, USA—Employee engagement consulting firm, DecisionWise, announced today the addition of Spencer Taylor and Christopher Storey to their team. Spencer joins the company as a Senior Consultant, and Chris joins as a Consultant. They are responsible for partnering with business leaders to build engaged employees by enhancing organizational, team, and individual effectiveness and capabilities.

Spencer brings a breadth of experience to DecisionWise and his clients. His expertise includes organization development, talent management, executive support, and strategy with a special love for change management and coaching leaders. His passion for this work has grown through 16 years in leadership roles where he learned first-hand the burden senior leaders carry as they work to align people to organizational goals.

Prior to joining DecisionWise, Spencer operated his own boutique consulting firm with an emphasis on helping organizations navigate change. Some of his accomplishments include designing and deploying customized change management experiences for American business leaders and developing a mastermind program for retail owners to increase profitability. In addition, Spencer has worked with DecisionWise in the past as an independent consultant where he coached over 130 leaders through the 360 debrief process. Spencer is also an 8-year US Army veteran where he worked as an intelligence analyst including 3 combat deployments overseas.

Spencer holds an MBA from Westminster College and a Lean Six Sigma Blackbelt certification from Villanova University. He is currently working toward a Certified Business Intelligence Analyst certification through Villanova.

“Spencer’s background in management consulting and his military experience make him a strong addition to our team. We are excited for the valuable insights he will bring to our clients.” comments DecisionWise VP of Consulting, Christian Nielson.


Chris brings more than a decade of professional experience to DecisionWise and its clients. His expertise includes 11 years in training and development as well as organization strategy, data analytics, and curriculum design, with extensive experience in employee coaching. His natural passion for helping people succeed professionally and businesses to grow has only grown through the years.

Prior to joining DecisionWise Chris worked as Manager of Training at a world-renowned language and leadership training organization. In that role he hired and trained over a hundred employees and executed coaching and performance management for an internationally diverse team who trained up to 400 volunteers per year. He initiated a vision for culture change resulting in a 100% increase in compliance and client-side reports of vastly improved outcomes. He also devised a significant compensation restructuring for a 1,000-person division. As an instructional designer he created a training program addressing low-utilization rates for company-developed learning software, doubling user satisfaction. He also conceptualized a self-assessment tool, now used globally.

Additionally, Chris worked in the Analytics Group at doTERRA International where he redesigned the hiring process and helped create a statistical model for predicting employee attrition. Most recently he worked as an independent organization consultant for a non-profit in Baltimore.

Chris holds an MBA from Boston College with an emphasis in Data Analytics. He carried out consulting projects for Boston College and Wayfair utilizing advanced analytics techniques. He also earned learning certificates in R, SQL, and is fluent in Russian.

“We are pleased to have Chris join the DecisionWise team. His strong background in talent development and learning will help our clients make their employee experience action plans more effective and robust,” comments DecisionWise President, Matthew Wride.

DecisionWise is an employee engagement firm specializing in employee engagement at the organizational, team, and employee levels. DecisionWise services include employee engagement surveys, multi-rater feedback assessments, leadership coaching, talent assessment, and organization development. With a primary mission to improve individuals and organizations by turning feedback into results, DecisionWise was founded in 1996, and is privately held. The company has corporate offices in the United States and dedicated affiliate partners throughout the world.

Media contact:
Justin Warner
Vice President of Marketing
+1 801 515 6500

Webinar: Debriefing 360-degree Feedback in 2020

a manager reviews his 360 degree feedback

Date: Wednesday, February 26, 2020
Time: 1:00 pm (Eastern)
Presenter: Dan Deka, Senior Consultant and Executive Coach
Cost: Free

During this webcast we’ll share the best methods for debriefing and coaching from the results of a 360-degree feedback survey. The course prepares HR professionals to coach individuals, interpret individual and group reports, and guide the development planning and follow-up with participants.

Podcast: Meet the Consultant – Spencer Taylor

In this episode, we sit down with DecisionWise Senior Consultant, Spencer Taylor. We discuss his education, career, and approach towards engagement, consulting, and leadership.

As a senior consultant at DecisionWise, Spencer partners with organizations to make data-driven decisions about employee engagement.

Prior to joining DecisionWise, Spencer worked as a Senior Intelligence Trainer with the U.S. Army. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management from Upper Iowa University and an MBA from Westminster College.

Setting Expectations and Employee Engagement

Manager Setting Expectations

Setting Expectations and Employee Engagement

Our DecisionWise consultants recorded a podcast where they shared their thoughts on how setting expectations leads to higher employee engagement. This blog post is a written transcript of that podcast.

Charles: Hello everyone and welcome to the DecisionWise Engaging People Podcast. My name is Charles Rogel. I’ll be moderating our session today, or trying to do my best, because today, we are doing something a little bit different. It is a consultant round table podcast. We have six of us in the room here today. Today’s topic is setting expectations that leads to higher employee engagement. So instead of me describing what we’re going to talk about, let me just open up the floor and have you all give your take on what you think this means and how it works in organizations. And then afterwards, we’re going to tackle this in two ways. We’re going to talk about what setting expectations looks like at the organization level and then what it looks like for managers and their teams. Any volunteers?

How Does Setting Expectations Work in Organizations?

Christian: Yeah, happy to start us off talking about expectations. I’d love to start just chatting about the difference between engagement and satisfaction. We start a lot of our conversations out that way. There’s certain elements in the workplace that drive engagement: meaningautonomygrowthimpact, and connection is our wonderful ENGAGEMENT MAGIC framework that we use with so many clients. But there’s some baseline requirements. Things that we would call satisfaction elements. And setting clear expectations or having clarity in our roles is a key element in that satisfaction landscape. We need to feel a sense of understanding of what success looks like, what our managers expect of us, and how we are expected to contribute to the organization and team success.

Dan: Yeah. And for me, part of why that’s so critical is, and we’ve said this before and we’ve heard it before for years and years, I don’t think people wake up in the morning and go to work and say, “Hmm, how can I go to work and not be successful?” They always want to be successful the majority of time, but they want to go to work and perform well, but they also want to know, to your point, what is the expectation so I can perform against that standard and then give me feedback on helping me understand if I’m achieving what that is. People love the feedback. So I’d hope at some point today, we do not only get into expectations, but that whole loop around, okay, if I’m not being satisfied and it’s inhibiting me being engaged, what are the missing components within that process, if you will, that would help me re-engage and be more. And I think it starts really at the beginning with managers taking the accountability of setting really clear expectations for whatever that is , whether it’s a project, or whatever it might be.

Best Practice

Show your team what success looks like with examples from your own team.

Beth: Yeah, I agree too, Dan. And I would add as a manager, I have had the opportunity to set expectations for people and I try to think of it as painting a picture. The more I can articulate different behaviors, define the competencies, however you want to say it, the more likely it is they’re going to be able to perform well. So I like to give people a lot of examples. If I see one person on the team doing it well, I like to highlight that so others can see what success looks like. Another thing is, I try to keep that top of mind. So in one to ones with people, I try to remind them about what we are aiming for, what that vision is, and help them see where they are meeting the expectation and where they’re not. I think you have to do that consistently or they’re not really going to know where they’re at and, like you said Dan, if they want to contribute, which most employees do, they want that feedback.

Charles: So let me transition here and kind of get the discussion turned towards what organizations can do to set clear expectations. There’s a couple of questions we use on our survey to measure this. One is, “I understand the vision and goals of this organization.” So when we ask employees that, are they clear on what the organization is trying to accomplish? And then the other question we ask a lot of organizations, and they typically don’t score well on this for employees, is “This organization communicates effectively with all employees about what’s going on.” And so from the senior leadership level or organization level, what does clear expectations mean? What does it look like when it’s working, not working, some best practices there?

What Does Setting Clear Expectations Look Like?

Dan: I’ll give you an example from early in my career, how I learned the importance of expectations, both from a managerial standpoint but also from an employee standpoint. So, I was on a team and my manager came to me in January or February and said, “Hey, we want to set some goals and initiatives for the year.” And we listed them out, and we talked about what it would look like, and we talked about resource allocation and funds and sequencing, the standard process. Well, in about February or March of that year, he came to me and said, “Hey, you know, we’ve pulled the funds for this project.” I’m like, okay, so I didn’t do anything on the project. Well, October, November came around and he said, “Hey, I’d like to get ready for you’re performance review. We list all your accomplishments and what you’re able to do and I’ll do the same thing and then let’s get together.” 

Best Practice

Outline clear behaviors and outcomes that will help the employee achieve an optimal performance level.

Well, when we got together, we were comparing our lists, and on his list was this project that we pulled the funds for. And he said, “I’m disappointed that this hasn’t been accomplished.” And I said, well, we pulled the funds. He’s like, “Well, my expectation was still that you had achieved the project.” I learned, at that point, the importance of the interaction between the managers and employees. Because shame on me for never checking in with my manager to see if I was delivering what he expected. Shame on him for never checking in with me over about an eighth month period of time and saying, “Hey, where are you on this project?” 

So to the point that we’ve been talking about, this front end being clear on the behaviors, the outcomes, not the tasks, we don’t want to constrain the autonomy, but being really clear in saying, here’s what it would look like for you to achieve this level of performance. And then back to the 50/50 proposition that we talked about there. There’s accountability for the organization or leaders to be setting those expectations and closing the loop with a feedback conversation. There is also accountability for the employees to go back if they’re not getting that feedback and if they’re uncertain they’re meeting those expectations and they’re feeling dissatisfied or they’re not fully engaged because they don’t know if they’re having the impact that they should, then it’s their obligation to go back and get it as well.


Talk about expectations throughout the year


leaders should clarify their expectations


Create expectations around a shared sense of direction

Christian: Yeah, I love that. And I love that you mentioned accountability in there. How can we hold anyone accountable to expectations that we haven’t set clearly, and even if we’ve set them, was it just during onboarding or did we talk about them continuously throughout the year? These are the expectations. This is how you’re doing. If we don’t have a standard that we’ve articulated and reinforced frequently, you can’t drive real accountability and there’s operational impacts there, but it drives engagement. If people are confused and don’t understand what success looks like, it’s not a pleasant situation for very long.

Dan, you talking about that experience that you had. I’ve been there. It limits the amount of, if we think of those engaging factors, how can I feel a sense of impact if I don’t understand what basic success looks like? The criteria. Thinking through the clients I’ve been working with recently, I had one where we saw that at the manager level, we didn’t have the team accountability, but it came from the top. There was a lack of clarity at the top and clarity needs to flow from the beginning. 

That item you mentioned Charles around, “I understand the mission, vision, and values of the organization.” We also have another one that they’re important to me personally. If those aren’t in place, it can be because we’re not communicating them effectively or it could be we’re not aligned. We don’t have a shared sense of direction. And so we don’t know where we’re going as an organization. It’s very hard for front-line managers to drive that expectation and clarity and accountability, and it impacts the employee experience, it drives low satisfaction and certainly low engagement.

Stephen: Along that line, I’ve seen a lot of success with the practical recommendation of organizations having regular one-on-ones between their managers and their employees. And there’s a certain maturity to those one-to-one meetings where they often start off as status updates, where managers and employees can get aligned on where things are at with workload and the projects that those employees have. 

But as they progress, they turn into more conversations about that employee’s growth and how they’re stepping into the job role at a broader perspective and really growing and meeting some of those expectations for long-term development. 

And then it’s also a fantastic opportunity for those managers to provide regular feedback to their employees, create some of those accountability touch points so that it is very clear all throughout the year where employees are meeting expectations and where they’re falling short of those expectations.

Beth: From an organizational perspective, I think this starts from the very beginning. I’ve worked a lot in high-tech, and I’ve seen that high-tech companies like to paint this picture that their workplace is really cool. It’s laid back. They have ping pong tables and cereal bars. They pick up your dry cleaning at your desk, massages at your desk. I mean all these things. So people have this expectation that it’s going to be like that and life’s going to be great. And a lot of times these tech companies work people like dogs, right? And so people start to feel like, “Oh, you’re doing all those things because you don’t want me to leave my desk. You want me to have no work-life balance. And I thought this was going to be a better life!” 

So I think this is an example of where there’s conflict. When you’ve set expectations that you don’t meet, there’s conflict. And that erodes trust. And trust is critical in employee engagement. So we have to think as organizations, about what kind of picture we want to paint and if we can live up to that. The more authentic and real you can be from the beginning, the more likely it is you’re going to be able to keep people engaged.  

Best Practice

Don't set expectations you can't meet: this erodes trust and creates conflict.

Dan: Yeah, and that’s a great example of what I mean by the 50/50 proposition. Even in the talent acquisition process and at the very beginning, if an organization describes, “Hey, we work 15 hours a day, but we’re going to bring you free breakfast, free lunch, and we’re going to have an onsite dry cleaning and we’re going to have oil changes and all this on site,” it gives the autonomy, which is what we think of ENGAGEMENT MAGIC. It gives the autonomy back to the person to decide for themselves if they want to opt in for that. If they know they’re going to be working until one o’clock in the morning and that’s what they enjoy, great. Go do it. 

Being clear on the expectations of the organizational context, the manager context, the team context is all critical with an alignment of understanding what’s going on inside of the organization.

Best Practice

Give people a time frame so that they can keep their energy up, rally around the goal, plan, and see the end goal in sight.

Charles: I’ll add to this. In terms of the organization level. I see some organizations where they’re really unclear on their strategy, their goals that they wanna accomplish during the year, or they shift too often. So employees have a tough time getting their heads around where we’re going as an organization. And to your point, Dan, you made earlier, if there’s budget cuts, that has a huge ripple effect because that changes everyone’s plans and how they implement or execute those plans throughout the year. 

One company I saw that did this really well, they’re a water bottling company, and they had a very clear goal to reduce the cost of one package, a case of bottled water by 26 cents. And that was a very clear goal that everyone could get around. Everyone understood what that meant. They could translate that into the amount of work it took them and their specific job to kind of develop or produce a case of water. And they’re actually able to accomplish that in one year. And so having one clear goal that everyone can rally around and easily translates to different people works very well.

Another company I’m working with, they’ve done a good job. They had a fire at one of their buildings. So immediately cut production back by 50%. They were able to recover and get about 80% of the production back just in the one facility they had by implementing additional shifts, and they got all their employees kind of rallied around that. The struggle they’re having though now is that, “When is this going to end? When is the new building going to be up?” 

And so setting expectations, giving people kind of a time frame so they can plan to it, and allowing them to see the light at the end of the tunnel helps to set those expectations and keep the energy up so people can really rally around the goal.

Dan: Like Beth, having come from the software world, I was in a division that was creating a new product every year, and if we didn’t create a new one every year, then we would be destroyed by the competition. But they knew the ebbs and flows in the business. So, at the beginning of the year was product engineering and product development, and then they were working tons of hours. That would kind of ramp down, and then all of a sudden it was sales and customer support. And that would ramp up until the end of the season, and it was cyclical. 

And so to your point, if we can manage and have a window to look forward to versus, “Hey, when is this ever going to end?” It gives us the opportunity to manage those expectations personally so that we can give our best performance over a sustained period of time.

Charles: Is there anything else you want to share about the organization’s responsibility and setting expectations before we talk about manager expectations?

Christian: No, I’ve really enjoyed the conversation because it’s shifted my thinking a little bit, because in terms of expectations, I’m thinking through the clarity of vision of where we’re headed, how we’re measuring our success and cascading that down to the manager’s field. But there’s also the other side of expectation that’s been brought up, which is wonderful, around what expectation we are setting for our employee experience and how are we measuring against that. So, it’s an interesting angle on expectations that I wasn’t necessarily expecting to talk about here. My expectations have been adjusted. But you know, if we think really broadly, the employee experience is really shaped on what expectations employees have going in.

Dan: You know, because it’s so tightly connected with impact. And we know from our surveys, meaning and impact are two very high dimensions. So if I know that I’m being successful, I know that, and I’m getting feedback from my manager and being recognized for that and I’m meeting or exceeding those expectations. It creates that emotional state, and how we describe engagement, my emotional state increases, which then says I want to give additional discretionary effort because I know that I’m doing my best work and it’s hitting the mark that can be very, very energizing.

Manager directing meeting

Survey Questions to Help Measure Managers

Charles: Some of the ways we try to measure if managers are setting clear expectations with their employees in our employee surveys. A couple of questions here. One is, “My supervisor gives me ongoing feedback about my performance.” Stephen, you touched on this in terms of the importance of one-on-ones on a regular basis. Another one is, “My supervisor helps me align my own goals with the work that I do.” And then a third one, “The people I work with (at the team level) take accountability for results.” And the fourth one I throw in here is just about getting regular recognition, for the work that you’re doing. So any of those topics that you want to address in terms of how it ties into managers setting clear expectations?

Helping Managers Set Expectations

Christian: You know a lot of managers are promoted because they were great individual contributors. We can talk about this aspect of advancement in almost every one of these round table conversations, but just because we’re promoted, just because we’re super doers or amazing rock star individual contributors, it doesn’t necessarily mean we are promoted because we know how to manage a team, how to set clear expectations. And so part of that is, I think we need to help clarify that a key component of a manager’s role is setting clear success expectations. And that can be in terms of internal training as well as just the conversation when someone is promoted, but we also need to train them to see what that looks like. 

We need to tell them, “Yes, this is a key part of your job now, to set clear expectations for your team and here’s how you do that. Here’s what that looks like.”

And even if we’ve been managing for many years in different capacities, it probably wouldn’t hurt us all, myself included, to get a refresher on setting clear expectations. But I think sometimes, we just don’t tell managers, “This is a big part of your job, and here’s what success looks like.” We don’t set that expectation for managers.

Dan: And I think we sub-optimize that by only having an expectation, if you will, of setting expectations at the beginning of the process. It’s sub-optimized when we don’t do the full closed loop of wrapping that up with some type of meaningful conversation that helps me understand if I’m delivering against those expectations. 

Another quick example. I had a new employee, she had just transferred in from operations into HR, wanted a career in HR. And she was learning very, very quickly and doing just a really great job. And I’m in the elevator with the division president and she’s like, “So how is so-and-so doing?” I said, “She’s doing great.” She replied,”Have you told her?” And it was one of those learning moments of, “No. I haven’t.” 

So, expectations are so intertwined with not only setting an individual up for success, but also having a standard of closing that loop on the back end so that the expectations are clear and then reinforce when we see them. And it can be as simple as, “Hey just want to let you know you’re on track.” 

Beth: Yeah, I have to jump in here. I completely agree with that, and I’m glad you’re saying recognizing it informally as well as formally. I think a lot of times managers think about the performance appraisal process and that they need to do this at the end of the year: that’s closing the loop to a lot of managers. What I’ve found, is the more frequently you can give it [feedback], the better. And doing it in the moment when it’s close to the behavior is more likely to reinforce it. Also, I worked a little bit with the university of Michigan and they’ve done some great research on positive reinforcement, and you need to say five times more positive things to keep the relationship net positive. And if you start tracking, I’ve tried to do that. It’s difficult to be recognizing people that much. We think positive things, but we don’t always take the time to articulate them.

Thomas: There’s also that aspect of the manager setting expectations for themselves. So saying, “Hey, here’s what you can expect of me.” Have a conversation about what the manager expects of the employee, and tell the employee what they can expect from the manager. You know, we’re going to meet one on one every week, and here’s some of those things. So it goes both ways, it’s not just a one-way relationship. I think that’s important as well.

Charles: All right, well thanks everyone. Thanks consultants at our round table today. Thanks everyone for joining us and we look forward to having you join us on a future episode.

Podcast: Employee Engagement Best Practices in 2020

One question to consider as you think about whether to put effort and investment into employee engagement: “Is engagement worth the effort and investment we put into it?” The short answer to this question is “yes,” but depending on the type of organization you are, engagement may be more critical or less critical to your success.

During this podcast we’ll share the best methods for preparing, administering, and rolling out the results from your employee engagement survey based on over 20 years of experience conducting surveys around the world. We’ll also identify the most common mistakes organizations make when conducting an employee engagement survey and how to avoid them.

The audio from this podcast is taken from a recent webinar presented by David Long.