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Balakarthik Venkataramanan
February 14, 2017

Driving your employee engagement. What do you think?

Screenshot 2017-02-14 21.41.52.pngA decade after the dot com bubble burst and just a little while after the announcement of Lehman Brother’s collapse, the employee behavior research groups started getting traction and recognition from corporate America on the impact the dis-engaged workforce had on the overall organization and the industry as a whole. The mood was to move away from the conventional “How do we keep the employees satisfied?” to “How do we keep the employees engaged?”. And of course, it’s common sense that an engaged workforce is the pillar for any organization’s success.

For starters, if you are wondering..what is the difference between ‘Satisfaction’ & ‘Engagement’:


A few years back, I had an opportunity to be a part of the core team that was involved in implementing a large scale employee engagement initiative. We partnered with Gallup who have set an excellent standard for employee engagement improvement through the Q12 framework

(Gallup’s Q12 Employee engagement framework details

It was an extensive framework with a structured survey methodology, I was thrilled with the amount of insight the framework provided and specific areas of opportunities that it pointed out as gaps of engagement in the organization for leadership to address.

But at the end of the day, it’s your individual people manager’s ability to drive her/his direct team’s engagement on a day to day basis which has the highest impact on any employee’s engagement level. My struggle for a long time has been to articulate where should a manager/leader start their engagement journey with their team. I could coach the managers/leaders on the overall engagement strategy, the impact and the need but helping them get a quick and effective starting point was a challenge. The “AHA” moment that helped me overcome that struggle was a couple of years back when I came across a snippet on “What are the four most important words for a leader?” at

The four most important words as quoted by Dave Wheeler at are:

whatthinkcartoon“What do you think?”

When you sit back and think about it, WOW!! It is such a powerful question. Just four words but the meaning and the interpretation for an employee coming from a leader can be very deep. What is the underlying message that is being sent behind these four words? What does this question mean to an employee, coming from a leader? How does an employee interpret these 4 words?  What message is a leader trying to send by asking this question to their employees?

It’s amazing that 4 simple words can send such a powerful message. Below is just a high level list of the different engaging interpretations of these 4 words and the list is not complete.

  1. “I value your opinion”
  2. “It’s not about me but it’s about us”
  3. “I don’t have all the answers, we have to figure it out together”
  4. “We are peers in problem solving”
  5. “You are a part of the problem solving and not just an executor of my ideas”
  6. “I want to hear your ideas”
  7. “You are an integral part of my team”
  8. “You have a voice in decisions that impact your work”
  9. “You are empowered”
  10. “Your ideas count”

Personally, this has transformed the way I engage my peers, stakeholders and above all my employees. Forcing a habit to use these 4 words in every single interaction (literally) with your team, peers & stakeholders will enable you to establish empowerment and engagement at the core of your leadership style.

In the journey of employee engagement in organizations nothing is more powerful than these 4 words and the difference it can bring to you, your team and your organization. Try it out!

So, “What do you think?”

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