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7 Tips to Improve Employee Engagement

Listening to employees and breaking down bureaucracies are among the most effective ways to improve engagement and empowerment, according to a recent management competition.
Results of the ‘beyond bureaucracy’ challenge to find innovative ways to engage employees have been published on the website of the large global management consulting firm McKinsey.
Managers were asked to describe practices that better engaged their employees, empowered them to manage themselves, or provided a perspective on the organisation from the outside in. A panel of experts chose seven winners from a field of 106 entries. The following is a summary of the practices of the seven winning entries.

Letting employees choose their next work assignments

Managers of a product team at Microsoft allowed employees to choose their next work assignments, instead of having assignments allocated by managers. Further, the managers had to ‘pitch’ the assignments to employees, allowing them to evaluate the opportunities and chart their own course. Some managers feared that employees would only join teams with the coolest leaders, but the employees realised that teams with fewer members provided greater potential for advancement, and this helped to balance the distribution.

Realistic budgeting

The Norwegian oil and gas company Statoil presented their annual budgets as three different sets of numbers:

  1. Targets: ‘What we want to happen’.
  2. Forecasting: ‘What we think will happen, whether we like it or not’.
  3. Resource allocation: ‘Trying to use our resources in the most optimal and efficient way’.

Separating the numbers allowed managers to be realistic about each. For example, ambitious sales targets could be presented without compromising the integrity of the forecasts.

Decision-making by online communities

Electronic Arts, a global company that developed video games and other interactive entertainment, used online communities to coordinate decisions.
The communities acted as cross-functional decision-making units. They complemented more traditional project teams, helping to share best practices, shape decisions that affected several teams, and identify experts.

Greater transparency improves morale

Japanese insurance company Tokio Marine Nichido Systems encountered problems with employee-burnout, and introduced a range of internal reforms to improve communication, morale and productivity. These included:

  1. opening office work spaces
  2. flexible working hours
  3. changes to the salary structure (now determined partly by age and partly by performance)
  4. improved communication between board members and employees.

One day a week allocated to employees’ personal pursuits

The large Brazilian company Semco allowed employees to ‘purchase’ one work day a week to spend on external activities, such as art, athletics, or non-profit/charity work.
When they eventually retired, the employees could trade back those hours for meaningful part-time work in their later years.

Talent development by focusing

Genentech, a large biotech company, introduced a talent development program based on the principles of mindfulness and self-motivation.
Employees chose a skill they wanted to improve and then received guidance and peer coaching on how to focus on a specific goal and develop their capabilities to achieve it.

Non-hierarchical work environment

Vodafone UK’s headquarters has no offices and no dedicated desks, so employees can set up wherever they think they will be most productive, preferably adjacent to the group of people they are working with at that time. This approach had a levelling effect on the traditional hierarchy, because all executives became readily accessible.
Further information

Further information about each of these strategies appears, with links to further reading, in the original McKinsey article: ‘Listening to employees: The “Beyond Bureaucracy” M-Prize winners’, McKinsey Quarterly, March 2012, accessed 19 March 2012.


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