It's not about the mission statement

Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients. – Richard Branson

Writing for Talent Management and HR ( ), John Hollon cites a survey concerning the state of employee engagement. Among his finding that employers need to pay attention to include: More than 54 percent of employees have felt frustrated about work; only 38 percent of workers strongly agree that their manager has established a strong working relationship with them; some forty percent say they don’t get their company’s vision, or worse yet, have never seen it; nearly 67 percent of American workers can name at least one thing that would prevent them from taking any kind of risk at work.

Intuitively, many leaders know that employee engagement is critical to the success of their organization. Sadly, many employees feel that their leaders in management are out of touch. In fact, forty percent in the cited survey said they don’t get their company’s vision or haven’t even seen it. How is this possible?

Let’s be clear- a mission or vision statement hanging on a wall in some obscure place in the break room is not employee engagement. Yes, a mission statement is important. It’s important that your employees understand your vision and the role they play in seeing it fulfilled. But that alone will not suffice.

At times this is a concept lost on many leaders. Crystalizing a key point on this topic is the former president of Starbucks International, Howard Behar. In his book, It’s Not About The Coffee, he writes, “At Starbucks we’re in the human service business, not the customer service business.” That’s the distinction. Behar adds, “I’ve always said, we’re not in the coffee business serving people, we’re in the people business serving coffee.”

Employee engagement begins with leadership engagement. Employee engagement begins with leaders who are engaged in the lives of the people who make the mission of the work possible. It’s that simple and it’s that difficult. It takes work. It means that as a leader you have to come out from behind your desk and get connected to your people. So what does leadership engagement look like and what are some core characteristics? Here are three for your consideration.

Leadership engagement is proactive

So long as your approach to employee engagement is a reactionary one – one that responds only during a crisis- it does not qualify as a model of employee engagement. Leadership engagement, for example, says that the health and well-being of your people is important and an investment in them and will include a wellness program because you know that when your employees are healthy they will be more productive.

There are many ways to be proactive and engage your employees but sitting back and waiting to put out the next fire is not one of them. Your mission statement means little to your people so long as your commitment to them is an afterthought.

Leadership engagement is personal

A smart leader understands that people are your most appreciable asset. You can have the best business plan in the world, and the best mission statement to go along with it, but without people you are going nowhere. Leaders who excel at employee engagement understand this principle and take to heart the importance of building meaningful relationships. Your connection to your customer/clients flows through your employees. It’s so much easier for your employee to advocate for your brand and your product when the relationship with its leadership is strong.

Make it a practice of your leadership to get to know your people and build relationships. At the end of the day your people want to know that you care about them and not just the bottom line.

Leadership engagement is practical

Employee engagement works best when at the end of the day it’s practical. Your engagement with your people is critical but is it must be practical in its application. For example; if communication within your organization is lacking and information is not reaching the right people in a timely fashion; a workshop on retirement options on Monday at 9 a.m. may not be the most urgent event on the calendar.

Leadership engagement is all about knowing the pulse of your organization, understanding the needs of your people, and cutting through the layers of bureaucracy to get results. Never underestimate the power of being practical.

Employee engagement issues will continue to be front and center in most organizations. There is always room for improvement. A commitment to employee engagement begins when leaders are engaged with their people.

© 2016 Doug Dickerson Doug Dickerson is an internationally recognized leadership speaker, columnist, and author. A Lowcountry resident, Doug is available for workshops for your organization. Learn more at or email him at

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