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Six years.

Dozens of teams.

Hundreds of employees.

And the key to engagement. 

Q: Why is engagement stuck at less than 1 in 4 globally, after spending years and billions to boost it?

A: Because we've fundamentally misunderstood how it works.


We undertook a six-year study of the problem, and published our findings in a bestselling book.

Here's what we found:

Why Is a Verb

#1 Amazon bestseller, Business Teams Leadership, April/May 2024. Get it here.

1. Engagement = productivity.

Performance of Top Quartile vs Bottom Quartile Companies by Engagement 

Source: Gallup, State of the Global Workplace 2022

Gallup Performance vs Engagement

The impact of "active disengagement"—the behavior of an average 15% of employees that deliberately hinder performance—is even more dramatic.

Mapping Gallup country statistics against OECD statistics, a 1% decrease in active disengagement corresponds to a 5% increase in productivity.

In short: engagement's power to drive performance is much more than a theory.

Gallup, the global leader in engagement research and analytics, finds engagement to be strongly correlated with performance.

Between bottom and top quartile engagement companies:

  • Profitability is 23% greater.

  • Productivity is 18% higher.

  • Growth is 18% higher.

  • Turnover is 43% lower.

Gallup does not disclose precise figures.


But assuming bottom quartile means ≤ 15% and top quartile ≤ 50%, a one percent increase in engagement drives an even greater increase in productivity.

Productivity vs Active Disengagement by OECD country, 2017

Source: Gallup, OECD

Disengagement Vs Productivity

Active Disengagement (Inverse Scale)

2. Engagement drivers are well understood — and manageable.

The ingredients of high or low engagement may feel like a mystery—especially after a surprising survey.

They're not.


Gallup has studied over 3.3 million workers to identify 12 factors that drive engagement.

(Learn more about the science here.)


Some seem obvious—like the need to understand what's expected and to have the tools to deliver.

Others—having a best friend at work—less so.

The key takeaway?

Virtually all turn largely on one underlying driver:


The capability and attitudes of their direct manager

The Q12

Gallup Q12

Source: Gallup

  1. I know what is expected of me at work.

  2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.

  3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.

  4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.

  5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.

  6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.

  7. At work, my opinions seem to count.

  8. The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.

  9. My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.

  10. I have a best friend at work.

  11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.

  12. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

3. Why leaders don't get it. 

The Purpose Gap

Purpose Gap

McKinsey and Company recently asked a thousand people if they agreed they could live their purpose at work

Among "upper managers", 85% said yes.

Among everyone else—the frontline managers and employees that make up about 98% of the workforce—only 15% agreed.

This "Purpose Gap" speaks volumes about why low engagement has proven so intractable.

It can be generalized as a "Leadership Gap."

Leaders simply don't share the same experience—and so understand the challenges—of what's happening outside their offices.

It's hard to feel engaged if you can't feel your own impact.

As one Gen Z put it to us:


"I often ​feel like a musician who can't hear themselves play."

4. Engagement's 3 C's:




The takeaways for leaders are clear. 


  • Employees need more CLARITY: on what they're supposed to deliver, what resources they are entitled to, and what the consequences are of performance.

  • Managers need COACHING: developing their skills and capacity to support their people. (Gallup has found 82% to be unqualified when hired or promoted. 58% claim to receive no training.)

  • Senior leaders need more CONSISTENCY: from carrying through on commitments to not tolerating toxic behavior in their ranks.

All of which forms the backbone of our playbook.

The 3 C's of Engagement

Source: Framework

Playbook Pyramid









5. Move fast:
Employees expect action.

Employee Sentiment Change After a Slow Engagement Implementation

Source: Framework

eNPS Before and After

Don't let "great" be the enemy of "getting going."

The moment employees submit survey feedback, they expect something to be done about it.

Leaders who take a few more weeks to understand the results in depth are not only taking precious time.

They look like they don't care.

The results tend to look like this. Engaged employees tend to be patient.  


Everyone else is not. A slow moving or partial response tends to push neutral employees into disengagement—and the company's eNPS goes down. 

Above all remember: a bias to action does not mean foregoing analysis and insight. 

It means doing them at the same time—which tends to make them better.

So here's what we do about it.


Don't be shy.

Cubic Puzzle
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