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Seven Nuggets to Strengthen Employee Engagement and Retention

March 14, 2019   By Aleta Norris


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7 nuggets graphicI’ve been in the leadership development business for over 30 years, and the greatest rewards in this work has been to instill confidence within the leadership of an organization, improve the employee experience and, best of all, send everyone home to their friends and families at the end of the day feeling positive and valued.

At the essence of who we are as human beings, we each want to be valued and regarded. We want to be among people who care about us. And we want to be in places where we have the feeling and security that we belong.

Let’s talk about nuggets

A nugget is a small thing, yet it can be golden for the people whose lives are impacted. I’ve long supported that the little things are the big things.

In this blog, I will share seven small nuggets that make a big difference for your employees.

Perhaps you are a leader who can apply these ideas personally, or you may be in a role responsible to support the effectiveness of other leaders within your organization.

Whichever it is, I can tell you these small nuggets will be appreciated by your employees.

Nugget #1: Welcome your employees intentionally

Very often, employees will have a different experience on their first day on the job than they had during their interviewing and onboarding process.

HR represents the company in a positive light during the interview process. At times, the reporting supervisor or manager of the individual is not included in this process.

Things aren’t always impressive for employees when they report to their work area. Under-developed leaders do not necessarily know to do things intentionally. Some supervisors are grumpy; some are shy; some are busy working through their own to-do lists.

Very few supervisors, when left to their own intuition, will say to a new employee,

“Welcome to my team. I am so glad to have you join us; I’ve heard good things about you from the HR Team, and I look forward to working with you.”

They could even add,

“I know you have choices for where you can work, and I’m glad you chose us, because we really need you.”

If they do, retention of this employee will increase. The employee will likely feel good about his or her decision. Too many employees go home at the end of their first day with the thought... "I wonder if I made the right decision.”

I’ve had leaders say to me, “I’ve never thought to do this.”

It’s simple, and it’s free.

Nugget #2: Define Success

Employees are looking for strong leaders. They want a leader who is paying attention to them, one who is leading them intentionally.

Many employees go home at the end of the day, and they wonder how they’re doing. They’re not really sure, because it’s not clear to them what their leader is watching for.

To exist in a place of uncertainty robs people of the confidence and pride of knowing they are doing a good job, their leader is happy with them, and they are contributing to the company in a positive way. If these feelings are absent, these employees will feel less of a connection to the company.

As we work with leaders, we help them understand what it looks like to maximize performance and fulfillment of employees 365 days a year. This starts with having clear expectations. Clear expectations are the definition of success.

For a leader to stand up in front of his or her employees and say, “I want you all to know clearly what I am looking for from you each day” is a good thing.

Success needs to be defined in three areas: performance, conduct and attendance. It may sound something like:

“Relative to performance, I expect your work to be completed on time and error free. If you’re unable to meet a deadline, I’d like to hear from you before the deadline.”

“Relative to your behavior and conduct, it is important to me that you do not use profanity or raise your voice. Also, on this team, I expect that you will not talk negatively about each other behind your backs.”

Employees want to know what their leader is looking for. Without that, they are not able to go home at the end of a day with feelings of work well done.

Nugget #3: Catch people doing things right…and tell them.

After you’ve been clear about what success looks like, look for it, then acknowledge it.

Acknowledging employees for success is critical, and it is known to strengthen both engagement and retention.

We have a formula for giving meaningful positive feedback:

  • Select the method: a few examples include informal in the hallway, formal at a scheduled time, or in writing.
  • Be specific about what you’re giving feedback on.
  • Share the impact.
  • Ask them a question to involve them in the conversation

Putting this into practice might sound something like this:

“You have finished three major assignments on time the past three weeks, and I want you to know this has not gone unnoticed by me. This makes a difference.

I’ve received positive feedback from the engineering department about how easy you make it for them to do what they need to do because they’re not having to wait (as they have in the past).

So, I’m curious... with all you have going on, how are you able to do that?”

Too many leaders leave their employees alone unless something is wrong. This is called Leave-Alone-Zap, and it feels more intuitive to leaders than acknowledging the things that are expected as part of having a job.

Just because something is expected doesn’t mean it can’t be acknowledged. Acknowledgment contributes to a sense of value.

When employees are valued, they are more inclined to stay.

Nugget #4: Be Grateful.

There has been a shift in terms of who is grateful. In the past, we’ve heard leaders say to employees, “You should just be glad you have a job.” As a result, there was this feeling that employees could be treated however a company wanted to treat them.

Today, companies and leaders are the ones who need to be grateful. “Thank you for choosing us. Thank you for coming to work. Thank you for the work you do.”

One manager I worked with was masterful at expressing gratitude. One of his practices was to share with each of his employees during their annual review,

“Thank you so much for another year of your time and talent. Every year you give me is a gift.”

Be grateful to your team and be grateful to each individual.

People will be more inclined to stay where they are appreciated.

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Nugget #5: Be Curious when things don’t go well.

Multiple times a day, things don’t go well. At the very least, things don’t go as expected.

Too often, employees are reprimanded by their leaders without understanding. I’ve heard many leaders say things that start with,

“I don’t care what happened, just fix it.”


“I don’t want to hear your excuses.”

Instead of intolerance, lead with curiosity:

“You missed the deadline. What happened?”

This gives employees the opportunity to share some of the things they may be up against.

Failure to meet expectations is not always because of the recklessness of your employees. At times, it’s shortcomings in processes and systems, or in other employees whom they are counting on.

Nugget #6: Care about people.

Fundamentally, people want to know that you care about them. One woman shared with me,

“I feel like a piece of furniture at work.”

Another said,

“When I go to work, I want to know that one person there even cares about me. Do I matter? Am I important?”

Recently a leader I have been working with shared proudly,

“I noticed one of my employees was really off his game. He was essentially wandering around much of his day. I approached him and said, ‘You don’t seem yourself. What’s going on?’

This employee confided that he had a serious personal situation unfolding, and with that weighing on his mind, he was unable to concentrate. I asked him if he needed to leave to address it. He did.

This employee was beyond grateful for the empathy I extended to him.”

In the past, this leader shared, he would have approached the employee with intolerance and possibly just sent him home for failure to do his job.

Employees remember moments in which they are shown regard as human beings. Moments like this contribute to engagement and retention.

Nugget #7: Ask what it will take for them to stay

A handful of years ago, I received a call from an engineering manager. He shared,

“I was successful in recruiting a talented, high potential engineer, one who was being sought after by several companies in the area. Now that he’s here, what can I do to keep him?”

My reply?

“Ask him.”

This is a question you can ask all of your employees:

“What is important to you? What are you looking for in this job, or any job for that matter, that would motivate you to stay?”

You may hear the following kinds of things:

  • I want to do meaningful work.
  • I want autonomy.
  • I want flexibility.
  • I want feedback.
  • I want to become a leader

Whatever their reply, dig deeper. “Tell me more.”

Then, to the best of your ability, honor their request.

At Living As A Leader, we’re pragmatic. When we work with leaders, we want them to walk out of a workshop or a coaching session and put simple ideas, or nuggets, into practice immediately.

Good leadership makes a difference. Within a short amount of time, employees begin to report, “It just feels nicer here.”

Seven simple ideas. Which ones will you add to your day?

At Living As A Leader, we offer a Leadership Development Series designed to produce leaders that can positively shape the cultural environment, reduce turnover and achieve crucial business initiatives. We do this by providing training, coaching and consulting with a focus on pragmatic communication tools for leaders at all levels of your organization.

For more information, contact Steph Collins at

About the Author

Aleta Norris

Principal and Co-Founder, Living As A Leader®

Aleta Norris is an expert leadership coach and trainer with 30 years of experience developing leaders. She is also a highly sought-after speaker for annual meetings, keynote engagements, panel discussions and networking groups.

Email Aleta Aleta's Bio



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