Lead with Learning Series: Employee Engagement 

by | Mar 27, 2024 | Lead with Learning

This is Part Two in a series where I explore how a Lead with Learning approach to team development addresses many of the challenges organizations and leaders face. I’m writing my next book, Lead with Learning, and admittedly, using this newsletter to write different chapters. Enjoy the book preview!

I interviewed Larry1 for my upcoming book, Lead with Learning. Larry heads up the training department for a medium-sized technology company. In addition to creating and implementing measurable training for his organization, Larry is very focused on creating a culture of learning on his team and supporting individual growth and development. Larry told me of one team member, Barbara, who learned instructional design, including the skills and process for assessing learning needs. She applied these skills to assessing performance more broadly and was able to identify root causes and recommend solutions in an operational context. This garnered Barbara a promotion to a leadership role where she could apply these skills more strategically. Admittedly, Larry was conflicted – he found his team short-staffed yet, he was delighted that his protegee could advance her career. 

In my experience, leaders benefit from developing their employees because employees rise to a higher level of proficiency – they can do more and better work. Yes, they may eventually be promoted and leave the immediate team, but they are less likely to leave the organization.  

A recent McKinsey report2 identifies that 33% to 60% of employees across different global geographies plan on leaving their jobs. Many of these are ‘quiet quitters’ who are detached from their work and organization and are fulfilling their basic job requirements but nothing more.  

Gallup estimates that this type of low engagement costs the global economy ​​​​​​US$8.8 trillion, accounting for 9% of global GDP.3  

What’s more, organizations are unaware or out of touch with the reality. The same McKinsey report indicates that most employers surveyed erroneously believed that less than 20% of their workforce planned to leave. 

In my Lead with Learning philosophy, I see low engagement surface when organizations and leaders have a hyper-focus on getting results. The drive for results excludes other priorities such as learning, development, and creating a positive team culture.    

Frederick Herzberg defined the hygiene theory in the 1960s which has been expanded upon and is now known as dual-factor, motivation hygiene theory.4 This expanded theory looks at what motivates us and the basic needs that need to be met in order to maintain job satisfaction. Interestingly, these two factors aren’t on the same continuum. For example, it’s not that motivation increases as basic needs are met or vice versa. These factors are independent of each other. 

What this means for organizations is that we need to get the basics in place (pay, benefits, policies for remote and in-office work, etc.). What this means for leaders is that we need to build on the basic needs and focus on motivation. 

A 2023 study5 shows that 70% of team engagement is attributable to the manager. When managers support their employees’ continuous learning, employees show greater commitment toward the organization, reducing their intention to leave.6 

How can leaders shift away from a singular focus on getting results and expanding their leadership approach to include employee coaching and development?  

There are two complementary shifts that need to occur.  

The organization needs to be explicit that coaching and developing employees is a leadership requirement. This includes expressly stating coaching and development as an expectation and holding leaders accountable for these actions. It means aligning the culture and the expectation so leaders don’t get mixed messages about their role and priorities.  

The leader needs to embrace coaching and developing their employees as part of their role. At its core, this includes stepping away from doing the work and achieving results through others. It means taking a coaching approach by asking questions and allowing employees to experiment and learn from successes and failures.  

These shifts are like two sides of the same coin – call it the “expectation coin.” 

When organizations set the stage for leaders to embrace their role in employee and team development, employee engagement improves, team performance increases, and organizations thrive. A study by McKinsey7 shows that organizations focused on both performance and people have high returns on invested capital, consistently outperform their peers, and are more resilient, as measured by revenue growth during the pandemic. These dual-focused organizations also have better retention rates than organizations focused on just performance or on neither performance nor people.  

Organizations need to be clear about their expectations of leaders, provide them with the resources they need and recognize and celebrate leaders’ successes. Leaders need to take ownership of their role as a leader who coaches and develops their employees.  

I invite you to complete this free short diagnostic I created to asses three areas that form the Lead with Learning philosophy and build a team culture of learning: Learning Mindset, Team Culture and Organizational Support. Find out where you and your leaders have strengths and where you can improve your resiliency and adaptability.  

1 Names have been changed to maintain anonymity.   

2McKinsey: The State of Organizations 2023: Ten Shifts Transforming Organizations (link)  

3 Inc, Gallup. 2022. “State of the Global Workplace Report.” Gallup.com. 2022. (link)

4 Frederick Herzberg, “The Hygiene Motivation Theory,” Thinker 001, Chartered Management Institute, n.d. 

5 State of the Global Workpplace: 2023 Report (link)

6CIPD: Creating Learning Cultures: Assessing the evidence. 2020.04 (link

7 McKinsey: Performance through people: Transforming human capital into competitive advantage, 2023.02  (link)

I’ve shared some additional posts online. Here they are, in case you missed them.  

  • Gay Lea Foods Delegate Conference 2024 – (video link
  • Hamster Has Epic Fail on Running Wheel – (video link
  • Book-writing getaway in Algonquin Park – (video link

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Hannah Brown

I help close the gap between formal training from learning and development and leaders fostering learning on their teams to embed it into their DNA.