3 Questions That Get to the Heart of Employee Engagement

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Nicky placed the couple's drink order in front of them. He was tending bar in a hotel where most of his guests are travelers, so he asked the classic icebreaker question: "What brings you into town?"

The couple was attending an event the next evening and had flown in the day before.

Nicky started chatting with them and soon learned they had no other plans. He asked a few more questions to learn about their interests and then made some suggestions for things the couple could do during the day. He even pulled out his phone and showed the couple some pictures of his favorite sights.

We’d all like to have an employee like Nicky, who goes beyond the basics and is enthusiastically bought-in to serving customers. An employee who takes pride in their job, and brings a bit of their personality to work.

So how do you do it?

Skip the 12 question surveys, year-long projects, and blue ribbon committees. Here are three questions that will quickly get to the heart of employee engagement.

A smiling hotel bartender pouring drinks.

Employee Engagement Defined

Let's start with a clear definition:

An engaged employee is deliberately contributing to organizational success.

Unpack that a bit and you'll see there are three things that need to happen if you want to engage your employees.

  1. Organizational success needs to be clearly defined.

  2. The employee needs to understand that definition.

  3. The employee needs to know how they can contribute.

Here's an example:

Donna worked in the customer service department for a medical device company. One day, she received a call from a hospital that was trying to locate a specific product for a patient that was scheduled for surgery in two days. Unfortunately, Donna didn't have that product in stock to ship out to the hospital.

Think about the difference between an engaged and disengaged employee in this situation.

A disengaged employee would be entirely transactional. They might be be polite when they say, "Sorry, we're out of stock," but that wouldn't be helpful. 

Donna was engaged. She understood her company defined success by positive patient outcomes, and not getting the right product to the hospital in time wasn't a good outcome. So she went out of her way to look for a solution and eventually found the right product at a competing hospital across town.

Three Questions to Assess Engagement

If you want engaged employees like Nicky or Donna, you'll need everyone to give consistent answers to three questions. These questions can be asked in discussions with individual employees or via open-text questions in a survey:

  1. What is our customer service vision?

  2. What does it mean?

  3. How do you personally contribute?

The results will give you immediate clarity on what you need to do to improve employee engagement.

Question 1: What is our customer service vision? A customer service vision is a shared definition of outstanding customer service. There's no way you can engage employees if your company (or department or team) hasn't clearly defined success. If you do have a vision, but employees don't consistently know it, your engagement initiative should start with an awareness campaign.

Question 2: What does it mean? Understanding the vision requires more than just memorizing a statement. Employees should be able to describe its meaning in their own words, and those descriptions should be consistent from employee to employee. If not, you'll need to create a plan to help employees better understand the vision.

Question 3: How do you personally contribute? Employees can't make a commitment if they don't know how, so this last question is essential. Every employee should clearly understand how they are contributing to the big picture. Think of it as the "Why?" behind what you ask employees to do. If employees struggle with this question, you'll need to help them connect the dots between their daily work and the vision.

Bonus Tip + Resources

Most employee engagement initiatives are focused on frontline employees. I'd recommend starting by asking your executive team to answer these three questions.


It's not uncommon for companies to have disagreement at the executive level over what the customer service vision means or how employees' roles are aligned with that vision. You'll need your executives to have a clear picture of engagement if you have any hope of engaging your employees.

Here are a few additional resources:

I recently facilitated this webinar with HDI, sharing five ways to quickly boost engagement. There's some overlap with this post, plus some additional insight.

This post is drawn from The Service Culture Handbook, which is a step-by-step guide to getting your employees obsessed with customer service.