Strategies and Tactics for Engaging High, Medium and Low Performers

Employee engagement, as defined by OPM and Harvard Business Review, is “the employee’s sense of purpose that is evident in their display of dedication, persistence, and effort in their work or overall attachment to their organization and mission. An employee’s emotional commitment to the organization and job.”

Statistically speaking, engaged workers are 25% more productive than their average peers. However, disengaged workers have 37% more absenteeism and make 60% more errors. To add to the management challenge, voluntary employee turnover increases by up to 50% in work units with low engagement, which in turn then affects the morale of the remaining workers, even your best performers.1

Organizations with a positive team culture tend to have more engaged, higher-performing employees. So, how do you keep highly engaged employees happy, move employees in the middle to a higher level, and address those exhibiting low engagement to improve the team’s performance and progress toward goals and mission? 

You Bring the Weather That Impacts The Culture
One approach to increasing engagement is to look at the mood you set, or in other words, the weather you bring to your team’s culture. As a leader, you have an enormous impact on the workplace climate. The culture you’re creating or building upon can have a very positive and productive impact on employee engagement, or it can create a non-productive and stressed-out workplace. So how do you take an honest look at the weather you bring and the impact it has on the culture of your organization?

Get the Weather Picture: FEVS and
One strategy is to review the employee engagement scores (e.g. FEVS scores) for your division and/or agency from a different perspective. Beyond strengths and weaknesses, they can reveal what your employees actually feel about the culture and if the climate is one that can support them in being successful. Areas of high scores are where things are looking clear and bright and you can continue to bolster the things that you as a leader are doing well. Low scores show where things are stormy and where your people need more support from you.

Another strategy is to visit and click on Overview and Reviews to see anonymous employee comments about your organization, even drilling down to specific divisions and locations. The feedback will reveal what former and current employees feel about your culture. Using both these tools can give you an unbiased look at the climate of your culture and where you can make changes, whether it’s improving communication and transparency, or increasing support and collaboration.

Building a Climate of Performance
Every employee is unique and you have to manage each one differently. A high-performer may respond well to praise, but trying to motivate a low-engager with any kind of praise may reinforce poor behaviors. Manage to where each person stands on the engagement spectrum. Below are some traits to help you identify different employee performance levels and tips for how to manage and engage each group differently.  

Managing Employees Exhibiting High Engagement

High-engagement traits:

  • Goes above and beyond expectations
  • Serves as a role model
  • Takes on responsibly and volunteers to help
  • Has a positive attitude toward the mission and leadership
  • Mentors and trains others
  • Keeps leaders informed
  • Makes good independent decisions

As a manager, your goal is to:

  • Re-recruit and retain these employees
  • Partner with these employees
  • Reduce their motivation for leaving

When meeting with high-engagement employees, think SRA:

  • Share an outline of your vision for the work group and where you see the organization is going.
  • Recognize the employee’s strengths and why they are so important to have on your team.                                                                             
  • Ask them where they see themselves supporting the vision, where they see their career going, and if there is anything you can do to support them in their continued success in the organization.
Managing employees Exhibiting Middle Engagement

Middle-engagement traits:

  • Does what is expected
  • Completes assignments at an acceptable quality level within established timelines
  • Has a positive attitude toward the mission and leadership most of the time
  • Blames or complains occasionally
  • Gets his or her own work done to satisfactory standards

As a manager, you want to:

  • Retain and develop these employees
  • Support and coach them to a higher level of performance

When meeting with middle-engagement employees, think ITIS:

  • Indicate that you want to retain them and grow their skills.
  • Tell them their strengths and what you appreciate about them.
  • Indicate behaviors that you see as developmental improvements for the employee.
  • Support and coach them by asking them what they need from you in order to continue being a solid performer while improving in the areas discussed.
Managing Employees Exhibiting Low Engagement

Low-engagement traits

  • Does not meet expectations
  • Does not readily accept responsibility
  • Blames others or makes excuses for not getting work done
  • Has a negative attitude toward the mission and leadership
  • Resists coaching and feedback on performance

As a manager, you want to:

  • Improve engagement and related behaviors
  • Be respectful but direct, and don’t start with positive feedback

When meeting with low-engagement employees, think DESK:

  • Describe low engagement behaviors that need to change.
  • Emphasize the impact of these behaviors on coworkers, customers, and the organization.
  • Share with the employee what needs to be done in detail and document it.
  • Know and tell the employee the consequences of not improving the low engagement behaviors and what time frame improvement needs to occur.

If You Need Help Changing the Weather…
To learn more, listen to our webinar on this topic. And remember that we can provide coaching and training to help you implement practical, sustainable engagement strategies to promote employee retention, improve productivity and job satisfaction, drive a healthy work culture, and give you a much brighter outlook on the climate of your organization!


1Cameron, Kim & Emma Seppala, “Proof That Positive Work Cultures Are More Productive,” Harvard Business Review, 2015

Written by Robin Broadnax