Author Q and A
Illustration by Polina Flegontovna

We all know that creating positive customer experiences requires highly engaged employees. The link between employee engagement and overall organizational success has been proven again and again.

Why, then, are organizations continuing to struggle with poor morale, unproductive workers and declining employee satisfaction? Research from Gallup shows that 70% of U.S. workers are not engaged or are actively disengaged—a figure that has remained stagnant for more than a decade.

Zane Safrit
Zane Safrit

A new approach to employee engagement is needed, says Zane Safrit, author of First, Engage Yourself. “Employee engagement is too often treated as one more mandated program to rain down on the heads of managers and team leaders, and then trickle down onto the employees’ desks.”

A large part of the problem, he points out, is that leaders and managers have not fully engaged themselves with their own roles, missions and purposes. In Book 1 of his new ebook series on employee engagement, Safrit walks readers through simple, doable steps to engage themselves before seeking commitment from those they lead.

We recently spoke with Safrit to learn more about his book and for more insights on employee engagement.

Describe the connection between “evangelized customers” and employee engagement.
An engaged employee is the catalyst for the most effective advertising in the world: word-of-mouth. They create the experience which the customer feels inspired, even compelled, to share with their friends and family and then the world—who then become customers. It’s a virtuous cycle. Instead, bored, sullen employees create customer vigilantes who share a different experience with the world. Happy, empowered, engaged, recognized employees always create customer evangelists.

What do you see as the top obstacle to employee engagement in contact centers?
Some days it can seem, “Their numbers are legion.” However, the top obstacle, and greatest opportunity, is the immediate manager. Their behavior sets the tone—tone of voice, how they stand, if they smile and where and when, who they praise for what—for the group and their engagement. They are the bridge between upper management and employees.

The obstacle is that too many have been incentivized to disconnect from their teams in order to move up the corporate ladder. The opportunity is to reorient their focus toward engaging with their team.

How critical is it for contact center supervisors and managers to learn how to engage themselves with their roles and missions as a first step to employee engagement?
Supervisors and managers set the tone for the day, if not each hour. A hard lesson I learned was understanding how everyone looked to me for clues on how they should behave, set priorities, handle challenges, whether I smiled or frowned when I walked in, etc. Once I understood it, I could better engage with myself and, by doing that, better engage with them and creating a day for everyone that was not only focused, productive but fun.

What is one idea that managers can take away from the book that they can apply immediately to their engagement journey?
Employee engagement is not a program, a survey, a mandate or a policy. It is a one-to-one conversation—one you can join or one you can avoid. Like all good conversations it starts with understanding why you care about that person enough to listen to their ideas, act on their suggestions, help make them a better person, a more productive person. The tips in this book help you take that first step: understand why you care about your work and your direct reports who make it possible.

You’ve written extensively about employee engagement over the years in books, articles and on your blog. What made you decide to write this book series?
Coming up through the ranks, with little to no training budgets available, I know how tough it is for managers and executives. Today, I see “experts” hiding the simple steps to engage with employee engagement with their buzzwords and programs and surveys. They’ve created an echo-chamber with corporate executives where they meet “about” employees but never “with” employees. I wanted to share my experience and some of the solutions I discovered that anyone can take, that require no budget, that engage and connect everyone and drive growth for each other and their organization.

What can readers look forward to with the next two books in the series?
More ways to engage first your team and then your company using the resources you have at your disposal. This first book is the most important because it shows the reader how they can walk their talk, how they can lead and engage by example. That’s the basis. It’s like the single engaged employee who creates a customer evangelist who, in turn, goes out and proselytizes the company to their peers, even the world.

The next book will be about how to engage your team. The third book will show you how to use your team’s success to create a culture of engagement throughout your company.

To download a copy of Zane Safrit’s new ebook, First, Engage Yourself, visit the Pipeline bookstore.