Who's on first? Apply the five Ws to employee engagement

by David Zinger | Posted | Engagement

Who\'s on first? Apply the five Ws to employee engagement

We want to ensure that we have a strong focus on what matters in employee engagement. With so many options surrounding work in this area, we also want to center our efforts on the engagement fulcrum and the vital levers that play an essential role in successful employee engagement.

To do this well, gain perspective by stepping back, then ensure you're responding to the fundamental questions of: who, what, where, when, and why.

Live your questions now, and perhaps even without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into your answers ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Although the following questions are simple they are also fundamental. They're valuable question to ask whether you're embarking on your first employee engagement initiative, or you've been at it for many years and need to re-examine your progress to date.


On the surface, the typical response to this question is obvious: employees. But go deeper by asking different versions of this question.

  • Who is responsible for employee engagement?
  • Are there key groups we need to focus on to maximize engagement?
  • Have we neglected to see leaders and upper management as employees?
  • Should we be targeting all employees, focus on disengaged employees or do we target moderately engaged employees to help them be more engaged?
  • Do we believe that one size fits all and try to use the same strategies and tactics for everyone?

Even though I'm from Winnipeg Canada, the birth place of The Guess Who, I suggest that when it comes to engagement; don't guess who... know who.


Around the globe there are a plethora of perspectives on employee engagement and how we should build, foster and enhance it. Here are some "what" questions:

  • What do we really want employee to engage with: tasks, projects, each other, the organization, customers, etc.?
  • How are we defining engagement and how will we measure progress or lack of progress?
  • If we've identified what leaders, managers, and employees can do to increase engagement, are they ready, willing, and able to do what is necessary to achieve those results?
  • What structures or triggers can we put in place to remind and encourage employees to engage fully in their work?
  • What additional education or training is required?


When you first look at the five types of questions to ask about engagement, they seem almost trite.

But if you reflect on these questions, and especially if you start to hold conversations based on them, you realize that engagement goes deeper than we often initially think.

  • Where, beyond the physical workplace, do we engage employees?
  • Where and how do we engage mobile employees?
  • Are we using the virtual locations within social platforms or gamification platforms to engage employees?


I believe employee engagement is not for good times or bad times but for all times. We need to know when the key times are to create full engagement and we need to know how long we can engage fully with a task.

  • Do we pull out all the stops when our organization performance measures are faltering, or do we fully engage when the economy is going gangbusters and we need to retain our key employees?
  • When should an employee engagement program begin?
  • When do we measure engagement (annually, monthly, daily)?
  • When and how should internal employee engagement data be released to employees?


I believe the bigger "why" of employee engagement is because it's the right thing to do.

We are paid to work and that payment is the starting point of an agreement to engage. Employee engagement is not a problem to be solved but an experience to be lived, and an obligation on the part of the employee in signing an employment contract.

There are benefits to employees when they are fully engaged, ranging from greater engagement in civic duties and/or parenting to name but two, and a greater sense of health and well being. Fully engaged employees are also more likely to be promoted.

  • Have we fully answered the "why" of employee engagement so that employees feel compelled to engage?
  • Are we asking employee to generate their own "whys" of engagement?
  • Do our organizational strategy and objectives offer clarity in knowing why we do what we do?

Ponder these questions to keep engagement alive

Questions engage our brains and the social thinking within organizations.

Run your employee engagement work through the multiple lenses of who, what, where, when, and why.

Don't feel that you have to leap to answers; let your brain or all the brains of your organization start to ponder these questions and the vital responses they generate.

Neil Postman many years ago criticized the education system by saying, "children enter school as question marks and leave as periods."

Let's keep engagement and education alive within our organization by asking the key questions surrounding engagement. In doing this, we'll know "who is on first."

Your turn: What other questions would you add to those listed above?

Next Post: Adding muscle to employee engagement.

To read more of David insights, check out The history of employee engagement.

The History of Employee Engagement


The History of Employee Engagement


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