Mary's Blog

Communication and Employee Engagement

Communication Matters!

By Mary Verstraete

In 2015, Melcrum Inc., a best practice insight and technology company, conducted research on the challenges and best practices common among employee peers for boosting employee engagement. Melcrum's explored how progressive companies (such as Lowe's and EMC) were refocusing employee engagement efforts on collective engagement—employee-to-employee and employee-to-customer relationships needed to achieve company objectives—rather than the satisfaction of individual employees with their employer, manager and/or their immediate work environment.

Here is what was learned:

  1. In highly uncertain environments, employees must engage collectively to tap the full resources of the entire enterprise.

  2. Traditional engagement models that emphasize wellbeing, role clarity and line-of-sight may inadvertently discourage employees from addressing challenges collectively.

  3. Authentic employee voice provides credible examples of behavior and humanizes participants more than corporate messages can.

  4. To enable employees to engage one another, Internal Communication must: a) provide platforms for employees to express their commitments to each other; b) act behind the scenes to shape, curate and amplify employee voice; and c) foster employees’ ability to develop an open learning culture and build their storytelling skills.

  5. The extent of employee participation in collective engagement and their success at inspiring behavior worth emulating by other employees trumps survey scores as a measure of engagement. © 2015 by Melcrum

What is a takeaway from this study in conjunction with coaching: A coaching culture could help provide collaborative dialogue to achieve the five concepts!  

To further add to the concept of dialogue, can you imagine for a moment if conflict in the work place included this particular best practice approach: 

Solution-based coaching: Helping the person tell their problem-story in such a way that reframes the presenting problem as being solvable and highlights the client's resources and ability to define and move toward a solution, while at the same time building a collaborative relationship where the coach has permission to hold the client accountable for proposed action steps. At its best, the solution focused approach enables people to access and use the wealth of personal experiences, skills, expertise, and intuition that resides within all of us. It allows coachees to find individualized and creative solutions to the issues and concerns that face them. Evidence Based Coaching–Putting Best Practices To Work For Your Clients

A company's most valuable asset isn’t products, processes or technology–it is people. 

Emotional Connection and Leadership

Everything in leadership involves developing strong and trusting relationships.

By Mary Verstraete

 Scott Edinger, founder of the Edinger Consulting Group in Tampa, Florida tells the story of when he first started working in the Coopers & Lybrand consulting firm. Scott was assigned to Chris Abramson, who had an enormous scale of responsibility. Yet whenever Chris talked with him, he gave him undivided attention: "He talked with me about my goals and my development opportunities. He shared stories about life (both his and mine) outside the office. Even in our short conversations, in which he frequently was directing me do do something, he injected some kind of personal remark or comment."

Scott goes on to say: "Leadership has everything to do with how you relate to others and the quality and texture of those relationships. The higher up you go in an organization, the less important your technical skills become and the more your interpersonal skills matter. Chris Abramson excelled in one of the most important—and most misunderstood—of leadership skills: making an emotional connection.

The ability to make an emotional connection is so often misunderstood because it’s not about being emotional or showing emotion. It’s about making a human connection—one person to another. Chris Abramson had the ability to connect on that level with me, with teams, with an entire office of over 600 associates—to show us how important we all were to him and that there was more to our relationship than just the job at hand."

Let's face it, emotion isn’t often a word you see in business books. Yet business illustrates it's importance. In Gallup's article, "Customer Satisfaction Doesn't Count," they declare that "If you don't make an emotional connection with customers, then satisfaction is worthless." Their research proved that customers don't buy strictly for rational reasons—much more important is engaging them on an emotional level. And, businesses that optimize this connection outperform competitors by 26% in gross margin and 85% in sales growth.

What happens in an organizations without emotional connection? Employees become disengaged from their jobs, their leaders, and the company they work for. They have no motivation to put forth more than the minimum amount of effort required of them and no motivation to stay when better opportunities come along. Today’s leaders need to work to ensure that emotional connection is there.

  • Emotional connection builds involvement and engagement

  • Emotional connection can determine the strength of a relationship

  • Emotional connection drives loyalty and advocacy

  • Emotional connection is an experience

The well-known quote by Maya Angelou, American autobiographer and poet puts it this way:

I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Let's look at three intentional actions to help forge the kind of connection Scott experienced:

  1. Put people first. This sounds simple, but unless we are intentional in making people most important, ringing phones, emails by the dozens, and tasks staring at us, will be what wins our attention. When you unfailingly engage with people, you can expect engagement and loyalty.

  2. Develop your ability to engage with others. As a leader, develop the ability to reach out to others and engage them in conversation. Leaders, by definition, do their work through other people, and yet how easy it is to lose sight of that and to focus on the amount of work—the tasks, the output, the jobs to be completed. The irony is, the more you focus on the quality of your connections, the greater your quantity of output is likely to be.

  3. Listen. Really listen. Listening helps people feel important in every interaction, whether it's a phone call, face-to-face, email or chat. Regularly listen and respond to the people around you. Take the time to understand their concerns and needs.

Connecting is a learned skill. I believe coaching skills are one of the most effective means for leaders to learn how to genuinely and authentically connect with those they lead.

If you've never had coach training, I encourage you do so, and if you've had coach training, continue mastering your coaching skills. For more information about coaching skills, call at 612.209.0494

Trust Is Really the Heart of It All

By Mary Verstraete

From 2006 to 2014 Angela Ahrendts served as CEO of Burberry, a venerable British brand founded in 1856 known for its trench coats, cashmere scarves and iconic check. She was pivotal in Burberry's return to popularity. Angela is currently Apple's senior vice president of retail and online stores and is responsible for the operation and expansion of Apple retail and online stores, which have redefined the shopping experience for hundreds of millions of customers around the world.

One of keys to revitalizing Burberry was that she set her level of excellence high by creating the stage for connectivity, trust, and innovation. She states:


Trust is truly at the heart of it all. If trust is your core value, you hire accordingly. I interviewed a lot senior management people, and at this level, competence and experience are a given; trust is the difference maker. When I look them in the eye I'm asking myself: Do I trust them? Do I get the feeling they trust me? Do they get vision? This is the starting point for everything we do.


How was this level of excellence practically implemented? Ahrendts made a decision to create a conversational forum that included everyone in the company and encouraged people to communicate directly with her and others on the senior team, moving employees from the protect mode into a share and collaborate mode. She created a culture where everyone could talk what was on their minds. Angela says this about the Burberry culture:


You should feel a culture, and a brand. A culture is a living brand. We will build a brand by building the culture. What's right for the brand? It became a higher purpose. How could our employees help us create not only a great brand but also a great company?

When people trust people, you can share your insecurities and use them to build bridges. This openness and transparency connects us to each other in a totally new way. When you openly acknowledge you can't do it without the other person, ego gets replaced by the knowledge that we're all in this together.


What makes trust the heart of it all? Trust is the factor that generates a willingness to feel open enough to be inclusive, interactive, and intentional. Human beings have a need to belong and neuroscientists consider this to be even more powerful than the need for physical safety and security.

A fearful state of mind "alters" the way we see and experience reality, the way we interact with others, and how much we are willing to engage, innovate, and speak our minds.


When trust is absent we perceive reality through a threatened lense:

  • Experience the environment as threatening

  • Retreat to protect ourselves

  • Become sensitive to being wrong or embarrassed

  • Behave differently

The implications of perceiving through a threatened lense: 

  • Reveal less than what we know or what is helpful to move forward

  • Expect more than what is possible

  • Assume the worst of others

  • Look at situations with caution

  • Interpret communications with fear

  • Tell secrets we promise not to tell

  • Become yes people to avoid confronting truth

When trust is prominent we: 

  • Reveal more

  • Expect less and over deliver

  • Assume the best of others

  • Look at a situation with an open heart

  • Interpret communications through truth and facts

  • Tell the truth

  • Become yes people to confront truth

Bottom Line:

Trust is the glue that holds an organization together. 

Everything begins with a foundation of trust.

Trust is the core of effective conversation.

Mary's Approach to Leadership Consulting and Coaching

I believe that leaders want to become something larger than themselves and create a mark in the world. 

My coaching and consulting stems from 30+ years of leadership experience, research-based processes, and customized services for each client and organization. I’ve worked hard at building a reputation for proven results, delivering on my brand promise with a standard of excellence and follow-through. A main distinctive of my consulting and coaching is spending time on-site, immersing myself in the environment of the organization to experience the culture firsthand. This allows me to understand a leader’s unique leadership perspective as we collaborate to set precise, comprehensive leadership benchmarks and outcomes. 

Developing a Synergistic Team Culture

The more genuine the involvement of employees, the more sustained motivation they will have in the participation of analyzing and solving problems, resulting in the significant release of employee creativity and a commitment to what they create.

Interdependent teamwork decreases conflict, dissatisfaction, and employee turnover. Recent stats report that a record-high 55 percent of employees are dissatisfied with their jobs today. The Conference Board sited that one main reason for employee dissatisfaction was supervisors were “distant, distracted, disconnected, or demanding.” What were the main reasons for these conclusions? Conversations that fail to connect with the employees.

Why Leave a Legacy?

The reality is that those sorts of habits are unproductive. Humans are simply more efficient and effective when they concentrate. That is, you can do five things better and faster by doing them one at a time, with your mind focused on each single task.

Developing Strength-Based Teams

Don’t manage, empower! Teams that innovative, freely collaborate, and create have been empowered to exercise their strengths.

Effective leaders empower human potential. Moving your teams from lack of self-determination and underperformance because of organizational external pressures, to high intrinsic self-determination and engagement, empower teams to create and produce for your company.

Gallup’s 40-year study of human talent resulted in a Strengths-based development as a proven solution to build high performing teams. A recent Gallup study of 1.2 million employees in 7 industries and 45 countries measured the value of Strengths-based interventions on workgroup performance: results are proven.