Engagement versus Satisfaction: Tips for Startups

I recently went to a presentation about focusing on Employee Engagement instead of Employee Satisfaction. Employee Satisfaction is taking a pretty hard hit in the media these days, because if you are merely measuring satisfaction, you’re already behind. Satisfaction is essentially how “okay” a person is with his/her job daily; whereas engagement is the buy-in piece you’re searching for from an employee who is truly leaning into his or her work from an overall buy-in. You have to do more than Net Promoter Score.

For more information, one great summarized source is Gallup’s employee engagement management model, which is divided into four different areas of entitlement, contributions, community, & growth (https://www.tinypulse.com/blog/employee-engagement-employee-satisfaction-difference).


  • Entitlement: Do you know what’s expected and do you have the tools to achieve your expectations?

  • Contributions: Can employees contribute daily, in a meaningful way? Are the recognized for this? And can they see how this helps someone (the business? A key client? The world?)

  • Community: Do you have a best friend at work and a voice that’s heard?

  • Growth: Do professional development opportunities exist, in addition to growing within a role?

For startups and growing companies, there needs to be a contrived strategy to address these four areas, on regular timing and intervals; beyond the typical pitfall of “What’s expected of me? Anything and everything to get the job done. Tools to do it? I have to figure that out on my own. We’re a startup, that’s just how startups are.” Creation and delivery of this starts and ends with a leadership team dedicated to it, then empowering the employees to live it with their own voice, speaking up if they are lacking in support in an area.

The true driver to employee engagement is employee buy-in. If employees feel both invested in all four areas, and supported in all four areas, they will be engaged. Daily they will have satisfaction, which will increase productivity. So...what have you done to help engagement of your people today? Pick an area, look at it critically, and ask...but be prepared to act and make it better if it needs improvement. Then tackle the next area. It really is that simple. Start by looking at each area, and be prepared to pivot and identify your organization’s needs. Also be prepared to invest in your people so they have what they need at each step above. The startup journey can be harrowing, you need your employees engaged every step of the way.

Employee Recognition - What Works?

While focusing recently on thoughts of Employee Engagement, recognition comes to the forefront to provide employees feedback on how they are doing. This can be done by a team lead, practice manager, peer, mentor, or mentee - anyone with whom the employee comes into contact. But I have a call to action today - I want to know what you’ve seen work, and what you’ve seen fail miserably.

One item that keeps being mentioned is the need for a remote connectivity tool with the workforce that is so physically scattered in today’s e-work environment. There are apps that can connect individuals where you can give “shout-outs”, make announcements, etc. Other apps, like Slack, allow you to do the same but are employee-controlled with regard to content creation and posting. Are these the best tools for remote engagement?

For in person, we know nothing replaces an in-person “atta boy”, a handwritten Thank You card, or shout-outs at the company meeting. Some companies have a discretionary bonus pool and award for core value recognition. Still others do peer-to-peer recognition on a regular basis.

We know what doesn’t tend to work: Intranets.

So what does work best for you and how often? 

Hit me up with your thoughts at dawn.lively@fullstackpeo.com

Leaders Remember: Motivation is 90% Connection

In a prior blog I had talked about people needing to know what’s expected of them in their job in order to feel a sense of belonging and ongoing motivation. I also believe that 90% of the remaining structure of motivation exists if your employees feel connected.

Brene Brown’s quote sums up connection the best I’ve seen: “I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

In your people strategy, start-ups must make sure they are taking time to listen to their employees. Start-up founders are swamped, and oftentimes spread in dozens of different directions. However, they must make a conscious effort to continue to interact with, and seek out, their employees. Their employees must feel they can be open in their communication, that their words are heard in a “safe place”, and that their words are valued.

One mistake I’ve seen multiple scaleups make is sacrificing connectivity with employees for growth of the business. They will argue that it’s a cultural shift when they’re large enough, for example, to hire in senior management who may not take the time to interact with employees like the founders did. I’ve heard many times about the growing pains businesses go through when they shift day-to-day leaders from people-oriented to results-driven leaders. Company numbers may look better, but oftentimes there is an undercurrent of negative culture at play. Results-driven leadership must connect with the employees and take the time to show they value them and their input, or the culture will suffer, leading to a lack of motivation. All of which will ultimately lead to turnover for the organization.

On the other hand, if day-to-day leaders in scaleups take the time to connect with their employees, even at a minimum, the impact on motivation is marked. For example, slacking an employee, “Hey, can we do a quick slack call? I just want to check in.” or stopping by an employee’s workspace, making eye contact, and saying, “How’s it going today? You doing alright? Do you have everything you need, or can I help at all?”. It may lead to a 10 second response or a 10 minute response - so leader, make sure you have a few minutes to give - but those check ins are huge to motivation because your employees feel heard, valued, and connected to you as their voice of the organization. Any company at any phase of their life cycle should have their leaders take the time to do this regularly, as “Focused Attention drives Engagement” (Gallup).

Dawn Lively
Job Expectations in Startup Mode

If you asked your employees today,

would they be able to say “Yes!” and answer with confidence, if you ask them, “Do you know what is expected of you in your job?”.

Do they know? If you asked your employees today, would they be able to say “Yes!” and answer with confidence, if you ask them, “Do you know what is expected of you in your job?”. Gallup (https://q12.gallup.com) contends that this is the first fundamental building block in having engaged employees. 

People who know what is expected of them have a sense of purpose and feel like they are both an active contributor to the company’s success, and feel they are part of something greater than themselves. But I would take that one step further with a startup environment: 

“Do you know what is expected of you in your job? And are you able to work toward that end on a regular basis?” I’m going to pose something radical here - Startups are different work environments altogether. And many times, putting out the fire in front of you is what the people making startups successful have to do all day, every day. Which is okay...sometimes. For a while. But how long until fire fighting becomes the modus operandi? And is it acceptable to expect your employees to firefight as their main job expectation? Or, at some point, does that begin to wear on an employee? Are your employees ever able to get to what they were hired to do before 5:45 pm on a Thursday?

What did you hire him/her for to begin with? If you hired him/her with the expectation of “You’ll be putting out fires for me on the daily.”, and he/she said, “Awesome! That’s what I’ve always wanted to do! And that’s the best use of my education and experience!”, then you’re likely in good shape. However, if you hired someone for a specific skill set, how often is that person able to use that skill set in their daily job purpose? Can they ever walk into work and be working toward that end before noon on a given day?

Make sure you’re looking critically at what you hired people to do, versus what their roles have become as time has progressed. Is that the best use of their talents, and therefore the best use of your money? Are they satisfied with what their role has become? And if not, how can you resolve it for them? Don’t settle with assuming your employees know what’s expected of them because they’re busy all day, every day. And don’t assume if they know their job is firefighting that it is an acceptable use of their time and your company’s cash to pay them for it. Ask the hard questions to determine if their assets are being used towards the optimal tasks for the maximum benefit of your company - And if not, devote the resources to adjusting it so your employees are engaged and your startup can continue down a path of success.

What #metoo Should Mean for Businesses

Between recent pressure on the film and entertainment industry, as well as the heinous crimes and cover-ups in the world of gymnastics, businesses should take current events as a wake-up call to review both current policy and practice. Here is a starting point of considerations for any business:

  • Does your company have an anti-harassment policy?

  • Is the policy written at a level that all employees in your workplace can comprehend?

  • Is it in the correct language(s) for all employees to comprehend?

  • If you have a policy, are your employees aware of it?

  • Is it in the company handbook, and if so, is the handbook acknowledged in writing?

  • Is there any type of orientation or training upon hire?

  • Is there regular (i.e. annual) refreshment training?

If you can say with certainty that all of the bullet points above are checked, you’ve got a great lead on many other businesses. But here are some additional points that businesses must ask themselves, and be forthcoming about the answers:

  • Does your culture support open communication?

  • Does your culture support a harassment-free work environment?

  • Does your business pay women and men equally for the same position with same experience?

  • Do your employees believe they can take any issue to management and have it addressed fully? Without retaliation towards them by peers or managers?

  • Has an employee ever raised a concern? About harassment or another work condition?

  • If so, how was it addressed?

So many businesses stop at the former list of bullet points; when, in reality, the latter reveals your true culture, and thereby, whether or not your workplace may have #metoo issues. Business owners must take a hard look at all points, working alongside HR, to have the minimum expectations addressed, with the culture of support to ensure the environment isn’t just tolerable for all, but ideal for all.