It seems leaders know that engaging their employees is important for a variety of reasons, but the how of engagement is elusive. Conscious leaders consider their roles in service to others, the organization, and the community. In addition to leaders seeking to elevate their effectiveness, to serve better, I often find leaders trying to identify the sweet spot of engaging their employees. Sometimes these efforts are simply trial and error. Sometimes, they’re informed by a bit of research.

Whether you’re an HR or OD professional aiming the strengthen employee engagement, a coach seeking guidance on asking employee engagement-oriented questions, or a business consultant wanting a framework to guide an audit or design an employee engagement program, the Purpose-Driven Employee Engagement Model can help. This original model is based on case study research of diverse organizations recognized for their employee engagement best practices. The various organizations – and research findings – are highlighted in Organizational Heartbeats: Engaging Employees in Sustainability by Leveraging Purpose and Curating Culture (Routledge, 2020). While the organizations I researched are sustainability leaders, the model is a fitting guide for any organization.

Purpose-Driven Employee Engagement Model©

Created by Brooke Moran, Ph.D.

In designing, implementing, and evaluating various employee engagement (EE) initiatives, it’s important to take a systems thinking approach. Here, I offer three intertwined approaches: WHY, HOW, and WHAT. The questions and explanations below are meant to help you gauge the fit of various initiatives to your organization, help clients do the same, or ask insightful questions of coaching clients seeking to engage their employees more effectively.

 WHY: Purpose is the heart of the organization; it’s the WHY, and it, ideally, speaks to the hearts of your employees.

  • How does the EE initiative align with the organizational purpose?
  • In what ways, if at all, do employees see the connection between the initiative and the organizational purpose?
  • In what ways does the initiative allow employees to move the organization closer to its purpose?

HOW: The four strategies around the outside of the model provide the scaffolding for initiatives.

  • Values Alignment: How does the EE initiative speak to the organization’s values and to those of the employees?
  • Systems Integration: How is the initiative integrated into an existing system, so it won’t fall by the wayside when responsibilities shift hands and/or in times of stress?
  • Curate Culture: Be strategic regarding your culture creation; how are you leveraging the EE initiatives to elevate one or more dimensions of Creative Leadership (e.g., Relating, Self-Awareness, Authenticity, Systems Awareness, and Achieving)?
  • D2R2: What mechanism do you have in place to evaluate initiatives upon completion, thereby curating a culture of learning? If you don’t have one, D2R2 is offered in the model.

 WHAT: On a spectrum from low engagement (Raising Awareness) to high engagement (Action & Ownership) with Education in the middle, consider what types of initiatives to implement.

  • Raise Awareness: What type of initiatives do/could you have in place to spread information without asking much from your employees? Examples include memos, signage, and purpose/organizational values hanging on the walls or included in every agenda.
  • Education: What educational opportunities do you offer, such as webinars, field trips, guest speakers, an informational session on new organizational offerings, conference attendance, leadership development, etc.?
  • Action & Ownership: In what ways are your employees encouraged to take action and ownership? Do you have paid volunteer days? Innovation competitions aimed at advancing purpose/strategy? Are employees assigned key roles to advance purpose/strategy? Are they encouraged to act if they see a need, such as cutting carbon emissions, increasing efficiencies, serving more people, etc.?

Of course, these are just sample questions. I encourage you to use the model in a way that best serves you and your clients/employees. Avoid employees experiencing initiative fatigue by being strategic with employee engagement initiatives and see your clients/employees and the organization excel.


Author Bio: Brooke Moran, Ph.D. is the Human Potential Catalyzer at Zen for Business, a Certified B Corp, a Professor at Western Colorado University. She is passionate about elevating the effectiveness of purpose-driven individuals, teams, and organizations.

Brooke Moran, Ph.D.

Author Brooke Moran, Ph.D.

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