David Zinger talks about Employee Engagement with the Engagement Zone

This interview originally appeared on the Engagement Zone site one month ago. I invite you to read it if you’d like more information about my perspective on employee engagement.

David Zinger – CEO of The Employee Engagement Network

We at The Engagement Zone sat down with the CEO of The Employee Engagement Network & Engagement 101 Fellow – David Zinger. 

David Zinger an employee engagement speaker, author and coach that founded the Employee Engagement Network. With 15 years’ experience as a counsellor and coach at Seagram, Zinger has a depth of experience in working with employees and helping them reach their full potential.

In this interview, we ask David about the keys of employee engagement and where he sees the field in the future.

EZ: What does employee engagement mean to you?

DAVID: Employee engagement is all about the ABC’s of work: Achieve results. Build relationships. Cultivate wellbeing. I define it in 8 words: good work done well with others every day.

EZ: What are your three tips for companies looking to drive engagement in their organisations?

DAVID: Stop being mechanical. Employee engagement is not about driving and levers, it is a human experience. We need to move away from engagement as something we do “to” or “for” employees into something we do with employees. Stop thinking about engagement as a noun and view it as a verb – engage – requiring engaging actions every day.

Employees are responsible for their own engagement and we are each accountable for our influence on other’s engagement. Ensure that you help all employees (leaders, managers, frontline) be ready, able, and willing to do what is necessary to engage based on personal responsibility.

Stop trusting consultancies and tips (even ones like this from me). Test them for yourself and your organization to see if they work. Move from best case to test case. Your people are smarter than you think — they could develop a survey that is unique for your organization. And if you think you need to benchmark just use the standard bell curve from statistics and you have a decent benchmark free of charge. Engagement requires relationships so enliven this classic line from positive deviancy: never do anything about me without me.

EZ: What do you feel are the biggest pitfalls that companies should look to avoid when executing their engagement strategy?


  • Stop looking for engagement, there is no way to engagement, to engage is the way.
  • Never go on a retreat to create strategy rather charge into the organization and draw the strategy out rather than giving strategy as something ready-made.
  • Work towards more open and transparent approaches to engagement.
  • Stop making people invisible by giving them anonymous surveys that make it impossible to personalize the feedback you received from employees in an anonymous survey. Employees should be the first to see their own engagement levels if you believe in personal responsibility for employee engagement.
  • Strive towards making your organization as psychologically safe as possible and one day you could stop all this anonymous stuff and make engagement authentic and real.
  • Disengagement should not be a punishable offence; it needs to be a trigger for an engaging conversation.
  • Never sell or pay for your personal and organizational data to be taken from you. You should own your own engagement data and individuals within the organization should own their engagement data.

EZ: Why do employees fail to buy in when companies try to ramp up engagement?

DAVID: Employees fail to buy in because of the “buy in” metaphor. Stop selling engagement. Engagement needs to be seen much more as an experience to be lived, shared, and worked with than a problem to be solved. If you want to get everyone on the same page they must be invited to write on the page.

EZ: What skills are most useful for everyone to have when trying to move towards a culture of engagement?


  • The ability and skills to listen.
  • The ability to get comfortable with error and mistakes.
  • The ability to have engaging conversations any time there is a positive or negative variance from expectation.
  • Skills in understanding “the numbers” and to have a stat for every story and a story for every stat.
  • The skills to make work psychologically safe for both ourselves and others.
  • Robust relationships skills wedded with know how to infuse wellbeing into the very fabric of our work.
  • The ability to simultaneously connect and care for both results and relationships.


EZ: You’re a judge for the Employee Engagement awards. What will you be looking for in the entries?

DAVID: If I was a judge, I am on a quest to see that all 3 of the ABC’s of work are covered.

  • Is this creating results that matter to organizations and individuals?
  • Does engagement build relationships?
  • Is engagement integrated into how the organizations works, manages and leads.
  • Does engagement create wellbeing derived from the very act of working?
  • Is engagement of benefit to all?

I want to see a genuine and authentic mixture of pride and humility in an entry.

EZ: How important do you think it is to connect Employee Engagement to Customer Engagement and why?

DAVID: We are in this together and engagement is connection so yes they are linked. Perhaps we could just call it people or human engagement and people can be either employees or customers and often we are both.

EZ: What’s the best EE idea you’ve seen a company roll out/attempt and wish you’d had that idea yourself?

DAVID: I love to see companies that don’t trust all this engagement stuff. They test it and I love when I see even a quasi-experimental design used to offer more control and to get at engagement causation. I think it is wonderful and creatively disruptive to have operations or finance be the engagement champions rather than automatically thinking it should only be housed in HR or Internal Communications. The best ideas fuse engagement with other key interests so that what you are doing in improving performance management, engagement, wellbeing, and operations occur all at the same time with key actions and behavior to engage!

EZ: What’s the worst and glad that you didn’t?

DAVID: When the anonymous survey numbers become the sole focus of engagement and some managers demand that employees give them high numbers. Any idea that is manipulation disguised as engagement — so that what is called engagement does just the opposite and creates deeper disengagement.

EZ: Since you entered the world of work, what’s the best experience you’ve had?

DAVID: The best has always been embedded in relationships that made work better, made me better and made the other person better. This “better” is all 3 of the ABC’s at one: results, relationships, and wellbeing.

EZ: What’s the worst?

DAVID: When I have witnessed people with very high work engagement let go because the organization was threatened by their high level of engagement and their willingness to challenge the status quo. Sometimes I think organizations fail to understand what it fully means to be engaged and are disguising manipulation as engagement as a feeble attempt to get better profits or performance.

EZ: If you could only roll out only one programme, which of the following would you choose and why? Wellbeing, Leadership Development or Recognition.

DAVID: Engagement is a daily process, not a program. Programs tend to have a shorter shelf life than behavioral processes integrated into everyday practice. Engagement offers us the opportunity not to be “siloed” by department or function. Engagement is best as the verb engage and engaging actions can be infused into all we do.

EZ: Which person (dead or alive) would you love to be able to come in and speak to your workforce/colleagues?

DAVID: Charlie Chaplin, because he wouldn’t say much but he once said, “life is a tragedy in close-up and a comedy in long shot.” I also know, if we can laugh, we can last :).

Seriously, one of Engage for Success’ four enablers is employee voice so I want to hear genuine, real, and authentic employee voice fused with the full realization that in organizations we are all employees from the first day hire to the retiring CEO.

EZ: Favourite song to crank up after a tough day at work?

DAVID: I want the music of work that is inside of us be turned into a symphony of relationships creating results and wellbeing simultaneously. I sometimes hum at work and I love how Shonda Rhimes called full engagement, “The Hum”. I strongly encourage you to view this 2-minute summary video on “The Hum”


Meaningful results are vital. I think we should all hear the lyrics from the Spice Girls annoying earworm song Wannabe: “so tell me what you want what you really really want.” Engagement must help both individuals and organizations work on meaningful results that matters to both so we should have ongoing conversations with organizations letting employee know what they “want, what they really really want” and employees are asked what they “want, what they really, really want” as employees craft their work for the benefit of themselves and the organization.

EZ: Best place in the world you have visited?

David Zinger with his wife Susan

David’s wife Susan and youngest son, Luke

DAVID: I have been around the world and have visited so many wonderful places from the Taj Mahal in India to Iguazu Falls in Argentina but it is never the place that is best — it is the people I travel with and the people we meet. Engaging people can transform a dreary airport waiting lounge into a wonderful place of meeting and conversation. I like sites while I love people.

EZ: The place in the world you’d most like to visit?

DAVID: There is an old quotation that goes, “If you make where you are going more important than where you are, there may be no point in going.” So, this is not so much about a place for me as it is about time and dwelling fully in the present moment. I visit the present moment occasionally but the past, the future, and endless thoughts churning though my mind make dwelling in the present a challenging visit to prolong yet I strive to keep going there again and again and again.

EZ: Where is employee engagement headed as we move towards 2020?

I think employee engagement is going in two directions at once and both spell the end of engagement.

The first direction is that engagement will die as a management fad that failed to deliver on its promise.

The second is that engagement dies or disappears because it fully integrates into how we work, manage, and lead so that we do not need to use it as a distinct phrase. I often say, there is no way to engagement, to engage is the way. My work is to help employee engagement die the second death so engage along with me, the best is yet to be.

To get in touch with David Zinger, go to the following websites or send him an email:



[email protected]

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