Stay in the honeymoon phase of engagement

Campbell’s Soup CEO Doug Conant once said, “To win in the marketplace, you must first win in the workplace.” This quote couldn’t be more accurate because engaged team members are at the root of any successful business.

When you have engaged employees who feel appreciated and empowered, you’ll have customers who feel the same. I think of the saying, “A smile is contagious.” When your team members are happy, those positive vibes transfer down to customers, who will feel happy.

Having engaged employees, however, must begin with an engaged, dedicated leadership team. You cannot force employee engagement. Rather, you have to put things in place to help ingrain it into the DNA of the business — the culture — and each team member.

The following suggestions have proven successful in my company, COE Distributing, and at others that have adopted these practices.

  • Recognize team members through personalized notes, such as birthday cards, work anniversary cards (sent to their home via U.S. mail), or personal achievement acknowledgement.
  • Provide continuous development support to all team members with education opportunities, from online skills classes to tuition reimbursement, as well as training on the products and services your company sells to those outside of sales. Remember, everyone has the opportunity to sell, and not just your products and services, but your company. Creating an inclusive, continuous learning environment encourages all employees to promote your company to others.
  • Develop programs that challenge your employees. An example is a Rising Stars program, which provides opportunities to those looking to take the next step.
  • Encourage and ask for employee feedback. At COE, we implemented a quarterly survey to gather employee suggestions and act upon them. Nothing engages an employee more than when they, and others, see their suggestions put into action.
  • Share how the business is performing both financially (to the extent you’re comfortable) and in the eyes of your marketplace. Employees want to care about the work they’re doing and understand how they can make a positive impact on the business. Give them the information to do so.
  • Celebrate the good, such as with monthly birthday cakes, quarterly luncheons with an all-hands-on-deck meeting, getting involved in the community as a team, encouraging nonprofit volunteerism, sharing news via video as a change of pace, etc.

Employee engagement doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and continuous effort from the top. Even when you’ve reached a comfortable, or high level, of employee engagement, you can never stop putting in the work. You have to always ask, “What can I do now to make it even better?”

Keep showing your team members respect and making them feel appreciated. In return, they will respect you, as a leader/leadership team, and work hard every day for the good of the company — not because they feel like they have to, but because they want to, and because they feel empowered to do so. When you have this type of company culture, your customers will let you know in a number of very positive ways.


J.D. Ewing is president and CEO of COE Distributing is the nation’s largest wholesaler/distributor of office furniture, specializing in forward-thinking products that fit perfectly in any environment. With more than 30 years of experience, J.D. has grown this third-generation, family-owned business to extraordinary success by staying true to the most valuable business lesson he’s learned — people are the difference-makers. His business model encourages collaboration among himself, employees, customers and vendors
to create a culture of empowerment and satisfaction.