6 levels of engagement – time to get your people fully PRESENT? 

It was 4.15 in the afternoon with perhaps an hour of daylight left when we arrived at Seal Rocks, a small beach hamlet on the NSW coast. After four hours of driving from Sydney, I was all set for a relaxing beer, but my son and his four 14 year-old mates had other plans. We had to go spear fishing – NOW! So off they went and, girded only by a reluctant sense of loco parentis, I grabbed my gear and followed them into the frigid-looking ocean…

…to be rewarded by the most extraordinary snorkeling adventure I’ve ever experienced. The water was in fact warm and as clear as gin. For the next hour I enjoyed a magical assault on the senses, as we swam over turtles, octopus, parrot fish, blue wrasse and a particularly impressive school (flock??) of Eagle rays the size of coffee tables.

Left to my own devices, I’d have missed it all, but the excitement and sheer puppy-like enthusiasm of the boys was infectious.

Enthusiasm is like gold-dust

Enthusiasm literally means’to be possessed of a God-like quality’. I love this. It’s why we are so attracted to enthusiastic people, those who are full of possibility, energy and can-do. I call these people fully PRESENT and, in the world of work, they are incredibly valuable. Problem is, we don’t come across them very often. In fact, study after study tells us that the majority of employees are disengaged. They are physically ‘present’, but in every other sense, out to lunch – giving only a fraction of what they could. So how do get our people from ‘present’ to PRESENT? My model below may help:

There are 6 Levels of Engagement – each delivering a corresponding value to the business (and the individual). It’s most obvious to think of the model as an aid to develop under-performing staff, but there’s more to it than that. I believe it applies equally to the many managers struggling to adapt to generate the value they once did (and can again, with encouragement and a teachable attitude).

1. present

This is the lowest form of engagement, where an employee is only at work in a physical sense. I was dismayed to learn recently of a public sector organization where the only performance metric is hours attended (all 38.5 of them). There is no reward or encouragement for improving outcomes or increasing productivity (in fact it’s informally discouraged). Staff who are merely ‘present’ are likely to be unhappy and probably costing you money. Better to have an empty seat than a completely disengaged body warming a chair.

2. heard

To move your staff up the value chain, they need to feel they have a voice. Ask for their input on what can be done to make their job better or how they think things can be improved. Find out what’s important to them. This is not to say you have to agree, but it’s crucial to take the time to genuinely listen (and learn!). Once people are heard, their sense of unfairness or insignificance is at least reduced. They are more likely to at begin to add value to your business.

3. challenged

I use this term in two senses. The first is to challenge people as in “who goes there?” At some point, every employee has freely accepted his/her role, presumably with a sense of excitement. In many of the corporate environments I’ve worked in and with, this simple truth gets lost. It IS absolutely appropriate to challenge employees who, once heard, are unwilling to develop a more positive attitude. No one is guaranteed a job and leaders must not avoid this difficult conversation.

More productively, people tend to react well to a positive challenge (as in, “I challenge you to really give this a go”). Good leaders challenge their people to grow personally to achieve more. Employees who respond to these challenge are now adding value and also likely to positively impact others.

4. trusted

A natural outcome of the frank conversations at the challenge stage is the development of a deeper trust. If you can’t or won’t trust your people, something’s very wrong (probably with you!). Once trust is established, people step up. Autonomy is enhanced and decision-making accelerated. The value delivered can’t help but be increased.

5. engaged

With evolved levels of trust, sustained over time, results flow that are pleasing for both the business and the employee. Work is viewed as a positive place to be and a rewarding thing to do. These staff members are truly engaged and likely to be performing at 3 or 4 times the levels of the ‘present’.


At the highest level, your best employees will be fully PRESENT – bringing to the workplace the best possible version of themselves. They will be generating great commercial value, clustering into empowered teams and adding to a culture of high-performance, achievement and possibility.

Talent for hire

Whilst you may not want to employ my son and his spear-fishing buddies just yet (5 teenage boys with spears – what could go wrong?), you’d love to have their energy in your business. I’ve found if you employ the right people and concentrate on enabling them to be energized, engaged and PRESENT the numbers that most leaders fixate on just take care of themselves.

Work with Mark: Mark runs team and individual programs to help you grow the influence of your people and business. To set up an exploratory conversation, contact Mark at mark@markhodgson.com.au

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