it takes 3 - vicki hessOver the last decade, billions of dollars and millions of hours have been invested by organizations across the country to foster greater employee engagement, yet employee disengagement is still at or near an all-time high. Why? Because we’ve been missing a key piece of the engagement puzzle: The employees!

The solution to the employee engagement problem is threefold. It Takes 3TM to create sustainable engagement:

  1. An organization that deliberately and consistently supports employee engagement at the strategic level
  2. Leaders who regularly drive engagement at the tactical level
  3. Individuals who are accountable for engagement at a personal level

What’s missing in most discussions about engagement is the individual employee’s personal responsibility for his or her own engagement. For years, experts and organizations have focused on the first two areas and their role in employee engagement. Until recently, there was very little focus on employees taking responsibility for their own engagement. Consider the typical

Consider the typical employee engagement survey questions. Are they focused equally on the employee’s role in creating engagement for themselves? Usually not. (But they should be.)

Unfortunately, organizations and their leaders have been misguided to believe that it’s their job — and theirs only — to engage employees. That’s not the case. As a leader, you are indeed a powerful influencer of engagement. Your organization has to be committed to creating a culture of engagement as well. Yet no matter how supportive the organization might be and how engaging a leader you are, you will never be able to engage an employee who doesn’t want to be engaged. It is only when team members choose to be engaged and accept responsibility for their own engagement that we can achieve sustainable results. This is powerful, and it’s time we acknowledged that truth.

In the It Takes 3 model, engagement is represented by the point in the center where the organization, leader, and employee circles all overlap. The organization and leaders are purposefully shown on the bottom because these two are foundational — they support engagement. All three circles are the same size to show that all three elements are equally responsible. In addition, there’s give and take between each component (Organization to Leaders, Leaders to Individuals, and Organization to Individuals).

Let’s look at these three elements in more detail:

  1. An optimized organization that deliberately and consistently supports engagement at the strategic level.

    You may be thinking this is obvious. I agree. Yet when I talk with healthcare leaders across the country and ask them about their strategic initiatives regarding engagement, I get “umms” and “ahhs.” These leaders are not able to clearly articulate their organization’s strategies that focus on engagement, and if they can’t articulate them, they probably aren’t being consistently implemented or measured. Can your leadership group identify your organization’s strategic engagement initiatives?

  2. Leaders who regularly drive engagement at the tactical level.

    When it comes to engagement, a leader’s primary job is to “grease the wheels” for team member engagement and help them develop accountability for their own engagement. But distractions abound that pull leaders away from a focus on engagement, and this is a problem that is evidenced over time through unwanted turnover, employee complaints, and low morale. Leaders who embrace employee engagement as a key priority will meet their goals faster and more productively.

  3. Individuals who are accountable for engagement at a personal level.

    It’s not enough to focus only on the organization’s and leaders’ roles in creating engagement. Each individual must own engagement at a personal level. Without question, external factors (such as the culture of the organization, pay and benefits, the team leader’s support, etc.) play a key role in employee engagement. However, ultimately, engagement is an internal issue — each of us decides to be engaged or disengaged, energized or apathetic. It’s not something that someone does to us.

At the end of the day, engagement is a choice each of us makes every day. The great news is that with all three elements in place, your results will soar.

Editorial note: This post is adapted from the book “6 Shortcuts to Employee Engagement: Lead & Succeed in a Do-More-with-Less World” by Vicki Hess, RN and has been republished here with her permission. 

Read more resources from the Healthcare Employee Engagement Toolkit:


About Vicki Hess, RN, MS, & Talent Symposium 2019 Keynote Speaker

Vicki Hess, RN, is your go-to resource for transforming employee engagement at the individual, department or organization-wide level. As the author of four books, Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), trainer and consultant; Vicki inspires healthcare leaders to take action in a real-world, relatable way. Organizations that implement Vicki's ideas experience increased engagement, productivity, safety, quality, retention, patient satisfaction, creativity and more. Access Vicki’s free tools and resources at