The Elusive 50% – Are You Missing This Leadership Opportunity?

November 17, 2018 Glenn Case

Road with the word sales on it arching skyward

It’s well known that company success is closely tied to employee engagement levels.

However, according to a major 2017 Gallop study of almost 200,000 employees, a full half fall somewhere in the “partially disengaged’ spectrum.

Think about this. If you have a team of 10 sales people, it’s possible 5 of these are languishing somewhere in the engagement doldrums.

Your first response as a sales manager is likely, “Not in my team”. And you may be right. But if you’re not, you and your team members will be surely paying a heavy toll.

The Elusive 50%

Unlike their “actively” disengaged colleagues who are hard to miss, the partially (or passively)  disengaged employee is often hard to spot, lingering under the radar and driving down hard outcomes like sales and productivity.

The upside – and it’s a big one – is that employees suffering from lower engagement levels respond amazingly well to action by their managers. Consistently, managers rank as the #1 determinant of employee engagement. While direct managers are most often the cause of low engagement they can also be the “activators” of engagement.

According to the Gallop 2017 study, the benefits of enhancing employee engagement are obvious. The highest-engaged business units as compared to the lowest have…

-17% higher productivity

-20% higher sales

-21% higher profitability.

So, how do you know who in your team is potentially disengaged, and how can you turn this around?

Here are 4 suggestions:

1. Release Your Assumptions

The fact is, the typical “partially disengaged employee” is an OK performer. Perhaps even chronically so. It’s easy as a manager to assign them to that group of employees that are often regarded as the “backbone” of the company. 

Don’t get me wrong. Consistent moderate sales performers are critical to any company’s success. And, most often these individuals are engaged in their work.

But some simply aren’t.

Determining the difference is your challenge as a manager.

2. Create “Engagement” Criteria

There are tell-tale signs of low or diminishing engagement. On their own, they may be considered a curiosity at most. Begin to collect, there’s reason for concern.

Here are a few to consider:

Performance Fluctuation

I’ve placed this one first because it’s foundational to the assessment process.

Engagement and performance are intricately linked. With some exceptions, consistent high-performers are typically the most engaged individuals in organizations.

Have a team member whose sales and other performance measures fluctuate significantly over time? This may be an indication that their engagement levels are struggling and should prompt you to explore further using the other criteria.

Communication Level

Are you constantly the one initiating contact with your team member, or asking for updates? This should send up a flag.

It may be nothing in and of itself. I’ve known many high performing, engaged sales representatives who were light on communication. But if other indicators of low engagement are also present, this one begins to carry a lot more weight.

Contribution Level

Is the employee regularly adding his/her two cents to team discussions?

Some people are naturally quiet, or less comfortable communicating in a group. But while this may be the extent of it, if they’re not contributing, there could be something deeper at play. Especially if you’ve set an expectation for interaction within your team.

Incidentally, it’s not uncommon for these individuals to be singled out by other team members. Perhaps it’s an off-hand comment such as… “unfortunate we didn’t get’s John’s thoughts today.”

If you hear these, they could be indicative of something more and worth your while to explore further.

Initiative and Resilience Level

Engaged employees are much more likely to get going when the going gets tough. If they find a wall before them, they begin to dig or scale.

Less engaged individuals, however, may beat a hasty retreat. Even complain about the insurmountable difficulties before them. Do you have any team members that fall into this category?

Create your own list

These are just 4 criteria. Add your own to these.

I often suggest that sales managers build their criteria and systematically assess each of their team members against it. Using a 5-point scale for each element, you will get both an absolute and relative view of engagement levels within your sales team.

3. Assess the Key Motivators

Now that you’ve made a determination of engagement levels, and highlighted any team members within the partially-disengaged spectrum, where do you go from here?

Focus on motivators.

Of course, each individual’s core motivators differ, however, there are some main ones that usually factor heavily in an employee’s engagement level. Critically assessing these can give you some guidance as to what may be contributing to less than optimal engagement and how to move forward…

Skill level

If skills are lacking or inadequate, confidence will be as well. This can be a potent de-motivator. Does the employee have the right skills to find success in their role? Is there opportunity provided to enhance these skills?

Even if the skill level is fine, are you assisting them in elevating it further? Helping an employee achieve mastery often contributes to higher engagement.

Sense of purpose and contribution

It’s human to want a higher purpose – a deep-seated reason to apply ourselves day in day out to an occupation. It’s possible that your team member may be struggling because there’s a disconnection on this front.

Ask yourself, are you helping them to…

-Develop and/or progress in their career?

-Align their personal vision with that of the company culture?

-Understand how their contribution is critical to overall success?

If these have fallen through the cracks, opportunity exists to boost engagement by placing more emphasis here.

Cultural/team fit

Does the employee appear to work well within his/her immediate sales team? Are there indications that the individual prefers to work in a silo, or possibly an interpersonal issue involved?

Supportive, positive work relationships are strong motivators, but in their absence (or worse, when relationships are caustic), motivation and engagement levels can plummet.

Sense of accomplishment

Employees need to feel that they are succeeding. Are you witnessing the successes and progress of the employee? Are you recognizing them regularly, both in private and publicly? Do you regularly provide feedback? Gaps in this area could be contributing to lower engagement.

Opportunity for learning

Learning and development of employees has always been a motivator. Traditionally, such investment was made with those employees wanting to develop their careers or were on the “fast-track”.

However, with the changing generational landscape, L&D has moved up the ranks. Modern employees want to feel that they are learning, and that their managers and companies are willing to invest in them.

Appraise these 5 motivators . They can give you a starting point as you plot a way forward to increasing an employee’s level of engagement.

Note that it’s a starting point only. The next step is to create opportunities to inquire further to confirm suspicions. And this can only be done through effective coaching.

4. Use the Coach Approach

Most managers coach to some degree. Unfortunately, the data is clear – the majority of sales managers coach too little and when they do, it’s often more advising than coaching. There are many reasons for this, outside the scope of this article.

Effective coaching is the most potent means of driving engagement. As mentioned earlier, engagement is tightly tied to the manager-employee relationship, with trust at its foundation.

Coaching builds trust. It allows you to connect with your team members on an individual and deeper level, and to get at those aspects that are harming his/her engagement.

What’s Your Coaching Level?

Here are a few questions to help you assess your potential coaching impact…

-Do you create regular opportunities to connect with your team members? Are these given priority in your schedule?

-How much time do you spend listening, rather than telling or directing?

-Are you non-judgmental?

-Are you guided by curiosity, probing deeply for understanding?

-Do you guide your employees to creating their own solutions?

-Do you regularly provide feedback focused on the issue, not on the person?

-How well do you know the person, not just the worker?

These are just a handful. If you’re doing many of the above, you likely have a trusting relationship that you can leverage to explore and better understand the causes of low engagement, and to address them.

Use this opportunity!

If, however, your answer is “no” to many of the above questions, it might be time to look at strengthening your coaching approach.


Upward of half of any sales team may be languishing in the engagement doldrums. Unfortunately, many of these individuals exist below the manager’s radar and are allowed to linger in partial disengagement indefinitely.

The upside for a manager and a company to move these “partially-disengaged” employees into the realm of full engagement is clear. Sales, productivity and profitability have been proven to increase as much as 20%.

To do this, managers must first accept that these partially engaged employees exist within their teams, highlight who they are and take urgent action to support them through effective coaching. 

Would love to hear your thoughts and experiences!

About Glenn

Glenn helps business leaders and owners boost their leadership impact and overall company performance. Contact him at

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