Interview with David Zinger
Employee Engagement Expert

It is as simple as ABC: Achieve Results, Build Relationships, and Cultivate Wellbeing. To make the ABC's of work come alive we must focus on results, performance, progress, relationships, recognition, moments, strengths, meaning, wellbeing, and energy. Turn engagement, the concept, into engaging actions based on small, simple, specific, social, strategic, structural and sustainable evidence-based behaviors and actions. Contact David Zinger today to learn the ABC's of engagement and put the 10-block pyramid of engagement to work where you work.
Hi David! Tell us about the ABC's of employee engagement!
Could engagement be as simple as A B C - and D? When I look at engagement I see it simply as connection. We want people to be connected to their work; we want them to be connected with others at work; we want them to be connected to their organization. When I look at engagement I think, "I want to achieve results, build relationships, cultivate well-being and develop career." The employee must be the primary benefit of engagement themselves, if engagement is to be sustainable. So when we look at it, we need to help employees learn how to manage, foster and enhance their own engagement. It isn't some sort of paternalistic exercise by the organization - it is a partnership between the employee and organization, for the benefit of all. That includes the employee themselves, the organization, customer, and even the employees' family.
Take us through a past consulting experience of your's to illustrate what businesses achieve through hiring an employee engagement expert.
When I work with a client, I come as an independent voice. With over 15 years experience in the field of engagement and employee experience, what I offer them is assistance and perspective on what they're doing. I'm not trying to do the whole broad brush approach to engagement, and I think each company and organization needs to make engagement fit for themselves, for their employees and for their unique situation. I often advocate for the employee voice - for the employees to experience the benefit of engagement. It's not manipulation, it's not sucking more work out of overtaxed employees - it's helping employees feel that authentic connection to their work and to each other, and to what the results of their work are for clients and customers. I like to sit down with H.R., internal comm, or even line employees and really look at how do they craft something that really makes sense and fits best for them. Sometimes I see a little bit of myopia in certain organizations - they don't see what they already have. I want to really help organizations integrate engagement with all the other facets of their work: from performance management to employee well-being. I remember one company I worked with, that was some hydro electric company, and they didn't use the metaphor of energy and I thought, "Well, that's what you provide for others. That's what you need to provide for each other and for employees."
What was it like writing the book, People Artists, with Peter Hart?
I had the honor of writing People Artists: How to Draw the Best in Others with Peter Hart. He's an amazing CEO of Rideau Recognition Solutions. He's a very, very gifted artist with a large studio in Old Montreal, and first and foremost, Peter is a people artist. I was at his workplace and watching him do some of his artwork, and then watched him move around the organization. And we got back to his office and I said to him, "Peter, you're not just an artist, you're a people artist." A people artist is a person who draws out the best in others. And so we collaborated on two books in relationship to people artistry, and it's been a marvelous collaboration with his artwork, his thoughts, his thinking, my writing, and my background and education brought together to help others draw out the best in others at work. I hope each person can find their own semblance of people artistry - it's such a gift, not only for others, but ourselves. I consider the book, People Artists, one of the best books I ever wrote, and it was a real privilege, an honor, and a lot of learning in doing it with Peter Hart.
What brought you into employee engagement? What do you like about this work?
What brought me into employee engagement was, actually, William Kahn's article back in 1990. I was involved in educational and counselling psychology, and he wrote the landmark article on something called personal engagement. Instantly upon reading that, and looking at how he explored how much of ourselves do we bring to our work - how important is meaningfulness, availability, and psychological safety in work - caught my attention right away. I've been an employee assistance counselor for 15 years for Seagram; I taught counseling and educational psychology for 25 years and I thought I really wanted to make a contribution to help people connect authentically with their workplace, with each other, and with the results of trying to achieve. That's what drew me into this work. I think we lost our way shortly after 1990, when we called it "employee engagement" - I kind of wish we'd stayed with "personal engagement", of how we bring ourselves. I think the other thing that we lost sight of that we're just finding about 25 years later was Kahn's concept around safety - psychological safety. Google's now done some studies on it, Amy Edmondson has done some work on it, but I go back to William Kahn. Thirty years ago, he said we needed to feel safe at work in order to really bring a full and authentic connection of ourselves to our work. That's what I enjoy about this work: connecting myself with the task, but helping others connect with tasks and each other. Engagement is a very robust concept.
What brought you into employee engagement? What do you like about this work?
What brought me into employee engagement was, actually, William Kahn's article back in 1990. I was involved in educational and counselling psychology, and he wrote the landmark article on something called personal engagement. Instantly upon reading that, and looking at how he explored how much of ourselves do we bring to our work - how important is meaningfulness, availability, and psychological safety in work - caught my attention right away. I've been an employee assistance counselor for 15 years for Seagram; I taught counseling and educational psychology for 25 years and I thought I really wanted to make a contribution to help people connect authentically with their workplace, with each other, and with the results of trying to achieve. That's what drew me into this work. I think we lost our way shortly after 1990, when we called it "employee engagement" - I kind of wish we'd stayed with "personal engagement", of how we bring ourselves. I think the other thing that we lost sight of that we're just finding about 25 years later was Kahn's concept around safety - psychological safety. Google's now done some studies on it, Amy Edmondson has done some work on it, but I go back to William Kahn. Thirty years ago, he said we needed to feel safe at work in order to really bring a full and authentic connection of ourselves to our work. That's what I enjoy about this work: connecting myself with the task, but helping others connect with tasks and each other. Engagement is a very robust concept.
Do you have any speaking events or projects coming up?
I have a couple of events coming up in the next two weeks: one, in Winnipeg on engagement and infection control for infection control officers; the other one is in Washington, for internal communicators and how to be more engaging in how they can expand their role. But the project that's interests me the most right now, is creating an online course on powerful and engaged listening. To bring the framework and fabric of listening from counseling psychology into leadership and management, the role is different, some of the functions are different, but the way of listening is indeed very, very powerful. One of the things that fosters engagement is employee voice, and being able to draw that voice out - not just with apps and not just with surveys, but in one-on-one and one-on-group listening - is a very powerful endeavor. So I hope this summer, early in the fall, to have a ten-lesson course available for people, to be very powerful and engaged listeners.