Xi Ren Yang, Founder, Xel Consulting

Xi Ren has more than 20 years of HR experience in both consulting and corporate roles across multiple industries, with Global and Regional scope. She is the Founder of Xel Consulting that focuses on enhancing organizational performance through employee engagement. Using the analogy of the DNA, this involves transforming organizational DNA around its culture, environment, and people so that employees are engaged and motivated, which leads to higher performance. As a Shared Leadership Team Coach, she partners with leaders to build high performing teams through the 5Cs (connect, contract, collect, collaborate, challenge) Disciplines. She is passionate about helping people to be a better version of themselves by empowering them to achieve their goals through coaching. As a facilitator, she delivers a variety of soft skills workshops including Growth Mindset, Well-Being, and Leadership. One of her specialities is the Society for Human Resource Management Advanced HR Diploma Course, where she trains on Employee Engagement.



This is what employee engagement is, which is critical for businesses to be successful.

When employees are engaged, they feel motivated, resulting in higher productivity and performance which leads to higher profitability of the company.

Yet, only 21% of employees globally are engaged at work, according to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace: 2022 Report.

Acknowledging this big opportunity to engage employees, how can we drive employee engagement?

Pay employees more money? Give them free food and drinks?

If you are relying on compensation to engage employees, it is not effective as such motivation is not sustainable. Money will always not be enough.

Providing awesome benefits may not lead to employee engagement either.

There is a difference between employee satisfaction and employee engagement. The former usually covers the basic concerns and needs of the employees such as compensation and benefits which are extrinsic factors. Employee satisfaction creates the foundation for employee engagement. Employees must first be satisfied before they are engaged. It does not mean that they are engaged if they are satisfied. There could be exceptions to this with startups or certain companies where employees joining need not be satisfied with the basic factors currently but are very engaged to drive success and derive satisfaction at a later stage. This involves a shared and compelling vision and a roadmap to achieve that vision.

I would like to use the analogy of DNA to explain employee engagement. Just like human beings, organizations’ DNA determine how employees behave. The organizational DNA is made up of three components – Culture, Environment and People. Coding the DNA make up effectively achieves the sweet spot – employee engagement.

Let’s look at the first component, Culture

It is the glue that holds an organization together through the shared values, beliefs, and behaviours. It defines organizations and determines how the organizations run, the way people work and how things get done. As Leaders, we create the culture, and we have to walk the talk.

Empathy, Empowerment and Enablement should be the three keys of corporate culture. Leading by fear – command and control, micro-managing and repercussion of failures disengages employees.

For employees to be engaged, we need to drive a people-first culture. We need to care, value them, and build empathy. Treat people as human beings and not as human resources. Only when people know how much we care, they will care what we know.

Often, I noticed due to the fast pace of work, dynamic changes, and pressures to deliver, managers tend to be too task-focused and lack the human connection. Their behaviours come across as treating employees as just tools to get the job done. Do your managers build relationships with their teams? How well do they know them? Do they show genuine care for their team members? Do they respect employees as individuals? Do they listen to them?

We cannot expect employees to be engaged if we do not start with ourselves to engage them.

Equipping managers with the soft skills to lead effectively is as critical as training people on technical skills. Frequently, we see people leave because of their managers.

Another important element in culture is trust. We should create an atmosphere where employees feel empowered and trusted to do what is best for the organization. There is a growing trend to promote intrapreneurship within organizations. When employees act like entrepreneurs within the company, they have higher ownership and drive. Organizations should be willing to take risks, give people the space to experiment and embrace failures.

In addition, promoting a Growth Mindset in employees help to drive intrapreneurship. When people believe that they can grow and develop their abilities over time, we are empowering a workforce who believes it can learn, and willing to, not only for themselves but for the company. This involves leading with “What do you need to achieve this?” instead of “Can you achieve this?” Or “Are you capable?”

Growth Mindset influences how people view themselves which will impact how they show up in their roles, whether they see themselves making a difference or adding value to the organization.

Developing a growth mindset culture is a requisite to people enablement, which leads to fulfilment and engagement.

Next, let’s talk about Environment.

​The environment which includes the processes, systems, and tools that employees’ function in, is an important factor in influencing their performance and engagement.

​Here, I would like to focus on employee experiences throughout employee lifecycle to engage employees, from onboarding to development, to retention and offboarding. What are your policies and practices surrounding these processes? How does your onboarding program help employees to transit into their role and the organization smoothly? How are you promoting employees’ development through the 70-20-10 (experience-exposure-education) development principle? How is your organization promoting employees’ well-being? Does your organization have work flexibility, rewards and recognition programs? These programs help in employee retention.

I observed that companies tend to forget that offboarding remains an important piece in the employee lifecycle and that we should ensure employees leave us on a good note. How they exit from the company will have an impact on the remaining employees’ engagement level. Employees should always leave feeling that they are respected, whether voluntary resignation or involuntary separation due to restructuring.

Let’s look at the last component, People.

Help people to find the sense of purpose in their roles. How does their job fit into the bigger picture, contributing to the organization’s mission, goals, and strategies? Make employees feel that they are an essential part of the organization, no matter where they are in the hierarchy. Give them the opportunity to utilize their strengths in the work that they do.

For example, create a compelling company vision (or even product or service), one that makes a difference to people’s lives and employees feel that they are part of that vision and the journey to deliver that vision to people. This explains why some seasoned corporate employees are happy to leave their cushy jobs and join start-ups – a desire to be part of that incredible journey.

Help employees to see a future with the organization, one where they can grow with the company. This is about enabling them with the necessary knowledge and skills to succeed in their current and future roles. This could be achieved through on-the-job experience, coaching, mentoring, and training. Organizations should have an individual development plan for their people to support them in their career aspirations.

​It takes two to tango. Employees need to understand that they also have to play their part to be engaged. Communication is important here. What are your communication platforms for the company to communicate to employees and for employees to communicate to the company?

There you have it, the key to employee engagement. Our role as leaders is to maximize the performance of our people. We can achieve this only if we get their full engagement. For employees to be fully engaged, we need to engage their mind and heart. This will transform the workplace as their second home.

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