Employee Engagement and Satisfaction to Ease Top Concerns for Employers

When I owned a sign company before the Great Recession, I employed a small but mighty team of multitalented workers who needed to do graphic design, build signs, handle customers with care, clean the shop, and a myriad of other tasks. They represented the majority of the value for my business. As a startup, we ran on limited resources and tight margins. My goals every day included keeping my employees working and satisfied with their jobs and making new connections to drive revenue and keep us in business.

Throughout my career, I have mainly worked with family businesses with similar needs: a high-performing and fully engaged workforce, a finite budget to manage, and revenue targets to hit every day, week, month, quarter, and year. According to the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) and other authoritative sources, two primary concerns exist for employers today:

  1. Finding and retaining top talent
  2. Employing workers with the skills required to perform their job well.

Organizations must recruit, engage, and retain talent to keep cash flowing into the business. These employers turn to talent optimization to accomplish these objectives.

Use job crafting…

The Importance of Employee Engagement:

Engaged employees contribute more significantly to achieving business goals. According to the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP), the key components of employees’ work engagement include dedication and enthusiasm toward their work, vigor, and investment in their work to persevere through challenges, and absorption and engrossment in work while on the job. Without these qualities, the organization may experience decreased productivity, high turnover, and poor customer satisfaction. When workplaces run sub-optimally, they risk compromising performance, morale, and retention, resulting in increased costs from a lack of quality, wellness, and recruitment because of attrition (Hultman, 2020).

What Is Talent Optimization?

According to The Predictive Index (2023), a company specializing in behavioral and cognitive assessments for employment, talent optimization can be defined as a business framework that uncovers how people like to work, analyzes the jobs required to operate the business to meet strategic goals, and aligns the two for sustainable results. When talent and business strategies meet harmoniously, people become engaged in their work because workers view the company culture as positive.

Elements of good talent optimization include designing a solid talent strategy, hiring the right people for the right roles, inspiring workers to develop into managers and improve relationships, and diagnosing problems to correct the course toward results. 

Start with Job Analysis

Organizations should start with work and job analysis when designing a talent strategy. Work analyses define what jobs a workplace needs to fulfill requirements; job analyses identify the tasks, duties, knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics (KSAOs) required to do the job. From this analysis, organizations can begin to design their organizational structure and create plans to execute a formidable talent strategy to hire, develop, and retain people.

Leverage Assessments

Optimizing talent requires a multi-pronged approach to assessment. Utilizing valid and reliable assessments alongside traditional methods like resume reviews, portfolios, and social media reviews can provide deeper insights into a candidate’s skills, cognitive abilities, and cultural fit during the hiring process. Interviews then offer an opportunity to delve deeper and confirm the findings. For incumbent workers, additional assessments and performance evaluations can identify strengths, areas for development, and potential for growth within the organization. This comprehensive approach ensures that workplaces not only recruits talent effectively but continuously develop and engage their people, leading to a more optimized and successful workforce.

Discovering work preferences is a crucial element of talent optimization. Tools like Holland’s Standard Self-Directed Search (SDS) and O*Net’s MyNextMove can provide valuable insights into an individual’s natural inclinations toward specific work environments, tasks, and activities. By utilizing these valid and reliable assessments alongside traditional methods, organizations can gain a deeper understanding of skills and abilities and an individual’s intrinsic motivations and preferred work styles. This allows for better talent placement, matching individuals with roles that align with their natural preferences, leading to increased satisfaction, engagement, and, ultimately, higher performance.

Set Goals

Business leaders should set specific, challenging, and achievable goals aligned with individual aspirations and overall business objectives. Research supports goal-setting theory as a method to motivate employees to fully engage in their work (Locke & Latham, 2019). Elements of goal-setting theory include:

  • SMART and Challenging Goals: Align individual goals with the overall business strategy and ensure they are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-constrained (SMART). Furthermore, they should offer employees a challenge while being achievable. This fosters a sense of purpose and direction, motivating employees to strive for excellence.
  • Feedback and Goal Adjustment: Provide constructive feedback regularly and allow for goal adjustments based on progress and changing circumstances. This maintains a sense of control and autonomy, promoting engagement.
  • Participation in Goal Setting: Involve employees in setting their own goals, fostering a sense of ownership and commitment to achieving them. 

These goals and all elements of the talent optimization process should connect to business strategy and results.

Inspire and Empower Employees

Focus on building employees’ self-efficacy – their belief in their ability to achieve their goals. Organizations can achieve this through training, providing opportunities for success, and recognizing accomplishments. Create a work environment where employees can observe and learn from successful colleagues and mentors. This fosters a sense of collective achievement and motivates individuals to strive for similar success. Also, help employees understand the positive outcomes associated with achieving their goals, not just for the business but also for their personal growth and development. This strengthens the link between effort and reward, further boosting motivation (Latham, 2012). Furthermore, some level of job crafting – where employees can participate in designing their jobs – can also help employees make their jobs their own.

Avoiding Over-Optimization:

According to industrial-organizational (I-O) psychologist Adam Grant, psychologist Barry Schwartz, and applied mathematician Coco Krumme, you can have too much of a good thing with optimization. Employers should strive to help workers maintain a healthy work-life balance. While getting the right people on board, providing opportunities for development, and helping them solve problems with support, people can achieve success without sacrificing their happiness and job satisfaction. While optimization aims to enhance engagement, it should not inadvertently lead to burnout or damaged mental health.

Don’t Go It Alone

Many business owners lack the time to design and execute a talent optimization strategy fully. Consultants (such as we at WorkBalance Consulting), can help organizations with:

  1. Recruitment and Selection: Hiring the right people is essential for small businesses.
    1. Design effective job descriptions from job analysis
    2. Choose the right assessments and utilize data-driven methods to identify the best candidates.
    3. Implement fair and unbiased hiring practices.
  2. Training and Development: Investing in employee development leads to increased skills, engagement, and retention.
    1. Conduct training needs assessments.
    2. Design and deliver targeted training programs.
    3. Evaluate the effectiveness of training initiatives.
  3. Performance Management: Establishing clear performance expectations and providing effective feedback motivates employees and improves results.
    1. Develop performance management systems.
    2. Facilitate constructive feedback conversations.
    3. Implement reward and recognition programs.
  4. Employee Engagement and Retention: High employee turnover can be costly for small businesses.
    1. Analyze factors impacting employee engagement and satisfaction.
    2. Recommend strategies to improve workplace culture and morale.
    3. Develop retention programs to keep top talent.

By focusing on talent management and optimization, I-O consultants can help small businesses:

  • Reduce costs associated with poor hiring, training, and high turnover.
  • Increase employee productivity and performance.
  • Build a strong and motivated workforce critical for long-term success.

Investing in these approaches to optimizing talent through intentional management often has a ripple effect, positively and significantly impacting various aspects of a small business’s operations.

If your organization needs talent optimization, contact WorkBalance Consulting.


Gabriel, A.S. & Bennett, A.A. (2015). Getting engaged: Top tips for an engaged workforce. Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP).

Grant, A. (2023). Why aiming for the best isn’t always good for you. TED. https://www.ted.com/podcasts/rethinking-with-adam-grant/why-aiming-for-the-best-isn-t-always-good-for-you-transcript 

Hultman, K. (2020). Building a culture of employee optimization. Organizational Development Journal. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Ken-Hultman/publication/343615429_Building_a_Culture_of_Employee_Optimization/links/5f35699a92851cd302f20a68/Building-a-Culture-of-Employee-Optimization.pdf 

Latham, G. P. (2012). Work Motivation: History, Theory, Research, and Practice: Vol. Second edition. SAGE Publications, Inc.

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2019). The development of goal setting theory: A half-century retrospective. Motivation Science, 5(2), 93–105. https://doi-org.libauth.purdueglobal.edu/10.1037/mot0000127

The Predictive Index. (2023). The state of talent optimization: 4 strategies to rise above today’s talent challenges.

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