Guest Interview: David Zinger, Employee Engagement Expert (Part 1)

October 2, 2014by Darryl FeldmanEmployee EngagementInternal Communications


Hope you got a chance to check out our recent interview with employee engagement and leadership expert, Kevin Kruse! In the same spirit, our C0-Founder & Creative Director, Mike Lepis, and I sat down with one of our other favorites: David Zinger. Named “the Seth Godin of Employee Engagement,” David is an expert, author, educator, and speaker on employee engagement. He’s also the founder of The Employee Engagement Network. David’s a great Twitter follow at @davidzinger. Thanks for taking time to share your insights for our readers, David. Keep up the great work!

Our chat was a bit lengthy, so we’re going to break it up into two parts. Here’s Part 1!



MIKE LEPIS (ML):  What have you been up to, David?

DAVID ZINGER (DZ): You know I’m very devoted to employee engagement for the benefit of all. For employees, for organizations, for managers, for leaders, for managers, for customers, for their families, for well being. It’s a tall order but I’m doing what I can. I really believe employee engagement is going to die. I think it’s either going to die as a fad that never fulfilled its promises for many organizations; or it dies and this is the death I hope for it, it dies because it gets integrated into the very ways we lead an manage and work. So to use the term “employee engagement” would be somewhat superfluous because our approaches, and our methods and our tactics, and our strategies are engaging.

ML: That’s a really great point. I think it’s like 15-20 years ago when companies probably had training on how to use email. Now, could you imagine somebody doing that?

DZ: I like your analogy. Many employees see it as a manipulation by the organization to suck more work out of them. That’s unfortunate. I think what wefail to realize is that all effort is discretionary. People can choose to work or not to work. Ultimately, there needs to be sound and valid consequences to the choices [organizations are] making, but it’s always a choice. The problem with something like discretionary effort is that it makes engagement something extra or added. That’s not sustainable.

ML: Right.

DZ: I think when we see that all work is discretionary, that’s sustainable. I’m really tired of great work. I’m really tired of excellence. But, what I really appreciate is good work. So, I redefine “engagements” simply as “good work done well, with others every day.”

ML: That’s great.


ML: I noticed you talk specifically about small groups in your blog, “Engagement Zingers.” We work with a lot of dispersed workforces and retailers of 500 stores. Those are 500 independent groups that are working autonomously (kind of) from the mother ship…

DZ:  I believe small is significant in engagement. But, it must be significant and strategic; and if it fails, then you’re out of there. Conversely, if it scales or if it’s successful, then you scale it; but, you don’t scale it with a program or an outside consultant, you just scale it internally by the mangers who have tested out say “Hey, this worked for me.” Mars, Inc. brings its managers together to talk with each other like, “What are you doing where you’re working, at your plant, your site that’s making a difference?” And those managers, the managers who are struggling more with this (with engagement, or experiencing disengagement really) their ears perk up because they’re saying, “Here’s somebody who knows that, they’re what I’m doing. They understand.” I sure would love to see a lot more of that.


ML: We see a lot of internal knowledge sharing at our clients. It’s right for sharing ideas, leveraging internal social networks, some virtual way to exchange. Have you seen this to be successful with organizations?

DZ: You know, there’s such a social media diffusion at this point that I think people go, “Not one more thing that I have to kind of log into or move.” So there’s always a struggle of how you do that in a small and significant way. But, if there’s value and people start to realize the value, and you have a few champions or a few people that are really kind of making sure that the goal is, I think it ultimately can be quite successful. You’ll never get engagement with imposition.

ML: You brought up an interesting point there about social networks. We’ve gone from just recommending having a social network in place because the technology is pretty accessible to actually having somebody staff it. You can roll it out there, but if you don’t have a sponsor or an advocate or somebody who’s essentially going to be a community manager for your organization, then just don’t even do it. What about your work with The Employee Engagement Network?

DZ: I really perceive The Employee Engagement Network becoming The Employee Engagement Learning Network. Really with a focus on badgingand certification, and really advancing kind of the learning and resources of engagement, and much less of kind of the social interactive. I think it’ll be socio learning, psycho-socio learning; but, the social component and all the chatter and all the comments and all the forums will be much less. That’s where I see the next couple years of that network going to.


More to come with David later (soon!). But, he raised a lot of important issues around employee engagement. What do you think?

Darryl Feldman