What Kindergarten Taught Me about Employee Engagement

Leanne Buehler, Ph.D., Principal Science and Innovation AdvisorEmployee EngagementLeave a Comment

With the school year coming to a close, I have been reflecting on the past year and how my kids have grown. This year marked the milestone of sending my oldest to public school and with that came the anxiety of putting my kindergartener on a bus. This would be the first time I didn’t directly hand my five year old over to the person who would be caring for her. My fears ranged from wondering how she would find her classroom, to if she would find the right bus to take home, to finding friendly companions to sit with. Little did I know how delighted I would be as a parent and at the same time experience a great example of employee engagement.

On the first day of school, I walked my daughter to the bus stop and we waited (me far more nervous than her) for the yellow bus to stop on our corner. As the bus stopped, the bus driver stood up, shook my hand and introduced himself as Mr. Daryl. I introduced myself and my daughter, and he remembered both of our names! He told me he would be Ellie’s driver and promised to take good care of her. I remember feeling both pleasantly surprised by the welcoming hospitality and relieved to have a connection with the person who would be driving my daughter into the unknown. Off she went for a successful first day of school. She returned on the bus full of excitement – she even bragged to her brothers about how cool it is to ride a bus. As the days passed, my daughter and I formed a relationship with Mr. Daryl and my worries melted away.

Several weeks later, my daughter got off the bus with a piece of paper in her hands. As she handed it to me, Mr. Daryl called out, “Ellie is doing a great job on the bus!” The paper was a certificate stating that Ellie was student of the week on bus #143 and it was signed personally by Mr. Daryl himself. Beyond being proud of my daughter’s good bus riding (talk about bragging!), I was most impressed with Mr. Daryl. He cared so much about his kids and the environment on his bus, that he took the time to reward and recognize good behavior. To me he was the perfect example of employee engagement. He was going above and beyond to excel in his role – not just in getting kids safely from point A to point B, but also in building trust with parents and growing character in his students.

So what does this have to do with employee engagement? At Newmeasures we believe when we are in the right role in a positive environment, we all have the potential to be an “Inspired Entrepreneur.” Inspired Entrepreneurs are those that bring their best every day, look for new and better ways to do things, and go above and beyond with enthusiasm and commitment. Newmeasures research shows that employees are most likely to be Inspired Entrepreneurs when they feel valued for their contributions and when road blocks to success are removed. Mr. Daryl was an Inspired Entrepreneur – he was creative, thoughtful, and cared deeply about his students and their families.

Often times we get questions about using the word “entrepreneur” to describe these fully engaged employees because it conjures ideas of senior leaders or startups. But as Mr. Daryl reminded me, in every role there is an opportunity to bring new, actionable ideas that make a difference for customers and key stakeholders. My guess is that no one told him how to greet parents or to start a “student of the week initiative.” He was the expert in his job and cared enough to add a personal touch that made a world of difference to his customers.

As my daughter starts her summer and gets ready for first grade, I have no doubt that there will be future challenges and anxiety-provoking milestones, but thanks to Mr. Daryl, riding the bus will not be one of them. And even more importantly, he reminds me of the impact employees can make when they feel valued and trusted to do their jobs. Thank you Mr. Daryl!

When have you seen an example of an Inspired Entrepreneur at work?