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By Darryl Stewart

Employee Engagement – IBEX Style

It is all the rage these days to talk about employee engagement.  If you’re wondering what exactly this term means, you’re not alone, most leaders I talk to aren’t sure either.

One definition I came across is simple and right to the point…

“Engagement is the extent to which people enjoy and believe in what they do and feel valued for doing it.”

The concept of employee engagement has always appealed to me.  The idea that the people who work in an organization could be highly engaged was my dream for many years.  I tried profit sharing, flex time, catering to individual employee concerns about work space and environment and anything else I could think of to try and “make” people more engaged.  But most would just not engage – damn it!

In retrospect, all my feeble attempts at getting people to engage were way off base.  I was totally missing the boat.  Just adding a few benefits here and there is about as far as you can get from what it takes to get real employee engagement.  In fact, my results from this approach were exactly the opposite of what I was after.  Instead of liking their job more and engaging in serving clients with gusto, this type of superficial management approach made things worse.  The more I catered to people’s individual whims while ignoring all else, the more it was expected and the more people seemed to think they were doing IBEX a favour by showing up to work each day and going through the motions.

However, through all these trying times, there was employee engagement happening at IBEX.  It was just happening where I wasn’t looking. Like most leaders, I was focusing my energy on the under achievers – struggling to engage the unengageable.  I was focused on the wrong people and using flawed strategies while ignoring those who were highly motivated and eager to be engaged. No wonder I wasn’t getting anywhere. Today, the situation is much different.  Our employee engagement is much improved.  It has literally taken years to get to where we are.

The Things That Worked


I started to learn that in order to engage everyone else, I had to get engaged first.  My motives in the past often had more to do with wanting to make my job easier than they had to do with truly improving our business and our cause.  Once I accepted that being the catalyst for employee engagement was MY PERMANENT ROLE things got much, much easier.  I stopped trying to find quick fixes and started making it part of all I do, always.


From a company that once had a staff meeting once a month, IBEX has become the meeting Mecca.  Our daily Herddle (all staff) is followed by the Crewddle (Alpine Crew), Grumpy Crewddle (Alpine Leaders), Nerddle (IT team), the Includle (Inclusion Experts), the  Feedle (Accounting) and the Doodle (Mountain Do Team) and at lesser intervals the Super Grumpy and Grumpy management meetings.  Sounds like a lot, but they are mostly short, stand up meetings to make sure everyone is on the same page and getting the opportunity to give input.


I’ve learned that employees engage when they feel that someone at work cares about them.  In fact, we all feel more engaged in any situation when we feel listened to.  As a result, we started one-on-one coaching.  Every herd member meets with their grumpy goat (manager) every six weeks for a 1-on-1 coaching session.  The manager listens to what is going good and bad for the herd member, delivers feedback and then the two review progress on goals and set new goals.


We know what kind of people generally like the very open culture at IBEX.  We know what kind of people fit certain types of jobs inside the Herd.  We hire people very carefully for fit.  One of the best ways to have engaged employees is to hire highly motivated and engageable people  Personality profiles, multiple interviews and detailed orientation processes all help us in this regard.


On your first day at IBEX you arrive to find a pre-selected herd member waiting to greet you.  You pass a welcome to you on the board in our lobby and you find another welcome in your workspace.  You find your computer and email fully setup and you get greetings via email from other herd members all day long.  Shortly after getting settled you are taken away and your private orientation session to the culture and business of IBEX begins.  The culture part of this session is explained by a Grumpy Goat and the details of our business by a member of Alpine Crew.  You then begin a two week orientation to the guts of what we do being what we call a Wild Kid Goat, working the front lines in Alpine Crew.  There are no major exceptions to this process.  We find this type of orientation one of the most important things we do.  Everyone at IBEX understands the core of our business is serving customers – first hand!  


We have a clear mission to “make the lives of working people easier”.  To us that means our customers and ourselves.  This mission was written by Herd members in an inclusive process and we take it to extremes.  We plant IBEXSEEDS with our customers and ourselves (basically random acts of kindness) and we join together and spend hundreds of hours of company and personal time each year raising money for charities and doing community service There is something to inspire every heart in the way we do things at IBEX and it is not by accident.


The Herd Assistance Program provides paid time off and direct money towards professional help with personal issues.  Health, stress, legal and other issues face us all at sometime in our lives.  Having a coach at work with resources to help you with these things as opposed to having to figure it out on your own, on your own time, cannot help but get you excited about where you work.  This type of corporate caring is augmented by impromptu expressions of support for one another inside IBEX.  So many times I have seen a herd member express a need for some time off to attend a child’s school function or go see an ailing relative or leave early to coach a kid’s team and seen their team members double their efforts to cover for them while they go do what they need to.  There is not even a policy on this at IBEX, it has just become standard practice and is definitely not discouraged.

  1. Another great article. Your article is a great combination of book smart and street smart way to help your team. You make it sounds so simple but definitely the hardest thing to do in practice. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  2. Ah yes, if only more managers would realise that employee engagement is not a program it is a philosophy and your post demonstrates the keys to getting it right.

    Love the reference to ‘seeds’ in the heart section!

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