Linking National Ice Cream Day with Employee Engagement

July is National Ice Cream Month – so mark your calendars for the third Sunday in July to pause and reflect on the longevity of ice cream as a national treat.  Here at Pryor Learning, we also think ice cream is a great tool for thinking about employee engagement, development and retention.  Let’s look at how.

Define Your Organization’s Focus – Which Ice Cream Store Are You?

Employees want to feel like their organization is focused on a clear mission with compelling goals that they are personally aligned with.  Engagement with the organization does not just come from eating ice cream – it comes from being fully bought in to the concept of the store itself.

Think about all the stores you can visit for ice cream.

  • Some are nationally known ice cream chains or restaurants, with predictable flavors and themes – where consistency and quality are highly valued to create a common customer experience and high efficiencies.
  • Others are completely unique local stores, where a family has vested all its resources and energy to provide a customized experience that only they offer.
  • Some stores are focused only on ice cream – others offer ice cream as part of a broader service.
  • Some focus on the kids – for ice cream parties and events. Others are more family or adult focused.


Different employees are attracted to different kinds of ice cream stores – and organizations.  It is critical to have and articulate a clear organizational mission, with a defined identity, mission, values, target market and audience and business model.  It is also critical to attract people who are engaged by that focus.  Don’t sell a candidate employee on the “Mom and Pop ice cream store,” when you need people who can grow you into a national chain.

Set Priorities – Responding to Too Many Flavors!

It is wonderful to have dozens of ice cream flavors to choose from; other times, it just feels overwhelming!  Sometimes having just chocolate and vanilla to choose from feels boring; other times it is a relief.  The same thing happens in organizations – too many options can lead to a lack of focus; too few can feel too monotonous and boring.

An important part of employee engagement is listening, and this includes asking for feedback and looking for new engagement opportunities. Beware because having too many options can lead to having too many tasks or feeling like nothing is ever good enough.  Also, too many flavors (or options) can lead to decision fatigue. Below are tips for maintaining engagement when there is too much going on:

  • Talk about tradeoffs – and how the organization decides what to do and when. Sharing how and why engagement activities are selected or not selected helps employees understand how you are managing tradeoffs.
  • Focus on accountability. Too often, employee engagement becomes too much about what the employer should do for the employees – but accountability is a two-way street. Holding employees accountable for results is a direct way to engage them – and tells them their work is important.  After all, if someone consistently fails to deliver and no one calls them out on it, then that work must not have been all that important in the first place.
  • Collaborate on saying NO to opportunities. A vital part of strategic planning is deciding what NOT to do – this can relate to mission-essential services, or ongoing engagement projects that are overwhelming without mission impact.  If there are too many tasks and projects going on, bring the team together to decide what can either wait or be removed from the list entirely.
  • It is natural to spend time talking about the future – plans, goals, and dreams. However, when there is too much going on, it may be a good time to look at the past and reflect on successes and accomplishments and to remember what the team has historically done to focus more effectively.

 Avoid Burnout – When the Ice Cream is Melting!

Part of employee engagement and retention is recognizing when a meltdown is near. Just like ice cream melts in the hot sun, your employees may need help to avoid burnout.  Here are tips for yourself and when managing others.

  • Invite yourself or someone else to take a break. Consider a walk around the block, taking a few hours off if at all possible, or going somewhere for an ice cream! Just check in, with yourself and others.
  • Breathe, slow down and focus on what you control. A lot of our stress is created when we worry about things that are beyond our control. Stress can also be created by self-imposed deadlines – you have more power to control than you think you do.  Make a list of what you are worried about and sort into three categories – what you can control and must do; what you control and can either change or delay; and what you cannot control.  This exercise – done by yourself or with a direct report or team can be very clarifying and increases engagement through increased control.
  • Once you have sorted your list – by yourself or with others – pick simple things you can do now to move things forward and regain your footing. Quick wins give you confidence – and focusing on this may help you break down overwhelming projects into smaller steps.
  • Ask for help. There are likely people around who can help; this also allows people to feel needed and appreciated. This may include asking your boss for help in prioritization or to relook at a project’s goals and purpose. You may be making assumptions that can be rethought to make a task smaller.  If you are the boss, offer to do the same for your team members when you notice stress or burnout appears nearby.

A lot of stress management starts with self-awareness.  In Pryor’s Developing Emotional Intelligence seminar, we review the importance of both self-awareness and social competency – helping you better read and manage yourself and others.

Employee Recruiting and Selection – Staffing Your Ice Cream Store

Ice cream stores need a lot of different types of talent!  You want a friendly yet accurate person taking the order; an ice-cream-scoop pro to create the treat; and someone good with money to collect the fee.  You also need people with expertise in procurement and bookkeeping behind the scenes.  When recruiting for talent, consider what you most need!  Here are some examples – consider how these apply in your organization.

  • Vision – People who create exciting new flavors and toppings to delight customers, explore the newest toppings, and look for the next store location.
  • Precision – People who are consistent and deliver the perfect scoop of the right size every time.
  • Customer Service – People who create the best experience for your customers.
  • Operations and Project Management – People who ensure your store is fully stocked and operating at peak efficiency. Want to train your existing staff to increase your organization capability in this area?  Check out Pryor’s libraries of Project Management Training.
  • Generalists and Specialists – Every organization generally needs generalists (also called “utility players,” because they can play any position in a baseball game), and specialists (people who can do specific functions, like finance or information technology). Think about the right fit for your organization.

Where should you go to maximize access to a qualified pool of candidate employees?  Word of mouth by your current employees is often a great way to identify candidates.  Keep an eye on diversity and tell employees what need to find the best candidates for the organization.  Websites, general and industry-specific job boards and professional social media sites are also good sources.  Knowing what you really need helps you decide where to go.

Retaining Employees – Keeping Them In Your Ice Cream Shop

With shifting consumer preferences and rapid shifts in the economy and business landscape, employee retention has been front and center for employers. Labor shortages seem to be everywhere, so retaining strong employees is an important mandate.  Know which employees are critical for you to be able to run your ice cream shop – financial staff, operations staff, customer service teams are great examples.  You also need a network of good service providers – so when the ice cream freezer breaks, you know who to call!

Here are some areas to consider for your own organization.

  • Know how competitive you are in your market and what your unique value is – many employees care about factors beyond salary, so think through the benefits you can offer to keep people that others may not be able to.
  • Consider how you are rewarding and acknowledging people’s work – this may be cash awards, time off, verbal and written appreciation and business-focused gifts (a personalized ice cream scoop, perhaps!).
  • Know who your rising stars are – succession planning including critically thinking about who your top performers are. Assess their engagement on a regular basis with personalized coaching or other forms of investment that align with their interests and development needs.
  • Talk about your organization’s strengths – many people want to work for a special organization, so remind them of what makes your team and workplace worth staying with. Remind them also of the engagement activities you have already implemented in the past – people sometimes need to be reminded of the past, and what you have done to support them!
  • Give challenging assignments – while providing coaching along the way. Test people’s limits, give clear guidelines and criteria for success and strategically check in. Growth can be uncomfortable – but is essential in building resilience.
  • Review your employee engagement and employee development plan process. Focus on actions that encourage solid performers to stay, and continue to build needed skills across the organization. Pryor’s Create Effective Employee Development Plans provides great ideas for building your staff. If you already have a program, check out our short webinar Improve Your Employee Engagement Plan for a pulse check on its effectiveness.

Effective communication is also a key tool for retention. Pryor’s pre-recorded webinar, Active Listening Skills to Improve Communication, provides valuable tips for improving your communication skills through active listening – which is essential for every day engagement.

Employee engagement requires ongoing attention – just like an ice cream store needs to keep the ice cream cold, you also need to continuously work to retain and engage your employees.  Continuously reevaluating, renewing, and refreshing your engagement work will help make sure that there is always someone there to place the cherry on the top of your best ice cream sundae!