The 3A’s: One “Quick Win” to Boost Employee Engagement

3A's for internal communication
Written by: Karl Sakas

Employee retention is likely on your mind. As an agency leader, you may be asking yourself: How do I keep my employees from leaving? What will improve my employee retention?

Aside from salary, people often leave their jobs when they don’t have a good working relationship with their boss. They might feel micromanaged or see little upward mobility. Fortunately, you can fix this!

There are many ways to help employees feel like they have more autonomy at work. Today, we’ll look at a “quick win” to improve internal agency conversations, and to improve employee engagement: The 3A’s.

The 3A’s: Aware, Advise, or Actively Involved

The 3A’s are a simple yet powerful approach to improving internal agency communication. If you tend to get sucked into solving your team’s problems, adding this phrase can help you save from yourself. To expand from a previous article:

  • Aware — Your employee just wants you to be aware, but they’ll handle it.
  • Advise — Your employee wants your advice, and then they’ll proceed.
  • Actively Involved — Your employee needs you to take ownership in solving things.

When someone on your team tells you about a problem, ask them which of the 3A’s they need from you. That is, are they sharing to make you Aware, because they need your Advice, or because they need you to become Actively Involved.

Using the 3A’s makes your life easier, because you don’t automatically have to jump in to fix things—especially when all they wanted was to make you aware, or to get your advice. Likewise, it makes your employees feel better at work because they have the autonomy to solve the problem themselves, while still keeping you in the loop.


If your employee chooses the first of the 3A’s, they don’t necessarily want you to take part in solving the problem—but they do want to ensure you’re Aware of the situation.

For example, if someone breaks a glass in the kitchen, they may tell you so you don’t walk barefoot—but they know where the broom is and they can clean it up themselves.

An employee who chooses “Aware” knows they’re capable of dealing with the problem on their own, but they also value open communication. They can handle the issue, but they want to be transparent about it.


If your employee chooses the second of the 3A’s, they might not need you to take part in solving the problem—but they do want to hear your Advice. From that, they’ll handle it on their own.

If we continue to use the example of the broken glass in the kitchen, Advise means a houseguest knows how to clean up the mess— but they need to know where you store the broom and the dustpan. Once they know that, they can fix the problem.

An employee who asks for Advice is confident they can solve the problem, but they just need some guidance on how to proceed. Lucky for them, you’re there to help—and lucky for you, you don’t actually need to solve the problem yourself. You just need to Advise them on making it happen.

Actively Involved

The last of the 3A’s is when your employee can’t solve the problem on their own (even with your advice) and needs you to get Actively Involved in the solution. If an employee selects the last A, they need you to take ownership of the problem in order to solve it.

Let’s go back to the kitchen. If someone breaks a glass and cuts themselves, they might ask you to get Actively Involved by sweeping up the mess while they tend to their wound. They can’t clean it up because they need medical attention. Therefore, they need you to take control of the cleanup.

Upgrading and Downgrading

If you use the 3A’s, are you giving 100% of the decisionmaking power to your team? Nope! As the boss, you always have the option to “upgrade” or “downgrade” your response to the problem. For example, someone on your team might choose to just make you Aware—but upon hearing the problem, you might decide to upgrade it to Advise.

Likewise, an employee may want you to be Actively Involved, if they’re insecure about their ability to solve the problem. But you might know they’re competent to handle things via their swim lanes—so you might downgrade it to Advise, and you’ll coach them on solving things on their own.

Extending our broken glass analogy, your houseguest may ask you to Advise them where the broom is. However, upon seeing their cut hand, you may tell them “Don’t worry about that. I’ll take care of it,” and upgrade the task to you being Actively Involved.

Be the “Fire Marshal,” not the “Fire Fighter”

When you use the 3A’s you don’t have to work as hard. Why? Because you’re not constantly trying to solve problems that your team is perfectly capable of handling. You should be the Fire Marshal, not the Fire Fighter.

As an agency owner, your job is not to put out fires all day (as much as it might feel like it is.) You are ideally not the Fire Fighter. Instead, your job is to build the right team (and give them structure and space) to handle problems. This makes you a Fire Marshal—leading a team that investigates past fires and prevents future fires—rather than putting them out yourself. Once you switch your mindset from Fire Fighter to Fire Marshal—in part, by implementing the 3A’s you finally have the space to prepare for the future.

If you don’t currently use the 3A’s (or a similar communication strategy), that’s perfectly normal. But if you want to put out future fires, you’ll need to change. Otherwise, your team may quit—or even “quiet quit” and start doing the bare minimum. No one wants that. You’ll feel exhausted and your employees will feel uninspired and burnt out.

More Ways to Level Up Your Leadership

Looking for more ways to improve your leadership skills? I offer 1:1 Executive Coaching to give agency owners an expert, confidential sounding board, plus custom advice to tackle your unique agency challenges. If you prefer a group-based approach, check out my Agency Leadership Intensive program; you’ll join a close-knit cohort of agency owners and executives, focused on up-leveling your leadership.

I challenge you to start using the 3A’s in your agency conversations. Your employees will enjoy the greater autonomy, and you can stop wasting time fixing things that don’t need your input. Good luck!

Question: How can you improve employee engagement at your agency?

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