When used correctly and effectively, one critical workplace ingredient has the power to turn organizations around and can make them wildly successful: That’s right, employee passion or engagement can not only increase productivity but also increase a company’s competitive edge. High employee engagement can be a tipping point in a company’s success.

I have worked with many entrepreneurs and small business owners who didn’t understand this concept. They spent all their time on their great idea, measuring progress and managing cash but few moments if any on the relationship side of the business. Indeed it is hard to measure the return on investment of employee engagement. Yet there are a number of studies that have correlated workers’ level of engagement in a company with profitability and growth.

Only 30 percent of U.S. employees were engaged in their work and workplace during the first half of 2012, according to Gallup. That left 70 percent of the workforce partially or totally disengaged. And Gallup estimated the cost of disengaged workers to be more than $300 billion in lost productivity in the United States alone.

And global research published in 2009 by Towers Watson, which analyzed 40 companies over three years, showed that organizations with a highly engaged workforce had a superior financial performance (a 5.75 percent difference in operating margins and a 3.44 percent difference in net profit margins) than did low-engagement workplaces.

Here are some steps employers can take to improve employee engagement:

  1. Do smart hiring.

Have a defined behavioral interviewing process that uncovers a prospective employee’s behaviors and attitudes. Use a hiring assessment tool such as ones developed by Myers Briggs, Business DNA or Hogan. And ask candidates do a small project to prove their skills. A financial consulting firm I’ve worked with requires candidates to present a business valuation before offering them a position.

Evaluate your hiring process. Consider what you need to make it more effective.

  1. Communicate the why.

Simon Sinek demonstrated in his book Start With Why that leaders can inspire others by being clear about the “why” or purpose of their company. Ask yourself, Do I communicate the mission or purpose of my organization in a way that makes employees feel that their jobs are important?

When people feel that they are contributing to something grand and much bigger than themselves, they will have more passion and energy for what they do. Remember that communication is not a one-time event but a process. A message needs to be delivered many times and in many formats for employees to connect with it. They need to be reminded as they make progress in their work how this is important to the company’s mission and vision.

Keep track of how often you aid employees in connecting their work to a greater purpose.

  1. Focus on talent.

The business owner and everyone in the organization should be obsessed about developing and nurturing the company’s talent (as I noted in my recent ebook Are You Talent Obsessed?) Indeed, many of Gallup’s Q12 questions (described as “the 12 questions that measure the most important elements of employee engagement”), put a spotlight on the talent area.

Leaders should take a look at how often they and their organizations focus on talent and make a plan to improve.

Consult my list for additional techniques for unleashing employee passion.