4 Ways to Spark Employee Engagement

“Engaged employees are in the game for the sake of the game; they believe in the cause of the organization.” – Paul Marciano


Why do we need to Spark Employee Engagement?

Getting employees to engage in company initiatives has become a crucial challenge. With employee engagement just above 30%, employees seem to have corporate program fatigue. This is challenging for managers who strive to implement programs for their employees.
I spent twenty years managing hundreds of employees in many different capacities. My employees ranged from office to factory workers. While each group was unique, most had little faith in any company program. “Not another stupid program. I can’t wait to see this one fail.” Hearing these comments only sabotaged the programs, and became self-fulfilling prophecies.
Companies need to make progress despite the challenges, and continue to put these programs in place. They need to bridge the lost confidence and trust between themselves and their employees.
Jump starting employee engagement, while by no means easy, isn’t that complicated. Here are four ways to drum-up employee engagement:

(1) Involve Them In The Process

The top-down approach doesn’t work anymore. Strategic plans may look good on paper, but success relies on engaging employees early in the process.
Companies can’t placate employees with a brainstorming session that will have no impact on the final plan. They need to provide a framework upon which to build plans that serve themselves, their employees, and shareholders alike. Employees are no longer lemmings. They can see through programs that compromise their ability to have a positive impact in the workplace.
Employees are also seeking meaning from their work. They want to feel fulfilled by their choice of vocation. A surefire way to provide this meaning is to involve them in decisions that will drive the future of the organization.
Tips How:

  • Provide an inclusive framework for strategic goals. Follow this with a platform that allows employees to give the input needed to achieve higher-level goals
  • Make a commitment to executing employees ideas because, yes, they will have great ideas
  • Celebrate the ideas that employees provide. Consider compensating the employees that provide transformational ideas

(2) Make Progress Fun

Most organizations get lazy and lack creativity. Any company can drum up a strategy that stands the test of a spreadsheet. That’s not hard.
The true creativity in developing organization goals is finding a way for these goals to exist in a culture of fun.
Not all companies can offer what some tech companies (e.g., Facebook) provide. But all companies can foster a more enjoyable work environment.
Western culture has a paradigm that associates success, with long hours, and burned out employees. These limiting beliefs have reached the end of their tenure. Only attrition will end this way of thinking unless companies are proactive. The new generation understands that obtaining excellent results isn’t correlated to pain.
Enjoying what we do can be the foundation for solid and sustainable results. When employees enjoy what they do, results will exceed what they thought possible.
Tips How:

  • Add some life to brainstorming by providing opportunities to think of crazy ideas unbound by convention. Google took this one step further. In 2004, an IPO letter encouraged employees to spend 20% of their time working on any- thing they thought would benefit Google
  • Coach senior leaders on the ‘soft-skills’, such as empathy, emotional intelligence, and listening
  • Adopt a culture of play. Embrace fun as a way of working

(3) Attach Your Company’s Goals to a Greater Purpose

Your purpose can’t simply be to increase shareholder value. If your organization is incapable of finding its deeper purpose, you will find yourself extinct.
There is an awakening happening. The scarcity mentality (i.e., needing to take from someone else to further yourself) is coming to an end. How do you expect employees to engage in groundbreaking ideas when they could be working themselves out of a job?
Shareholder value can work in concert with a greater purpose. Cost-cutting and squeezing out every last dollar has a shelf-life. Growth does not. If you find your company’s purpose, your employees will rally around this purpose. Much like lightning, when we focus energy on a common goal, the results are powerful.
Seven Generation has leveraged their purpose to become a top employer of millennials. Seven Generations purpose is “to inspire a consumer revolution that nurtures the health of the next seven generations”.
Tips How:

  • If you don’t already have a strong purpose, organize focus groups to better understand your business. Find the true service your company is providing for the greater good. Bring in other resources to help lead these ideation and messaging sessions. Often times it’s hard to see the ‘forest for the trees’ when you have been viewing your business a certain way for decades

(4) Be A Positive Influence In Their Well-Being

One doesn’t need to look far to see stats about our impending wellness apocalypse. Whether it be stress, obesity, the typical Western diet, or our sedentary lifestyles, all signs point to ‘doom’. It doesn’t need to be this way.
Getting bogged down with the ROI required to justify a wellness program implies that we don’t need it. The cost of an effective wellness program will dwarf any costs associated with its implementation.
Wellness programs that work include the following components:

  • Virtual coaching
  • Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation (e.g., gamification)
  • The ability for employees to choose their own focus
  • Company challenges
  • Community connectedness

Tips How:

  • Make wellness a part of your company culture. All levels need to embrace employee wellness as a strategic imperative
  • Seek out software-based options that leverage virtual coaching to drive habit change


Employee engagement has nowhere to go but up. Now is the time to get creative and engage with your employees, so they will engage with you.
Check out another engaging article by Gary LeBlanc on understanding culture.

IDEO's 4 Engaging Work Culture Guidelines.

Work Culture

Work Culture and Design Thinking

You may have heard about design thinking?
The concept has exploded in recent years.  It’s a popular term and people use it to show that they  “keep up” with innovation and new ways of working.
The term comes from Herbert Simon’s book “The Sciences of the Artificial” (from 1969) and from Robert McKim’s book “Experiences in” Visual Thinking ” (1973) and his work at Stanford University in the 80s and 90s.
Today, we usually use the term Design Thinking as a way of thinking and a creative process to design something. Robert Faste developed the idea based on McKim’s theories.  Later on, David M. Kelley built on Faste’s work. Kelley also started the company IDEO.
IDEO is widely known as a leader in the concept of Design Thinking. Despite that they’ve been around for 25 years, they still have a highly innovative and engaging work culture.
It’s an international design and consulting company, established in Paulo Alto in 1991. The company uses Design Thinking methods to design products and services, environmental and digital experiences. Their client cases include Apple’s first mouse, P&G’s Swiffer, and the Palm V PDA (for those of us who have lived long enough to know that product).

work culture
IDEO’s website gives an idea of the company’s culture.

What are the guidelines for IDEO’s innovative work culture?

Guideline 1: Playfulness is Allowed

Playfulness and games strengthen the bond between staff members. It increases there willingness to take greater risks and co-create across the organization. The culture does not only allow for experimentation  but also actively supports it. There are toolboxes for brainstorming in each meeting room. These help people to express themselves in different ways. Another ritual of engagement is the habit to create animated GIFs and enclose them in emails sent to all employees. The GIFS tell a story, build an emotional environment and encourage dialogue.

Guideline 2: A Tailored Common Purpose

IDEO’s mission is broad and ambitious: “Positive and disproportional impact on the world through design.” Although this inspires, it might not be enough to support the employees and help them to link what they do to corporate purposes. Therefore, IDEO customized purposes for different cultures, markets. It also has different offices in each market. The office for food and drink in San Francisco has, for example the following purpose: “To build a bridge between the culinary world and research to solve the world food challenges”.

Guideline 3: A social Contract

IDEO has 7 shared values which define its culture:

  • be optimistic,
  • learn from your mistakes,
  • embrace ambiguity,
  • talk less and do more,
  • take ownership,
  • support others’ success.

These values are the foundation of IDEO’s social contract. And they are of great help in the development of the IDEO employees.

Guideline 4: Bottom-Up Innovation

The best ideas come from a person’s commitment and passion for a subject. IDEO has seen that rules or top-down guidelines have not worked optimally. When people in the company can make them their own strategies, they create better ones. So the main idea here is that the projects have a clear goal and a well explained need.
We hope IDEO’s four guidelines are an inspiration to you as a leader. And maybe you would be interested in using one of these strategies in your next team meeting?

I am a Leader. I am a Person. The story of Themba.

This is the story of Themba, a managing director and self-made man. This blog is the first part in a series of 2.

Themba’s Family Dynamics

Themba is a managing director at a construction company. He started working there when he was 20 years old. Themba had completed his matric (grade 12) certificate two years earlier. His parents couldn’t afford to take him to university. His father, James, had been in exile for most of his young life. Themba was brought up by his mother and grandmother. James came back from exile being an angry and bitter man. He could not find work even though he had sacrificed his youth and family for the struggle. He turned to alcohol in order to deal with the anger he felt towards his country.
James was sometimes abusive towards Themba and his mother. Themba developed anger and hatred towards his father and the struggle. Even though he had good matric results, Themba couldn’t secure a bursary. After two years of searching, he found a temporal job as a clerk at a construction company. His mother, Thandi, encouraged him to work very hard. She believed that if he worked diligently the boss may put in a good word for him and he can get a bursary. Themba didn’t get the bursary he was hoping for, but was appointed permanently as an administrator.

Hard work pays

Themba was dedicated to his work. He moved up through the ranks because of his experience.  In his promotions, Themba was never appointed to lead anyone. He was a brilliant specialist. He decided to further his studies and registered for a degree in Business Management. He passed his degree with a distinction. Then, he registered and completed an MBA. His employer rewarded him with a promotion to a Senior Specialist position. After 3 years in his new position and helping the company to increase its revenue, Themba was again promoted.  This time he was promoted to a leadership position.
Themba was thrilled at the prospect of earning more money. However, he was anxious to lead people. His HR director never spoke to him about the competencies required to lead people. He just knew through his studies that he needed to know how to manage and lead. He has always been an introvert and didn’t know if he can be able to talk to people. He shared his frustrations with his wife, Kate. Kate was a manager in an Accounting firm. She had experience in leading people. She therefore understood her husband’s feelings.

Role of HR and OD

Kate was fortunate because her company had an active HR and Organisation Development division. The HR director was well-respected in the company. She was up to date with environmental and HR changes in the industry. Hence, she contributed effectively to the company’s strategic direction. The company had good Talent, Performance Management, Coaching and Mentoring strategies and frameworks in place. Kate was properly trained and prepared to transition from one position to the next. The company had a leadership philosophy which was frequently communicated to all the leaders. Leaders were also held accountable for living the company’s values through the implementation of 360° evaluations.  Employee Engagement surveys were conducted annually. Line Managers were held accountable for the debriefing of the EE results, as well as the implementations of suggestions from employees. The company also made sure that all employees knew and understood the company’s vision and priorities.
Some leaders and HR practitioners were trained as Internal Coaches. Most managers and employees would, depending on the results of their talent discussions and needs, be allocated an internal or external Coach and Mentor.
Kate shared all the interventions that her company had implemented with Themba. She advised him to talk to his HR director, Mr. Ngozi, to seek for help. Themba was envious about all the interventions that were being implemented in his wife’s company. However, he was doubtful about his CEO and Mr. Ngozi buying into and implementing these interventions. Like him, his CEO and Mr. Ngozi have never worked for any other company. They have been promoted through the ranks because of their experience. They were only interested in results, and didn’t care about the employees.

Putting up a front

On the first date as the new managing director, Themba made an appointment to see Mr. Ngozi.  Mr. Ngozi was very happy to have found someone to fill the position. During their discussion, Themba realized that if he shared his fears with Mr. Ngozi, he will be regarded as weak. It might give an impression that he was not the right person for the position. He therefore kept quiet and decided to just go along with it.
Themba had another dilemma. His team members were once his peers. So they knew each other’s strengths and shortcomings. They would sometimes manipulate him and take advantage of their friendship. In order to deal with this challenge, Themba became aggressive. He would bark orders; shout at his team if they didn’t behave as expected. He put a wall around himself to hide his feelings of inadequacy.

Is it worth it?

Then, Themba started to neglect his family. Most of his time he spent at work. When Kate confronted him, he was defensive. He also became aggressive towards Kate and the kids. He saw himself behaving the same way as his father did. He began to hate himself. Themba felt overwhelmed but didn’t know what to do. His world was crumbling down in and around him. He was unhappy but pretended that he had everything under control.
One day Kate received a call from Themba’s HR director. Themba had suffered a breakdown. He had shouted and swore at his team, peers and everyone in the company. Themba had told Mr. Ngozi that Mr. Ngozi was useless. He had failed to implement all the interventions that were implemented in Kate’s company.
So, when Kate came to pick up her husband, Mr. Ngozi asked her to explain what Themba had said. Kate’s only said “Remember to treat your employees as total human beings!”
If you were the HR director, what would be your next step?

Reinvent or Become Extinct! Leadership Development

This Blog is on Leadership Development. If leaders do not continuously learn and reinvent themselves, they might have difficulties to maintain their leadership. Or as Tshamani Mathebula says it: they will become extinct.


The VUCA World

Since the 1990’s there’s been a lot of reference to the VUCA world. It refers to the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of the business environment. Organizations should consider the elements of VUCA when making strategic plans and decisions.  Innovation is deemed to be necessary for organizations to survive and remain relevant in this world. Customers are no longer interested in legacy, but what organizations can do for them today.
This means that individuals specifically leaders, are also expected to be innovative if they are to remain relevant. Leaders can no longer rely on their experiences only. People stop listening when leaders use words such as “we used to do it like this”. They are looking for leaders who are able to use their experience in a manner that is relevant to current challenges and realities.

“What is that which always is and has no becoming, and what is that which becomes but never is”

In an environment that is always changing, leaders are faced with the challenge to innovate and reinvent themselves. This enables them to remain relevant without losing their core essence. It is important for leaders to first define their leadership identity and philosophy. This then becomes their personal brand. It differentiates them from other leaders. Having a clear understanding of their personal brand enables leaders to innovate without losing who they are.
Leaders can learn a lot from artists. They manage to reinvent themselves. In South Africa we have Bra Hugh Masekela. His music has evolved with the times. However, his signature sound, voice, sense of humour and trumpet has remained as is. He has identified his personal brand and innovated around it. He is 78 years old, but the young and old sing along and dance to his music.

(c) https://hughmasekela.co.za

Ways in which leaders can innovate and reinvent themselves include:

  • Continuous learning to ensure agility.

    It allows leaders to be flexible, grow from mistakes, and remain resilient. Douglas Kruger, in his book “50 ways to Innovate” quotes Alvin Toffler’s philosophy that “the illiterate of the 21st century are not those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn”. Gone are the days when leaders were admired because of their academic qualifications. These qualifications give them a foothold into organizations and different platforms. However, what will increase and sustain their credibility is what they do when they are given such opportunities.
    Organizations are interested in performance. Employees are very critical about their leaders’ leadership skills and style. They challenge what you know.
    This does not mean that leaders must know everything. However, leaders should be able to know the changes that are happening within their industry and areas of expertise. They should be able to unlearn the old and relearn new things continuously.
    Leaders should never be married to their qualifications, knowledge and ideas. They should be open minded and know that there are certain things they don’t know. Leaders are encouraged to attend conferences to help them network with other colleagues. The conferences also help to keep them updated about the latest developments in the industry. Furthermore, it puts them around an energy force that stimulates innovation.

  • Read beyond your area of expertise

    Sometimes leaders can get stuck in reading leadership books and literature only. This only makes them to be experts in their field. It doesn’t allow them to understand the world and challenges outside their frame of reference. Reading different subjects and interacting with people that are different to you expands your world view. Human Resources professionals and other support functions who show understanding, and can speak the business language in their organizations receive a lot of respect from line managers. Their advice is often sought and listened to by their clients. Hence they are able to positively influence and contribute in the strategic direction of their organization. Such leaders are able to move and be promoted to any strategic position within their organization.

  • Challenge yourself with a “what if” question

    Douglas Kruger challenges organizations to look at what is awful about their products and services. He encourages organizations to look at and experience their products from their customers’ perspective. As a leader, it is important to be aware of the impact you have on others. How people experience you as a leader. It is unfortunate that the world is governed by perception and not by facts or truth. People tend to make decisions based on their sensory perceptions. People are always watching leaders. Leaders are judged by their behavior without really understanding all the issues that lie below the waterline. They are also expected to role model the behavior that is aligned to the organizations’ values. The challenge for leaders is therefore to ask themselves questions such as:

    • “I have good relationships with my colleagues and team members, but what if I could improve my interactions with them”;
    • “I have just conducted Performance discussions with my team members and I think it went well, what if I could improve my performance coaching skills”

Failure to innovate

It is a bitter pill to swallow. However as human beings we must accept that we are replaceable. Failure to reinvent ourselves in our careers can render us obsolete. Rasmus Ankerson, in his book “the gold mine effect”, interviewed Sentayehu Eshetu, an athletics coach in Bekoji (Ethiopia). The coach trains about 300 youngsters at a time. These youngsters are willing to do anything to succeed. Their biggest fear is not to be discovered.
Unfortunately some leaders behave as if they are indispensable. Literature is full of case studies about organizations that refused to adapt to change. They ended up being destroyed by new players in the market. The question for leaders is therefore, what are you willing to do to remain relevant in your position?

Coaching and Mentoring

Leaders are encouraged to appoint a Coach and a Mentor. These professionals help to challenge and stretch leaders out of their comfort zone.
Leaders should continuously reinvent themselves or they will become extinct.

Digital Strategy: It's about Company Culture

This blog is about digital strategy.
Digital Strategy

The Importance of Digitization

There is no longer a need to create 5 or 10-year corporate plans, when whole industries are disrupted and changed within 12 months. There are numerous examples of this, Uber disrupting the taxi industry, Airbnb disrupting the hotel industry, Facebook disrupting the publishing industry. All 3 are great examples of how platform companies disrupt traditional companies, disregarding of industry.
Moving forward, banks, hotel chains and all other companies globally are all doing the transformation to becoming technology companies.
It’s ironic how everyone talks about the fourth industrial revolution (and all the other buzz words), how all companies need a strategy and a roadmap for how to best take advantage of the digital opportunities and threats. Yet research shows that a small percent of boards and management teams actually have digital as a priority.
When looking at companies such as Airbnb, Uber, Facebook and Google, there is a cause for concern when digital is so low in both importance for management and priority amongst board members. This since people and technology must go hand in hand in a successful transformation of any company and to survive the next 5-10 years in a highly disruptive the corporate world.

Digital Strategy

To aim at staying in business and have something to compete against the technology based companies, I’ll give you five main areas that needs to be addressed when creating your digital strategy:

  1. Successful digital transformation must include the entire organizationand not just the IT department
  2. Transparent and early communication is key;
  3. People must buy into your new brave world, engage in the change and want to be an active part of it;
  4. Co-creation internally across your organization as well as externally in your industry or across industries;
  5. Know your clients digital journey to leverage your digital technology.

Let’s dive deeper into bullet point #3 – People must buy into your new brave world, engage in the change and want to be an active part of it

Airbnb: the Employee Experience

We’ll now have a closer look at AirbnbThey are not only disrupting a whole industry, they are also disrupting the role of HR and shaping it into a department that focuses on employees experiences. As a disruptive company challenging the well-established global and local hotel chains, Airbnb is currently valued at 25.5 billion $USD.
They have added fuel to the debate about HR and whether HR should be a thing of the past and not the future. Knowing that only 8% of companies globally believe their performance management process is worth the time they use in it, it might be worth your time as a leader to have a look at what a global, innovative and successful company is doing to engage it’s people.
In Airbnb the HR function has become the Employee Experience function. The Employee Experience function is a combination of specializations such as compensation & benefits, learning & organizational development, facilities-, safety & security, and the food program.
Mark Levy (Global Head Of Employee Experience) said in a Forbes interview, “At Airbnb we are focused on bringing to life our mission of creating a world where you can belong anywhere, by creating memorable workplace experiences which span all aspects of how we relate to employees, including how we recruit them, develop them, the work environment we create with them, the type of volunteer experiences we offer them, and the food we share together.
The culture Airbnb has managed to create is underpinned by not only its commitment to its mission and values, but also to its unrelenting belief in honest, two-way communication. A rule they have is that nobody should hear something from a source externally before they have been informed about it internally.
Airbnb create belonging by enabling their people to form a group that are enabled and empowered to stay together as they progress through their careers within the company. How they do it is for instance by scheduling lunches and meetings to help people to understand their colleagues. Also, new hires are asked to share fun facts about themselves and why they have chosen to work for the company, and at the same time sharing information of who they are.
Airbnb also focuses on healthy food served in laid-back settings as well as disrupting the work-space where employees sit together and not in a rigid fashion. By fostering employee engagement in every aspect of the business environment, Airbnb unlocks the intrapreneurial spirit in its human capital.
Check out Tonje’s work on growthitude.com.
Read also :

Is Motivation Really Necessary?

Motivation is a leader’s responsibility, says Tshamani Mathebula.

Sundown vs Zamalek

On the 23rd October 2016 Sundowns FC, a South African Football Club played against Zamalek Sporting Club. Zamalek SC is an Egyptian Club and one of the best clubs in Africa. Sundowns FC won the game. They became the Confederation of African Football (CAF) champions for 2016. You can find more about the game here.
A few weeks later on the 19th November 2016, Sundowns had to play against the Kaizer Chiefs. Kaizer Chiefs is another South African Football club that has very good players. A few days before the game, an interview was held with the Sundowns’ coach, Pitso Mosimane. In the interview the coach said this: “I don’t know what to say to motivate the players. They have just won the CAF championship.  I am not a psychologist, so I don’t know how to motivate them further than this“.
The Coach’s response surprised and fascinated me. It made me think about how important motivation is and about the role of the leader in motivating employees. How honest and vulnerable should a leader be with their team and the public. Leaders do not need to be psychologists. However, it is their responsibility to motivate employees. This ensures that they improve their performance and productivity.

Playing to win

Sundowns went on to win the game against Kaizer Chiefs. This happened even though the coach had confessed in public that he does not know how to motivate them. Two things could have happened. First option:  he was honest with the players.  He probably told the players that he has nothing to say to motivate them. They must just go out and play the best game. The second option could be that the coach lied to the nation. He was able to motivate the players.
For this article, I choose to go with the first option. So let’s assume that the coach really did have nothing to say. So what could have motivated the players to win the game? And if this kind of dedication can happen in the soccer field, what stops it from happening within organizations?

Ensuring Employee Engagement

Leaders spend sleepless nights – and lots of money – trying to figure out how they can motivate their employees. There’s a lot of research on the importance of motivation on employee engagement. In addition to other motivating factors such as decent pay and good working environment, communication is one of the critical elements in motivating employees. In situations where employees feel disengaged and discouraged, exceptional leaders have given great speeches to motivate and inspire their team members. Leaders receive training to do presentations and public speaking. Organizations hire motivational speakers to motivate employees.
However, our case in point shows that sometimes it is not necessary to give a moving motivational speech when players go out to the field to play. At some point, employees need to take accountability of their actions and performance. They should not wait for the leader to always play the role of a “cheerleader”. And more, Sundowns players always receive nice bonuses when they win Championships.
The question is at what point can we say that employees have reached a level of maturity to be able to motivate themselves? It is also obvious that for employees to reach that maturity level, leaders would have worked hard in getting them there. When do you as a leader know that you have done enough?

Transformational Leadership and Motivation

Last year I completed my Masters research on “the relationship between the practice of transformational leadership and a high-performance culture”.  I found that employees place high value on intellectual stimulation and inspirational motivation.
Literature refers to intellectual stimulation as “leaders’ actions that call on employees’ intellectual capabilities by challenging them to think creatively and find solutions to difficult problems”.
A definition of Inspirational leadership is  “the ways leaders inspire and encourage employees to accept challenging goals and to look beyond their self-interest. Leaders encourage high standards, express hope and empower their team members. In that way employees develop confidence in their skills, abilities and potential”. the word inspiration comes from the Latin word inspirer. It means to breathe into or to provide oxygen, and subsequently, life. This means that inspirational leaders give their team members a reason or purpose to work. Hence they find meaning and purpose in their work.
From the above description, it is clear that the Sundowns coach and leadership had done a lot of work to inspire and empower the players. So the coach knew that they had reached a maturity level wherein they can face any challenge and come up with creative solutions. The players are confident about their skills, abilities and potential. Furthermore, they know the vision. The coach has helped them to find meaning and purpose in playing soccer. In her book “the Secret”, Rhonda Byrne refers to this as inspired action. 

The Secret of Motivation

Inspired action happens when people work to achieve meaning in their lives. Something that is within them drives them. Not some extrinsic motivation. The members do not need a leader who is always by their side to cheer them on to achieve what they set out to do. So the challenge that leaders have is how to get employees to reach a level of inspired action.
More about Soccer Training from Sport-Fitness-Advisor.