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

So

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.

The One Thing to Boost Employee Engagement

This blog site is also linked to the discussion group on Employee Engagement on LinkedIn. It started more than 8 years ago and has about 36,000 members. But like many groups on LinkedIn it had become a bulletin board for news and posts. The discussion element had disappeared gradually. Some of the members suggested to re-introduce the discussion culture. Nostalgia? I don’t think so. So I have introduced the first of many discussion topics to come.
Here’s the question:

And here are the answers (so far):

People Are important, so We Say.

Maybe it’s good to start at the beginning and to get the CEO of every organisation to understand that people drive results, and stop using results to drive people. That’s what John Backhouse says. But Jim Smith is critical about that. He says:  trouble is how to do it. If you look around here (in this linked group) and other resources, you won’t find much in the way of successful EE transformation stories. Thousands of what’s, very little on qualified how.
But maybe making sure that people at the top understand does not have to be that hard. Billie Wright suggests to have a roundtable discussion with all levels of staff to discuss their views in engagement, what it means to them and how they all contribute to culture.
John Backhouse compares the attention for customers with the attention for the people in organizations: And if every organisation invested the same amount in delighting their employees as they do on delighting the customer. Many spend vast amounts on listening to the customer, but relatively tiny amounts on listening to the employee… the ones who deliver the customer experience/products/services the customer uses.

Inspiration and Meaningfulness

Aah. The link between customer experience and employee experience. Simon Sinek is clear on that: how can customers love your company if your employees do not love it first?
Customers are the reason an organization exists. To serve a customer, a citizen, a client, a patient is what makes organisations tick. And even when organisations focus on product excellence or process efficiency, they still need to reach an olympic minimum in customer orientation. Customers are at the core of meaningfulness.
I have written a lot about meaningfulness in organizations. Creating Meaningfulness is a way to make leadership sustainable and of engaging people. if people feel that what they do is meaningful, they are more likely to be engaged.
Bobby Bakshi talks about purpose. He says we need to help employees discover their own purpose and only then have them see how it integrates with the purpose of their company. And by doing this people will see that what they do is relevant, because it’s relevant to them. Bobby makes an important point here.
So we need to focus on the work itself… engagement is at its peak if the job that one is performing is engaging- challenging, rewarding and impactful, states Lithika Sabat Mhetre
One way to create meaningfulness is to assign missions, not tasks, according to Guillermo Farcas.
And this is how Zeena Dsouza says it: Give all employees a clear understanding of how their respective job roles contributes to the overall success of the company,regardless of which role they are in. Having a common line of sight gives focus to both the business and its people resulting in high productivity and engagement. Let these reflect in everything you do… Right from your job descriptions to your careers page to your rewards program.
Eric Bruggeman has this advice to give to leaders: Try to inspire one person a day either by the acknowledgement of a job well done, asking and thanking someone for their opinion, or an actual engagement on an idea or thought that someone had because you genuinely want to inspire innovation and them.
I guess this is even more than inspiration. It seems to be also about involvement and recognition. Acknowledging that someone exists and is important is an existential deed. This is also what Julie Allen says:  Acknowledge them with the small things which will also show they are valued.
Piril Kadibesegil Yasar suggests to invest in Corporate Social Responsibility and Employee Volunteering as a way to boost employee engagement. Paul Corcoran mentions this too. He says:  Build an employee volunteering scheme. Ticks so many boxes. It’s cost effective, rewarding, engaging and visibly makes a difference for staff, companies and charities. For a company it is indeed meaningful to invest in society and give something back.

Feedback & Communication

To Shea Heaver feedback is probably the most powerful (yet under-used and incorrectly applied) management tool. It is most productive as a two-way communication mechanism where the focus is on collaborative problem-solving and improvements. And he adds:
Oh…and it’s not simply about being honest…it’s about being honest skillfully.
Alysson Marks says we need to go for Open communication! Also Lisa Anderson is clear about this: Really listen to employee ideas, with curiosity and an open mind and include them in discussions whenever possible. Also talk about why an idea wasn’t implemented instead of giving a quick no.
Talk to your people and genuinely get to know them – hear them, coach them, let them do what they do best and get out of their way. Recognition. Rinse. Repeat. This is the advice coming from Kelly MacCullum. And listening is what needs to be done according to Sebastian Chandy.
So maybe we need to give them the tools to communicate – be in the loop, says Tony BoatmanMost of these workers are “silent”. 
That’s also the take of Cynthia Pizarro , who even adds some commercial information (which I leave in her contribution). This is what she says: I’d do everything I can to communicate with excellence. I was frustrated because it felt like our communication wasn’t really working – despite our efforts. That’s why my team built Ohana – a mobile solution that optimizes communication to inspire engagement. Ohana filled the gap – it’s mobile, intuitive, and personal – and has connected our remote team at a completely different level. Now, there’s a virtual place where no one is ever alone. We love it. Check it out at www.tryohana.com. We’d love your feedback. Well, if you want, you can give her your feedback on Ohana.
So if I understand the tool side, it’s about being connected. Also Shirley Palmer advocates for connectivity at all levels. And maybe a tool is not always needed.
And what about skills? What about training? I would train Supervisors/Managers to relate to their direct reports in a way that enables them to discuss the issues that build true employee engagement, says Michael Zroback.
Indeed. Communication seems to play a big role in how engagement can be increased. First of all communication is a way to create meaningfulness. It’s about storytelling, isn’t it? For Nancy Enger-Barrera we need to continually explain the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ and maintaining an open platform for dialogue.
But for communication to be open, including accepting dissenting voices, differences of opinion and speaking up, the environment needs to be safe. This is about trust. Cynthia Alloyda is affirmative: earn their trust.

Trust

But how do you earn trust? Shweta Singh says leaders need to be more approachable, possessing patience to listen to them.
Jules Agombar also talks about trust and trustworthiness. He says to Encourage it, role model it, reward it. True empowerment comes from being trusted.
And Daniela Delivanelli underlines the importance of empathy. Build genuine understanding and trust between line managers and team members, she says.
Here Howard Stanten makes a point. He says that we should extend trust and be trustworthy. So there are two sides to trust. There is giving trust and being trustworthy. Both are essential.
Trustworthiness depends on how competent one is, how loyal and how integer one is. If people see that their leaders are competent but not acting on their behalf (loyal) of walking the talk (integer), they will not trust their leaders. Or this is how Dr Shakira Alauddin says it: Maintaining integrity and transparency at all levels. 
To me, trust is the fuel of leadership

Trust is the fuel of leadership.

Social Context

So far we haven’t talked much about the people and what they need.
Jane Keep brings that up. She tells us to make work about relationships and people – first and foremost. And she adds: support all staff to be on a self-care/their own health and wellbeing programme – as the more we take care of our health and wellbeing the more we naturally engage with others.
She has a point. Work can be amazing. But it can also be a source of illness. So by investing in people’s health we can show that the organization cares.
Also Cristina Melnik believes this. Build better relationships in the workforce. Relationships are the #1 factor affecting someone’s engagement at work.
Leslie Masih talks about segmentation. That would be the single thing for highest return to him. And he goes on:   because desire to give high performance ‘start from within’. That, in turn, enables Learning and Development, and serves as a Hawthorne effect based self-improvement vehicle. In aggregate this would lead to highest returns enterprise wide.
It’s a good thing that Leslie reminds us that employee engagement only makes sense when we can link it to performance.

Autonomy

Lee Collins has a very straigthforward advice: Flatten the hierarchy.
He has a point. When the distance to the CEO is big, people risk to be crushed by hierarchy. Personally I think hierarchy is not the cause of the problem. It’s how the hierarchy is operated. And there are alternatives to lighten the hierarchical weight: heterarchies, holacracy, …
Flattening hierarchies could also be a matter of Remove titles , cabins , approvals for rewarding according to Parul Chatterjee.
Kerry Mitchell says that engaging people is about giving autonomy and ownership.
Flatter structures have the advantage that responsibility and autonomy are higher, also at the front.And that is always an advantage in terms of agility, customer orientation and motivation. To motivate people is what Golla Gayathri wants us to focus on.
Bart vanderhaeghen describes how to develop autonomy: Put a cross-functional group together, give them a problem to crack (not too easy not too difficult) and some autonomy on how the solution may look like. Help the team along the way to improve their own skills and the cooperation.

Is Employee Engagement about Leadership?

Is employee engagement the sole responsibility of the leader? Dipleen Kaur has a message for leaders. She wants them to inspire , inform, involve , support , incent and connect and lead to increase employee engagement. A lot of that was in the debate before.
Leading by example is the input coming from  Anita D’Souza: Starting from the Top – I feel employees should see Leadership demonstrating the behaviours and characteristics they are expected to display. 
And Tim Goddard can only agree: Get support and buy in from C-level. Only way it will “take hold”.
Jim Smith confirms and says that the entire initiative would be sponsored by the CEO and led by an outside facilitation firm with a process that temporarily suspends the negative effects of the culture, politics, and silos.
According to Jim, this is the only approach that will get at the deep rooted issues and ensures that the blockers don’t count. That cannot be accomplished by inside resources.
Jim says also that he hasn’t been able to find a story of a single Employee Engagement transformation having occurred from an internally managed project.
Vivek Rao concludes: Apply a “pay it forward” mentality on a daily basis as it applies to two sides of a coin, if you will: inspiration and empathy. Start with top leadership and have it trickle down over time to the entire organization.

Epilogue

So this was the discussion in the LinkedIn Group on Employee Engagement. It’s like if we were all in the same room and having an open and rich debate on this topic. There were people from Belgium, Malaysia, Canada, the United States, Qatar, India, the United kingdom, Mexico, Turkey, Australia, … united around one topic and sharing ideas and experiences. This is the power of social technology.
And of course this discussion is not closed.
 

Signs and Omens at work. Why bother?

This blog is about Employee Engagement. Mark Hammer states that people are looking for signs and omens that their work will lead to positive outcomes. It’s a reply to a blog by David Ducheyne in which he mentions there’s an engagement crisis.

Why bother?

The “engagement crisis” if there is one, lies in a widespread misunderstanding of how human motivation works. And of just what it means to say that someone is “engaged”.
Let’s go back to Hull and Spence, and little Rg and Sg. We see that motivation and persistence is maintained by the association between distal cues and some outcome of consequence to the organism. Hard to use the term “think” when referring to rat literature, but humor me for a moment. If the rat/dog/pigeon/human “thinks” that what they are doing at the moment will lead to the desired consequence, because the action itself constitutes a sort of stimulus or cue associated with yet another action or stimulus that is a little closer to the desired outcome, then performing that action is motivating, and sustains the entire chain of behavior.
Every employee wakes up in the morning and either has a decent answer to the question “Why bother?”…or they don’t. Sometimes, money alone is an answer. Sometimes, yes, recognition is also part of the answer. Having *consequence* is often part of the answer. People who work in human services often burn out because they feel their best efforts have no consequence any more. Sometimes the consequence is simply customers/clients who say “Thanks. I appreciated your help/service.”.
“Keeping at it” relies on signs and omens that one’s effort is justified. Depending on the line of work and one’s role within the organization, time arcs of tasks can range from short to very long. When the arc is long, people look for signs and omens that their long-term effort will be justified. And when it won’t be, they disengage.

The Fruit of Labour

One of the difficulties, and almost self-fulfilling prophecies of contemporary approaches to business and government is that so very few of us ever really get to see the fruits of our labors. And that strikes me as a source of risk arising because of the sheer size of organizations, and the mindset of business schools that churn out graduates who think that businesses can only be successful if they are large and getting larger. But the bigger they get, the more tasks become specialized, and we stop having the sense that we get to run the entire length of the maze and eat the reward at the end of it. It becomes harder to find the justification for our effort.
Over a dozen years back Jeffery Pfeffer wrote how the “war for talent was hazardous to your organization’s health”. He noted that, when organizations consistently parachute in outsiders for upper level positions, it undermines motivation for organizational learning at lower levels, because…well…why bother?

Looking for Signs and Omens

So, the need for a sense of consequence, and either proximal or distal signs and omens of consequence and justification for one’s different kinds of efforts, affects all levels within organizations. People have to feel that they have a good reason to do a good job at what they believe their job to be. Those reasons will vary according to personality, career stage, level, sector, functional role, education, and sometimes culture. But the signs and omens that constitute those reasons have to be there. If not, the promise of engagement the person was hired for will quickly evaporate. It’s all little Rg/Sg. or what Hull called “Fractional anticipatory goal responses.”.

Employee Engagement misses a Network Perspective

Almost all of us have had the experience of encountering someone far from home, who, to our surprise, turns out to share a mutual acquaintance with us. This kind of experience occurs with sufficient frequency that our language even provides a cliché to be uttered at the appropriate moment of recognizing mutual acquaintances. We say, “My it’s a small world.” – Stanley Milgram, The Small-World Problem

The Org Chart

As companies have grown in size, it becomes increasingly difficult to fathom in its entirety. The org chart tends to be used as short hand for the subcomponents. There’s department X, Y and Z. But who works in those departments, and what do they do? In very large organizations, it can begin to feel like a very big jigsaw puzzle with sections coming together to form clear images while the rest are grouped into generic piles by color or texture with little understanding of how they fit together.
But the org chart is not the only means we have for making sense of the organization. Through conversations with colleagues we learn about other areas of the company and how they fit together. When these conversations are strictly work related, they overlap with the formal hierarchy. Whereas non-work conversations open up new realms for engaging with each other and consequently for indirectly surfacing topics about the company from other angles.

Friendship and Network

The role of friendships in the workplace is well established, it is one of a handful of questions that Gallup monitors for Employee Engagement Q10: “I have a best friend at work.” Yet, while most articles about the importance of friendships in the workplace highlight how they lead to increased productivity, employee happiness, ability to challenge each other’s ideas and a sense of comradery they fail to highlight how these individual relationships link up to shape the larger company.

The field of Employee Engagement needs to incorporate insight from the field of network science to fully understand why relationships matter. Otherwise one will overlook the spillover benefits that are best understood by looking at organizational networks. If employees are only linked to a friend the bond with the organization is relatively weak. But what often happens is that this bond is much stronger because I am not only linked to my friends at work, but also indirectly to my friends’ friends, many of whom are also linked. In this way, relationships at work not only form a tie between two people, but an interlocking web of relationships. For a rich account of this network perspective, look at Andrew Parker and Rob Cross’s concise piece Increasing Employee Engagement Through Organizational Network Analysis.
Furthermore, friendship forms for different reasons than the org chart (although it certainly is influenced by this formal structure) since that is who we spend time with. The benefit of having a different set of causal motivations for forming social ties than work ties, a different set of relationships form, which thereby are more to bridge disparate groups and link organizational silos.

Small World Phenomena

Let’s take a closer look at one of the most famous experiments of Harvard social psychologist Stanley Milgram, his 1967 small-world experiment. In it he identified people who were physically and socially distant from Cambridge, Massachusetts and gave them a task to deliver an envelope to someone they knew on a first name basis that might be able to get it to a target recipient in Boston. While many estimated that this was an impossible task, many of the letters were delivered in just a couple of links.
The associated idea of “the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” is based on the actor’s near central role in the entertainment universe. Whereas other actors typically stick to one genre (think Jim Carrey & comedy), Kevin has been in a wide range of genres putting him in touch with a variety of co-stars.

Clusters and Bridges

These examples illustrate two network terms ‘clusters’ and ‘bridges.’ Clusters are groups of individuals who have many shared ties, whereas a bridge is a relationship between two individuals across such clusters where there are few or no other relationships between those clusters. If workplace relationships were 100% work related all the time, they would be very defined clusters that perfectly overlap with the org chart and the senior leadership would be the only bridging set of ties connecting different departments. Fortunately, this is never completely the case. Conversations emerge around the watercooler and the cafeteria, or through actively managing the network through a designated “network weaver,” as Valdis Krebs and June Holley call them, or through a variety of interventions aimed at designing such interactions.
Friendship at work provides an array of localized benefits, between the two friends. Furthermore it connects colleagues into a wider web of relationships which is important not only for feeling part of the larger whole but also understanding how the organization works beyond one’s immediate realm.
 
More on Employee Engagement.

Leadership Strategies for Engagement at Work

This blog is about the impact of leadership strategies on employee engagement.

John

John (not his real name) is a top-notch designer. He leads a team of designers charged with some highly technical work for some very particular and demanding clients. John has become extremely frustrated with his team. It seems that, throughout his workday, members of his team are constantly interrupting and checking in with John about issues that, based on the team members’ experience, they should be able to handle independently. John finds these constant interruptions aggravating. They undermine his ability to complete his own work. As a result, John is often irritable, dismissive, or perhaps even hostile towards his team members when they seek his help. As the entire team’s performance declines, John’s stress increases. Finally, John resorts to taking a sick day to avoid further interruptions and complete his work from home.

Internal Working Models

When examined as a cumulative set of experiences, John’s entire history of interactions becomes a set of memories, beliefs, and expectations about the thinking, emotions, and actions related to his role as a leader. These, in turn, influence how his future leadership strategies will be carried out. These patterns of behaviors are “internal working models” (IWM) (Bowlby, 1969). These are based upon how leaders treated him, how he saw leaders treat others, and John’s current history of interactions with others. These IWMs, which are both conscious and unconscious, serve several purposes in leadership.

  1. They help explain differences in the way people lead;
  2. They play an important role in guiding thinking, emotions, and behavior in leader-relevant contexts (i.e., engagement);
  3. They help one establish a view of the self (motives for supporting and leading others), as well as a view of others (recognizing others as worthy of support and protection).

If people lack clarity in their understanding of self or others, they will be likely to report different levels or patterns of engagement [word substituted] at different times.
Further, these mental models, when measured, are an accurate reflection of the range of both cognitive and behavioral strategies that can be associated with leadership (successful and unsuccessful). Engagement is affected because these leadership strategies can be adaptive (flexible and supportive) or maladaptive (rigid and unsupportive), depending upon the context.

Relationships

We live in the most connected age in human history. Yet, our trusted relationships that serve to protect us, keep us safe, and help us to thrive in our careers are routinely ignored by leaders of all ranks. Research has revealed that the influence of trusted positive relationships continues throughout one’s lifetime, or as Bowlby (1979) put it, “from cradle to grave”. A recent Gallup’s engagement survey revealed that only 2% of employees who are ignored by their managers are engaged in their work (Gallup, 2016).
John’s initial behavior and response was geared toward avoidance of his team. This attitude is based on John’s perception of his team, or its members, as generally untrustworthy and undependable. On the other hand, he views himself as “unacceptable” or (defensible) “too good,” whereby his relationship(s) pose a threat to his leadership and control, and/or are simply not worth the effort (Sperling & Berman, 1994). Additionally, John provided the type of support that was more beneficial to himself than to his team.
From the leadership point of view today, organizations that do not pay enough attention to people and the deep sentiments and relationships connecting them are consistently less successful than those that do (Library.hbr.edu).
The moment that a leader can acknowledge that the goal of leadership is building positive trusting relationships, and that safety and security is as important as strategy and process, he/she has entered the world of engagement.

Engagement

Engagement is as much about emotions as it is about actions and performance. Successful leadership is dependent on channeling emotions (one’s own as well as those of others) to support engagement and ultimately success. Unfortunately, traditional leadership theories have taught us to leave emotions and our internal self at the door. This suggests that leadership should be exercised (1) by coercion and force; or (2) compulsive self-reliance, requiring abdication of leadership in favor of distancing strategies from employees when anxiety-provoking events that need leaders to interact with others.
Do these kinds of leadership strategies make followers feel safe and increase or even maintain engagement? Empirical evidence and pertinent research convincingly show that when anxiety, fear, and coercion are lessened, and leaders and followers mutually protect, trust, and coöperate with each other, performance increases exponentially. According to Hassan and Ahmed (2011), this is the natural reaction to feeling safe and a central tenet of engagement.

Safety

Most people work under the premise, “If I cannot trust that you will keep me safe or look out for me, I must protect myself.” In the workplace, this “self protection” mechanism comes at a price, known as disengagement. As protecting oneself requires much energy, not much is left for work to be done (Kiel, 2015). This is clear in John’s case, who expended most of his energy on protecting his job (working from home), and not doing his job (leading his team).
The most fundamental, powerful, and enduring fuel for performance is a feeling of safety  in ourselves and in the world around us. Most of us spend the greatest percentage of our waking lives in the workplace. But how much energy and capacity is squandered each day worrying in conflict and competition with colleagues, or fielding questions or complaints.

Leadership Strategies

Avoidant strategies.
John exhibited “deactivating,” as one of three leadership strategies for dealing with the internal emotional disruption(s) from his team. Deactivating strategies are based on attempts to deny that interpersonal relationships (and the corresponding trust and cooperation) are important. John was unwilling to make too many emotional demands on his team. Thus, by staying home and on task, internally at least, he was under impression that he maintained his leadership position, as he avoided rejection or failure.
Anything that, or anyone who distracts the individual or frustrates what he or she is doing will make that individual feel anxious, agitated and cross so anyone who adds to the workload, demands a change in focus, threatens to fragment the task is likely to be viewed with hostility (Rhodes & Simpson, 2004).
Such distancing and defensiveness in service to oneself is hardly indicative of full engagement and successful leadership that puts safety and support of others ahead of one’s own. For John, keeping his “emotional distance” seems imperative; yet, it comes at some interpersonal and psychological costs. It means that John cannot bring all of his self (Kahn, 1990) to his leadership, severely restricting his engagement with his team and the team’s functioning.
Anxious strategies.
Another strategy type is known as “hyperactivating.” Individuals exhibiting this strategy tend to be characterized by intrusive behaviors; over involvement or micro managing of people, events, and situations; providing help and support that is not required; excessive demands for reassurance, and to pursue, often unsuccessfully, their own unmet needs for feeling safe and secure. Until these leaders are successful at feeling safe, they can do nothing else, compromising their relationships and their effectiveness. Their success would be based on shifting their focus to other’s distress and not to one’s own emotional state. These leaders may claim that they are fully engaged, but they are motivated solely by the desire to gain the favor and acceptance from the organization.
Secure strategies. Finally, a third strategy is called “secure.” Leaders that adopt secure strategies balance the needs of their followers and allow them to work independently or in groups, depending upon the circumstances. Secure strategies serve as “insurance for survival” (at least in a psychological sense). Flexible and adaptive, these strategies recognize, and leaders are willing to give, the wide range of types of support necessary to meet the needs of their followers, but not overly so! This behavior allows followers to feel safe, be more effective at problem solving, take on calculated risks and new challenges, be creative, and trust and coöperate with each other. Only after secure relationships have been restored or repaired can full engagement truly be achieved.
Leadership Strategies

Conclusion

Few attempts have been made to conceptualize leaders, their strategies for leading (leadership), and engagement in terms of relationship functioning. If organizations wish to improve engagement levels, they might do well to focus on the followers’ perceptions of the support, protection, and safety their leaders offer (Saks, 2006). The self-focused motives underpinning hyperactivating and deactivating leadership strategies interfere with those provisions of support, safety, and protection in relationships. Ultimately, they undermine the goal of a fully engaged workforce.
 
Contact the author directly about bibliographical references

Help! My Employees are disengaged (part 1).

Phindile is a CEO of a big South African IT company. She started at the bottom of the rank as an Engineer. She was identified as a high potential employee and taken through the company’s leadership development programme. Phindile was paired with a mentor, Mr. Jacobs. Mr. Jacobs is director and had applied for early retirement. However, before he left, he was requested to mentor a successor.
When Phindile took over the reigns as a CEO, her dreams were fulfilled. She was passionate about her job, cared about the people and the company. In the past 5 years that she was at the helm of leadership, the company grew exponentially. As the client base increased, more employees were appointed and new systems and processes introduced. The employees were paid well and received great performance bonuses and incentives. Everyone was happy.

Change and disengagement

However, in the past six months, sales had started to decrease. The leadership team blamed it on the economy. They believed that things will improve before financial year end. During their Annual meeting, the situation had worsened. The company had lost some of its important clients. There were rumors that they will be losing more clients. Some of their best employees were also leaving. Phindile knew that if things continued as they were, she would be compelled to retrench people or close the company. This would mean she would have failed not only herself, but her parents, mentor, employees and their families, as well as every young girl who regarded her as a role model.
Phindile hired consultants to help diagnose and solve the problem. They found that the company had the best systems and processes. Low employee morale and disengagement was identified as the root cause to the company’s problems. Phindile was very confused. She knew that her company paid the best salaries. Each time she met employees, they seemed happy. Her team had never indicated to her that employees were disgruntled. The report did not make sense to her.

Mentorship conversations

Phindile realized that she needed help from someone who will give her honest feedback. She remembered her old mentor, Mr. Jacobs. Unbeknown to Phindile, Mr. Jacobs had kept in touch with his previous colleagues. He knew what was going on. Hence he was very happy when he received a call from her. He had heard that she had a reputation of not accepting failure or bad news. She was temperamental and known to cut grown men to size. Her team preferred to tell her what they thought she wanted to hear, instead of the truth. But Mr. Jacobs knew that Phindile was a caring person, open to growth and feedback. He understood that due to the pressure of her position, she could have developed a shield to protect herself. He saw that Phindile’s behavior was a defense mechanism. Unfortunately she had begun to lose her identity and was seen as a tyrant.
During the meeting, Phindile poured her heart out to her mentor. Mr. Jacobs asked her when last she had open and honest conversations with the employees. She could not understand how this could be related to her problems. She always held monthly meetings with all employees. These meetings were in her annual calendar. She has never missed a meeting. The purpose of these meetings was to motivate employees, inform them about the company’s performance and how far they were towards achieving their annual targets. During these meetings, she made sure that she referred to the company’s vision, mission and its values. She also gave recognized individuals and teams that exceeded their performance targets. These were the things that she was taught at the business school. Hence she was confused with the consultants’ report.
Mr. Jacobs knew about the meetings. He had initiated them a long time ago. He reminded her of the visits he used to make to the plant. They reminisced about how he used to spend one day in a month with all the engineers and technicians at the plant. It was where Phindile first met him.
Mr. Jacobs would work next to the different individuals. He would sometimes have lunch with them at the canteen. He had good relationships with all employees. He knew them by their names. The employees trusted him. He knew what would happen before their managers did. He was never caught by surprise about his employees’ actions.

The Tao of Employee Engagement

Mr. Jacobs reminded Phindile about the book “The Art of War” that he once gave her to read. He referred her to one of the quotes: “the natural formation of the country is the soldier’s best ally”. In the book, the author was referring to the environment or landscape in battle. Mr. Jacobs reminded Phindile that the company operates in the external and internal environment. She realized that she was focusing more on the external environment. She relied on others and financial incentives to deal with the internal environment, specifically her employees. She had forgotten that relationships matter. At the end of the meeting, Mr. Jacobs told Phindile that he knew she could turn the ship around. She just needed to remember to lead from the heart.
 
See also Gallup’s article on disengagement: the worldwide employee engagement crisis.
(to be continued )

Relationships matter for Engagement (2/3)

This is the second of three blogs under the title
Individual Difference in Leadership and Engagement: Why Relationships matter.
You can find the first blog here.

relationships

Conflicting Targets

The leader’s main objective is to establish and maintain performance criteria focused on the needs of the organization and its success. This objective supersedes that of providing an environment that focuses on safety and protection and that makes others engaged and successful. It’s not surprising that engagement in organizations has remained at such low levels. In 2012, for example, Gallup reported engagement levels worldwide at a mere 13% and in the US, the cost to organizations for failed engagement and increased stress is estimated at between $300 and $500 billion dollars annually.
Today, the common form of leadership is hierarchical, top to bottom. Leaders expect trust and cooperation based on authority and power, and not based on a reciprocal need for help or feeling safe. Given these forms of leadership, you will do what is asked, but you will not support or engage with them. Given these forms of leadership, employees will lack motivation. They are less likely to provide discretionary effort. They are unproductive, and are likely to spread their negativity to others. Further,

“…the risk of employees not finding the safety and protection necessary to engagement [word added] is that people will sabotage the organization. These people will chant the corporate song, but will criticize and resist top management efforts at growth and success…” (Author unknown).

Is this the kind of leadership that inspires you? Is this the kind of leadership and engagement that you inspire in others?

The new CEO

I was witness to the following example: At a meeting with the entire staff, a newly appointed CEO announced that the organization had suffered massive financial losses due to possible criminal actions by former executives. Further, the financial difficulties meant government regulators were considering closing down the organization. Changes were going to be necessary. As you can imagine, the assembled staff was visibly shocked by this turn of events. Upon hearing the reassuring words from the CEO, the staff responded by saying, “what can we do to help?” “What do you need from us?” Almost to a person, the staff was willing to do whatever it took for the organization to survive, they were willing to give of themselves and go above and beyond their specific role and duties, to trust and cooperate with the CEO. The CEO’s announcement and the plan to save the organization made them feel safe and their engagement level was higher than it had ever been. But simply having a plan was not enough.   Five years later after unfulfilled promises by the CEO, massive restructuring and layoffs, and continued failing of technology and resources, a competitor acquired the organization. In addition, during this 5-year stretch, the CEO continued to receive yearly raises and bonuses (amounting to a 40% increase), while the staff received nothing. At the staff meeting to announce the acquisition, those same employees, those that still remained, responded to this news by saying, “What does this mean for me?” “What about a raise?” “Is my job secure?”
All that the staff members who spoke out were telling me was, they were feeling unsafe; all they were saying is they could not trust their leader. The staff’s lost and disrupted relationships caused by the layoffs and reorganization, and their experience with the CEO made them more sensitive to risks of engagement and less inclined to simply trust and cooperate with the CEO to protect their interests (i.e. make them feel safe). The CEO had sacrificed others for his/her own gain. For the staff, it was not the disparity of salary and bonuses, rather it was that leadership violated the single most important tenet leading to engagement—the essence of a social contract or a supportive relationship that says, “I will keep you safe, and I will protect you.” If the conditions are wrong, or our relationships become compromised, we are forced to protect ourselves, and that is inherently bad for the organization—leadership has failed—we feel and become disengaged.
Here is another example: Upon beginning her shift, the assistant manager of a national retail chain took photos of merchandise returned to the back storeroom that had been thrown around and piled up in a haphazard manner. She said, “I am taking this photo just in case my manager asks.” What she is really saying is that she feels unsafe and is protecting her own interests against those of the organization (determining the cause and solution to the mishandling of the merchandise). When leadership fails, we are forced to protect ourselves.

Relationships matter

We learn, we trust and cooperate, and we are inspired best from people who we are connected with in positive ways. And, at no other time is that trust and cooperation tested than when one party is feeling threatened. Indeed, evidence suggests that trust between parties, employees and leaders, is almost by definition an outcome of the quality of their relationship.
It takes considerable time, energy, and attention to maintain relationships that promote active engagement in the organization and that inspires everyone to perform at their best. It is not a quick fix, and most often, when things go awry, leaders will default to “performance” mode or:

  • Are overly concerned about how productive the group is;
  • Focus on the size of their bonus or;
  • How quickly they can be promoted.

We default to what we know, what has worked in the past, and what makes us feel safe even if it is now inappropriate or no longer works.
Here is a personal example: I was stocking merchandise on shelves for an international retail organization and the shift manager came by to ask why my task had not been finished in the allotted time. As I began to respond, I could see the shift manager was not at all concerned with the explanation, but had already formulated the response to the store manager about the unfinished work—after all, it had worked successfully in the past? The focus on looking good to the store manager took precedent over any explanations of what might fix my ability to finish this task on time, now or anyone’s ability to finish in the future. If employees are not being heard or listened to, then why should they listen or respond to their leaders or supervisors? If leadership is going to ask for an engaged workforce or spend resources on programs to increase engagement, what is the likelihood of employees following or doing what leadership is requesting? Leadership is a choice, and when leadership chooses to protect their own interests above those of others, engagement suffers and performance declines.
So, what is it about relationships that makes some successful and others not so? What is it about trust and cooperation that makes some people able to trust and others to distrust. What is it that given the same set of circumstances, some people can engage with their work, while others struggle and resist?
We all know people who are in a position of leadership but are not a leader, and we all know people who are not in a leadership position, but are absolutely leaders and that we can absolutely trust to help us—“I will watch out for you as you sleep, as you will watch out for me when I sleep.”
Leaders are constantly confronted with how important relationships are—how an employees attention and performance can be high jacked when a conflict in the relationship occurs, and how strong emotional reactions to situations at work can destabilize them for long periods of time. You see this everyday in your groups but you may not be aware of the origins of these individual characteristics that shape workplace engagement and performance.
 
Note: This post is based, and has been expanded, on a talk given by Simon Sinek that is available on Ted.com. It is also based on a presentation I made at a leadership conference, May 2015, hosted by the Midwest Division of Quest Diagnostics in Denver, CO. Slides and complete citations for the presentation are available upon request.

Entrepreneur vs Employee

entrepeneurAre you an entrepreneur ?

I remember the day I applied for an HR Services Manager role in a FMCG firm. That was 13 years ago. This blog tries to bring that memory back to life.
The notion of entrepreneur was apparently very important to my future boss.
The what?”, I asked.
That is already a good sign”, he replied. “You ask what it’s about. Most candidates do not. They simply nod their heads. I often get clichés or some examples when I ask what it means for them to be an entrepreneur.”
So I repeated my question. “What does entrepreneurship mean to you in the role of an employee ? You’re not looking for a freelance HR Manager, right ?”
He smiled. It appears he had a concern. He was worried about the job I had then. I was HR Business Partner in the financial industry. My future boss was wondering about the habits, the culture and the way things were getting done in that industry. He perceived the banking and assurance industry as rigid, hierarchical and bureaucratic. And clearly the company I was applying to, wasn’t like that at all.
I listened to his concerns.
Then I told him about the context of a merger and the related change I was working in. I talked about the uncertainties I had to deal with every day. I described how often it was up to myself  to be creative,  to find solutions, and to take decisions. Last but not least, I told him I had to work with colleagues without having any logic or formal line in the organisation.
Then he replied: “You can tell me everything you like. I can’t check all these things. But I clearly feel your huge enthusiasm talking about this. Are you sure you want to quit your current job ?”
Yes, but for other reasons, as I explained earlier.”
OK, Karl”, he said, “let me just explore a bit further your own story about being an entrepreneur.”

Entrepreneurship for Employees

“First of all”, he continued, “it is important that you do what your job description suggests. Let there be no mistake about that. But then again, that is not enough”. (From here on the quotation marks are omitted).

Two job descriptions

I would appreciate if you’d have two job description after a year in the job.

  • the one in front of you now;
  • another one that you create yourself. You don’t have to write this one down, but it definitely should exist and be visible to everybody.

The job you create yourself, could at a certain moment replace or even overrule the official one you have on paper now.
See it like this. As you have an HR background and as you are applying now for an HR function, I recommend that you use this job content as guideline. Certainly in the beginning, when all is new and you still need to find your way,

Continuous challenges

However once you’ll have found your way, I expect you to create new challenges.  And I want you to consult with me about them. Challenges can be about:

  • roles
  • job content
  • ways of working
  • initiatives
  • projects
  • strategies
  • collaborations with colleagues or external people
  • responsibilities.

Every time we meet, I’d like you to present at least one idea to enlarge, enrich, change your job. And I want you to tell me about at least one error you’ve made.
Quite frankly, I am much more interested in coaching you on those aspects than on your performance in the job as it is described. This being said…
I interrupted him with a smile. Yes, you want me to do the job as well.

The Engagement

Already on the way back, my future leader called me. He asked if I could come in the evening for a last meeting with the CEO. And I was kindly invited not to screw things up because I was number one on his list.
Guess what the CEO asked ?
The conversation repeated pretty much what my future leader had said about the expected entrepreneurial spirit. At the end of the meeting he made me a formal offer. I gladly accepted.
The first year I worked there, I thoroughly explored my entrepreneurial skills. My new colleagues really showed me all the corners of the room. I loved it!
Let me try to summarise these skills.

The skills of an employee-entrepreneur

  • Be hands-on.

    Some tasks are not part of a formal description. But someone needs to do them. Do not hesitate to do them yourself. Especially when you see no one else is picking them up.

  • Ask internal/external “strangers” for help.

    You can’t know everything. Certainly not when it’s not your job. So nobody will ever blame you for asking what you don’t know. On the contrary. They’ll appreciate it. So ask people for help. Also include people you do not know yet.

  • Read and act in between and across the lines.

    Your territory is not somewhere on the organisation chart. Your territory is the large group of people all working for the same company, or on the same projects. Network and have conversations with them regardless their function or place in the organisation.

  • Have courage.

    You’re doing things you’re not used to do.  Sometimes there’s nobody to call and ask how to go ahead. So you may have to take decisions yourself. Take risks, make errors and assume the consequences. Your boss may disagree with your final decision. (S)he will usually agree that the presented options were reasonable for the situation at hand.

  • Be results-oriented.

    Take ownership of many things. You want to complete them successfully. The result (the “what”) is much more important than the “how”. Of course within the context of common sense. You are a can-do person. You cut through and resolve problems others run away from.

  • Grow fast.

    Your judgment becomes stronger and more powerful with each experience, decision or failure.

  • Be energetic.

    You are full of enthusiasm and energy. You consistently generate results that are higher than expected.  You are fully committed to the organisation, its goals and its overall success.

  • Supervision.

    You perform effectively with limited supervision. You are able to self-motivate and set priorities with minimal guidance.

  • Multitask.

    You are flexible to create and accept new assignments and responsibilities. You can take on more than one role until these tasks can eventually be assigned to others.  You’re also willing to do things that others with less responsibilities or skills will take over in later phases.

The environment of an Employee-Entrepreneur

Of course this can only work in the right environment. An employee can only become an entrepreneur if the company encourages him/her to be an entrepreneur. I have known organisations that prefer you to do your job within the lines of your job description without exploring other areas. And that’s fine if organization and employee agree on that and find happiness in it.
Briefly, I think a culture that encourages people to become an entrepreneur, should have the following elements:

  • the belief that teams of entrepreneurial employees do better and work faster than teams of traditional employees would.
  • the willingness to accept mistakes, conflicts and chaos, than a traditional employee environment would.
  • a coaching style more focused on potential than on performance.
  • a reward policy that prioritises success in special initiatives, and not success in the normal job.
  • a very safe and trustful relationship with the direct leader.

I went through an intensive learning curve in this company. This would turn out to be priceless later in my career.

The skills of a real Entrepreneur

You’ve learned how to be an internal entrepreneur. How can you transfer those skills into being a real entrepreneur in the real market ? This is an important question e.g.  when you become consultant after a corporate career.
To be continued.


Continue reading “Entrepreneur vs Employee”

The one Way to kill Employee Engagement

 
There are many ways to kill employee engagement. Here’s a possible list:

  1. Do not communicate about the goals, vision, …
  2. Never give feedback about what people are doing.
  3. Check every move people make.
  4. Put yourself first
  5. Don’t apply the team/company rules on yourself
  6. Be dishonest.
  7. Make them ask for permission before doing something.
  8. Show no interest whatsoever in who people are.
  9. Talk negatively about the company.
  10. Do not care for wellbeing
  11. Put people under pressure as motivation technique.
  12. Leave the office before other people do (every day).
  13. Think it’s normal that people put in extra hours.
  14. Allow incompetent and disengaged people to stay on board.
  15. Make arbitrary decisions, don’t bother to explain them.
  16. Do not allow people to benefit from the company’s flexible work arrangements.
  17. Tell people they’re useless.
  18. Don’t show vulnerability, don’t allow others to show vulnerability.
  19. Never make exceptions.
  20. Always make exceptions.
  21. Hire people who are weaker than you.
  22. Insist on people doing things your way.
  23. Never surprise them.
  24. Don’t show respect for your customer.
  25. Talk negatively about your boss.
  26. Never apologize for things you’ve done.
  27. Never say thank you.
  28. Be a micro-manager.
  29. Measure everything.
  30. Rank & yank people.
  31. Don’t have team meetings. Do everything in one-to-one meetings.
  32. Don’t keep your promises.
  33. Forbid people to show emotions at work.
  34. Never talk informally.
  35. Manage people with to-do-lists.
  36. Don’t show courage in difficult times.
  37. Forget birthdays (of some members of your team).
  38. Hide behind the mandate that you (do not) have.
  39. Hide things from people.
  40. Don’t look into their eyes.
  41. Never help them when they are in trouble.
  42. Say to people you’d like to fire them, but that HR won’t let you.
  43. Never defend them when they are under attack.
  44. Don’t make use of their talents and strengths.
  45. Write them emails at night, asking for answers by 8:00 am.
  46. Keep files on them, and make sure they know this. Keep track of everything they do.
  47. Blame them publicly.
  48. Think the H in HR stands for Humiliation.
  49. Think you’re irreplaceable.
  50. Never ask how people feel.
  51. Take the credit for what they’ve done right.
  52. Be indifferent to their proposals and ideas.
  53. Think you have (to have) all the answers, and if you don’t, make them up.
  54. Ask people to sty late (Hey, you’ve ordered the pizza).
  55. Build a culture of internal competition (win-lose).
  56. Don’t trust people.

In one word: be a lousy leader.
 
 

Amusing ourselves to Death Valley

death valley

It’s not about death. It’s about our honeymoon.

Ten years ago my wife and I had our honeymoon. We travelled to the west side of the USA. We did a fantastic tour, starting in LA, going to Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and back to LA. As it was our first time over there, we dit all the “obligatory” sites. Not that it felt that way, because I was almost literally “away from this planet”.  Seeing the stunning beauty of nature and overwhelming environments, e.g. the Grand Canyon.
We also did Las Vegas and Death Valley.

Las Vegas

Trip Las Vegas to Death Valley
Trip Las Vegas to Death Valley

Of course everybody knows Las Vegas. I have questions about the extreme decay and artificiality of this city, literally in the middle of the Nevada desert. How is this possible? I asked myself all the time walking over the strip. Well, it is. It was also a perhaps once in a life “must-see” for us. So we did see it. And we enjoyed it

Suzy

In all this overdo one particular story of Suzy, a waitress in our residence, touched me. You can imagine I am also in my holidays busy with human resources. I noticed she had been very friendly to us during breakfast. Of course, she wants her tip, I thought… But when I forgot to give a tip at the end of the breakfast ( I honestly did not do that on purpose, in Europe there is no such necessary habit), she simply stayed very friendly. In fact, precisely because she continued her behavior, I thought all was ok.
A few minutes later we were getting in our car for our next stop (Death Valley, close to Las Vegas). My wife asked me if I had given a tip. No, I had forgotten the tip! And exactly that girl Suzy had been so very friendly to us.
So I returned to give her a very nice tip and offered her 1000 apologies.
She thanked me and started smiling happily. I asked how she voted with the working circumstances in Las Vegas that are not always optimal. Clients are extremely demanding and spoiled. The competition is killing; the temperature too.

Suzy’s team

She replied: Well, I work in a fantastic team of people who have suffered together some serous shit. And we made it. Things go better now than a few years ago. Our boss is giving us total trust. Sometimes this brings him into trouble with his own hierarchy but he proceeds and so far they let him. Last but not least, there is a lot of humour, sometimes there hear us laugh together at the other site of the strip. Yes, we try to laugh our stress away, together, literally. Sometimes it’s about total nonsense, but if feels so good to laugh together….

And now i am going to share your tip with a colleague who yesterday had exactly the same situation. But she was less lucky. We do that sometimes…

You are kidding ? I thought. No she wasn’t. She waved us out and went to her colleague
You can imagine that, during the ride afterwards to Death Valley, I was very silent. As I am very passionate about engagement and happiness on the work floor, Suzy had just given me a course replacing all the books ever read and blogs ever written. My wife asked me if I was ok. I said yes. Well, she knows me well enough to figure out what was going on. A rare combination of deep reflection and a slightly smiling face… we were on vacation after all 😉

Death Valley

I was not ready at all for Death Valley after this experience. For those who do not know Death Valley. It’s a must see because there is literally  nothing to see. There wasn’t even a sign indicating we had arrived. The landscape became dryer and dryer. Fauna and flora had vanished already some time ago. There was just erosion, a lot of white salt and one road. The contrast with Las Vegas could not be bigger. And the thought that people had created Las Vegas in this very environment became quite morbid. Temperatures up to 50 degrees centigrade. The brochures recommended us not to get out of the car to walk on feet. Some visitors wanting to do a “small tour” and leaving their car on the road, take enormous risks. They also recommended not to use the air conditioning all the time for obvious energy reasons. And to take in extra water.

Trip Las Vegas to Death Valley
Trip Las Vegas to Death Valley

Jeremy

Anyway, after driving about 20 kilometers in this environment, we were still not sure we had found the place… there was no sign. You can’t miss Vegas, but you can miss “nothing”. To our surprise there was a very small restaurant. The only one it seemed later on. We entered, ordered water and asked if we were already in Death Valley. Jeremy, the cook, answered we were almost out of it again.
Ah, ok, so this was it ?
Wasn’t it dead enough ? He asked.
Sure, sure, but now we’ve done it without “officially” knowing this was it.
That must be horribly frustrating indeed… I heard him thinking cynically.

Jeremy’s team

Then he introduced us to his team. As we were probably the only customer of that day, they were really glad to see “someone”. They all started talking about their life, their homes, their work in this restaurant, and their travelling in the USA.
Then I made a very stupid mistake. I asked if they would not rather work in Las Vegas. It’s a place were living surely is more comfortable than in Death Valley.
Never ever ! they answered in chorus. My wife looked a bit embarrassed.
I did not have to do a lot.

Joe

A man named Joe started talking. He was an African-American.
This is really the only place where nobody ever looks at me or treats me as a “black man”. Perhaps because there is nobody anyway. The brotherhood that we’ve built together here is phenomenal. We have to here. There is nothing out there. We’re up to ourselves. If we don’t continually support each other, and that goes further than professional life,  we’re all dead. And you may take that literally. We make fun, we thoroughly know each other, we are also an amateur band. When we have a conflict, we have a rule that the younger always takes the initiative to solve it. When he does so, the older start first with appreciation for his courage and listens intensively to the younger. That way, both generations work on their weaknesses: courage for the young. Listening for the experienced older. We recruit extremely carefully and exceptionally, you can imagine. Every new person must truly 200% fit in, or won’t make it.
So, for as far as someone can be happy in this place, I truly am. I would never want to switch Vegas. This kind of thing, simply does not exist there.
At that moment he boss interrupted: hey Joe, listen, we’ve truly enjoyed the show but would you please do us favor and drink your beer. Ours is gone already man…
And they all started laughing… The other side of the valley couldn’t here it. There is no other side. But I was – again – completely gone!

Two totally different places, one lesson.

Two totally different people saying exactly the same:

I want to be here because  I am happy here. And because I cannot imagine having equal fun, support and appreciation at any other place.

In both cases a specific context contributes to this:

  • a leader behaving in a certain way
  • a very intensive collaboration, co-creation and true friendship within the team
  • lots of humor
  • the awareness and gratefulness about these unique circumstances.
  • and so many other, invisible, unspoken but extremely important small things.

 

Other blog to read

Do Happy Cows give more milk?
This is not my movie, but it gives a clear impression of the trip anno 2012