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The New Year’s Resolution Trap

I’ve cautioned people for years against making New Year’s resolutions. The whole mindset behind it sets people up for failure. It’s a classic example of what I call the “program trap” – a seductive snare that organizations get caught in when they implement one-off activities to try and fix systemic problems.

The diet trap
To underscore my point, I discovered some research years ago on what happens when people resolve to lose weight at the first of the year. The failure rate is astonishing – over 90%. What’s even more sobering is that within a year, more than half of the people in the study gained back MORE weight than they lost when they started the resolution. Bottom line, you can’t get there with a “diet and exercise program.” It requires SYSTEMIC changes in overall “lifestyle” – for a person or an organization – or else the likelihood of succeeding in making substantive, sustainable changes is extremely low. It can even make matters worse.

Why diets fail
I recently read a theory that explains, in part, why that happens. The brain area largely responsible for willpower, the prefrontal cortex, is located just behind the forehead. Scientists have discovered that it is in charge of keeping us focused and handling short-term memory. Asking it to “lose weight” is often asking it to do too much.

In one experiment conducted at Stanford University, several dozen students were divided into two groups. One group was given a two-digit number to remember, while the second group was given a seven-digit number. Then they were told to walk down the hall, where they were presented with two different snack options: a slice of chocolate cake or a bowl of fruit salad. The students with the seven digits to remember were nearly twice as likely to choose the cake as the students given two digits. The reason, they theorized, is that those extra numbers took up valuable space in the brain – they were a “cognitive load” – making it harder to resist a decadent dessert.

Bottom line, willpower by itself is so weak, all it takes is five extra bits of information before the brain gets overtaxed and gives in to temptation. That’s why at the organizational level, improvement efforts require supportive operating systems and processes. Without that systemic support, people’s brains get overloaded, and they can’t sustain the change efforts.

Beware of icing without the cake
Here’s an analogy to illustrate that point. Most of the one-off activities and programmatic fixes that organizations engage in are basically the equivalent of “icing on the cake.” When it comes to employee engagement, focusing on the icing leads to shallow, short-lived niceties like pizza lunches, employee of the month awards, suggestion boxes, quarterly employee meetings, and so on. The icing can be nice, but it’s the cake that matters most.

So what does the employee engagement “cake” look like?

A solid foundation of values and vision grounded in a substantive, honest assessment of the gaps between where an organization or team stands currently versus where they want to be

Managers who have a deep understanding of the credibility factors that foster employee trust

Systems, processes and policies that do three main things: 1) Show employees in no uncertain terms that their well-being is the number one priority of the organization, 2) Align and equip employees with skills and knowledge and tools they need to succeed, 3) Support the known extra effort drivers of interesting work, feeling appreciated, and being in on information and decisions
Those three critical factors are essential for building trust, and when it comes to employee engagement, trust – the belief that people will do the right thing, in the right way, at the right time – matters most.

Watch this video to learn more about our approach to helping organizations align marketing communications and employee engagement. For more information, send us an e-mail or call us today at 314-664-6497.

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Companionate Love in the Workplace

The holiday season often opens employees’ hearts to a level of warmth and caring for one another not commonly seen during other times of the year. Recent research shows, though, successful companies are finding that love and compassion are powerful forces for high performance all year round.

According to a study conducted by Sigal Barsade and Olivia A. O’Neill, “The more love co-workers feel at work, the more engaged they are.” They’re not talking about romantic love, of course, but what they called “companionate love” which is characterized by warmth, affection and connection rather than passion. The title of the study is ”What’s Love Got to Do With It?: The Influence of a Culture of Companionate Love in the Long-term Care Setting.

Satisfied Employees = Satisfied Customers
Here’s what they learned. Employees who felt they worked in a loving, caring culture reported higher levels of satisfaction and teamwork, and they showed up to work more often. The research also demonstrated that this type of culture related directly to client outcomes, including improved patient mood, quality of life and satisfaction.

The study offers numerous tips and guidelines on how to create a culture of caring that also produces high performance, but what’s most important are the little everyday things. According to Sigal and O’Neill, it’s “the small moments between coworkers, a warm smile, a kind note, a sympathetic ear — day after day, month after month, that help create and maintain a strong culture of companionate love and the employee satisfaction, productivity, and client satisfaction that comes with it.”

Engagement by the Book
If you’re looking for a “novel” way to create a loving, caring culture, check out an approach offered by an organization called Books @ Work. They are hired by companies to bring professors into the workplace to foster critical thinking, nurture interpersonal connection and strengthen a culture of trust, respect and inclusion through the discussion of great literature.

They work with all types of groups from front-line workers to senior managers, and the response has been extraordinary. Here are a few examples:

  • “Once you get into it in the books, and start bringing your own experience in, you start to learn about other people on a much deeper level.” (Specialty Healthcare Facility)
  • “I realized that there’s a little more depth to some of these guys than I knew before, and hopefully they thought the same thing about me. It was interesting to sit with the team and talk about our own perspectives and have a professor to bring it into focus. It brought our work group closer together, opened up lines of communication, [and] broke down barriers.” (Machinists Team)
  • “The participating shift had higher employee engagement scores on the company’s last regular survey. What it does is bring people together. I’ve seen the culture change. We are interacting with one another, we are learning something that we didn’t know.” (Manufacturing and Distribution Team)

So when it comes to employee performance and business results, what’s love got to do with it? A lot more than most people realize.

Watch this video to learn more about our approach to helping organizations align marketing communications and employee engagement. For more information, send us an e-mail or call us today at 314-664-6497.

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Failing Forward

No matter how enlightened a person may be, it’s usually pretty hard to take failure or setback without some sense of loss or regret. It might even provoke anger and retribution if the failure is costly and it’s a “stupid” mistake.

Fact is though, failures are inevitable – especially if people are being encouraged to think outside the box and try new things. So rather than rake yourself or someone else over the coals when things go wrong, hardwire your team to turn trials into treasures with systematic improvement processes as a default way of operating. Better yet, stretch people and put them in a position where failure is actually expected. Better yet still, when they do fail, celebrate!

Hold a Fail Fest
Sounds crazy, right? Maybe not. In an online article written by Therese Borchard, she reports, “Every year, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation holds a Fail Fest, where they celebrate a valuable lesson they learned while investing money into a loser organization that has absolutely bombed. According to this brilliant team, failure is chock-full of wisdom — one of the most effective ways to absorb key insights — so it’s best to sit down with that uncomfortable feeling for awhile and explore what went wrong.”

The core lesson? Failure is a great teacher if you keep your cool and focus on exploring what can be learned from the experience that will guide you toward a better decision and direction next time.

Go Off the Rails
In another article along the same lines, Margaret Gould Stewart tells the story of how her boss asked her what was going “off the rails” with her team. At first she panicked, thinking someone had told him about a problem she didn’t know about. She quickly gathered herself and asked calmly, “What do you mean? I don’t think anything is off the rails.”

His reply surprised her. “Well, that’s a problem,” which only added to her confusion. How could her boss think it was bad news that nothing was going wrong?

“Listen,” he said, “if there isn’t something going off the rails on your team, then I know you are micro-managing them. You are really good at what you do, and if you stay in the weeds on everything, you’ll keep things going perfectly, for a while. But eventually two things will happen. One, you will burn out. And two, you will eventually start to seriously piss off your team. So I better see some things going sideways on a fairly regular basis.”

As she tells it, her “head exploded.” It was so contrary to her view of how a manager is supposed to perform she could barely process his reaction. After talking and reflecting a while, she eventually got the value for herself, her team and the company of consciously letting things “go off the rails” once in a while as an intentional employee development practice. In addition to the growth that comes from learning from mistakes, it reduces fear of failure, and it fosters more open and honest communication, especially in dealing with problem situations.

So remember, failures and setbacks are inevitable if you’re pushing the envelope. Just make sure you have a plan for managing it and fail forward in the process.

Watch this video to learn more about our approach to helping organizations align marketing communications and employee engagement. For more information, send us an e-mail or call us today at 314-664-6497.

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Pursuing Pre-Active Improvement

If I had a dollar for every time I heard or read about the need for organizations to be “more proactive and less reactive,” I could’ve bought an Italian villa by now. Despite the sense of urgency that usually accompanies that time-worn platitude, it is rarely followed by any sensible corrective action.

Part of the problem is how it’s described. Can someone please explain to me the difference between being “active” and being “pro-active” in a way that makes sense? A better word for what people are really griping about and pleading for is “pre-active,” not proactive. Consistently superior businesses tend to be exceptional at anticipating future conditions and taking the necessary action to pursue potential opportunities and prevent potential failures. That’s being pre-active.

Getting Trapped
One reason that organizations aren’t very good at pre-active improvement is because they approach it sporadically, and they trap themselves in projects and initiatives that are time consuming and complex. When that happens, they get gun-shy and stay wrapped up in their comfy day-to-day operations, dealing with whatever changes and adjustments they need to make as they come along. That’s NOT being pre-active.

While some improvement efforts can indeed by be quite daunting, it’s possible to make meaningful progress with a relatively simple, yet highly effective method for getting everyone engaged in continuous pre-active improvement.

Getting Unstuck
First, start with a single focus. Pick an area where you’re having persistent problems or you want to make consistent gains – take safety or quality, for example. Every Friday at 2:00 p.m., schedule a 30-minute meeting with all managers and supervisors, and discuss this question: “Where is the next quality/safety incident likely to happen during the upcoming week?”

To get all employees involved during the preceding week, supervisors and managers ask that same question of the people who report to them. In addition to getting widespread buy-in for the process, you’re getting the benefit of input from the people on the front line who are in the best position to spot potential failures and opportunities for improvement.

After discussion at the meeting, the supervisors and managers pick ONE item from the list of possibilities that everyone will focus on during the following week. A number of benefits come from this approach:

  • The likelihood of that particular failure occurring is greatly reduced.
  • Employees are also thinking throughout the week about the other potential issues they came up with, and they are more conscious and attentive about those items as well as the primary organizational focus for the week.
  • It requires a relatively modest investment of time, it is uncomplicated, and it helps to hardwire safety or quality or whatever the focus happens to be into the culture of day-to-day operations.

So the next time someone pleads for a more “proactive” approach to dealing with problems and opportunities, tell them you’ve got a solution. Better yet, be “pre-active” about it – and go tell someone about it right now before they complain again.

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Want to learn more about a systemic approach to help you think outside the employee suggestion box? Check out our free webinar. Then give us a call at 314-664-6497 or send us an e-mail, and we’ll show you how to get employees tuned in, turned on and eager to go above and beyond.

Beyond empowerment.

When people talk about what it takes to get employees fully engaged, somebody invariably declares the need for greater “empowerment.” Nice thought. Wrong direction. Truth is, empowerment is a fundamentally flawed notion of how to approach world class engagement among interdependent adult human beings.

Doug Kirkpatrick, a former colleague with The Morning Star Company and co-founder of the Self-Management Institute, puts it this way in his TED talk. “Empowerment implies that one person with power is lending their power to a subordinate who has less power. The problem with this scenario is that what is loaned can be repossessed. People in self management have all the power they need from day one to acquire resources, build relationships and do their best work. Self management is beyond empowerment. Self management is power itself.”

The concept of self-management is not new, and it’s not uncommon in small entrepreneurial operations. The challenge, most pundits assert, is how to scale that approach for large operations. In 1990, the president of The Morning Star Company, a new start-up in the tomato processing business, decided he was going to run his operation with no managers and no bosses – no matter how big they got. How did it work? Today, Morning Star is the largest tomato processing company in the country, and still growing – without any managers or bosses.

The Value of Freedom
At the heart of the self-management philosophy is a fundamental premise: the value of freedom in the workplace. People are more engaged when they are free to do what they know and do best every day, and they don’t need bosses to tell them what to do or check up on them all the time.

That said, self-management does NOT mean that people can run around doing their own thing willy-nilly without regard to their impact on others. To the contrary, Morning Star’s operating systems and processes are grounded in a rigorous application of the two basic, driving principles underlying the code of law:

  1. Human beings should not use force or coercion against other human beings (criminal law)
  2. People should honor the commitments they make to others (civil law)

A somewhat related self-management model that has gained notoriety during the past decade is “holacracy.” Wikipedia describes it as “a specific social technology or system of organizational governance … in which authority and decision-making are distributed throughout a holarchy of self-organizing teams rather than being vested in a management hierarchy.”

Drawing on Human Nature
Regardless of what it’s called, the movement toward self-management is picking up momentum, and the results have been dramatic in many places where it’s being applied.

It also epitomizes the principles in my book, “Getting to the Heart of Employee Engagement.” If you want to get the best from employees, working relationships must be designed in tune with the two most compelling traits that differentiate human being from all other living creatures. Those are imagination and free will – the capacity to conceive of things that do not exist in the natural world combined with the desire and ability to freely make choices that are not dictated solely by our animal program for survival.

Two big barriers standing in the way of organizations making the leap toward self-management are fear of losing control and a lack of trust in people’s ability and desire to always do the “right” thing without supervision. If you break down that word, it’s easy to see the fundamental flaw in what it implies. In truth, there is nothing “super” about the “vision” of a boss who rarely has as much insight about the job as the person who does it every minute of every day.

If you’re looking for inspiration to help make that leap, here’s a spot-on quote from Steve Jobs that speaks volumes about the rationale for self-management : “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

Our ImaginAction System can help you take baby steps toward self management principles. Download our free guide to learn more.  For more information, send us an e-mail or call us today at 314-664-6497.

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A+ For AAA

My car broke down the other day, and as I’ve done many times in the last 27 years, I called AAA to bail me out.  I was a little miffed that I was on hold with music for about five minutes waiting for an agent to pick up my call, but it doesn’t usually take them that long and I wasn’t in a crisis situation, so it wasn’t a big deal.

My peevishness melted immediately as the first thing the agent asked me when she got on the line was if I was in any danger.  After assuring her I was safe, she cheerfully got all the information she needed, and told me someone would be there within 45 minutes.  Ten minutes later, I got an automatic text message saying a tow truck would be there by 10:45 – 15 minutes earlier than what I was told originally.  Good news.

Delivering on the Promise
Sure enough, at 10:45 on the dot the tow truck came around the corner to my location.  The driver was a young guy, probably 30-ish, and he came up to me with a smile, shook my hand and introduced himself.  I liked him right away.  He wanted to know about the trouble I was having with the car, and he asked if he could try to start it so he could see what was going on with it.  He quickly discovered that the car wasn’t going anywhere on its own, so he loaded it up and we got on the road back to my house.

On the way, I peppered him with questions – something I do every chance I get to talk with an employee who obviously likes his or her work.  I asked him how long he’s been with AAA (3 years) … how he likes what he’s doing … how he feels about the company … his boss … so on.

Caring and Freedom
A few things stood out for me that go to the heart of our approach to employee engagement. The first think he said was that his boss really cared about him.  I asked him what “really caring” looked like.   “Well, he’s easy to work with,” the guy responded.  “One thing is he’s flexible if I want to change my schedule or I have an emergency.  He never gives me any trouble about it.”  He went on to explain that the boss they had right before this one was the exact opposite, and everyone hated it.

So what else made him like his job besides a caring boss, I wondered.  “Probably the biggest thing is when I’m out on the road, I’m my own boss,” the guy said.  “They gave me training to start with, and my boss gives me help when I need it. But when I’m out here, I’m free to make my own decisions on what I need to do. I don’t have anyone standing over me telling me do this, do that, or do it this way. I really like that.”

Anyone who’s followed this column or the work we do with our clients over the years knows that the AAA employee put his finger on two of our most compelling principles:

  1. Of all the core management credibility factors for employees, care and concern are at the top of the list.  As the well-known saying goes, they don’t care how much you know as a boss until they know how much you care.
  2. If you want people to trust the organization, you have to start by making sure they have the right tools, information and training to do the job. Then you need to trust them to do whatever they think the job calls for – even if it doesn’t follow the letter of the law. More than that, you need to encourage them to take the initiative to do what they think is right and best. And here’s the tough part – when they screw up and make the wrong decision, which is inevitable – you have to acknowledge them for giving it their best effort, help them size up the incident and allow them to come with their own solutions for what they would do differently in the future.

You can click on this link for a 6-minute clip on other factors that build the trust and confidence employees need to be fully engaged and supported in doing their best.

Learn more about our approach to employee engagement in our free webinar, available to view on demand! For more information, send us an e-mail or call us today at 314-664-6497.

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Getting better at getting better.

Most forward-looking business people are avid advocates of the principle espoused by noted author, Jim Collins, that “good is the enemy of great.”  But how many recognize that great is the enemy of better?  Of course, it’s great to be great, but if you get seduced into being content with greatness, you won’t stay there for long.  Markets change … technologies change … companies change … people change … everything changes – and if you’re not getting better, you’re falling behind.  There’s no in between.

Better not get tempted by the “icing.”
Few astute leaders would argue otherwise, but the way they typically operate demonstrates a shallow appreciation for what it takes to get employees fully engaged in getting better all the time as a persistent way of life.

They declare they want employee input and empowerment … they brag about an open door policy … they set up culture clubs and suggestion committees … they create a bunch of recognition programs … they hold quarterly town hall meeting … and on and on and on.  When you add it all up, though, they’re just stacking one program and activity on top of another, and they delude themselves into believing that constitutes a substantive approach to getting employees actively engaged in making things better.

Here’s the quandary.  They’re not entirely off base.  Most of that stuff can help to some extent, creating an illusion that the organization is on the right path. That illusion makes it all the more difficult to heighten awareness and raise expectations for what a true continuous improvement mindset and methodology can produce when it’s imbedded at its systemic best.  In the end all those programs and activities are little more than the proverbial icing on the cake.  Unless organizations get real and focus on the “cake” of day-to-day systems and processes, improvement efforts ultimately wind up anemic, episodic and unsustainable.

Better make it a habit.
Getting past that trap takes a systematic routine that generates a sustainable output of improvements from every corner of the organization on a constant basis – in other words, a “continuous improvement habit.”  That’s mainly due to the dual essence of human nature. The animal part of us wants things to be predictable, stable and unchanging — what all living creatures crave to feel safe and secure. The human part of us wants to exercise our unique gifts of imagination and free will to push the boundaries, explore possibilities and color outside the lines of the natural world.  In order to optimize people’s improvement potential, organizations need to appeal to both aspects of that nature.  In a nutshell, employees need a habit to replace the habit of doing things over and over again the same way.

Then, make the habit better.
But there’s a subtle yet significant catch in that recipe.  Even the continuous improvement habit or process itself needs to be scrutinized constantly so the organization is always “getting better at getting better.” That’s the captivating subtitle of a book by Doug Lemov called Practice Perfect. His premise is simple yet compelling.

“We love competition, the big win, the ticking seconds of the clock as the game comes down to the wire. We watch games and cheer, but if we really wanted to see greatness we’d spend our time watching, obsessing on, and maybe even cheering the practice sessions instead. Practice Perfect … shows that anyone, in any field, can come to appreciate that practice, not games, makes champions.”

Here’s one critical twist on Lemov’s contention.  The notion that “practice makes perfect” is a fallacy.  Truth is, practice makes permanent.  It only makes perfect if you’re practicing the right things.  If you’re practicing to make the perfect buggy whip when the rest of the world is shifting toward automotive transportation, you can practice with perfection every minute of the day and wind up obsolete.  Likewise, if you’re practicing how to make the best automobile in the wrong way, you’ll wind up losing the game.

It all comes down to a clear and compelling conclusion.  Organizations always need to be “getting better at getting better,” or they’ll eventually get caught in the alluring and misleading trap of seeing greatness as the pinnacle of success.

Learn more about our approach to employee engagement in our free webinar, available to view on demand! For more information, send us an e-mail or call us today at 314-664-6497.

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Got it, thanks!

Would you like an astonishingly simple way to get a reputation for being an exceptional communicator? Just reply to the e-mails you receive. Yep, it’s that simple. Not just the few essential e-mails that absolutely require a response – but all of them.

You’re probably thinking that’s preposterous, impossible and completely unnecessary. And you would be right – at least about the unnecessary part. The main reason for doing it is if you want to demonstrate your knowledge and appreciation for one of the essential elements of a true communication process. Another important reason is the basic truth that effective communication is the cornerstone of employee engagement and customer relationship-building.

Don’t be the Road Block – or the Dead End
Going back to the early days of communication theory and the creation of the Shannon-Weaver model, one key factor has stood out as a requirement for effective communication. That’s the inimitable feedback loop. Put simply, if you don’t have an observable exchange between a sender and a responder, you have not engaged in communication. All you’ve done is sent or received a message. If that’s all you care about, then forget about requesting a reply or responding to a message that you receive. But if you want to make sure you’ve made a connection, always insist on feedback.

If you think that’s overkill, consider this. When people tell me what we need around here is more two-way communication, I ask them, “What the hell other kind is there?” Sometimes, they look at me funny and say something like, “Well, you know, all the presentations and announcements and management edicts and stuff like that.” To which I reply, “Oh, I get it, you’re talking about message distribution. I thought you meant communication.”

Two-Way is the Only Way 
Here’s the bottom line. If it’s not two-way, it’s not communication. What people typically call one-way communication is like one-handed clapping. It may move the air around a bit, but it rarely makes a meaningful connection.

Now, if you’re still hung up on how “preposterous” and “impossible” it is to respond to every e-mail, here’s a simple solution. With the vast majority of them, you can cover your communication bases with three words and one punctuation mark – Got it, thanks! Sometimes, you may have to go a bit further, and add one more short sentence – Get back to you by (specified day). Now, that’s real communication. And guess what? Unless you’re a really slow typist, that takes all of 10-15 seconds.

To be honest, I don’t suggest that you reply to literally ALL e-mails. Unsolicited promotional messages from people you don’t know and who don’t know you don’t count. Reply to them or not – it’s up to you. If you don’t, it really doesn’t matter much because people who send those messages actually don’t expect to more less than a 1% response rate in the first place. I’m of the opinion that no one deserves to get anything more than they expect out of life, so don’t sweat it and don’t waste your time on it.

Beyond that, show the world you know what it means to be a “real” communicator, and hit that reply button whenever you can. Got it? Thanks!

Rate the effectiveness of your communication efforts by completing our simple (and free!) Real-Life Real-Time Communication Assessment. For more information, send us an e-mail or call us today at 314-664-6497.

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The wonder of WHY

“Why, mommy, why?” Those annoying little pests. Why are they constantly asking why? For good reason actually – and it’s not unique to kids. When it comes to the world of work, understanding the “wonder of why” has huge implications. That’s especially true for employee engagement and the impact it can have on organizational performance and business results.

So why is why such a big deal? It starts with understanding the two extraordinary traits that differentiate human beings from all other living creatures on the planet – imagination and free will. We are unique in our capacity to conceive of things that do not exist in the natural world – and we are free to choose and do whatever we want with it.

Birds and bees, cats and dogs and all other animals take the world pretty much as it comes, and they do only what they are programmed to do by nature – unless they are trained by humans to do something unnature-like. The question “why” never comes up for animals. It’s already answered for them by their programs, so it’s irrelevant. For human beings, though, imagination and free will allow us – actually compel us – to wonder and to ask why. And it shows up in a number of vitally important ways:

  • The most common driver for wondering why is when we get commands and requests that don’t make sense or we don’t like. Fact is, no one of any age likes to be told what to do without knowing why. “Because I told you so” may work as a last resort for a two-year-old, but try that kind of command and control with employees, and see how far it gets you. Sure, you may get compliance, but you’ll never get the “extra mile” effort that exemplifies genuine employee engagement. In fact, you’re likely to get just the opposite – people intentionally dragging their feet, especially when you’re not looking.
  • Asking why serves a similar purpose in challenging ourselves to examine the rationale for our own decisions and actions. There’s substantial power in asking “Why do I really want to do this?” The clearer and stronger your reasons, the more likely you are to believe in what you’re doing and to stick with it.
  • Another essential driver for asking why is to understand our individual purpose – both at work and life in general. Simon Sinek has gained considerable notoriety from his lectures and training programs that offer people a popular method to “Learn Your Why” – the purpose, cause, or belief that inspires you to do what you do.
  • Taking that kind of introspection a step further, people have asked for millennia what may be the most elemental question of all. Why are we here? Why life? Even if you’re not a philosopher, those are important, uniquely human questions almost everyone has thought about at some point in trying to make sense of their existence.
  • In the realm of performance improvement, the “5 Whys” is a proven technique used to investigate the causes of a specific problem. The main goal is to determine the root cause of a defect or problem by repeating the question “Why?” several times in succession. Each answer leads to the next why. The number 5 comes from studies showing the number of repetitions usually needed to solve the problem. The tool was developed by Sakichi Toyoda, and it was used at the Toyota Motor Corporation routinely during its spectacular rise to success.
  • Want to do effective strategic planning? The core, critical question for the planning team should always be why you should go in whatever direction you decide to pursue. What’s more, sharing the why with employees in a way they understand will help with buy-in and execution, which is where most strategic plans ultimately fail.

If that’s not enough, here’s one more critical motive for valuing the “wonder of why” – your customers. If you think kids and employees persist in wanting to know the reasoning behind things, try sidestepping a customer who wants to know why they’re having a problem with your company or why you can’t fix it and give them what they want. The more you create a culture that honors and fosters the wonder of why, the better your employees will be able to handle those crucial moments of truth when they can make or break the future of the relationships with your customers – and the future success of your organization.

In the end, the reason people want to know why is simple – they’re wonder-full.

Want to learn more about WHY human nature, imagination and free will can impact your employee engagement efforts? Check out our FREE Employee Engagement Mastery coaching session. For more information, send us an e-mail or call us today at 314-664-6497.

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The biggest engagement mistake.

Someone asked me the other day, “What’s the single biggest mistake companies make when they try to boost employee engagement?” The question threw me a bit because I’m generally talking about what it takes to do engagement right rather than what organizations do wrong to mess it up. It’s also hard to pick just one mistake out of the grab-bag of blunders that companies often make.

It didn’t take me long, though, to come up with an answer. “They get caught in the program trap,” I told the guy. It’s the classic reaction from most companies when they get swept up in a big business trend. They assume it’s a good thing, but they don’t have a clear idea of what it looks like or how to make it work.

In the case of employee engagement, instead of making fundamental shifts in the way organizations involve employees in the day-to-day operation of the business, they come up with programs, perks and parties that will help improve their scores in the latest “great places to work” contest.

Avoiding the trap
If you want to avoid the “engagement program trap,” here are examples of things to watch out for:

  • Recognition spotlights: An employee-of-the-month award may sound appealing, but think about it. What a crazy thing to do to a team. People appreciate being appreciated for sure, but plaques, awards and other showcased recognition for individual effort have a short shelf-life, and they do little to forge a cohesive, high-performing team effort. It’s the ongoing , routine acknowledgement of day-to-day contributions made by everyone on the team that has the greatest impact on performance.
  • Presentation-style town hall meetings: Most of these periodic events come off more like lectures and data dumps than genuine efforts to get employees tuned into information and decisions. At the end of the typical meeting, the host asks if anyone has any questions. Usually, there’s very little substantive response. It’s essential to keep employees aware of what’s going on, or course, but if all you’re doing is dispensing information, send out an e-mail. A more interactive approach is to ask employees to discuss designated topics in groups, and report on what they discuss. Bottom line, if it’s not two-way, it’s not communication – it’s just message distribution.
  • Wallpaper dashboards: It’s hard to find an organization that doesn’t post data somehow showing where they stand on key performance indicators. Problem is, there’s rarely a routine, systematic process for employees to engage in dialogue about what’s underway or what needs to be done to improve those numbers. It may look “engaging,” but it doesn’t do much for people or performance.
  • Suggestion committees and incentives: Few workplace practices are as well-meaning and fundamentally flawed as this one. The premise is to encourage employees to submit ideas for improvement, and a special committee decides if it will be implemented and how much employees should be paid for it. But people on those committees have other work to do, and they’re often ill-equipped to judge an idea without doing some kind of evaluation, which take even more time they don’t have. So even the simplest ideas can die on the vine waiting for a decision. The best way for employees to get fully engaged is through a process that creates a continuous improvement “habit” built around short, structured meetings once or twice a week for teams to submit, review and implement improvement ideas on their own. Just look at the anemic participation rate of employees in most suggestion programs, and it’s easy to see how ineffective most of them are. If an improvement process isn’t generating an average of at least one documented implemented improvement per employee per month, all you’ve got is a program, not a process.

Focus on systems and processes
Avoiding the minefield of engagement “traps” is actually pretty simple – but it’s not easy. The temptation can be overwhelming to employ spiffy one-off tactics and spout high-sounding exhortations about employee empowerment. It takes little effort, and it puts on a good show. If you want to produce meaningful, long-term results, however, the antidote to the program trap is fully integrated systems and processes that hard-wire a deeper level of engagement into everyday operations.

Want to learn more about how to avoid those “traps” and make employee engagement the real deal? We help get your organization on the right path with our ImaginAction Workshop. Learn more in this brief video.

For more information, send us an e-mail
or call us today at 314-664-6497.

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