Employee Engagement Isn’t Working. Now What?

Every company and leader wants the answer to this “Now what?” question. Engaged employees translate into a productive and successful organization, which is the goal of most every leader and organization I know. And, engagement also translates into a great place to work, which is what employees want.

As a Fellow in the National Academy of Human Resources, the highest award that can be given to an HR professional in the US, I’ve been to many HR conventions. At these sessions, incredibly smart, prepared HR professionals declare that to increase employee engagement we need more rewards, recognition, training, and empowerment in organizations, that companies need more and better programs to engage their employees.

And yet, these programs are not working. In the same speeches suggesting more employee engagement programs, HR professionals state that employee engagement is at an all-time low. Something is not working!

Perhaps we can take a lesson from Alan Mulally, former CEO of Ford, on how to address this challenging and significant issue.

A Lesson from Alan Mulally

In 2006, when Alan assumed the role of CEO at the Ford Motor Company, Ford had just posted the largest annual loss in their 103 year history.

As his first official act at Ford, Alan brought his leadership team together and asked them to share their top five priorities for their companies, and assess the progress of each priority using a green-yellow-red scoring system for good-concerned-poor.

At that meeting, the entire team assessed each of their priorities as green (good!). This would be great, but the company was headed towards a record $17 billion loss! (This is similar to HR’s employee engagement issue. If all of the employee engagement programs are working so well, why is employee engagement at an all-time low, unless that is the goal?)

Alan told the team that if a $17 billion loss was their plan, then they were right on target. Recognizing the incongruity between their goals and reality, the team tried again and came back the following week, but still all priorities were green. It took some weeks before Mark Fields finally stood up and said “Red”.

This was a turning point for Ford. Someone had admitted there was a problem! Alan applauded Mark for standing up. He facilitated a team discussion and they worked together towards a solution. It worked! Not only did that red eventually become green, but in the coming weeks, more team members brought their challenges to the group and they all worked together in one of the greatest turnarounds in history.

Back to Employee Engagement

This to me is where we are with employee engagement. We’ve got to be able to admit that something isn’t working with all of our rewards and recognition programs, and work together towards a solution. This means everyone – not just the leaders and companies, but the employees too.

When I listen to the presentations at these HR conventions, everything that these great HR leaders talk about is focused on what the company can do to engage the employees – absolutely nothing that they discuss is focused on what the employees can do to engage themselves. These presentations are incredibly effective at describing half of the equation.

They are very persuasive at explaining how the company can increase the employee’s engagement and they completely ignore how the employees could increase their own engagement.

On American Airlines alone, I have over 11 million frequent flyer miles. Most flight attendants do a great job. On the occasional flight, there are two flight attendants, one is positive motivated upbeat and enthusiastic – while the other is negative, bitter, angry and cynical. I’m sure you have been on this flight before.

What is the difference? The difference is not what the company is providing. Both flight attendants may be making the same pay, with the same uniform, with the same customers, on the same plane, with the same employee engagement program.

What is the difference? The difference is not what is on the outside. The difference is what is on the inside.

While I respect and appreciate everything I hear from the HR leaders at these conferences, I believe we are missing the most important factor in employee engagement – the person who is doing the work.

I would love to hear your thoughts on how we can engage ourselves at work. If we work together, I know we can come up with solutions to this significant challenge of low employee engagement that address the other half of the equation – you and me!

Triggers is a #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller! Order it at Amazon. See The Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video Blog for more of this video series.

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Stop! Don’t Make the #1 Mistake in Business

Marshall and Geoff Smart

By Geoff Smart and Marshall Goldsmith

What’s the #1 mistake in business?

Marshall:  How do you define “#1 mistake?”

Geoff:  Let’s define it as a mistake that is most common, most damaging, and most preventable.

M:  I believe the #1 mistake in business is the failure to follow up.  Work is so fast and so complex these days.  So much chance for distraction.  In one of the largest studies ever done on the effects of executive coaching–over 70,000 respondents, we learned that the biggest mistake coaches make is in not following up.  It didn’t matter who the coach was, or what method they used.  Failing to follow up made any approach to coaching ineffective.

G: We agree on this one.  The #1 mistake is failure to follow up on the priorities that matter most.  I think following up is hard for many leaders.  They either lack the discipline to create a “cadence of accountability” for themselves and their team, or they fear being perceived as difficult.

M:  OK, so now let’s talk about how to avoid making this mistake of not following up?

G: I remember in your book Triggers you talk about Alan Mulally and his amazingly simple follow-up system he used with his senior team around regularly discussing red/yellow/green priorities.  And in my book Power Score, it’s a similar observation:  former Marine and FedEx founder Fred Smith in our interview of him was all about follow-up, follow-up, follow-up.  When people know there is going to be follow-up, they have a way of finding a way to deliver the results.  When they don’t think you are going to follow up, they allow themselves to be distracted by other things.

M:  What gets measured gets done.

G:  Inspect what you expect.

M:  I like to teach leaders about the trigger-routine-outcome cycle.  It’s related to the concept in motivational psychology of antecedent-behavior-consequence cycle.  As a leader, you create a trigger, a routine of behaviors with a daily follow-up plan, and then you are much more likely to achieve an outcome.  Most of the time when we think of creating a trigger, we create a new behavior, preserve a positive behavior, eliminate a negative behavior, or accept something that is not going to change.  And once we establish that cycle, it’s really the follow-up that makes the desired outcome happen.  Structure is good.  Follow-up doesn’t happen without structure.

G: What about entrepreneurs or people who say that following up takes too much time?

M: I say to them, you have to just decide how successful you want to be.  If you want to be busy, then be busy.  But if you want to achieve great things, it takes follow-up.

Dr. Geoff Smart is Chairman & Founder of ghSMART, a leadership consulting firm that exists to help leaders amplify their positive impact on the world.  Click for his downloadable free tools, and events.

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith is the #1 coach in the world, #1 leadership thinker, and million-selling author of 35 books. Triggers is a #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller! Order it at Amazon. Visit marshallgoldsmith.com for free articles and videos.

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Why Not Mess Up a Good Thing?

We rarely get credit for not messing up a good thing. A number of years ago, a politician put it this way, “The most thankless decision I make is the one that prevents something bad from happening, because I can never prove that I prevented something even worse!”

Because there’s no big show of change, there’s no shiny, new object when you make the decision to preserve something, most people rarely ask themselves “What in my life is worth keeping?”

When it comes to behavioral change, successful people, by definition, are doing a lot of things correctly, so they have a lot to preserve. Yet, they also have a baseline urge that equates steady advancement with constant improvement. They’re geared to fight the status quo, not maintain it. When they face the choice of being good or getting even better, they instinctively opt for the latter—and risk losing some desirable qualities.

In its subtle way, preserving can be transformational.

One of my best friends and all-time heroes is Frances Hesselbein. Frances, whom Fortune magazine called the “best non-profit manager in America,” became CEO of the Girl Scouts of America in 1976. Her mandate was to transform a hidebound organization with declining membership, a reliance on 120 volunteers for every paid staff member, and an antiquated image that no longer applied to young girls of the times. The urge to scrap everything and rebuild from the ground up would have been understandable.

She called it “Tradition with a Future.”

Frances, who years before becoming CEO had volunteered with Troop 17 of the Girl Scouts in her hometown in Pennsylvania, knew that the organization had a lot worth preserving. For instance, its door-to-door cookie sales and its identity as a moral guide for young women. Frances showed her staff and volunteers that it was more important than ever to reach out to girls, given the emerging threats of drugs and teen pregnancy. Frances’s radical combination of preserving and creating inspired the organization with new purpose. The result? In her years as CEO, membership quadrupled and diversity tripled.

Preserving may sound passive and mundane, but it is a real choice. It requires soul-searching to figure out what serves us well, and discipline to refrain from abandoning it for something else!

Triggers is a #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller! Order it at Amazon. See The Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video Blog for more of this video series.

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Two Leadership Titans Disagree about the #1

Marshall and Geoff Smart

By Geoff Smart and Marshall Goldsmith

What’s the #1 key to success?

Geoff: Marshall!  Let’s start by saying what we think isn’t the #1 key to success.  This should raise some eyebrows.  There are so may people with an opinion on this subject—commencement address-givers, authors, coaches, etc.

Marshall: The #1 key to success is not passion, trust, honesty, engagement, customer delight…

G: Yep, or financial tricks, being competitive, humility, or hard work.  Those are very short-term-oriented, or very common.

M:  To me, the #1 key to success is “creating lasting positive change in yourself and others.”  That is what is most rare, most difficult, and most valuable about leading people.

G:  I figured you might say that.  You are the positive behavior change guy.  I’m going to go with “hiring talented teams”—the who, not the how, of leadership.

M:  Of course you would say that.  You are the who guy.

G:  Who are you, who who, who who?

M:  Stop singing.  OK, I’ll make the case for creating lasting positive change in yourself and others.  It’s simple.  I’ve coached over 300 CEOs.  So I’ve seen what successful ones do, and what unsuccessful ones do.  And I’ve seen unsuccessful ones change into successful ones.  And in each of these cases of success, at the root I see a commitment that is made.  The commitment to make a change in behavior that will have the greatest positive affect on their performance and on their career.  It can be anything.  But by definition, committing to make the most useful change you can make, and then following through on that commitment, does more to keep people successful, or make people successful, than wishful thinking, or believing in a principle that they don’t act on.

G:  I hear you.  All we have is ourselves.  And behavior change is where the rubber meets the road.  Therefore, if we make the most positive change we can make, we have unlocked the #1 key to success.  That’s what I understand you are saying.

M:  Exactly.

G: And I love your 20 behavior derailers.  And I love how you charge your clients $20 if they fail at one of these in front of you.  Winning too much, adding too much value, passing judgment, making destructive comments, starting with no/but/however, telling the world how smart we are, speaking when angry, negativity, withholding information, failing to give proper recognition, claiming credit we don’t deserve, making excuses, clinging to the past, playing favorites, refusing to express regret, not listening, failing to express gratitude, punishing the messenger, passing the buck, excessive need to be “me.”

M:  Yes, I’m glad you read my What Got You Here Won’t Get You There book.

G:  That’s where we disagree I think.  I don’t view leadership as what one single person does.  I view a leader as an “assembler” of a talented team of people.  Like an allocator of human capital, whose job it is to identify a group’s goal and then put together the very best people to achieve it.  Therefore, what one person decides is less impactful than hiring a talented team of people.

M:  Yes yes, the talent of a team is important.  And I know your 4 steps to improving your hiring success rate from 50% to 90%:  scorecard, source, select, and sell.

G:  So you skimmed the summary of my Who book.  Nice.

M:  But a team that is not committed to their own positive behavior change, or affecting maximum positive behavior change in others, is not going to succeed.  So I’ll conclude by reiterating that the most fundamental “gene” if you will, in success, is the commitment to positive behavior change in yourself and others.

G:  And I’ll respectfully see your steadfast commitment to your own teachings and books, and raise you my own dogma.  Who matters.  And one more thing.  Don’t start a sentence with “But.”  You owe me $20.

Dr. Geoff Smart is Chairman & Founder of ghSMART, a leadership consulting firm that exists to help leaders amplify their positive impact on the world.  Click for his downloadable free tools, and events.

Dr. Marshall Goldsmith is the #1 coach in the world, #1 leadership thinker, and million-selling author of 35 books. Triggers is a #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller! Order it at Amazon. Visitmarshallgoldsmith.com for free articles and videos.

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How Being Too Good Holds You Back!

When it comes to changing our behavior, there are two options that people usually try. The first is attempting a new behavior (like running Saturday mornings, or calling our parents on Thursday afternoons). The second option most people try is eliminating something.

Eliminating is our most liberating, therapeutic action – but we make it reluctantly. Like cleaning out an attic or garage, we never know if we’ll regret jettisoning a part of us. Maybe we’ll need it in the future? Maybe it’s the secret of our success?

The most significant transformational moment in my career was an act of my elimination. And, it wasn’t my idea.

In my late thirties, I was flying around the country giving talks about organizational behavior to companies. It was lucrative, and I needed my mentor Dr. Paul Hersey to point out the downside or I never would have grown.

“You’re too good at what you’re doing,” Paul told me. “You’re making too much money selling your day rate to companies.”

When someone tells me I’m “too good” my brain shifts into neutral – I bask in the praise. Paul wasn’t done with me.

“You’re not investing in your future,” he said. “You’re not researching and writing and coming up with new things to say. You can continue doing what you’re doing for a long time, but you’ll never become the person you want to be.”

I respected Paul immensely and his words triggered a profound emotion in me. I knew he was right. I was too busy maintaining a comfortable life. At some point, I’d grow bored or disaffected. And, it might happen too late in the game for me to do anything about it. Unless I eliminated some of the busywork (that was profitable), I would never create something new for myself and I would “sacrifice the future on the altar of today,” as Peter Drucker had so eloquently put it.

I have always been thankful for Paul’s advice.

We’re all experienced at eliminating things that hurt us, especially when the benefits of doing so are immediate and certain. We will shed an unreliable friend who causes us grief, stop drinking caffeine because it makes us jittery, and stop a habit that might be killing us. When the consequence is extreme distress, we opt for elimination.

The real test is sacrificing something we enjoy doing – say micromanaging – that’s not ostensibly harming our career, that we believe may even be working for us (if not others). If we can sacrifice something comfortable, that we’re “too good at,” that might even be holding us back, we’ll have more room to grow into the person we want to be.

Triggers is a #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller! Order it at Amazon. See The Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video Blog for more of this video series.

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The Worst Thing You Can Do Is Lead a Changeless Life!

Imagine living a life in which nothing changed.

I’m not talking about working at the same company your entire adult life, or staying married to the same person for fifty years, or never leaving the community you were born in. Those are choices to be honored, not regretted or derided. These actually reflect a sturdy permanence and consistency worth celebrating.

Think about it though – even among the steadiest of people – it’s hard to imagine a completely changeless existence.

And yet, there is one aspect of our lives where we wear changelessness as a badge of honor. I’m talking about our interpersonal behavior and our resistance to changing how we treat other people.

Like the sister we haven’t seen or spoken to in years because of some long-forgotten grievance. Or the neighbor we’ve seen for years that we still, out of inertia or shyness, have never introduced ourselves to. Or the scolding response we display when a child disappoints us.

We take a foolish pride in prolonging some behaviors for as long as possible, with no regard for who is harmed. Only when it’s too late to undo the damage and we have reached some objective distance do we rethink our behavior and perhaps regret it.

When we prolong negative behavior – the kind that hurts the people we love or the kind that hurts us in some way – we are leading a changeless life in the most hazardous manner. We are willfully choosing to be miserable and making others miserable too. The time we are miserable is time we can never get back. Even more painful, it is our doing. It is our choice.

So, if there is one thing I’d ask of you right now, it’s to think about one chance, one gesture that you won’t regret later on. That’s the only criterion: you won’t feel sorry you did it! Maybe it’s calling your mother to tell her you love her. Or thanking a customer for his loyalty. Or saying nothing, instead of saying something cynical in a meeting.

It could be anything, as long as it represents a departure from what you’ve always done and would continue doing forever if you hadn’t read these words.

Now do it.

It will be good for your friends. It will be good for your company. It will be good for your customers. It will be good for your family.

And it will be even better for you. So much better that you might even want to do it again.

Triggers is a #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller! Order it at Amazon. See The Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video Blog for more of this video series.

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Don’t Coach Integrity Violations – Fire Them!

A very wise leader, Alan Mulally, the former CEO of Ford and Fortune’s #3 greatest leader in the world 2013, once told me, “The key to your success is having great customers. If you have a great customer, your process will always work. If you have the wrong customer, your process will never work.”

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PALEOVENTURES Takes Teams Back to Nature

Trudy and Jack

Nothing is more vital to business success than strong, effective teams made up of healthy and cooperative individuals.  One way to help both individuals and teams become stronger and more effective is to try outdoor teambuilding – but not the old fashioned ropes courses and trust falls!

PALEOVENTURES, a San Francisco based company, provides meaningful outdoor survival skills learning combined with organizationally relevant communication skills training.  Founded and facilitated by Jack Foley, an experienced outdoor educator and Trudy Triner, an organization development expert, PALEOVENTURES provides high engagement, low impact training which stresses that teamwork in an organization is just as important as being the person with all the right answers.

According to the Institute for Outdoor Learning, benefits of outdoor learning include:

  • Developing self esteem, taking personal responsibility, cooperating with and respecting the needs of others,
  • Enhancing practical problem solving and team work skills,
  • Promoting a positive and knowledgeable response towards personal health and well being.

Their own experience has convinced Triner and Foley  that teams welcome an opportunity to learn more about themselves and their colleagues, to learn  real survival skills for use in an emergency, to build team and communication skills, and just to have fun together.

Managers say the one-day experience breaks down long-standing silos which improves customer service, and overall morale and corporate culture.

Trudy Triner and Jack Foley



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What Do You Do When You’re Stuck in a Job You Hate?

This is a dilemma most of us have faced at one time or another, some of you might even be facing it right now. What do you do when you are in a job that you really don’t like? Perhaps it’s an issue with your boss or co-workers, or the responsibilities and focus of the position just doesn’t thrill you like you thought it would when you took the job. And, now, for whatever reason(s) you just aren’t able to leave. What do you do?

You have a couple of choices.

One choice is to suffer through day by day until you either get fired for your poor attitude or you find another job that you like more. All the while you’re in the position you make everyone around you nearly as miserable as you are, repelling potential customers, and bringing the company down. That’s one option.

The other option is to create happiness and meaning in your work life regardless of the current circumstances. This is a tall order. And, I’ve not seen too many people who are able to do this 100 percent of the time. I have seen that attitude – a focus on the positive, on finding happiness and meaning in tough situations – is key to success, change, and moving forward to better situations.

So, how do you create happiness and meaning when you’re stuck in a job that you hate?

I suggest that you break your days down into one hour segments. For example, imagine that you have to go to a one-hour meeting. You are dreading this pointless, unnecessary meeting and everything about it!

Now, imagine that at the end of this boring, time-sucking meeting, you are going to be tested with four simple questions about how you spent that hour:

  • Did I do my best to be happy?
  • Did I do my best to find meaning?
  • Did I do my best to build positive relationships?
  • Did I do my best to be fully engaged?

If you knew you were going to be tested, what would you do differently to raise your score on any of these four items?

I’ve posed this question to thousands of executives around the world. Some typical responses are:

  • I would go into the meeting with a positive attitude.
  • Instead of waiting for someone to make it interesting, I’d make it interesting myself.
  • I’d try to help the presenter in some way instead of critiquing her in my head.
  • I would try to build a positive relationship with someone in the room.
  • I would pay attention and put away my smartphone.

Here’s my radical suggestion for what to do when you’re stuck in a job you hate. From now on, pretend that you are going to be tested every hour. Your heart and mind will thank you for it. Each hour that you spend at this job is an hour that you won’t get back. If you are miserable, it is your misery, not the company’s, not your boss’s, not your co-workers’. Why waste your hours being disengaged and cynical? By taking personal responsibility for your own engagement, you make a positive contribution to your company. Even more important, you begin creating a better, happier you!

Triggers is a #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller! Order it at Amazon. See The Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video Blog for more of this video series.

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Are You Wasting Your Time on Values Statements?

Recently, during an interview with Moustafa Hamwi for his show Passion Sundays, Moustafa asked me an important question: how valuable is it for a company to invest in helping employees find their own personal passions, not just business passions?

This is a great question! I think there is a huge value in helping employees find their personal passions! My friend Jim Kouzes, co-author with Barry Posner of The Leadership Challenge, did an important study. Jim found that there is a strong connection between values and engagement and that the key to engagement is not that the company has stated values. The key to engagement, Jim found, is that employees can live their own values while working at the company.

We all know “the corporate credo”. Companies have wasted millions of dollars and countless hours of employees’ time agonizing over the wording of statements that are inscribed on plaques and hung on walls. There is a clear assumption that people’s behavior will change because the pronouncements on plaques are “inspirational” or certain words “integrate our strategy and values.” There is an implicit hope that when people — especially managers — hear great words, they will start to exhibit great behavior.

Sometimes these words morph as people try to keep up with the latest trends in corporate-speak. A company may begin by striving for “customer satisfaction,” then advance to “total customer satisfaction,” and then finally reach the pinnacle of “customer delight.”

But this obsession with words belies one very large problem: There is almost no correlation between the words on the wall and the behavior of leaders. Every company wants “integrity,” “respect for people,” “quality,” “customer satisfaction,” “innovation,” and “return for shareholders.” Sometimes companies get creative and toss in something about “community” or “suppliers.” But since the big messages are all basically the same, the words quickly lose their real meaning to employees — if they had any in the first place.

Whether or not the company chooses the right words for the plaque on the wall is not the real question you need to ask when it comes to employee engagement. The real question is: Can your people live their own values every day? People who can live their own values while they are working at an organization are highly engaged. People who cannot live their values while working at an organization are often not engaged.

Triggers is a #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller! Order it at Amazon. See The Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video Blog for more of this video series.

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