The Solution to the $450+ Billion Engagement Problem

According to Gallup, the percentage of employees who are Engaged, Not Engaged, or Actively Disengaged has hardly changed over the past 16 years. Less than one-third of Americans were Engaged in their jobs from 2000 to 2015.

Gallup says that employee engagement is important because it is strongly related to business outcomes and a company’s financial success. Their latest report says that 70% of U. S. employees are Not Engaged (and noted that 70% of payroll is going to them!). Engaged employees have 22% more profitability and 25% less turnover than less engaged ones. Engaged employees also have significantly better business results in the areas of productivity, customers ratings, new products and services, new customers, growth, revenue, absenteeism, safety, theft, quality defects, and healthcare costs. Gallup estimated that Active Disengagement costs the U.S. an estimated $450-550 billion a year.

          Actively Disengaged     Not Engaged     Engaged

2016                          16                              51                        33

2015                          17                              51                        32

2014                          17                              52                        31

2013                          19                              51                        30

2012                          18                              52                        30

2011                          19                              52                        29

2010                          19                              53                        28

2009                          18                              54                        28

2008                          20                              51                        29

2007                          20                              50                        30

2006                          15                              55                        30

2005                          15                              59                        26

2004                          17                              54                        29

2003                          17                              55                        28

2002                          17                              53                        30

2001                          16                              54                        30

2000                         18                              56                        26

Average                  18                              53                        29

Why is it that, despite all the interventions recommended and tried over the past 16 years, the engagement numbers have not changed?

The engagement problem persists because engagement is not really the problem, but is the problem symptom. Symptomatic solutions tried over the past 15 years or so may have created an illusion of success and offered some temporary relief, but the problem lives on.

Three actions will increase engagement over the long-term:

1. Reframe the engagement question

2. Approach engagement from the outside-in and the inside-out

3. Don’t try to micromanage engagement

1. Reframe the engagement question.

The question usually posed is: How can people in leadership or management positions motivate subordinates to be engaged? (This question is addressing a symptom.)

Instead, ask: How can people in leadership or management positions create the conditions within which others will motivate themselves and be inspired to engage? This question gets at the problem of why people are not self-motivated or inspired.

2. Approach engagement from the outside-in and the inside out.

Organizations cannot “engage” people. Engagement happens when there is both outside-in and inside-out ownership of responsibility. Outside-in engagement is about organization responsibilities; inside-out engagement is about individual responsibilities. Leaders and managers must understand and do the organization part and every individual (leaders, managers, and individual contributors) must understand and do their (inside-out) part.

The leaders and managers of the organization must codify, communicate, and model their organizations’ capabilities and what their organizations are committed to contributing (outside-in) so that people have something with which to engage, should they be self-motivated or inspired to do so. Individuals also need to know what their capabilities are and what they are committed to contributing. That is, they need to have the self-awareness (inside-out) about what motivates and inspires them so they have a basis on which to choose to engage with what is offered by the organization.

For high engagement to occur, both states together are essential. Focus on just one side (organizational or individual) will not work over the long-term.

3. Don’t try to micromanage engagement.

Gallup defines Engaged Employees this way:

  • Involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work
  • Contribute to their organization in a positive manner
  • They look for new and better ways to achieve outcomes
  • 100% psychologically committed to their work
  • The only people in their organization who create new customers
  • The best colleagues
  • Work with passion
  • Feel a profound connection to their company
  • Cooperate to build an organization, institution, or agency; behind every good thing that happens there
  • Drive innovation and move the organization forward

Individuals are idiosyncratic, so these attributes will take different forms in different people. Because every individual is unique in terms of their experiences and ways of stimulating their creativity and bringing it to the world, micromanagement of individual engagement is not practical nor consistent with motivation research.

Decades of motivational research (summarized in Drive, by Daniel Pink) indicates that the three top motivators are inside-out:

  • Autonomy: Freedom to express one’s unique brand of creativity
  • Mastery: Getting better at something that matters
  • Purpose: Doing something that is worthwhile

These motivators are known to work over the long-term, whereas outside-in motivators like luxury (amenities and comfort) act as, what Daniel Coyle calls in The Little Book of Talent, motivational narcotics. They are nice to have, and preferred by many, but will not produce sustainable desired outcomes like high engagement.

Addressing the problems underlying engagement, approaching engagement from both organizational and individual responsibilities, and enabling individuals at all levels of the organization to take on those responsibilities are the actions essential to achieving high and sustainable engagement.


Stick Figure Theater Presents: The Engagement Story

Creativity: Outside-in or Inside-out?

fbblog post picture

A recent article in the SJ Mercury focused on Facebook’s Artist in Residence Program that is meant “to help foster creative thinking and hacker spirit that keeps the tech firm thriving.” They are bringing in artists to apply their art to the spaces where employees spend time.

This program is an example of fostering creative thinking from the outside-in, doing something in the external environment to encourage a change inside a person.

Typically, when “creativity” is mentioned, “art” is the first association, e. g., painting, music, dancing, writing, or crafts. Some people are more inspired by one of these art forms over another. Many people turn to some form of art to get temporary respite from the discipline of their jobs. But, creativity is not just about art; it applies to every domain in business (people, products/technology, processes, environment, and business results) and the art of everyday living.

When it comes to creativity, everyone is idiosyncratic, meaning that:

– Each of us has our own way of being creative

– Each of us has unique strategies to turn insights into different and valuable ideas

– Each of us has a unique way of bringing our creativity out into the world

– Our creativity gets stimulated by different things

Because everyone is different, the impact of outside-in creativity can be mixed, especially if the approach is one-size-fits-all. Some people may be inspired, some put off, and others have no reaction.

Fostering creativity from the inside-out addresses the idiosyncratic nature of creativity by using a massing principle, i. e., providing lots of different ways and types of resources to explore individual creativity, have new experiences, try new tools, and integrate new practices to address everyday problems and challenges in professional and personal life.

The Adobe State of Create study reported the following from US respondents:

88% Everyone has potential to create

52% Don’t have time to be creative

61% Not living up to their creative potential

50% People are increasingly being expected to think creatively at work

80% There is increasing pressure to be productive rather than creative at work

There are benefits to outside-in approaches like Facebook’s but those benefits will not be experienced equally by everyone. New experiences are temporal in nature so the effect of the art will diminish over time for everyone.

A better and lasting way to foster creative thinking and the hacker spirit, and where the real magic comes from, is to approach creativity from the inside-out.

Happy Birthday to My Uncle George Washington

susanwithgeorge jpegThis painting is proof that we are related!

The Creativity Story

Once upon a time, busiclassroomness leaders were constantly juggling problems like aggressive competition, demanding customers, disgruntled employees, and unsatisfied shareholders. They relied on a combination of the usual practices and tools – planning, analysis, commanding, controlling, coordinating, directing, standardizing – to manage the daily turmoil.

Everyday, despite huge investment in human resource initiatives, incentive programs, team training, reorganizations, processes, and tools, their organizations were showing signs of stagnation, and employees were less energetic and loyal.

One day, the volume of data, the speed of change in the increasingly globalized and connected world, and the uncertainty and ambiguity about the future reached an alarming level. Business leaders noticed that most of the time they and their employees were fighting fires or trying to keep the lid on the problems du jour. That had led to low employee engagement, weak motivation, less commitment, and little passion, with negative effects on productivity, morale, and profit.

Because of that, the leaders knew they had to figure out how to engage, mobilize, and support employees to come up with innovative ways to deal with the overwhelming complexity of the business environment. They realized that individual creativity is a prerequisite for organizational innovation and that they inadvertently had been shutting it down. They sometimes had talked about creativity at the top but most employees were unaware of this and had no inclination to pay attention to it or were just too busy “doing their jobs.”

Because of that, leaders decided to start a conversation about creativity and innovation throughout their organizations, acknowledging that everyone (themselves included) had a lot to learn and un-learn. They discovered and offered throughout their organizations a unique, focused, and systematic approach to help employees become aware of and unlock their creative resources; get connected to their purpose, vision, and mission; find meaning and satisfaction in their work; and provide support and enable resources for taking risks associated with big challenges.

Until finally, everyone in the organization understood that organizational innovation results from the contagious energy of inspired and creative individuals. When individuals developed confidence in their creativity, communication improved and led to better collaboration, superior collective performance, and a sense of community and loyalty to the organization.

And ever since that day, self-aware, focused, self-motivated, disciplined, and collaborative employees promote and enable excellence on every front, bringing innovative products to market, attracting customers, and outperforming peers and competitors who have not yet embraced personal creativity.

Story-telling is an effective way of clearly stating what it is we want and where we want others to go. This story used the seven sequential sentences which comprise the Story Spine (sometimes incorrectly referred to as The Pixar Formula) that originated in improvisation and are clearly explained in a book titled Invisible Ink: A Practical Guide to Building Stories That Resonate, by Brian McDonald. BTW, McDonald sometimes leads workshops at Pixar.

To illustrate how this approach works, six of the sentences describing the plot of Pixar’s Finding Nemo are included below.

  1. Once upon a time there was…a widowed fish, named Marlin, who was extremely protective of his only son, Nemo.
  2. Every day…Marlin warned Nemo of the ocean’s dangers and implored him not to swim far away.
  3. One day…in an act of defiance, Nemo ignores his father’s warnings and swims into the open water.
  4. Because of that…he is captured by a diver and ends up in the fish tank of a dentist in Sydney.
  5. Because of that…Marlin sets off on a journey to recover Nemo, enlisting the help of other sea creatures along the way.
  6. Until finally…Marlin and Nemo find each other, reunite and learn that love depends on trust.