Our “Why” and Employee Engagement

Our “Why” and Employee Engagement

A question came up recently about what the real difference is between employee engagement and employee satisfaction. In brief, satisfaction has to do with the “externals” i.e. pay, benefits, working conditions, job security. Engagement has to do with the “internals” i.e. purpose, “voice”, belonging, mastery. The numbers are sobering. Just over 50% of employees are satisfied and yet just over 30% are engaged. Could you imagine if we were 50% engaged? 75%? 90%? What an incredible opportunity! Every business on the planet has a mission to be fulfilled and capable, talented people to fulfill that mission. We must invest more time in talking about the “why” of what we do, not just what we do! Every employee wants to be a part of building something special, they want to be engaged. If they haven’t or don’t it’s because they haven’t found their “why” or, in some cases, don’t even know they have one! Let’s commit to helping each other find our “why”! And finding our “why” always starts by remembering we are here to serve others first. Let’s all find our “why”, get engaged in our work and, through our businesses, “be the change we want to see in the world!” hashtag#employeeengagementhashtag#businesshashtag#masteryhashtag#missions

Where Engagement Begins

To me, to be engaged at work means to care deeply about the outcome. To go “above and beyond”, to push yourself, to overcome the challenges and resolve the conundrums. To be engaged means seeing the bigger picture, and not just the “work”, but more importantly the purpose behind the work. To be engaged is to be a part of “building something special”. So where does real engagement begin? In the mind of each employee. They have to believe three things about themselves: They have been created for a greater purpose or mission. They have been given gifts and talents within which to fulfill that purpose. There is work prepared in advance for them to do. Put simply, each person has a purpose, they can fill that purpose and there is work out there, their position, that they need to do. The problem is, in many cases, when we look for someone to join our company, we look at who has the background, education, and experience to do the job. That’s not bad, it’s just not enough. The real question isn’t “can we fill this job?” Or “can I get this job?” The real question is “are we supposed to be working together?” Are they supposed to join us in fulfilling our mission and can we help them in fulfilling their mission? In an employer/employee relationship, it comes down to three things: Competence: Can they do the work and can we do the work together? Character: Can they be in it to serve others first as we serve others first? Chemistry: Do they “get” us and do we “get” them? It doesn’t work if they can’t do the work. It also doesn’t work if they’re selfish or we’re selfish. And it really doesn’t work if they don’t understand or, in some cases, don’t like what we do. Engagement is relatively simple but it isn’t easy. We need to speak directly to their competence, character, and chemistry and finish by asking whether or not we’re supposed to work together! Based on the numbers, almost 70% of employees out there would benefit greatly by being where they belong. Can you imagine how productive we could be! When we find that person who has the competence, the character, and the chemistry and is supposed to join our team, we can’t help but to “build something special together”! hashtag#employeeengagement hashtag#buildsomethingspecial

The Big Picture

I was taught, early in my career, that group dynamics is a powerful force always at work in our companies. Stated simply it says that in any given group: 20% will lead 60% will follow and 20% will resist The problem is if leaders aren’t leading, by default, the resistors are. And, many times, this can feel like 80% of the company is moving in the wrong direction. Maintaining the status quo, focusing on problems, finding reasons to not move forward. The question becomes: how do we get moving in the right direction? Conventional wisdom would have us focus on the resistors and get them to buy-in. That doesn’t work. Why? Because resistors are far better at deflecting than we are at holding them accountable. Like many things in leadership, we must use a counter-intuitive approach. The 1st thing to do is bring your leaders close and ask them to pursue a greater vision that serves all and take on more responsibility. Next, we ask the followers to get better right where they are. This will begin to move the organization in the right direction and helps bring the resistors to a decision point: should I get on this bus or should I get off? This is where the team really starts to work together building something special! hashtag#leadershiphashtag#directionhashtag#buildingsomethingspecial

The Two Primary Motivations

“If I help you succeed, I succeed. If we help others succeed, we succeed.” Communication is made up of 3 parts: 55% body language, 38% tone and inflection of voice, 7% are the words we actually speak. There are 2 primary motivations: Love and Fear. Love makes us selfless and fear makes us selfish. These are the three keys to leading and building something special. We must be in it to help others succeed first. We were not put on this planet to serve ourselves. We are here to serve others. Client, company, and team. 93% of our communication is non-verbal. What drives our non-verbals is our true motivation. We can try to mask it by trying to say or do the “right” thing but if our motivation is to serve ourselves, it won’t work. So what are our primary motivations? I’ve boiled it down to two: Love and Fear. Fear represents the worst of ourselves, it’s a lie and it makes us selfish. Love represents the best of ourselves, it’s the truth and it makes us selfless. It’s time to be selfless.


So, What Holds Us Back?

To think that we need to feel a certain way to do the right thing! Tim Keller, in his book, Counterfeit Gods, talked about the 4 idols: Power Approval Comfort Control These are what holds us back. If we want to be successful, we have to help others succeed first. This is the Ultimate Success Principle and it cannot be violated. That means we have to do the right things for others for the right reason! Where this gets messed up is: When we want to feel Powerful but we don’t. When we want to feel Approved but we don’t. When we want to feel Comfortable but we don’t. When we want to feel that we’re in Control but we don’t. Whatever “idol” we’re seeking to serve, we look for “externals” or evidence outside of ourselves to tell us that we can “feel” powerful, approved, comfortable, or in control. When that happens, we’re making it all about ourselves, we’re violating the Ultimate Success Principle. This is what holds us, our people and, ultimately, our organizations back. We’ve been created for a purpose, given gifts and talents to fulfill that purpose and work prepared in advance to do. Let’s step out in faith, feel what we feel, and do the right thing anyway. Then we can experience what it really means to be successful! hashtag#buildingsomethingspecial

The Secret of Great Cultures!

An Outward Focus –  “When the focus of everyone on the team is to assure the success of everyone else on the team.”  That’s the secret.

How Do You Know

I’m asked all the time, “How you can tell if someone is operating with an Outward Focus?”  I say look at their “fruit”. What kind of “fruit” are they producing?” Good fruit = Outward Focus.  Bad fruit = Inward Focus.

“Good Fruit”

What’s “good fruit”?  They’re a pleasure to be around.  They bring good energy to every interaction and leave others better off for having been with them.  They bring solutions to problems and take ownership. They keep their commitments by following through and treat everyone with respect.  They never speak ill of others and want to do their part to help others succeed. They go above and beyond and are willing to be inconvenienced for the greater good.  They have your back and will pick up the “ball” for you. They bring out their best so that others can be their best. They represent what it really means to be successful.  To live life in such a way as to assure the success, even in a small way, of every life you touch. They’re succeeding so they want everyone else to succeed.

“Bad Fruit”

What’s “bad fruit’?  They’re not so much fun to be around.  They take energy from every interaction and leave others drained for having been with them.  They only bring problems and expect someone else to provide and implement the solution. They don’t keep their commitments, don’t follow through and expect respect but don’t give respect.  They always speak ill of others (I hate gossip!) and don’t lift a finger to help. They do as little as they can and keep their priorities at all costs, before anyone or anything else. They’ll stab you in the back and make sure you drop the ball.  They are at their worst and they’re going to make sure everyone knows it. They represent what it really means to be a failure. To live life in such a way as to cause chaos and destruction in every life they touch. They’re suffering so they want everyone else to suffer.

You Can’t Hide It

I realize I’m writing with a very clear distinction between “good fruit” and “bad fruit” here.  That’s the insidiousness of it. Trying to do the right things for others while driven by an inward focus i.e. a motivation to serve self, doesn’t work.  It may appear to contribute but it really doesn’t. We as leaders have seen this time and time again. The person appears to do the right thing. They say the right thing.  They even have the “right” look! But every time their name comes up something’s not right. There’s another problem or another issue or another mess someone else has to clean up.  No matter how much we try to rationalize or justify our or someone else’s behavior if you do the right thing for self-serving reasons IT JUST DOESN’T WORK!

An Analogy

I liken the motivation behind behavior as the “soil” into which everything is planted.  No matter what you plant: new initiatives, grand visions, core values, new benefits, exciting environments, etc.  If you plant it into the “bad” soil of an inward focus it won’t work. We need good soil. We all need to embrace an Outward Focus.  Imagine any organizational effort planted into the good soil of an Outward Focus. The potential is mind-blowing. Imagine if everyone on the team was committed to the success of their fellow teammates!  The speed, the magnitude, the agility of an organization driven by an Outward Focus would be incredible. And that’s what our world really needs today.

Our People

I believe every single person on the planet would love to find their “place” in the world.  I also believe that they would love to work in an environment where they embrace an Outward Focus and develop the quiet confidence to handle the challenges they face.  To know that work is the one place they can count on to risk their best because others won’t let them fail. To know that when they pour into others it comes back tenfold.  To live a life of meaning and purpose, turning challenges into opportunities and being a part of building something special. I believe that’s what everyone, every single person, wants.

Our Leadership

So why do people embrace an inward focus?  Lots of reasons: that’s how they were taught, they don’t know a better way, in the past, leaders have rewarded that motivation.  All of this, however, as far as I’m concerned, is a mask for one thing: fear. They’re afraid and they believe they have to protect themselves.  I get it. It seems only right and it’s absolutely wrong. We are to “love our neighbors”. How can you do that if your primary motivation is to serve yourself?  There has to be a better way…and there is! We leaders have to lead the way!

This is what we leaders are accountable for.  To believe in others before they believe in themselves.  It’s simple. It’s not easy. What it means is believing in the best someone can be and holding them accountable to that.  It means separating your belief in them from their behavior. Good and bad behavior each have their rewards and consequences but that can never impact our belief in them.  If we hired them we’re at least 51% responsible for their success. What we’re telling them is that we believe in them and, as we do that for each member of our team, it breaks down the walls of doubt and fear.  It shows our team a whole new way to think. A whole new way to believe. A whole new way to succeed. An inward focus brings out our worst. An Outward Focus brings out our best. And that is what we are here to do:  To bring out our collective best and model what it really means to succeed!

The Work Around The Work

I believe that if you are able to work, we all rise because of that work. Work is a tremendous opportunity to put ourselves in the position of being a value to others. And that’s why we’re here: to serve others first. It’s also a dedicated formal vehicle where how we do our work is as valuable as the work we do. What do I mean? Well, let’s say your work is making hamburgers at a restaurant. The work is making the hamburger. What’s the work around the work? It could be a lot of things. How well you make the hamburger. How clean you keep your work area. How well you treat the customer, your teammates, and your boss. The great attitude you can bring to the job. All of these elements represent the work around the work.

How do we set our hearts and minds on doing the work and the work around the work? It comes down to what we perceive we’re a part of. If we’re just making hamburgers that’s one thing. If we’re helping feed a family before an important occasion or helping a business person grab a quick meal or helping someone celebrate a special day then that is something completely different. The work is the work and that’s important. But the work around the work? That’s where can do something really special!


It’s All In Our Heads – The Grass Being Greener as a Concept

Have you ever been convinced about something so completely only to find out later, after more information is added or a greater context is given, that you were utterly mistaken?  It reminds of the subway commuter story in New York:

“Regulars” on this particular route had their routines clearly defined.  Some would rest.  Others would relax with their favorite beverage.  Still, others would read their books or the day’s paper.  A few stops in, a young father boarded the subway with his four small children.  They all settled into their seats as the train pulled away.  This, however, did not last long.  The kids began to fuss and fight as kids often do.  The tension in the regulars began to rise.  Soon the kids were running up and down the car with the regulars looking on with disdain upon this unruly bunch.  Things hit a climax however when the kids began pulling books, newspapers and other items out of the regulars’ hands as they ran.  This was simply too much.  One “regular” who gripped his paper ever so tightly, turned to face this father whose disrespectful children were disrupting an entire car of hard-working, tired commuters.  “Sir, I would ask you to please control your children!”  The man looked up and spoke a weak apology.  “I’m sorry.  Kids, come here.”  As he gathered his brood, he went further with this.  “I do apologize.  We’ve just left the hospital where their mother died and we don’t what to do.”  With that, the “regular’s” heart broke and he was filled with overwhelming compassion for this young father and his children.  He was now the one apologizing and gathered the children around him and began to tell them stories and fairy tales for the remainder of their journey.

A new bit of information or a new perspective can change our thinking in an instant.  It is with this backdrop that I write.

Too many people take their next job or position with the hope or belief that things will be better.  More money, greater benefits, a more flexible schedule.  All good things.  You take the job and now you look for evidence to support your decision to join.  In the “honeymoon” period, you find a lot of good.  For the most part, people are nice and for a few weeks or months, things go well.  But then a few things crop up.  There’s one particular person you just don’t get along with.  And then you’re criticized for your work on a particular project.  And then someone takes credit for your work.  The doubts and fears begin to fly.  You’re uncomfortable and you start to question your decision-making.  “Did I make a mistake?”  “Is this really what I’m supposed to be doing?”  “Why am I putting up with this stuff?

Without greater context or insight, we will ask these questions and probably come to the same conclusions…it’s time to move on.

So let’s add some greater context or insight.  What if you’re supposed to be here?  What if this is exactly the right position for you to be in?  Just because you’re uncomfortable doesn’t make it a bad thing.  I think folks tend to take a “destination” approach to life rather than a “journey”.  What I mean is they want to arrive.  They want to be comfortable and confident and have peace that everything is going to work all right.  But that’s not how it works.  And not meeting those expectations is filled with anger, cowardice, boredom, and worry.

Your path and everything on it is meant to help you become who you’re capable of becoming.  It has a purpose.  It has meaning.  And if you can see it for what it is, you will develop the faith, courage, and peace that comes from forging your particular path.

When you joined our team, we were very intentional about it.  We talked a lot about our collective competence, chemistry, and character.  That’s what we saw in you.  We asked you to join our team and you were thoughtful on your side to make sure this was right for you, too.  We made a commitment to work together to help each other succeed and accomplish something very cool.  The decision then is not whether or not we’re supposed to be together.  We’re together, now how do we make it all count?  How do we take our strengths and build on them and our challenges and make them work for us?

As Tom Hanks said in “A League of Their Own,” “it’s supposed to be hard, that’s what makes it great!”.  You want it to be challenging, inspiring, difficult and different.  You want it to bring out the best in you and tap your true potential!

Let’s look at the four key motivators that Dan Pink and Dr. Chap Clark have worked with:

Identity What is my purpose?  What is my mission?  Why am I here?

You’re supposed to be here.  And working together, over time, we’ll help define your purpose.  Everyone here is meant to make a difference and make a real contribution.  There is no one else in the world who can bring what you bring.  Take comfort in the fact that you are fulfilling and defining your purpose every day.

Voice What are my gifts and talents and how do I use them in fulfilling my mission?

Too often we downplay our gifts and talents because they are natural to us.  Don’t do that.  You have worked hard to get here.  Now is the time to trust in your gifts and talents and be willing to draw on them in ever greater challenges and accomplishments.

Belonging Do I belong to a group or team that cares about me?

We are committed to living the Ultimate Success Principle.  That assuring the success of others, assures our success.  The thing that keeps that from happening the most is when people get afraid.  Fear makes us selfish.  Purpose/Love makes us selfless.  Let’s allow ourselves to become vulnerable in order to pursue our purpose.

MasteryCan I learn, grow and progress along my path?

Absolutely!  That’s why we don’t want this to be easy.  Every person who has paid their price has earned their accomplishments.  And because that price has been paid it can never be taken away from them!

There’s a lot of talk about today being uncomfortable.  And how when you’re uncomfortable that something outside of you has to be changed.  Don’t ever give away that incredible power!  When it comes to becoming who you are, discomfort is an indicator. It tells you that you’re being challenged.  You’re being asked to have faith.  You’re being asked to be courageous.  It means you’re seeing your circumstances correctly and you’re being asked to tap your potential. You have the right and the opportunity to change your circumstances any time you want or need by merely seeing things differently and changing how you think.  Let being uncomfortable be a measure of how great your life really is.

A great decision is a decision that is hard and difficult to make, but at the same time brings us peace when we think about making it.

Let’s all commit to running to something together rather than running away from something.

Moments – Defining Reality


The first part of Max DePree’s quote outlines this idea incredibly well: “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”

Let’s take that in for a moment. The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. I have to admit when I first read Max DePree’s book, Leadership is an Art, I did not fully absorb or embrace the power of this concept. Today, however, this has become very important. Leading today, more than ever before, is about the moments. The moments we have interacting with our team members as we all go about our business. And it is in those moments that we have the greatest opportunity to define reality.

For the past 25 years, I’ve been coming alongside others to help their businesses become more successful, and, during this time, I’ve noticed some trends. One of the predominate trends we have today is an “oldie but a goodie”: when a perceived problem exists, it must be solved or removed before any progress can take place.

How many of our team members are stuck in this type of thinking? This is why we see individuals needing to be directed, solely working in a linear plane, or requiring immediate answers to the latest question that popped into their head. The discomfort of the problem suggests something is wrong and must be fixed so comfort can be restored. All with the implication that comfort implies progress.  Not true!

The responsibility we have to define reality, and, in so doing, re-define the reality of those we lead has never been greater. Our people are our most valuable asset, and each one has tremendous potential to become so much more. Together we can create incredible value for those we serve.  We cannot allow these incredibly self-limiting thoughts and beliefs keep our people from accomplishing the great work of business!

I’ll never forget one of my first lessons as a new sales manager. Our company was facing a difficult time. Doubt and worry flooded my thoughts. I went to my General Manager, wringing my hands in distress. I knocked on his door, entered, and poured out my tale of woe. I finished my expression with “what do you think we should do?“  My boss stood up from behind his desk, looked me straight in the eye, and asked “what do I think we should do? What do you think we should do?  That’s why I gave you the job!“  It was exactly the right question at exactly the right moment, and it forced me to dig deep and find my own answers.

Tapping into the potential of our people is never easy, and most of the time it creates discomfort. But isn’t that the message we want to send? We believe in them, we have high expectations of them, and we know they can do it!  Many individuals today are asking for more training. The world is full of books, videos, and classrooms. The real training, however, happens every day, hundreds of times a day, as we go about doing good business!  These “everyday” moments are exactly the type of training our people need!

What does it actually mean to “define reality” for our people in these “teachable moments”? Let’s understand this in practical terms:

  1. We must view life from the perspective of faith, not fear. Why? Because the promise of the future cannot overcome the legacy of the past. We are meant to accomplish significant, meaningful, and worthy achievements. We must re-frame our moments using this perspective.
  2. Stop viewing the problems and obstacles we face as problems and obstacles! They are challenges, they are teachable moments, and at the heart of each one is the seed of greater opportunity. In order to experience this, we must allow ourselves to live through these challenges!  (This is the primary reason we hire people to work in our companies!)
  3. We must take every moment–every interaction, every email, every text–as an opportunity not only to move the ship forward, but also to train our people! We need to teach them how to define reality. This will allow us, individually and collectively, to have the power to overcome our challenges, resulting in our greater vision!

So, when a team member comes to you seeking guidance, consider these responses:

How can we re-frame this “problem” as a “challenge”?

Is this the exact challenge you need to overcome in order for this project to move forward?

Try answering these questions from my perspective of: what do I think you should do?

There are many great questions we can ask our people that support our belief in them, and help them take ownership of their role. I believe more than anything that our people want to go about their work with a quiet confidence, committed to others, all the while knowing they are a part of something meaningful and significant. It’s absolutely true when we have faith and choose to operate from this perspective.

Running into Danger

There’s been much written and much discussed about those who “run into danger.”  Over and over again we hear of brave men and women who set aside what would protect themselves to face danger in the service of others.  And when we hear these stories each one of us is humbled, encouraged and deeply moved.  We are humbled because we hope that we, facing similar circumstances, would do the same thing. We are encouraged, because this courage, these acts of bravery, helps us believe that we can make a difference for the better in our world. And we are deeply moved because that’s the only possible response when we see the power of love demonstrated so clearly in the lives of others.

So why is this so important? Because this reflects the way in which we are called to live our lives! This is how it really works! This doesn’t mean that we are to run out like storm chasers to find danger and run into it. No! But it does mean that we are supposed to live our lives in such a way as to be a service to others. Imagine going out every day with a single focus; to help others succeed first. You’d be on the front lines of fulfilling the Ultimate Success Principle! You’d be making a difference in the lives of others and contributing to making our world a better place. Will it be hard? Probably. Will you have to sacrifice? Sure. But anything worthwhile has a price to pay. So what’s the alternative? It’s much of what we see today: It’s all about serving ourselves, making sure we’re covered, making sure we’re safe. That’s the real danger: living with low expectations, settling for less and making it all about me. These are some of the real tragedies today.

So, let’s risk it! Let’s “run into danger” and choose to hold ourselves to high expectations, to not settle and to make it about serving others. It’ll take bravery and courage and, in the end, we will leave others humbled, encouraged and deeply moved! It’ll be a great story!