2 questions to help you crack the employee engagement code

Stan the salesman was not engaged in his work. He felt isolated, lost, and flat-out miserable.

(Just wait, this story has a happier ending).

Stan is not unlike many workers these days. For many, work lacks meaning, it lacks a feeling of true responsibility and purpose.

So, what to do, when we could bury our heads in motivation theory or simply wish there was a quick fix.

Brilliant and experienced management consultant, Suzy Norman, wants you to consider these two questions:

1. How much do you feel needed, and that you matter to your community?

2. Do you feel in control of your future?

For Stan, he’d probably tell you, “not much”.

There is a shift that takes place for us when we feel like our work and just being who we are makes a difference – that we can do something no one else can. That powerful feeling of being needed resonates for us at a human level, and not just at work. Furthermore, not only does it boost our self-esteem, but I’d argue it also allows us to feel more control over that scary word: future.

The next time you feel like Stan, check-in with these two questions.

What’s the drill – July 5: Three questions to help you know your audience

What’s in it for them?

Are you asking this question enough…and is this the first thing you lead with at the start of a program or a pitch?

To successfully market and reach your participants, and those who decide whether or not to give the go-ahead to your program, we have to not only say, but show what’s in it for them… all the while using their language to get the message across.

What does success look like for them?

How you market a program to an engineer will be different from a sales executive.  It can be a different language altogether. There will be biases and assumptions and expectations you can’t always control.  To help break through, seek out what success looks like for them, while being as specific as possible. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

What is their objective?

Everyone has an objective. Is it just compliance – or something deeper? Let’s hope for the latter. Here, Seth Godin provides helpful reminders on learning the worldviews of your participants. Are they batman types or superman types?

It’s nearly impossible to sell an idea or a concept to everyone at the same time. Adjust your story and approach to fit your audience, speak their language and always focus on what’s in it for them.

But, says Godin… “Instead of trying to delight everyone in Gotham City, it pays to find people who already resonate with the story you want to tell”. Yes, AND to that!

The organization of the future – Pull vs. Push learning

Inspired by the Wisdom 2.0 business conference, this week we’re focusing on the organization of the future.

The organization of the future is:

  1. One where failure is an option
  2. A learning organization

In this learning organization, the focus is on “pull” rather than push-driven learning experiences — learning is interactive, engaging, and full of connection, where processes are set up for employees to learn from each other as much as they are learning from leaders in the field.

Focusing on a pull methodology allows for greater learning experiences and a higher ROI – because the individual can control their motive and reasoning for learning.

When we are genuinely motivated to learn, and pulled to an event (perhaps even through word of mouth, excitement, buzz, rumors of a wait list, etc) we learn faster, retain the information longer and are more likely to apply this knowledge – all creating cognitive connection points in our brain for future learning experiences.

In a pull learning environment, learning is a choice, driven by the individual.

This learning environment encourages other students to interact, pulling content to each other, creating social, perhaps virtual learning communities to harness the collective intelligence of the company all while building connection and empathy along the way.

What Doesn’t Motivate Creativity Can Kill It – via Harvard Business Review

We’re adding tools to our toolbox this week to enhance the creative capacity of individuals and organizations.

In promoting a creative environment, Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer of Harvard argue there is a balance to be achieved between the open mode necessary for creativity (to borrow from John Cleese) and the closed mode we need to put those creative ideas into action and results.

One sure-fire way to kill innovation is to rely on carrot and stick motivators.

Motivating others to do creative work involves a delicate balancing act of goals, rewards, evaluation and pressure that promote intrinsic rewards, a sense of purpose, the freedom to fail, and a clear idea of the problem being solved.

“In the end, it’s level, form, and meaning of the motivator that makes for that perfect balance. Being told to do a tough job in a particular way, with no tolerance of failure, little expectation of recognition for success, and extreme, arbitrary time pressure, can kill anyone’s creativity motivation. But being given the same job, in a positive atmosphere where false starts are examined constructively and success is recognized, can drive creativity — and innovation — forward.”

What Doesn’t Motivate Creativity Can Kill It – Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer – Harvard Business Review.

What’s the drill – April 3: Is your organization battle-ready?

Did you know there is a “war” going on? And, according to some blogs and books, a crisis as well?

Sure, I may kid. But the headlines around organizational development write of the war to retain and attain top talent, and the current crisis of leadership and constant push for innovation? Seems scary out there.

Here are some questions for you and your organization to ask to help assess how you are doing in the “battle”:

  1. Do you have processes in place that support people in experimenting more and taking risks?
  2. Does your organizational culture value and promote openness, trustworthiness and transparency?
  3. How collaborative is your organization?
  4. Are processes in place to allow for continual growth, learning, and development?

I believe, part of winning the “war” includes a tangible shift towards creating a more human organization. What shifts can you make today?



How to foster a culture of courage and creativity – the results

The improv-based learning initiatives at Ask.com have received wonderful praise and publicity, and most recently this write-up in Fast Company.

Management wanted innovation and big ideas. The question was, how to jump-start it?

CEO Doug Leeds took a cue from Tina Fey’s Bossypants, which points out how improvisation can lead to more creative thinking and innovation. “[Leeds had} seen it sprinkled in other management books, but that was the tipping point to really investigate.”

He admits, there was some initial concern and fear – but quickly learned Improvisation was not about teaching people to be funny, or jump on stage a la “Whose Line is It Anyway”. Instead, Improvisation lays a foundation for a trusting, supportive, engaged and creative work environment by teaching the basic Improv principles and applying them to their specific work environment.

The result:  “Folks said it was the most impactful training session in their entire career…The bonds of trust and common skill set and language of improv allow us to come together … There’s a sense of trust and when you feel safe all kinds of amazing things emerge.”

To master the softer side of leadership, acquire this tool:

You have just been promoted to a leadership role. Quick – where can you turn to brush up on leadership skills when there is a new leadership book, article, or blog post everywhere you look? What to do when there are myriads of choices when it comes to leadership training, coaching, or development?

How can one learn to become a “better” leader when the definition itself can feel so broad?

This article from Fast Company calls leadership, “the eight wonder of the world…better seen and felt than defined and said”.

So then, what one tool must a leader have in his or her toolbox to succeed at what Fast Company calls, “The Softer Side of True Leadership?”…


Yes some people naturally have more self-awareness than others, but luckily this is a muscle that can be strengthened with practice and patience through training that reinforces leadership as being about “we”, and no longer just “me”.

Here are some tips to consider:

  1.  Do more listening than speaking – make sure others feel heard
  2. Understand leaders are constantly being watched – your actions, speech and tone is being mirrored by those who support and report to you.
  3. Become an expert at body language. Pay attention to non-verbal communication and body language cues.  It’s more powerful than many of us realize.
  4. Ask questions – stay connected and curious to what’s happening on the office floor.
  5. Become more present and in the moment by increasing focus and mindfulness.

One way that Applied Improvisation training increases our self-awareness is by reminding us  “everything is an offer”. On stage, everything we do or say is an “offer” that is accepted and used in the scene by our partners.

Therefore, learning how our words, actions, and tone affects a scene and our partner makes us much more aware of not only our choices on stage but the choices of others.

I encourage you to connect and share this post with one colleague to continue the conversation….

The U.S. Needs to Make More Jobs More Creative – Roger Martin – Harvard Business Review

The U.S. Needs to Make More Jobs More Creative – Roger Martin – Harvard Business Review.

Some gems:

we have to rethink how we utilize workers in our advanced economy. We fear that job structuring and classification becomes entirely self-sealing for many American workers. Once a job is defined as routine, it becomes routine and the individual in it doesn’t exercise judgment or decision-making. That employee then becomes by definition low-productivity and both can’t be paid much and is easier to think of as a candidate for off-shoring.

If instead, the employee was asked to exercise judgment and decision-making in order to innovate and enhance the productivity of the operation, then the possibility for higher productivity, higher firm performance and higher wages exists.

… But I believe that America can influence the slope of the line of increasing creativity-oriented jobs by leaning toward creativity; giving workers the encouragement and space to innovate; utilizing the most of their brain, not the least of it.