How Does A Klutz Become a Dancer?

Our oldest daughter (age 27) describes herself as clumsy. But she’s also a dancer . . . very graceful. One day she was walking through our kitchen and tripped over something. Through her laughter she asked, “How does such a klutz become a dancer?” Interesting question. She has spent years stretching and exercising muscles she didn’t even know she had. She has worked on the barre perfecting movements and posture. She has practiced, rehearsed and performed. And she has taught others to do the same.

If you’ve ever learned to play a sport or an instrument, you’ve done the same thing. You learn a new skill. It feels awkward and unnatural at first. You do drills, seemingly endlessly, or play scales that seem more like drudgery than like making music. You practice and drill, practice and drill until the new skill becomes a habit, becomes second nature. It’s not until the new skill can be effortlessly incorporated into your performance that you become a competitive athlete or a virtuoso.

What Does This Have To Do With Engager Dynamics?

Surely you know that just reading or hearing information from a book or a class or a blog no more makes you an Engager than sitting in the stands at a football game makes you a quarterback. The same principles that apply to learning dance, sports or music apply to learning to be an engager. The Engager Dynamics are skills that must be learned to become a Master Engager (or your people’s best boss). The good news is, they can be learned.

I’m reminded of a couple scenes from the later version of the movie “The Karate Kid.” In the first scene the kid comes into Mr. Han’s home feeling pretty good about himself as an athlete. He shows Mr. Han a few moves as Mr. Han patiently watches. Then Mr. Han asks him to hang up his jacket. He does. Then Mr. Han asks him to take it down. He does. “Put it on”, reluctantly the kid puts it back on, “Take it off”. . . “Hang it up”. . . “Take it down” . . . “Put it on the ground” . . . “Pick it up” . . . all the while the kid is growing frustrated. He doesn’t understand what all this has to do with anything. The scene ends with a montage of the kid doing that routine over and over through sunshine and rain.

In the second scene the kid has had enough and tells Mr. Han he’s done. “They can beat me up if they want to,” he says as he turns to walk out. Mr. Han calls him back and begins to demonstrate to the kid what he has actually been learning. There is a great “fight” sequence toward the end of the scene and I love the expression on the kid’s face as he is realizing what he’s doing . . . automatically, and where it came from . . . the training. At the end of that scene Mr. Han says to the kid, “Kung Fu lives in everything we do xiao dre. It lives in how we put on the jacket, how we take off the jacket. It lives in how we treat people. Everything is Kung Fu.”

VIM and Vigor

Have you ever heard the expression, “Vim and Vigor?” It could be used in a sentence like, “He was full of vim and vigor after that swim.” Both words speak of vitality or effort. Used in this redundant combination the expression intensifies to mean “Energy” or “Strength.” I heard one teacher use VIM as an acronym for

Vision – Can you envision what work would be like if your people were engaged?
Intention – Do you intend to do anything about that vision?
Means – The Engager Dynamics are skills that will get you there.

How does a klutz become a dancer? By working hard, by training herself to do things automatically that, at first, felt awkward or uncomfortable. That’s the same way an average leader becomes an engager, becomes the best boss their people have ever had. That leader will have to work hard, to train themselves to do things automatically that, at first, may seem awkward and uncomfortable.

You may be a Pacifier, an Avoider or even a Dictator right now. But if you act on your intention by practicing the Engager Dynamics you can become an Engager and change the atmosphere and outcomes of your team. In our next few posts we’ll be talking about how to do just that.

Dynamic Duos – Another Way of Seeing Engager Dynamics

In an earlier post I talked about the Leadership Matrix where one axis is “Connector” and the other axis is “Challenger.” I said that a leader who is an “Engager” is one who is strong on both axes. This picture, taken from my Best.Boss.Ever. training, shows the 12 Engager Dynamics in a balance I call the Dynamic Duos (Yes, I was a fan of Batman and Robin when I was growing up!). It’s another way of looking at the Leadership Matrix.

Dynamic Duos

For each Challenge Dynamic there is a balancing Connection Dynamic. Achieving and maintaining that balance is how one becomes an Engager. For example:

If I am going to set expectations, then I had better train my people in the skills required to meet those expectations.

If I equip my people with all the best that is necessary for the job then cultivating an environment where they can grow into the best at the job makes sense.

If I challenge my people by inspiring them with a higher purpose of their work, wouldn’t I want to solicit from them what they’re discovering about how better to do the work and achieve that purpose?

If I set standards of quality and work to raise those standards, then I should recognize the people who contribute to that effort.

If I take the time to evaluate, or show the value, of my people’s performance, building trust in the organization is how that value is acknowledged.

Finally, If I optimize my people’s best skills, love is how I show they are more than a machine to be used.

Yet Another Way of Looking at It

What if the opening of new employee orientation went something like this:

“We will EXPECT a lot from you so we will TRAIN you and EQUIP you. We will CULTIVATE an environment where you can thrive. That environment should INSPIRE you and SOLICIT from you effective ways to QUALITIZE the work and RECOGNIZE those who contribute. We will EVALUATE your work in order to establish TRUST as the foundation upon which you can OPTIMIZE your talents because we LOVE you.”

Wow! If that were the opening of New Employee Orientation at a company I had just joined, I would be ready to engage. Even better, if that turned out to be the way things were at that company, I would never want to leave.

Love – Engager Dynamic #12

We come now to the final Engager Dynamic on my list, Love. I’m not talking about office romance or any of that “love” that is merely a half-selfish pleasure in being around those who care about us. I’m talking about a sincere desire for the well-being of others that is often accompanied by a genuine affection for them. In many ways, Love is the embodiment of the other Engager Dynamics and it is the climate in which they flourish.

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

There is an old saying, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” An engaged workplace is one where people feel safe — safe enough to experiment, to challenge, to share information, to support each other, and where the work groups are prepared to give the boss and the organization the “benefit of the doubt.” That kind of engagement develops in an atmosphere where people feel genuinely cared for, or, I would say, loved.

An ancient Hebrew Proverb comes to mind here. “Know the state (face) of your flocks, and put your heart into caring for your herds, for riches do not endure forever, and the crown may not pass to the next generation.” The application to our modern workplace is that we should know the faces and put our hearts into caring for the people who produce our product or deliver our service. If we don’t, our company’s future is in question.

In an article that appeared in the Denver Post on May 13, 2013 entitled, “Southwest CEO Says, ‘All you need is LUV.'” Al Lewis said,

Unlike every other major carrier, it has never filed bankruptcy. It has never sacked employees with layoffs, furloughs or pay cuts. It is also the airline with the fewest complaints–just 0.25 per 100,000 passengers last year, according to the Department of Transportation.

There are plenty of theories as to how Southwest succeeds where most other carriers fail. But Gary Kelly, who has been CEO since 2004, says it comes down to love. “Love is part of the fabric at Southwest Airlines,” he said. “Love Field is our headquarters in Dallas. LUV is our three-letter symbol on the New York Stock Exchange. It’s a word that we’re not embarrassed to use about how we feel about the company, our employees and our customers.”

How Can I Do That?

Think about someone you know personally who most influenced you. Why were they such an influence in your life? Most likely it’s because they cared about you. How did you know they cared? I’ll bet one key way you knew they cared was because they listened to you. There is power in listening. Try taking time to really listen to what your employees are interested in. It will show that you care and it will help you learn to love your employees as people. They are not machines; they are human beings with families, hopes, dreams, fears, troubles and joys. Knowing that you care about them will create the environment for engagement to grow.

In his book, The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership, author James C. Hunter defines Love by breaking it down into these components:

Patience – showing self control
Kindness – giving attention, appreciation, and encouragement
Humility – being authentic, without pretense or arrogance
Respectfulness – treating others as important people
Selflessness – meeting the needs of others
Forgiveness – giving up resentment when wronged
Honesty – being free from deception
Commitment – sticking to your choices

Who wouldn’t want to work for someone like that?! Learn to listen and to embody these elements of love, and you’ll have a workplace second to none in engagement and positive outcomes.

Optimize – Engager Dynamic #11

One of my favorite movies is the 1959 classic “Ben Hur.” In the movie, the main character, Judah Ben Hur, has the opportunity to drive four beautiful white Arabian horses in a great chariot race. It’s one of the most amazing action sequences in movie history. Anyway, the way he happens to be driving in this race is a main part of the story. He was traveling back home to Jerusalem and stopped along the way to rest. During that stop over, he saw these horses practicing. He impressed their owner by predicting that they would not be able to hold an approaching turn on the track. After he is proven correct, he explains that the owner should put the slower, steadier horse on the inside to anchor the team in the hairpin turns and the swifter horse on the outside so he can keep up as the team turns. Having the horses in the right position on the team is critical to winning the race. You will have to watch the movie to find out what happens.


Whether you want to talk about having the right horse in the right place on the team, the right people in the right seat on the bus, or, as one plant president put it, “Round pegs in round holes and square pegs in square holes,” the point here is that you want to have the best people for the job doing the job. It’s the Engager Dynamic we call “Optimize.” The definition of “Optimize” is “to make the best or most effective use of (a situation, opportunity, or resource).”

What Needs To Be Done?

Know the job requirements and objectives. Does this job require creativity or does it require someone with keen attention to detail? Is it a critical back-of-the-house support role or is it an out-front role that requires winsome people skills? Re-think the job description from the standpoint of what qualities and skills would make a person most successful in this job considering the outcomes we need?

Some may be counter-intuitive. A police officer, for example, should be alert, watchful, tough enough to handle themselves in the face of criminal activity. But, what if a particular patrol area was experiencing a rise in criminal activity because the neighbors weren’t willing to stand up against new thugs? What other skills might help the officer achieve a reduction in crime? Some trust/community/team building might be useful.

What Are They Best At?

Know your people’s best skills. This requires that you spend time with your people. Observe not only how they perform their work, but watch thy dynamics between people and listen to conversations. What are their outside interests or hobbies. Do they play an instrument, hunt, drive a race car? When I’m new at a location, I have one-on-one interviews with leaders 3 levels deep where I ask, “What are you best at?” There are also many temperament, and skills inventories available that will help you get to know your people. Some of them are even fun, but they’re all interesting.

The Multiplication Effect

Understanding and using the Engager Dynamic, Optimize, will have a multiplication effect. What do I mean? You will get a double benefit that will bring exponential results.

  1. People who are best at the work will be doing it. There is a pretty obvious direct benefit to that.
  2. People also love to bring their best skills to work every day. When you allow them to do that they become engaged. When your people are engaged, they will give their discretionary talent and effort to the job. In other words, they will be thinking of ways to make the work and outcomes better rather than just how to get through the day with the least amount of effort.

When you have your best people on the job looking for ways to improve the outcomes, the results are exponential.

Trust – Engager Dynamic #10

How important is Trust in the workplace? A recent study showed that the answer to the question, “Do you trust your boss,” was the single most predictive indicator of team and organizational performance. Why do you suppose that is? If you work in a trust-filled environment you may not be best equipped to answer that question. There’s a saying, “Fish discover water last.” They don’t discover (or analyze) it because, for them, it just is. Only when it becomes toxic or polluted do fish become aware of water. In the same way, someone who works in a low-trust environment might be better able to explain why trust is so important at work.

This Engager Dynamic has two dimensions. As the boss you will need to build a culture of trust. Ironically, one of the ways you do that is by giving trust. Even if you’re not the boss, you can be a leader in your organization in the effort to build trust.

What’s So Important About Trust?

We often think of trust as a “soft” skill or competency that cannot be measured or tracked so we consider it a “nice-to-have” and leave it at that. Too bad if it’s not there. Stephen Covey, in his book The Speed of Trust, offers many specific case studies showing how trust makes the difference in the performance of an organization and he is able to quantify the effect on the bottom line. He says, “Trust is the one thing above everything else that builds productive relationships and leads to a successful business.”

A Toxic Trust Environment

Just like the fish and water, when the work environment lacks trust you can feel the toxicity. When trust is down: the cost of doing business goes up and the speed of delivery goes way down: rather than being productive people spend more time and energy:

  • protecting themselves
  • talking behind other’s backs
  • politicking
  • Managing their behaviors and interactions with the group
When there is an absence of trust real issues are not addressed, decisions are not made, there is lack of accountability. More rules are required to manage behaviors so the bureaucracy and red tape grow, innovation is stifled, and progress is slowed. As a result, productivity slows down, mediocrity prevails, loyalty is low and turnover is high.

Conversely when there is Trust

  • You are comfortable, confident and willing to admit weakness and mistakes.
  • You will ask for help, without fear of reprisal.
  • You gladly accept questions and input about your area of responsibilities, without feeling criticized, judged or questioned.
  • You are willing to give others the benefit of the doubt and they do the same for you
  • You take risks and offer feedback and assistance
  • You recognize, appreciate and tap into others skills and experience

How to Erode Trust

  • Don’t do what you say you are going to do
  • Gossip about others behind their backs
  • Hide your agenda
  • Spin the truth rather than tell the truth
  • Lack transparency
A Low-Trust environment is diagnosed from the outside-in. In other words, you can detect the low trust by the behaviors you observe. However, trust is developed from the inside-out. We have to start with ourselves.

“The 13 Trust Building Behaviors” found in Stephen Covey’s book, The Speed of Trust:

  1. Talk Straight: in other words say what you mean and mean what you say
  2. Demonstrate Respect; in all that you do and say. Show up on time to meetings, fully engage, disclose all of the relevant information, challenge others and hold others and yourself accountable.
  3. Create Transparency: this might require a deliberate effort along with communications systems and standards (no hidden agendas)
  4. Right Wrongs; learn to admit your mistakes, say you are sorry and move on
  5. Show Loyalty: one way to do that is by not talking behind someone’s back and that includes your boss
  6. Deliver Results: Say what you will do, but then, DO WHAT YOU SAID YOU WOULD
  7. Get Better: improve your skills and competencies, maybe you will hire a coach who might help you to grow and gain new perspective , new tools and techniques and be an objective and honest observer of you and your impact on others, seek professional development opportunities
  8. Confront Reality: Confront concerns head on and directly with the person/people involved.
  9. Clarify Expectations: Give clear directions, set clear, realistic expectations and if you are the supervisor provide the support and resources needed to meet those expectations.
  10. Practice Accountability: A two-way street. Hold and be held accountable
  11. Listen First: Be quick to hear an slow to speak (Two ears, only one mouth)
  12. Keep Commitments: do what you say you are going to do, when you say you will do it.
  13. Extend Trust: Speak and write with good intention and when interpreting others words, assume good intention.
That last one is particularly interesting and important. You may have heard of “The Law of Sowing and Reaping.” The principle may go by other names as well but it means–You reap what you sow, you reap more than you sow, and you reap in a different season than you sow. It may seem counter-intuitive, but this law applies to trust. To receive and build trust, you have to give it. Sound risky? It is. But, the benefits of trust far outweigh the risks.

Evaluate – Engager Dynamic #9

Do you like traveling? I do. I like road trips and I like flying. When you go on a trip, do you track your progress? I hope I’m not the only one who does. I check mile markers along the highway and mentally calculate what time I think we’ll arrive at the next stopping point. And I love those trip tracker maps on planes where you can watch the little airplane move along the route. No, I don’t literally watch it the whole trip, but I like to check on it from time to time to see our progress.

Think of work like a trip. You begin on your first day and you travel along until you reach a destination. That may be retirement, or it may be a promotion, or a job change. Your trip may be a non-stop or you may have several stops along the way. In any event, you want to know about your progress. In most organizations that progress check is received in the form of a performance evaluation.

It’s Your Job

As the boss, it is your job to evaluate your people. This is the 9th Engager Dynamic. When done well, evaluations can increase Employee Engagement. Like the other Dynamics, though, it can be a real dis-engager if done poorly.

Built into the word “Evaluate/Evaluation” is the word “Value.” When you do a performance evaluation with an employee, you’re letting them know your idea of the value they bring to your team and organization and how they can increase that value. That will look very different depending on the type of job the employee performs. Regardless of the job, though, evaluating your employees is a great opportunity you don’t want to miss. Here are some tips for getting it right:

1. Know their goals – Its easier to tell someone about their progress on a trip if you know where they’re going. The best way to find out what their goals are is to ask. Have a discussion long before any evaluation meeting. At a minimum, you can pull their resume to see what they said was their objective when they applied for the job. Help them understand the career path within the organization and business unit that is appropriate for their goals. There is often mutual growth that occurs in this process. When you both understand the goal you can have meaningful dialog around progress.

2. Meet one-on-one – I’ve seen bosses who thought of the evaluation process as busywork for them. They locked themselves away to finish the “paperwork” and then handed them out to their employees. Wrong! To get the most out of this opportunity you have to put something into it. You need to make it meaningful to your employee. Meet with them at a pre-scheduled time, one-on-one.

3. Give Meaningful Feedback – Many organizations have structured forms they want you to use when giving performance evaluations. The forms usually have categories of behaviors or characteristics with some form of rubric to use for scoring the employee. When going through this process with your employee, give specific examples of times when they exhibited the specific behavior/characteristic or when they didn’t. This lets them know you’re paying attention and they will value the feedback.

4. Evaluate Frequently – The annual performance evaluation is not enough by itself. Most bosses will only draw on the last 30 – 90 days of work when putting together an annual evaluation. It’s usually all they can remember unless they’ve taken copious notes throughout the year (which, by the way, is a great idea). Why not have a “formal” evaluation with your employees every quarter? It would be a gift to the employee because it would give them encouragement to build on what they’ve been doing or time to course correct much sooner. It would also help you, the boss, improve overall performance along the way and give you great documents to draw on when doing the annual evaluation that gets turned in to HR.

A Little Less Formal

In addition to formal evaluations, there are many opportunities to give informal feedback. Informal feedback can be in the form of stand-up conversations that happen in the moment. When you observe an employee doing something right, why not stop and say so? Let them know what you observed and how it positively impacts the organization’s vision or goals. Of course, if you observe something that needs improvement let them know specifically what it was and remind them of the organization vision and goals. Do this privately, away from others.

You can give informal feedback through periodic scheduled check-ins. You can approach feedback like a mentor, or a coach. The point of this dynamic is that people want to know how they’re doing in their job. Most people, of course, love to hear they’re doing a great job. But, most people will also appreciate feedback that helps them improve their performance and, therefore, make progress toward their goals. Well delivered evaluations, formal and informal, are a gift to your employees and will help engage them.

An Example

The most meaningful performance evaluation I ever had was a walk on the beach . . . literally . . . My boss at the time lived near Newport Beach, CA. He brought me there and we discussed my performance while walking along the beach to a specific restaurant where we ended the conversation over dinner. The setting was certainly memorable but that wasn’t what made the experience meaningful. He had thought through what he wanted to talk about with me. He had specific examples of how certain characteristics and actions of mine had brought value to the organization. When he wanted to point out some opportunities for me to improve, he asked about my thought process around a certain example and then asked me how I would handle the situation now. Once I answered that, he gave his affirmation of what I’d do differently and offered additional insight that would help me grow.

We can’t all do performance evaluations on the beach or even over dinner. But, we would all benefit by learning from his approach to the content.

Recognize – Engager Dynamic #8

When was the last time you were recognized for doing a good job at work? The answer to that question and the emotions it brings up are all that needs to be said about the importance of this topic. I’ve taken the liberty to write a little bit longer on this one. I hope you’ll find it useful.

Word Nerd Alert

“Consequence” is an interesting word. It means “the result or effect of an action or condition.” It also means, “the importance or relevance of something.” If you put those two meanings together you will understand the power of this Engager Dynamic – Recognize. Actions have consequences; effects and relative importance. At work we can help people understand the importance of their actions and promote those important actions by controlling the results through recognition.

“Recognize” means “to acknowledge the existence, validity, or legality of something.” It also means, “to identify (someone or something) from having encountered them before; know again.” These two meanings together also add to the power of recognition at work. people want to be doing important things but they also want to be known.

One day my youngest daughter saw me wearing a new shirt. She liked it on me and said, “Hey, nice shirt, Dad! I see you.” That phrase, “I see you,” caught my attention. I thought it was cool, but I also wondered where it came from. It turns out there is some pop culture that references the phrase, but I believe its roots are in an African expression from the Zulu people. Sawubona is a Zulu phrase that means, “I see you.” It is more profound that just physical seeing. It has to do with recognizing the deep significance of the other person. Can you imagine the power of that kind of recognition at work?

A Recognition-Rich Environment

How often should people be recognized? If you think about what we just said, the real question is, “When would you ever not recognize someone?” But, in terms of a work-related recognition program, a good rule of thumb is about once a week. Here’s why: Whenever a person does something, there are consequences. Those consequences will affect whether they engage in that behavior again. We know that to get the result or consequence we want, we will repeat the behavior that led to that result. Frequent recognition will encourage the behavior that produces it.

Rules of Recognition

Recognition needs to be Specific. It’s one thing to say, “Great job!” and mean it. But, it is much more meaningful to tell someone specifically what they did and why it was so important. “Rob, great job cleaning that floor, the customer noticed how shiny it was and said, ‘it hasn’t looked that good in years’. You’re really helping us build a great relationship with this customer. Thank you.”

Recognition should also be Predictable. Certainly, if I receive corrective action for bad work or mistakes but never receive recognition for good work that will be demoralizing. Or, if I’m working hard and I get recognition one time and not another time that leaves me confused about my work. Recognition should be predictable enough that it helps people understand the standard and desire to go above and beyond. I should know what a good job looks like because my supervisor has told me enough times.

Recognition should be Frequent. As mentioned above, we should give recognition at least once per week. When you include “formal” recognition (awards, achievement of status, etc.) and “informal” recognition (verbal, a hand written note of thanks, etc.) it should be even more often.

Recognition should be Instantaneous. We want to reinforce behaviors as immediately as we can. This associates the award more directly with the desired outcome or achievement. If we wait for a month before giving recognition it can seem anti-climactic and be counterproductive. It can actually discourage someone from repeating the behavior. The thinking is, “If I have to wait so long it must not be that important.”

Make it Personal

In their book, First, Break All The Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, the authors say one of the rules Great Manager break constantly is the “Golden Rule.” That rule says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” But, the authors argue, the World’s Greatest Managers recognize that people are different. What you want, in the way of recognition for example, may be completely different from what one of your employees wants.

Have you ever heard of the “5 Love Languages”? Gary Chapman wrote a book called, The 5 Love Languages: The Secret of Love That Will Last. It’s a book primarily focused on marriage but the principles are true for any interpersonal interaction. For our purposes, we’re looking at how to communicate recognition in meaningful ways.

In the book, Mr. Chapman says “Love” is communicated in many different ways. Like people speaking different languages, if I don’t understand the words you’re saying I won’t know whether you’re saying, “I love you,” or, “That’s a funny hat you’re wearing.” The message has to be communicated in a language the hearer understands. The responsibility for proper communication rests on the one delivering the message. As the title suggests, Gary identifies 5 “Love Languages;” five different ways people understand and communicate Love. They are:

  1. Quality Time
  2. Gifts
  3. Physical Touch (for our purposes, a hand shake or high 5)
  4. Words of Affirmation
  5. Acts of Service
We tend to communicate in the language we understand. So, If someone feels loved when a person gives them words of affirmation they will tend to use the same language when wanting to communicate love to someone else. But, if that person speaks in the language of Gifts, they may totally miss the message that the first person wanted to deliver. We need to understand how other people receive “love” in order to give meaningful recognition.

An Example

My brother-in-law once told his boss, “Praise doesn’t pay the bills.” He’s good at almost everything he decides to do but he’s not the type of person who thrives on being told he’s good at it. It’s not his love language. Based on his statement, what do you think would have been more meaningful to him? He would have responded better to some kind of financial reward. There are people, on the other hand, who would have the opposite response. They would feel slighted by a cash reward because they feel valued by other expressions, maybe lunch with the boss.

In other words recognition doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be “one-size-fits-all”. We need to give recognition, but we’re better off not doing it than doing it half-heartedly. Make it personal so it’s more meaningful.

Welcome Aboard!

A few years ago my family and I went on a cruise. It was a Disney cruise and the first cruise we’d ever taken. We didn’t have any idea what to expect. I remember how amazing it was to drive up and see that huge ship sitting at the dock ready to board. Everything about it seemed grand from the physical size of the ship to the building you walked into on your way to board. It had a scale cut-away model of the ship inside that was pretty cool.

It was what happened when we boarded, though, that set the tone for the whole experience. As my family boarded the ship into this beautiful entrance there were lines of uniformed crew on either side of us creating a path to direct us. Someone announced, “The Thomason family.” I don’t even remember how they would have known who we were but, when that was announced,  the crew began to applaud and cheer. Talk about saying, “Welcome Aboard!” I’d never seen anything like it. That was the beginning of a “magical” Disney cruise experience for us.

“On-Boarding” at Work

I’ve often thought about that experience as an analogy to how we “on-board” new employees in our organizations. We actually use that term. I wonder how many organizations use the Disney approach. A successful on-boarding experience should:

  1. Make the new employee feel like the entire organization is glad they have arrived
  2. Set a tone of expectation that will make them feel excited about their new job
  3. Guide them toward a successful experience on their career journey

I had a client who really got this. The organization was a large health care system. Every month they had a New Employee Orientation (NEO). The first day was a big event for all new hires in the Region. They brought everyone together at a nice hotel in the Regional Headquarters town where they had rented the grand ballroom. There was a beautiful breakfast buffet set up and the room was decorated in a way that gave a real celebration vibe. There were round tables set up and a stage in front with a large screen behind it.

The day consisted of a combination of speakers, videos, and interactive activities. New employees learned about the history of the organization. They heard about how the organization gives back to the community, about who the leaders are and a host of other useful information. Besides what new employees learned during that event, the main point was they felt special in being welcomed into this great organization.

More Than a Welcome

Another thing this client realized is that a well done “Welcome Aboard!” serves another purpose. It not only sets a positive tone for the employee’s career experience, it also sets some pretty high expectations and there are two sides to that coin. On the one hand, the new employee will be expecting great things from the organization like the magical cruise experience we had. On the other hand, the employee will be thinking, “This organization really has it together, I had better bring my A+ game.” Who wouldn’t want that from a new employee?

Someone has said that a person forms an opinion of you within the first 7 seconds of meeting you. The same is true for organizations. You don’t have to go all out like the Healthcare system. But neither should your on-boarding be someone Saying, “Sit here and read from the employee handbook until I come back.” How does your organization do it?

Qualitize – Engager Dynamic #7

“Qualitize” is a word, at least you can find it in the “Urban Dictionary” (be careful what you look up there). It means “To Improve something, to make it Quality.” By that definition it’s the perfect description of our next Engager Dynamic.


Every organization is concerned with Quality. They have set standards by which they measure their products and/or services and/or processes. People are measured against certain behavioral and performance norms. Teams and departments have goals and metrics against which their performance is measured. Quality is about measuring actual things as compared to something else, usually an accepted standard. Quality, then, is the degree of excellence something or someone has compared to that standard.

Quality relates to Employee Engagement in that people want to be part of something they can be proud of. It goes a little deeper than just the overall quality of the product or service, though. People want to be part of a group (team, line, department, etc.) where they can count on every member to produce excellent work. For this reason the boss who is an Engager makes sure of three rules regarding Quality:

  1. Clear Definition – the boss makes sure the standard by which Quality is measured is clear. S/he could use pictures of excellent work, displays, written descriptions, videos, etc. They may want to use a combination of these to be sure everyone is perfectly clear on the definition of “Excellent” work. What does it look like? Make sure the standards are high, standards that will cause people to stretch. Remember, the standard you walk past is the standard you set.

  2. Consistent Standards – in order for Quality to be an engagement factor the standard has to be the same for everyone. This is an area where the intention to engage can go off the rails pretty quickly. Differing standards is a huge dis-engager for people. Any whiff of favoritism will send excellent performers away holding their noses.

  3. Equal Accountability – this is closely related to number 2. Not only do the standards have to be the same for everyone. Every one has to be equally held to those standards. One of the most dis-engaging things a boss can do is let “slackers” get away with not holding up the standard. A boss who writes one person up for poor quality but lets another person get by with the same low quality is being incredibly disrespectful to the people who do excellent work.

On the other hand, when the standards are clear and consistent and when everyone is held equally accountable, each person’s performance tends to improve. It’s like when a good player is on a mediocre team. They may stand out and have good stats. But, if they move to a great team where other players are as good or better than them, they become better players. That’s the effect of engagement.


If you’re new to your role or you realize your approach to quality has been a dis-engager, take heart, you can make a positive impact on employee engagement. Try using the Engager Dynamic Solicit  to identify two or three things that need improvement, things you could easily work on – low hanging fruit as they say. Work quickly to improve those areas. That’s what it means to “Qualitize,” to improve something, to make it Quality. If you do that, keeping in mind the three rules above, you will be an engager. There will be skepticism initially if quality has been dis-engaging in the past. There may even be resistance because people don’t like change, even good change sometimes. But, hang in there, if you remain consistent, they will come around and morale will improve and so will your quality scores because your people will be engaged.

Solicit – Engager Dynamic #6

Have you ever felt insignificant or irrelevant? How did you like it? That feeling is a real dis-engager in the workplace. Someone may believe their company is doing inspiring work or producing a useful product but still feel they are an insignificant part of the “machine.” One important way an Engager can help people recognize their significance is to listen to their ideas. No one has the whole picture of the big picture. We often have people working in our organizations who have been there for over 30 years. Those people can be valuable. They have incredible institutional knowledge of how things have been done in the past; what has been tried and worked, or not worked. On the other hand, long time employees can also fall into the “7-deadly-word-syndrome”, “We Never Did It That Way Before.” That’s another issue.

Where Do the Best Ideas Come From?

Regardless of how long they’ve been working there, who usually has the best knowledge of what it takes to get a job done? Isn’t it usually the front line worker who is doing the job every day? Many times, these folks have lots of ideas about how to do a job more efficiently or more safely, often they don’t share them because they feel no one would want to listen to them.

How can we cultivate a culture of fresh ideas? They don’t always have to be about efficiency (but they might be), they could be about how to celebrate something more meaningfully, or how to improve communication on a certain issue, or about marketing to a certain demographic more effectively. The best way to find good ideas is to ask. Solicit ideas from your employees during tool box meetings (or whatever you may call a start of shift or beginning of day meetings) and when you’re walking around. Regularly ask your employees, “How could we do _______ better?”

Close the Loop

When one of your employees comes up with an idea that you implement be sure to give credit where credit is due. Taking credit for someone else’s idea ruins morale and disengages your employees. On the other hand, when credit is given to the person who came up with the idea two things happen. First, others are encouraged to contribute ideas they have because they believe something may actually come of it. Second, employees will be more engaged in their work because they have helped to make the job better.