2015 – Focusing on Employee Engagement Design

Over the last year I have been focused on The Future of Work. This topic is fascinating to me and I have absolutely love it, the people I have met and interacted with, and the organizations I have worked with.  The possibilities are HUGE!

But that’s part of the problem with the Future of Work: the topic is HUGE itself.

Take a look at a Google search on the Future of Work.  When you dive into the results you find that this phrase refers to:

  • Robots
  • Transportation
  • Employee engagement
  • Office layout
  • Working from home
  • Contracting vs. FTE
  • …even outer space

And the list goes on.   And while these are all great discussions around the Future of Work, I am not an expert in robots, or outer space, nor do I want to dive deep into working from home.  Those subjects may come up, but they aren’t my main focus.

My expertise has always been more focused.  This title has been a good catchall, but it is time to get more specific.

2015 is the year for more focus

My color-blindness is a gift.  I believe that I was given this condition to slow me down.  Had I been able to see colors normally I believe I would have gone into graphic design at an early age.

I feel like Ariel from the Little Mermaid:  “I want to see what the people see…”  But, alas, I can’t.  And no sea witch will make it happen. (And if she did appear one day, I think I would be freaked out.)

Unfortunately, graphic (and other types 0f) design is out of the question.  But because I do love it, it got me thinking…

After some deep thinking about where I have been, where I am going and what I love to do today, I learned some things about myself.

Self-Lesson #1: I am a designer at heart.

Although I can’t design with color, I love the creative process of designing, experimenting, testing, refining, pivoting, focusing on the end “user,” and creating solutions that excite everyone who use the design.  The urge to make things better is in my blood.  Not just incrementally better (although that works, too), but dramatically better.

Self-Lesson #2: I am a fan of human / organizational potential.

Not in a fake motivational type of way, but in a, “Do you really realize what you are capable of?!” way.  Too many are stuck in the normalcy and mediocrity of life that they overlook the possibilities which will far surpass what they think they are capable of.

Self-Lesson #3: I am not a fan of the status quo.

As I have quoted before, “Safety’s just danger out of place.” We don’t question status quo enough.  Sure, there is some comfort in normalicy.  With my family of ten there MUST be.  But there are times to disrupt and upend the day-to-day so that we can continue to progress.  As Seth Godin said, “Art, though, requires both pride and disobedience.  The pride of creation and the disobedience of disturbing the status quo” (The Icarus Deception).

Self-Lesson #4: I am at my best when helping others.

My wife and I wish we could serve people all day, every day.  But realistically, you need some way to pay to raise eight children.  And so I work.  But my work is what I love to do.  It is not only what I love, but also what I feel “called” to do.

Rather than focusing on the work part, when I focus on the serving aspect, everything else turns out and I do well financially.  And I’m happier!

Q: Put those altogether and what do we have?  A: What I have been focusing on all along without even realizing how to describe it.  Now I can.

I help people love their work by designing employee engagement.

I help people love their work.  And when they love their work, they are SO MUCH MORE productive! Employees are happier and more productive and the company is more successful.  So I also help organizations design employee engagement strategies so their employees will love their work.

And it really is design.  Using design thinking and practices from IDEO and IBM, combined with ethnography, Human Performance Technology methodologies, and some of my own tools I have created like PING (coming soon), Adoption Index, The Change Agent Handbook, and more, I design environments where people are fully engaged in their work.  When that happens, the potential of each person can shine and the organization is in a place to take off.

That is what I do.  That is what I love.  That is who I authentically am.

More importantly, that’s how I help others. Employee Engagement with a design perspective and methodology.


Best Employee Engagement Posts for January

The best Employee Engagement posts from the last little while…



A New Definition for “Engagement”

Engagement — variously defined as “involvement, commitment, passion, enthusiasm, focused effort and energy” — has now been widely correlated with higher corporate performance.

(read more…)



Screen Shot 2015-01-24 at 9.08.53 PM

In the 21st century, we need less PowerPoint and more conversations

Leaders have a huge opportunity to reinvent the workplace to tap into people’s needs for purpose and meaning by aligning talent with key projects. This will lead to the much-needed opportunities for innovation and productivity improvements.

(read more…)



The Goals of Empowerment & Engagement

Empowerment and Engagement are not in vogue today simply because they are another set of motherhood issues. They are not a component of the  of  Human Performance Technology or Improvement crowd’s latest proclamations – simply because they will make people feel better about themselves and will, therefore, make them work harder and be more productive for the business entity.

(read more…)

Screen Shot 2015-01-24 at 9.17.22 PM

Forget SMART Goals — Try CLEAR Goals Instead

The problem with SMART goals is that they just haven’t kept up with the faster, more-agile environment that most businesses find themselves in today. According to Adam, these new business environments require a new way of setting goals, thus CLEAR goals. CLEAR stands for… 

(read more…)

5 Liberating Signs You Love Your Job

This video has been a long time in planning.  Ever since Walk Off The Earth remade the song Little Boxes, I have been obsessed with the correlation between the song and what I observe all too often.

I see people who love their work and others who don’t.

And there is a stark contrast. To those who don’t, I want to say, “Yes!  You, too, can love your work!”

There is this obsession I have to help others love their work and to help companies create organizations where everyone is there because they want it.

It is liberating.  It certainly beats the alternative!  Anyone can have this experience in their work.  I hope you are one of them.

Here are five liberating signs you love your job.

1) You leave work more excited then when you arrived.

Sure, everyone has bad days.  But when bad days becomes the norm instead of the exception, something is wrong.  Rather, it is possible to come home more excited and energetic then when you arrived – regularly!

2) The alarm goes off and you jump out of bed.

You should be jumping out of your bed saying, “Yes!  I can’t wait to work on…”  Is this just a fantasy?  Not at all!  Those who love their work regularly are waking up early with ideas that won’t leave them alone until they act on them.  And they can’t wait to work on the ideas.

3) You chose your work because you wanted it, not because it was the best you could find.

There have been times when I took a job because it was the best option I could find.  But it is best if you are working because you want to be there, because you choose to be there.

4) Your paycheck is a side benefit.

Your paycheck should be a bonus.  Yes, it needs to support you and your family.  But while you work you shouldn’t be thinking, “I can’t wait to get paid,” because the biggest form of payment you get is the satisfaction from doing the work.

5) You know why you are working.

You have a purpose, a deep desire that you are fulfilling in your work.  What is your WHY?  You know it and are actively working toward it.  And love every minute of it.  Yes, even those times it is rough and nothing seems right, you still love it because your purpose is stronger than the lows you will experience.

Anyone can break free from little boxes.  Anyone.

And guess what?

It’s Your Turn!

I want to know…

How are you breaking free from little boxes?

The Future of Work is Ramping Up – The Future of Work, Best of the Best Posts – December 1

The Future of Work is Ramping Up – The Future of Work, Best of the Best Posts – December 1

There are changes coming to the way we work.  You can see it, you can feel it, and, as exemplified by below, you can read about it.

The only question is, when will it happen for you and your organization?

With the new year coming up, let’s resolve to take a better look and figure out how our teams will change to take advantage of the possibilities in front of us.



The correct environment will determine your future of work.  Not only the political and emotional environment, but also the physical.  These steps go right along with the principles of the future of work.

Read more…




“Large organizations of all types suffer from an assortment of congenital disabilities that no amount of incremental therapy can cure.  First, they are inertial… Second, large organizations are incremental… And finally, large organizations are emotionally sterile… As the winds of creative destruction continue to strengthen, these infirmities will become even more debilitating.”

Read more…



bookshelfSmarter in 7 Minutes: Ultimate Business Wisdom from 3 Decades of Bestselling Books

#1 starts out with, “Find your Why.”  Instantly you know this one is a keeper.  The WHY is the basis of everything Future of Work.  And the other points are spot on, as well.  Read.  Learn.  Do.

Read more…



FutureOfWorkCisco study shows how technology will shape the “future of work”

This study has a ton of great facts and figures to think about and use as we gear up toward the new year.  We can use these to help shape our goals.  Lots of tweetable tidbits.

Read more…

Be Thankful For Your Work – The Future of Work, Best of the Best Posts – November 24

With the Thanksgiving holiday this Thursday in the United States, I hope everyone who reads this is thankful for their work.

I hope you love it so much that you jump out of bed every morning, ready to start on the ideas swarming in your head.

I hope that when you think of the phrase “Future of Work” you think, “I’m living that!”

I hope that you are helping others life their future of work and love what they do.

I hope you are creating teams that are organized on new principles that allow them to continually amaze you by the awesome work they do.

I hope that your work is more than just a paycheck.  If that is all it is, I challenge you to work all year so that next Thanksgiving day, you will look back and be very thankful for being able to do work you love.

As we look toward the future, we have a lot to be thankful for.  And I hope your work is one of them.



Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 8.17.19 AM13 Scary Statistics on Employee Engagement

“There is a serious problem with the way we work. Most employees are disengaged and not passionate about the work they do. This is costing companies a ton of money in lost productivity, absenteeism, and turnover. It’s also harmful to employees, because they’re more stressed out than ever. The thing that bothers me the most about it, is that it’s all so easy to fix…”  (read more…)

Heaven-is-5000-Feet-Above-The-GroundHave you found ‘your thing’ yet?

“Every single one of us on this planet has at least one ‘thing’ on this planet that makes us come alive. We may have discovered it as a kid (like me) . Or it may have taken several decades for us to peel back the layers of your soul enough to get to the heart of it. And some of you reading this still may not know what that magical thing is. To you I say – keep peeling back the layers. One day that magical ‘thing’ will hit you and you’ll wonder how you lived without it.”  (read more…)


“You shouldn’t barge into your boss’s office tomorrow to announce that you quit, especially if you don’t have a well-thought-out plan. But if you have been toying with an idea for a business or have already started one on the side, I will share some of the benefits of leaving your day job to dive into your startup.”   (read more…)

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 8.40.56 AM

Being Happy at Work Matters

“My research with dozens of companies and hundreds of people — as well as the research conducted by the likes of neuroscientists Richard Davidson and V.S. Ramachandran and scholars such as Shawn Achor — increasingly points to a simple fact: Happy people are better workers. Those who are engaged with their jobs and colleagues work harder — and smarter.” (read more…)

The Future of Work All Week Long

All of these excellent articles are posted through the week with many others on the Future of Work FLIPBOARD. You can view it online or get the app for quick, easy, mind-filling reading.

Employee Engagement By Force or by Freedom?

Employee Engagement By Force or by Freedom?

Eric, a Chick-fil-A manager, obviously had had it.  His employees were using slang and then saying, “My pleasure.” (Which, I find a bit ironic because “My pleasure” is slang itself because it is an incomplete sentence.  It should be “It’s my pleasure.”  But we can overlook that.)

To cut the slang out of the restaurant, he posted a list of words the employees were no longer to say.


Whether this is a bona fide attempt at controlling employee slang or a just a hoax has yet to be determined.

Either way, what it has given us is a great topic of debate.

Resolved: Employers have the right to limit the way employees speak to customers.

Do you take the affirmative or negative position on this one?

On one hand, they work for the Chick-fil-A and are asked to do many things within guidelines or policy which are meant to enhance the success of the restaurant.  On the other hand, is it tyrannical to force them to speak a specific way with specific words?

Cold Hard Reality

When we work for someone else, we will be asked to modify our behavior to match the culture of the company.  From saying, “My pleasure,” to adding a disclaimer at the end of our emails, to meeting etiquette… and the list goes on.

Unless illegal we have two choices: a) conform or b) quit.

They pay the bills and pay the employee.  If someone doesn’t like their culture they need to find employment somewhere else.

We have seen companies or employees in companies act immorally – from borderline sexual harassment to encouraging to fudge the books everso slightly.  While these actions may not be illegal, they may be immoral.

Then again, maybe the company asks employees to do something they don’t want to do.  Like not use slang words.  The employer is completely within their right to ask this of their employees and to discipline if the employees don’t adhere to the policy.

Reality vs. Effectiveness

But the real question is different: “Is the action that the Chick-fil-A manager took the most effective way to get to his goal?” His goal on one level is to stop slang talk. On a deeper level it is to increase employee effectiveness with the customers.  Go a level deeper and it is to increase employee engagement.  Even deeper is a level to increase profits for the stakeholders.

The answer the above question is no, it is not very effective.  Having seen this type of action taken by many managers, what Eric has effectively done is two things: 1) transfer the effect of the problem from slang to an unknown action by the employees that will soon rear its ugly head.  If they can’t do that, they will act out in some other way.  2) He has only multiplied the negative effect.  Now the employees will be even more upset and act out with increased animosity in another way.

Why? Because the root of the problem has not been resolved.  It is easy to gloss over the real issue and put out the flame of the problem-of-the-day.

The First Level Lesson

Take care of the root of the problem and all the ancillary issues go away.

The Second Lesson

If the employees were engaged, if they had skin in the game, if they not only “reported” to one manager but instead to each other, if they understood the consequences of speaking that way to customers, if they cared about the profitability of the restaurant, if they were working as a team not for a paycheck but to create something of meaning, slang would not be a problem.

In the Future of Work, we create an environment to transcend these type of issues. Not that they won’t ever exist (because we are working with humans), but when they do happen, the purpose of the company and the team itself right the wrong instead of coming down like a hammer.

When we create an enabling environment with freedom, the issues we are used to dealing with are righted by the team and employee engagement goes through the roof.

The Future of Work, Best of the Best Posts – November 10

Isn’t it interesting that when we need to get something done, it can get done? Politics, bureaucracy, policy, ego – they all fade into the background as we crank something out.  At this point, it is about doing the right thing.

Last week I had a very large client call and say, “We need to create three videos for a meeting of our executives.  Oh, and they need to be done by next Wednesday.”  Wow.  This is a huge undertaking.  And the stories behind the three videos?  Getting things done using collaborative, innovative, nonconventional ways that cut through the red tape and deliver.  It looks like we are about to create story number four by producing these videos.

So now, it’s heads down, focus time for a number of people to pull this off.  And we will.  And it will be great.

Besides fatigue, why don’t we work like this more? Just get it done?  This is what it will look like in the future of work – so let’s practice now.

This is my challenge for you this week.

Find something that has been stalling and just go get it done.  Cut through the red tape and deliver.  Then go celebrate a work week well lived.


Here are four posts to fuel your imagination.

man-475561_640-300x211Why organizations need self-managed learners – and how you can help

A foundational part of the future of work is self-managed teams.  As you dive into it, you can’t have a self-managed team without self-managed learners.   Jane Hart is a favorite of mine with her spot on analysis of employee performance.

“Today’s workplace needs employees to continually learn for themselves and stay abreast of developments in their field of work – not just through self-study but through a continuous approach to learning, e.g. in their professional networks and other social channels.”


Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 9.00.16 AMWhat To Do About Employee Moonlighting

This gives a number of concerns to be aware of, focusing on how to ensure their productivity.  But there is a glaring omission: If they are moonlighting, maybe it is because they don’t like their day job. And if they don’t like their job, there is little you can do to squeeze every little bit of productivity out of them.  Instead of watching it closely and being wary of it, I would advocate to embrace it.  Encourage them to moonlight.  Seems backwards?  Yes it does. Maybe I will do a post on this sometime soon to explain why…


5 ways your organization shouldn’t approach social

Another favorite of mine is Oscar Berg.  He knows his stuff.  This post reminds me of my eBook and numerous posts on How to Fail in Social Business.  His post is a great reminder.

“Many organizations see no big change in the existing ways of working after deploying social tools or social collaboration initiatives. Not only has it proven to be quite difficult to make people adopt these tools. It has also proven to be difficult to achieve any significant improvement of business performance.”


Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 9.01.04 AMOur Obsession With Scalability Must End

Wow.  Saul Kaplan is spot on here.  Our focus on scalability can often hurt us, and we need to redirect our focus.  His last line sealed the deal for me:

“We are still allowing predominant business models to slow down and block the emergence of new business models that can better meet our needs. It’s time to move from the era of the predominant business model to the era of business model proliferation.”

How To Kill Outdated Rules or Policy That Refuse to Die

You have all heard this story before, so let me make it short.

Five monkeys are in a cage. A banana hangs from a string above a set of stairs.  Monkey#1 starts to climb the stairs for the banana and all the monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Then Monkey #2, 3 & 4 does the same thing and they collectively understand: You go for the banana, we get a punishment. As #5 starts for the banana,  1-4 beat him into submission before the punishment begins.

Replace one monkey with a new one and put the cold water away. #6 goes for the banana and is beat by the other four even though there isn’t a punishment.

Replace one more, let it play out again.

Do this until each of the original monkeys are replaced with a new one.  We find that the behavior continues even though the five new monkeys don’t understand why they are doing the beating and have never been punished for it.


You have seen this in your company, as I have seen some version of this in every company I have worked with.

When you ask, “Why?”  The answer will be one of two things:

  • “Because that is how we have always done it.”
  • The other will be an explanation that doesn’t work any more.

If we want to develop new ways of working, we must be willing to ask WHY.

When we are given the answer, ask WHY again. And again. And again.

What you are saying without saying it is, “The way you have always done it isn’t the best way any more, and there isn’t a good reason to continue doing it.”  Instead, by asking WHY, you let them come up with that answer.

The Lesson

To approach the future of work, we must challenge just about every aspect of why we are working and how we do it.  The answers will astound you!

This Week’s Challenge

Take a process or policy that is outdated and start asking WHY.  To be honest, it will seem a bit scary that you are pushing the limits – because you are.  I have found that one of three scenarios will happen (these have all happened to me):

  1. You are told to stop asking (basically, shut up and keep coloring).
  2. You bring some enlightenment, but nothing changes because of external forces.  That’s OK!  At least you helped shed some light on a business practice that refuses to die.
  3. You will be the instigator of your future of work.  Well done!

The Future of Work, Best of the Best Posts – November 3

The Future of Work, Best of the Best Posts – November 3

The future of work – What about the future of YOUR work?  What does it look like for you personally?

That is my challenge to you this week.  Define what it looks like for you.

  • How would you like to work?
  • Describe the level of trust you have with those around you.
  • What type of work would allow you to do your best?
  • What type of organization would allow you to do that type of work?
  • What bits of bureaucracy will have disappeared?


Here are a few articles to help you get started on the right foot.

Now, go live your future of work.


The post-hierarchical organization

This one by the ever-insightful Harold Jarche: “The way we manage our organizations is largely ineffective for the complex challenges we face, whether driven by the environment, demographics, economics, or politics.”


The digital forces shaping the future of work

“Not only is technology changing the work opportunities for individuals, it also having a huge impact on tasks undertaken within communities of workers, Gratton argues. “We used to think that being really clever and innovative on your own was all that was required. But actually what we’re beginning to realize is the challenges now are often to do with how people from different disciplines get together and share ideas.”


A CIO’s guide to the future of work

Dion Hinchcliffe is always looking to the future and is spot on: “The fundamental issue at hand seems to be whether a centralized technology enablement function (the IT department) invented for another, simpler age can service the full range of complex and specialized needs across countless departments and divisions, while still keeping up with the blistering pace of digital progress, all of which are on Internet-time.”


Failure = Success (sometimes)

From my friend Jodanna Cook of Lowes: “…Companies and leadership are both sometimes too afraid of failure, mainly because failure can be expensive. But even though failure can be costly: financially, emotionally and physically; sometimes the lessons learned are worth even more than the so-called success. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that sometimes you have to fail in order to succeed. I believe this statement is valid for both companies and people.


TOP 18+ Must Reads On Change Management

“In organizations, change happens continuously and often at a rapid pace. Change has become an everyday part of organizational dynamics. Any organization that will not make changes risks being left behind, forgotten, risks competitors driving them out of business or faces possible closure. Top 18+ must reads on change management.”

Four Ways to Solve Workplace Problems: Don’t Try to Fix Them


One of my favorite magazines is Entrepreneur magazine.  Although it isn’t focused on organizational strategy, it is focused on the future of work.

One of the features they have is a Q&A.  And this one caught my attention.

Employees at my restaurant are taking food home without paying for it and are not charging their friends for drinks. I made it clear that I’ll fire people if the behavior continues, and I bought locks for the refrigerators. However, I remain angry. How do I trust my staff after this betrayal?

The answer was pretty typical.  In part it said, “Rather than asking how you can trust your staffers, figure out how you can communicate effectively that their behavior negatively affects the restaurant’s success–and their future with the company.

There are two major issues I see here.

The first is they don’t care about the restaurant’s success.  It is very unlikely that because of the little amounts they steal that the restaurant will shut down.  Plus, they are not there for your success.  They are there for (most often) their survival.  Which is one reason why they are stealing food.

The second is regarding the point of “their behavior negatively affects …their future with the company.” This is only another threat.  Pile those up and sticky fingers will soon be only one of many major issues you will need to deal with.

The Management Paradox

Management is about controlling the outcomes.  When outcomes don’t go their way, they often get set in a spiral:

  1. Employees steal.
  2. Management threatens with being fired.
  3. Locks are put on refrigerators.
  4. Processes and policies are put in place.
  5. Processes and policies cost time and resources and double checking.
  6. Cost of service goes up.
  7. To cover, cost to customers go up.
  8. The locks are a physical symbol that management doesn’t trust them.
  9. Employees find another way to continue doing what they have been doing.
  10. Repeat.

Take this and duplicate it in a number of contexts.  No wonder management is such an energy draining activity!

Transcending the Issue

Rather than deal with the issue, create an environment in which the issue is starved and will have a very hard time existing.  Here are some ideas.

1) Team accountability

Rather than being accountable to a manager, make them accountable to each other.  It is easy to dupe one person.  Duping a whole team? Not so easy.


2) Trust them with specific things

In restaurants (and, frankly, most office environments), employees have very little say in anything they do.  Find ways to give them a choice and have control themselves.  For example, you may decide to leave the scheduling to the team.  Back out and let them figure out what is best.  There are so many ramifications in this one move that I won’t detail out now – but you better be ready for a number of instances where detoxing of negativity will naturally happen.  And then you need to be able to lead them to a new spot.


2) Open up the financials

That’s right.  Let the employees see where you are struggling and where you are doing well.  They will look for specific ways to improve the overall performance.  The question is, “Will they even care?”  Some won’t.  At least at first until…


Base a portion of their pay on team or (in this case) restaurant performance

If they understand that a bonus or part of their base pay comes to them because of superior work as a team, they will actively try to be better.

Now, does that mean that no one will ever steal again? Not at all.  But the chances of them stealing dramatically decreases.

Warning. Be sure to make this more of a bonus, rather than a retraction.  For example, if they are paid $15/hr, don’t hold back part of their pay as the team performance and pay them only $12/hr.  Keep it at $15 and their improvements will be on top of that.


It’s Not About Stealing

Now take the generic version of this problem.  It could be coming in late, spending too much time on social sites, being apathetic and lacking drive…

Rather than fix the issue, transcend it.  Create an environment where the issue starves and you don’t need to deal with it.

Load More