The Price of Disengagement

My work is about inspiring purposeful engagement in meaningful work.  I do it because I know I can make a huge positive difference in people’s lives.  That makes me happy.  But why should YOU care?  Here’s some “Engagement Nerd” data for you:

Gallup research has shown that”engaged employees are more productive, profitable, safer, create stronger customer relationships, and stay longer with their company than less engaged employees.”

The consulting firm, Blessing White says that “Engaged employees are not just committed.  They are not just passionate and proud.  They have a line-of-sight on their own future and on the organization’s mission and goals.  They are enthused and in gear, using their talents and discretionary effort to make a difference in their employer’s quest for sustainable business success.”

Hewitt Associates has reported that high engagement firms had a total shareholder return that was 19% higher than average in 2009.  In low engagement organizations, total shareholder return was 44% below average.

Similarly, Gallup found that organizations with comparatively high proportions of engaged employees were much less likely than the rest to see a decline in EPS in 2008 and Wharton’s analysis of the Best Companies to Work for in America indicated that “high levels of employee satisfaction generate superior long-horizon returns”.

A recent national poll by the Conference Board found that job satisfaction is the lowest since the poll began in 1987 with only 45 percent of employees satisfied with their jobs.

Disengaged managers are three times more likely to have disengaged employees.  This data from the 2009 Sirota Survey Intelligence Study.

Studies over the past few years have consistently shown that 60 percent of workers plan to look for new jobs as soon as the economy provides opportunities. This data becomes more relevant to the average manager when paired with the fact that replacing a departing employee can cost as much as 1.5 to 3.5 times their annual salary, posing a threat to the success of any organization in a fragile recovery. (Salaries Looking Up, John Dooney, HR Magazine, October, 2009).

Entitled Employees? We’ve Created A Monster!

Employer paid health insurance, dental, tuition reimbursement, onsite daycare, commuter benefits, fair salary, bonuses, take your kids to work day, summer hours, pizza on holidays, margaritas on Cinco de Mayo…

What more do they want???? Well, how much more will you give?

I was facilitating a program for HR practitioners recently and one woman was simply exasperated. As a generalist, she just wanted happy employees. That’s it. If she could have one thing that would make the biggest positive difference in her work it was to have happy employees.

When we began an exercise to generate the options she had available to achieve that goal, she stopped and said “I need to start by listing all the things we already do for them”. She then listed for the group the litany of benefits and concessions the company had given employees in an effort to increase satisfaction and motivation. She was surprised when I suggested that she may have given them too much.

The importance of saying no

In an article of the same title, Ed Brodow, negotiation expert, relates a story about the dangers of saying yes. He says: “Consider … the typical sales situation. The buyer wants a lower price, quicker delivery, better terms, etc. If we give in to all of these demands, it will only (a) serve to raise the buyer’s expectations and (b) lower the buyer’s perception of value. “I should have asked for more,” the buyer will complain and, bingo, you have a dissatisfied customer on your hands. The buyer now perceives your product is not as good as you said it was. If it was that good, why would you be giving in? But when you say no, I’m sorry but we can’t do that, the buyer’s perception is that he pushed you as far as you would go. He thinks he got a great deal.

Translating this to the workplace, we should wonder what message we are sending with the benefits we offer. If they are in place to strategically attract and retain the type of employees the business requires, that’s one thing. If they are in place as a response to low morale or lack of engagement, you may be treading in dangerous territory. What are you saying about the meaning and value of the work itself? That it’s not good enough.

Extrinsic vs Intrinsic Motivation

For decades we’ve been using a behavioral psychology model of work reward: salary, benefits, praise, traditional performance management – which all have their place for sure. But then we wonder why we have such entitled employees. It’s because we’ve trained them to be so.

Our efforts have been so focused on what we can give or take from employees to make the company goals and finances balance out, that we’ve created a new currency of sorts: one consisting of benefits, flexibility, environment – whatever it takes, really – to assign value to performance. Inadvertently, by using this approach, we assign a value to the work itself: one that is inversely proportional to that of the performance.

Idealistic Visions of Organizational “Flow”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes “flow state” as: “an optimal state of intrinsic motivation where the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing, …characterized by a feeling of great absorption, engagement, fulfillment, and skill—and during which temporal concerns (time, food, ego-self, etc.) are typically ignored.”

What if employees were selected and retained on the basis of their ability to achieve “flow state” doing their job? (I’ll let you bask in that nirvana for a moment…). Seriously, though. Some people love their jobs. Some people love their jobs so much that they lose themselves in the work. Is it so farfetched, then, to think that people might find or be selected for work that results in…well, okay, maybe not a constant state of flow but could we maybe shoot for “a largely pleasant, intrinsically satisfying experience independent of whether we also have Corona’s available on Cinco de Mayo”?

Fostering intrinsic motivation

Recent research supports a shift away from an extrinsic focus and gives us new options for developing intrinsic motivation and engagement. Models and programs coming out of the neuroscience and neuropsychology fields will be transformative for organizations and individuals alike and will translate to exciting new techniques for recruiting, selection, teambuilding, retention, productivity and more.

Monsters? Not really.

It’s about motivation.

Tangled Necklaces

Behold: the hopelessly tangled necklace – the thin and delicate chain somehow snarling itself into a tiny unyielding ball of fused metal; relegated to the back of the jewelry box to languish in the vain hope that someday, someone will have the patience to unleash it from its sad tight bonds.

I must have a specific strain of OCD that compels me to take on the tangled necklace.  I can’t let it be.  I can’t let it go.   I WILL unknot that knot.  I WILL unsnarl that snarl.

How to unsnarl a tangled necklace:

1. Find a clean, clear, white table or counter with lots of light as a workspace. Place the necklace on the work surface.

2. Using the ball of your fingertip, roll the snarl around gently to take stock of your challenge and to begin to loosen the bonds

3. Using your fingernail, tap gently on the snarl until the chain begins to loosen.

4. Using your two pointer fingers/finger nails, continue to tap and spread the chain as it begins to loosen.  Do not attempt to unsnarl the chain yet.

5. Continuing to spread the loops of chain out on the work surface and begin to notice how the chain is twisted around itself.  If there is a clear twist, carefully untwist that one loop careful not to disturb the other loops. CAUTION: Though you may feel relief and excitement as a result of this small progress, do not pick up the necklace and do not attempt complex untwisting.

6. Continue to gently tap the knots and spread the loops until you expand the mess to the ends of the necklace.  At this point it may become clear that the ends of the necklace can now be drawn over/under/through the loops.  Take care to address one loop at a time and keep the necklace on the work surface so as to avoid screwing it up. (Note: “screwing it up” is a technical term in untangling)

Untangling a necklace takes time and patience.  More importantly, it takes will.  Many of us live with sad tight snarls in our work and in our lives and relegate these important parts of ourselves to the back of the jewelry box. Over time, we no longer have the resources to get new necklaces or to unsnarl the ones we have.

(Are you responsible for motivating and engaging others?  Do you need a new way to move individuals and teams tangibly forward? Find out more.)

What is Motivation Factor®?

Those who’ve worked with me over the past few years know that I’m head over heels for the Motivation Factor® Methodology.  Though I’ve always had a “knack” for moving individuals and teams forward – whether it’s toward improved communication, greater engagement in their work, or toward a truly shared objective – I found Motivation Factor was able not only to help ME do that work better, but it also gave me a way to transfer that ability to the teams and individuals themselves.   Here’s what it’s all about:

The Motivation Factor® Model, Framework, Process, Theory and Certification

The Model

The Hierarchy of Motivation is the basis for Motivation Factor® programs.  The hierarchy illustrates that we must become aware of our energy drainers (Energy) and emotional triggers (Needs) before we are able to tap our Talents and commit to a guiding Purpose for lasting motivation, growth and openness to change.  For coaches, consultants, HR and OD professionals, just this concept alone is useful to apply to our practice as it allows us to align our strategies with the physiological reality of calming the threat response (resistance to change) that blocks us before attempting to move forward.

The Framework

The Motivation Factor® framework follows the hierarchy in that there are six half-day workshops you can draw from including: Objective (to what end are you using the process?), Energy, Needs, Talents, Purpose/Passion, and Commitment.  The workshops can be delivered in a group setting or one-on-one and can be used individually or as a full series.

The Process

A full Motivation Factor® program consists of those six workshops over time – say, 3 – 6 months and is combined with one on one coaching to complement the learnings by putting them into practice.  (Check out the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care case study for the results of a recent full process).  As facilitators of change we know too well that people often don’t devote the necessary time to change efforts.  This process helps deliver what they need in a way that’s manageable for their schedule.  As well, the workshops and exercises are practical and immediately effective – using participants’ real life circumstances and their existing resources to begin to effect real, personal change and growth.

The Theory

Underlying the Motivation Factor® methodology is the all the good stuff we know about learning, growth and change.  It draws from such work as Emotional Intelligence, the neuropsychology of threat response, leading with strengths, the power of purpose, positive psychology and flow theory.  The process itself follows the ideal learning cycle – experience, reflection, application, evaluation – as does each workshop and exercise.

Instead of training others in the theories themselves or simply providing “insight”, the Motivation Factor® method provides simple techniques that anyone can use to apply those theories to their personal reality – moment by moment, as needed. The process gives participants the gift of clarity, calm, enthusiasm and passion for their work and life objectives.

Founder, Helle Bundgaard, explains the origins and value of this new approach in this radio interview.

The Certification

Participants in the certification are able to learn the methodology while experiencing it for themselves.  They receive the instructor materials and a first year license upon completion of a three-day training program.  Details are here for those interested.

Certified practitioners are using the method for a wide variety of applications from sales training and team development to one on one life coaching and from student motivation to assimilating former prisoners into mainstream life.  The possibilities are literally endless.

Why do I love it so?

My favorite work is facilitating Motivation Factor® certifications.  Participants are dazzled by the elegance of the framework, the applicability to their work and – maybe most important – by the value they each get from exploring their own motivation factors, their own passions for their work, and the articulation of their work’s unique purpose. I guess I love it because everyone who comes in contact with it ends up loving it too.

Are you responsible for motivating and engaging others?  Do you need a new way to move individuals and teams tangibly forward? Find out more.

Can a team change its stripes?

Can a person, a team, or an organization TRULY change its stripes?  These folks think so.  How about you?

On getting along: ” We saw immediate progress with interpersonal relationships and working as a team.”; “We broke through long standing assumptions and conflicts that were detracting from the goal.”

Teams are people too, right?  I mean, we all come to work with our “stuff”: our peeves, our problems, our personalities.  We come to work patient or we come at the end of our tether.  And then, no matter how we come to work, we have to deal with everyone else’s peeves, problems and personalities.  The better we are at managing the impact of our own stuff, the better we are at managing the stuff others dish out.  And, by the way, there’s a pretty aggressive business goal to be met and being fussy with each other isn’t going to help reach it any faster.

On being strategic: “We moved our discussions away from being so reactive and task-oriented to being more strategic”

Finding problems is easy.  Finding solutions can be hard.  Finding solutions is a lot harder when everyone is busy finding problems.  Shift the focus to the goal and strategy and then let the good strong brains of the team do their good strong work.

On management: “Management time is less spent on unproductive exchanges, organizational conflicts and silos and is more focused on work.”

Managers most often become managers because they are good at solving the technical problems of their field.  Hopefully they are also chosen because of their relatively good rapport with people.  Unfortunately, to be a great manager one MUST NOT SOLVE a lot of those problems. “What!?”, you ask with incredulity.  Yes, a great manager guides others to solve those problems for themselves thereby freeing up management time for creating goals and maintaining an environment that supports and stretches those people to solve even more.

On learning how: “I have to say this entire process is the first thing I’ve seen in 20 years that’s new and different and positive, and that gets at the root cause of the things that suck the life out of an organization.”

When you can get at the root cause of things that suck the life out of an organization, there’s more room for better things to grow.

On finding out more:

Visit the website to learn how to bring these programs into your organization or practice and, if you are a change agent responsible for moving individuals, teams or organizations forward, register here.

PS: Click here for a fast and easy way for managers to STOP SOLVING PROBLEMS they shouldn’t be solving

What’s Working?

The “What’s working?” question is a corollary to the constructive venting I talked about in an earlier post.

The organizational development approach of Appreciative Inquiry posits that identifying and leveraging the good stuff is as or even more effective than finding and fixing the bad stuff.

I’m not quite as idealistic as the hard core AI’ers so I like to start with a spirited and invigorating bitch session (for lack of a more delightfully appropriate phrase) followed by the “baby out with bathwater” question.

Spent from the exertion of spewing venom about one’s circumstances (ie: management-doesn’t-support-the-goals-we-don’t-have-the-resources-to-do-our-job-leadership-is-inconsistent-I’m-not-paid-enough-for-this-s$#t-why-does-XYZ-department-get-flex-schedules-and-we-don’t?-…) folks are ready for it.

Wow.  There’s A Lot Wrong

A team in the throes of improvement needs to hear some acknowledgement: “Wow.  There’s a lot wrong.  Sounds like we’ve got our work cut out for us.”  The thing is, if your team thinks there’s a lot wrong, then there is.  Until your team feels like things are going reasonably swimmingly, you will continue to peer through from the sorry-end of the knothole.  So you might as well acknowledge it so that they can move to the next stage.

Baby Out with the Bathwater

Once we’ve vented and once we’ve acknowledged the monumental problems that need to be addressed, we wonder: “Is there anything working well that we should take care to preserve?”  Afterall, we wouldn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater…

If you give the venting enough genuine space and time to breathe, then when you ask this next question, you are likely to hear about some pretty important (and leveragable) aspects of your organization that can help you get to goal.

Forget Positive Thinking

We’ve been beaten repeatedly about the head and shoulders in recent years to remember to “think positively”.  Woe to the team member who voices concern.  The trusty contrarian is now disdained and the nay sayers are summarily silenced.

Ironically, by squashing these Negative Nellies we are slowing down positive progress toward our most critical goals.

Research shows that our human brains are wired against change.  Introducing a new direction (information, competition, pace, etc.) causes a physiological stress reaction against the change.

The Value of Venting

Interestingly, one of the fastest ways to reduce the emergency brake effect of this stress reaction is to allow a bit of venting.  “What don’t we like about this news?” “What problems will it cause?”  “What can go wrong?” “Why is it stupid?” What may not have been taken into consideration?”

Our stress response is linked to survival.  Adrenaline is triggered which sets off flight/flight/freeze behavior.  At work this takes the form of the contrarian who fights back, the star team member who dusts off her resume to prepare for flight, the long timer who’ll bide his time, frozen in place.

Brain scan technology shows that just naming the threat – thinking it, saying it or, even more effective, writing it down – counteracts the threat response.  By giving credence to the stress factor and addressing it, we return out of threat mode and can enter a more rational state.

Once all the big bad stuff has been vented, we are in a physiologically more receptive place to ask: “How will we handle this?”

Dependency on External Motivation / Seth Godin

The following post is taken from Seth Godin’s fabulous blog.  See the original post here.  (And subscribe to his feed if you know what’s good for you)


“One of the characteristics of the industrial age was the reliance on external motivation.

Go to work on time or the boss will be angry.

Work extra hard and the boss will give you a promotion.

If you get paid to work piecework, then your paycheck goes up when you work harder.

This mindset is captured by the Vince Lombardi/pro sports/college sports model of the coach as king. Of course we’ll have our non-profit universitiess pay a football coach a million or more a year, of course we need these icons at the helm–how else will we get our players to perform at their best?

I was struck by a photo I saw of male fencers at Cornell who practice with the women’s fencing team. Clearly, they’re not allowed to compete in matches (though the university counts them for Title XIV). I got to thinking about what motivates these fencers. Are they doing it because they’re afraid of the coach or getting cut? Would they fence better if they were?

The nature of our new economic system, that one that doesn’t support predictable factory work, is that external motivation is far less useful. If you’re looking for a big payday, you won’t find it right away. If you’re depending on cheers and thank yous from your Twitter followers, you’re looking at a very bumpy ride.

In fact, the world is more and more aligned in favor of those who find motivation inside, who would do what they do even if it wasn’t their job. As jobs turn into projects, the leaders we need are those that relish the project, that jump at the chance to push themselves harder than any coach ever could.”


It is extraordinarily critical for those of us who are leaders, change agents and educators to understand the implications of this.  Where do we currently build skill in internal motivation?  We understand the why of it.  We need to develop the how.

Energy is What We Teach

Motivation Factor® exercises are built to elicit natural – even visceral – responses in the participants so that the learning is extremely relevant to each individual personally and so that insights are generated from within the individual instead of being proposed to them.

During a recent Energy Drainer demonstration there was a brief moment where our volunteer had an aha – something that gave her energy, something that sparked for her. THAT is the thing we look for in that exercise because from a physiological standpoint, something has clicked on a visceral level, something that the client can begin to learn to trust on their own by using the tool as it is designed: to calm the amygdala/threat response and open the mind up to positive solutions.

Bite Your Tongue

One of the biggest challenges I face when working with the Motivation Factor® methodology is remembering to bite my tongue. Guiding the client through the exercises and letting them come to solution themselves is incredible to watch. And more often than not, the true kernel of their “stuckness” is not, in fact, what it seems to be on the surface. That’s the value of asking what the client “wants instead” and letting them come to solution themselves.

We coaches and consultants have fabulous ideas and solutions of course.  But our clients are facing different challenges than we are, they are making different connections and they have different motivations for choosing to do what they do.  Good coaches know that the best insight is one’s own.

Four Central Concepts

The Energy Drainer exercise is effective because it has been built around these four central concepts:

1. Threat response prevents learning and growth by restricting our cognitive resources
2. Critical to growth is addressing threat response first (releasing the emergency brake before stepping on the gas)
3. The energy drainer – the “what’s in the client’s way” is not the focus. “What they want instead” is the focus. The difference in how the client orients him/herself to that new “problem” is transformational.
4. Energy is the thing you are teaching. The awareness that the client has it, that they can manage it and that they can become more resilient over time as they practice it.

Good consultants and coaches know that we’ve done well when our clients don’t need us for the same things anymore.