How to Engage People

By Jon Miller Updated on April 23rd, 2017

A recent Gallup poll showed that a whopping 70% of American workers were either not engaged or actively disengaged from their work. That’s about 70 million people who don’t care about or hate their job. More than the entire population of France feeling ennui about work. The economic losses from inattention to customers, safety, quality and productivity were estimated at around $500 billion annually.
How to engage these people? The 2013 State of the American Workplace Report is interesting reading that attempts to answer this. A good starting point is the Gallup Q12 questions on which the survey is based:

1) Do you know what is expected of you at work?
2) Do you have the material s and equipment to do your work right?
3) At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
4) In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?
5) Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?
6) Is there someone at work who encourages your development?
7) At work, do your opinions seem to count?
8) Does the mission/purpose of your company make you feel your job is important?
9) Are your associates (fellow employees) committed to doing quality work?
10) Do you have a best friend at work?
11) In the last six months, has someone at work talked to you about your progress?
12) In the last year, have you had opportunities to learn and grow?

In other words, “Is your job designed to help you do and be your best every single day?” If you could answer yes! to that, or even yes to 80% of the time, why would you not be engaged in your job?

Although he didn’t couch it in terms of employee engagement, Dr. Deming prescribed a number of practices to end or start, namely his principles 6 through 14, for management to help people do and be their best. Number 8 was, “Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company.”

So it’s a bit troubling when Gallup organization Chairman and CEO writes:

When leaders in the United States of America — or any country for that matter — wake up one morning and say collectively, “Let’s get rid of managers from hell, double the number of great managers and engaged employees, and have those managers lead based on what actually matters,” everything will change.

Let’s get rid of the bad people and replace them with great ones. Spoken like a CEO from hell. Why not replace bad targets, incentives, hiring processes, habits and learning environments with better ones? How long will it take for the newly hired or promoted “great managers” to become bad managers when placed back into the routines and beliefs of the old organizational culture? The interventions described by Gallup consulting all sound very reasonable and no doubt create immense shareholder value, but the CEO’s message is worryingly tone-deaf.

How to engage people? For starters, don’t create fear in the workplace, or create an environment that allows others to do so. Then, put everyone to work designing their job to do and be their best every day.

  1. Jonathan Halperin

    November 7, 2013 - 4:13 pm

    This is actually one of my key criticisms of Lean (and I don’t have many) – the under emphasizing of individual performance, behaviors, action– particularly true for leaders with formal authority. A great enterprise management system in the hands of a leader who simply cannot embody the core principles (respect for people, customer focus, humility, problems are golden, etc.) is still likely to do great damage even in a Lean organization. Individual actions do matter. While Lean is largely build on the use of real data and rational thinking, unfortunately humans are not. We are often driven by our emotions, greed, neurosis, etc., so our behaviors do not always conform with what’s best for customers, our staff, etc. If nothing else, a strong enterprise system/culture needs to make sure the wrong people do not rise to leadership positions so that they can inflict damage. Anyway, 2 cents from a 20 yr HR veteran who strongly believes Lean holds enormous promise…

  2. Jon Miller

    November 9, 2013 - 3:03 pm

    Spot on, Jonathan!
    The only thing I would change is “Lean as practiced by many”. There are an increasing number of companies that take what you write about into account, adding in what may be missing from the standard Lean literature or methods.

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