Gift Giving At Work

gift

‘Tis the reason for the season. Yes, I know it’s barely November and not even close to the actual season itself yet (unless you mean duck hunting) but the retail stores are already smashing us in the face and ears with things Christmassy. I was buying some birthday wrapping paper for my nephew’s science-based-parental-assistance-required birthday gift and thought, well, I’d better grab three five-metre rolls of Christmas rapping paper just in case. I was not alone.

Work presents several opportunities for giving gifts – sometimes amongst the team and sometimes from the organisation to the individuals or groups, within and / or outside the organisation. There’s the classic ‘Secret Santa’ and all its permutations. Names are drawn randomly and you get one gift for one specified person anonymously. I’m more focused in this article on leaders giving gifts to their team members. I’m not focussing on reward and recognition with a performance-reinforcing intention. I’m just looking at plain old gift-giving.

My advice, for what it’s worth, is to be purposeful, as in all things leadership. What’s is the point? What are you trying to achieve?The questions falling out of that will determine not only the nature of what you give but the way in which it’s given. This video clip summarises some content from a great book on influence by Robert Cialdini. The section on giving and how to give is very illuminating.

Objectives might include bolstering employee satisfaction, morale, loyalty, engagement, etc. Or maybe some leaders just want to have people think better of them driven by ego. Let’s be honest with ourselves.

My key points and questions around giving gifts at work (whether it’s Christmas or not) are:

  1. (Again), what are you trying to achieve?
  2. Target the gift to the person. Sure, everyone might appreciate a million bucks but a gift that connects to someone, or resonates emotionally, is more likely to engender genuine appreciation. If you get it right, it shows you listen, observe, remember and maybe even care. That’s hard to fake. On this topic too, try not to succumb to the temptation of just delegating it to your assistant. It’s OK to delegate the buying and wrapping legwork but the thinking needs to be yours.
  3. Add a meaningful and ‘keepable’ card that again is customised and encouraging, not just a generic ‘happy birthday’ message on a card. I walk through a lot of workplaces and it’s not uncommon to see a card or certificate stuck on a wall or workstation as an ongoing reminder (or evidence) of a respected and effective leader.
  4. I’m not suggesting you do the under-10 thing at home and physically make the gifts (unless you’re a master craftsman) but do you have to buy a thing?
  5. Some research indicates gifts that are remembered most fondly, and for longer, are experiences rather than things.
  6. Consider whether it’s best to gift publicly or privately. Might be a cultural thing too.
  7. If gifting publicly, consider whether it’s appropriate to tell a micro-story with each gifting as to why this gift is for this person. I’ve done this and seen this and it’s a great event experience if you get it right. Creates or connects to memories.
  8. Nothing says, “I couldn’t be bothered” than a gift card regardless of the amount, unless it comes with a story.
  9. Keep it appropriate. ‘Joke’ gifts or ‘hey-it’s-only-a-joke-mocking-gifts’, even if funny can be hurtful and counter productive. I once saw someone with some tooth issues given toothpaste as a ‘joke’ add-on to what was a decent gift. Just don’t.
  10. An option is to give a gift that has components that can be re-gifted or on-gifted. A basket o’ goodies once unwrapped can have those chocolate covered almonds passed forward to someone without a nut allergy. I have a nut allergy and every time someone gives me a gift that includes nuts, I thank them but the message is diminished as they clearly don’t know me or it was a generic off-the-shelf gift. Or they want to kill me. I once had a teammate gifted by our new boss a bottle of champagne oblivious to what everyone else at work knew – that the recipient was an alcoholic. That’s what I call ‘tickbox’ gifting. The giver rated champagne as a gift and a symbol but the message sent was that they did not care enough to know you at all.
  11. Make a list and update it throughout the year. Link significant events and achievements of each person to possible gift ideas. Think representative and meaning.
  12. Maintain relative gift budget equity.

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Good Joke vs Great Joke

a good joke is

As a professional speaker, I hang out online in speaker groups. Folks will post provocative questions and see if sensible comments or a fiery pitchforked mob appears. Usually both.

Someone asked if speakers should use jokes or humour. It’s always a fun exchange for a short while to get into whenever people demonstrate widely and wildly divergent views, usually on the very definition of the words being compared. Words are super powerful and when used as labels and catch-alls for a whole bucketful of history and emotions (like feminism or liberal or socialism), any exchanges are often doomed from the start. I’m currently designing a tee-shirt that says, “I’m the guy that changed someone else’s opinion via social media”.

As a speaker who is also a comedian, i did post a comment in reply that I re-post here today. I”m not overly prone to generating genuine original wisdom or fluffy overdone and glib inspirational quotes, but I was kind of proud of this one.

Feel free to share. The nub of it is expressed in the image with this post. here’s the full post:

A good joke is one where you don’t see the punchline coming. A great joke is one where you don’t even realise it’s a joke until it’s too late. For speakers, humour / anecdotes / funny stories aren’t just there to entertain or add variety (tho they do & should), they’re there primarily to make a point. A great joke, well-told, does that on steroids.

That said – old jokes, hack jokes, dodgy jokes, off-topic jokes that get regurgitated more than delivered can do more harm than good. And, like starfish stories, can be predictable & taint subsequent content.

I reckon I could probably drive a formula 1 race car but they shouldn’t let me. For some people, it’s the same for jokes.

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The (R)aging Workforce

age trees leaves

The workforce is ageing. Thanks again baby boomers. Or, more fairly, thanks again baby boomers’ parents. And it’s becoming more female. That’s not the baby boomers’ fault, that’s just luck, (Good luck, I hasten to stress). This demographic bulge in the pipeline isn’t happening in isolation either. Many other influences are swishing around the graph as well. People are retiring later, living longer, and technology is influencing the very nature of work and traditional employment relationships. So, it’s entirely possible that today entry level employees south of twenty could be sitting next to someone in the lunchroom at work who bought Beatles LPs on vinyl, not because that’s hip, but because vinyl was the only medium upon which recorded music was commercially available at the time. Are there any risks an employer should be managing in this scenario and are there any bonus positives they could be encouraging?

I read of Scandinavian societies where planners build childcare facilities near, or even within, retirement communities. The theory being a mutually beneficial relationship born of proximity. The young ones can hang out around people of their grandparents’ age on a regular basis, perhaps gleaning some wisdom. The retirees can be exposed to some energy and enthusiasm of the youth. Plenty of research exists to back up the logic for both. Missing from the equation are that middle generation who are presumably off working and earning income to pay directly for, or subsidise via taxes, the upkeep of the other two generations. They also probably never stopped buying music on vinyl.

Mentoring is an obvious potential benefit but be wary of the traps of stereotypes. Just because someone is old doesn’t make them wise. (I learned that the hard way – thanks me). Just because someone is young does not make them wet clay for someone to mould. On average though, this whole demographic bulge does increase the odds that at your place of work, there will be a few more people to the older end with some capacity to pass on some views or to act as a sounding board. I’d still advise having some assessment processes in place to assure you’re pairing the right people together. Also, why not have a look outside your place of work for these mentor folk? Many people still do retire at an age that might be considered traditional. They’re not all on golf courses, writing erotic fiction or being pushed out to sea on Viking cremation rafts. Many just opted out of the traditional workforce and want to spend their time and talents on their terms. They might not know a Kardassian from an angry bird but they can be an ad hoc just-in-time resource for such mentoring assignments.

It’s not all one-way of course, and once again I warn of stereotyping, but those kids sure can help us sort out the wifi, am I right? And how would we know we were being offensive if someone under thirty didn’t post about us the next day?

When I first started writing this article, I started with the title and no idea where I was going with it. The assigned topic was “aging workforce” and the pun “raging workforce” leapt to mind. In retrospect, I guess I just assumed they’d be angry about something. Then I started doing some research and decided to keep “raging” in the title. Not raging, as in angry, but raging as in partying. Now, obviously, this won’t apply to everyone of a certain age and when we talk demographics, we’re usually looking at trends and averages. Just relax, I’m sure there are lots of angry people approaching retirement age and you might be one of them or their boss. But, on the whole, if you’ve got a job and a high probability of keeping it, there’s probably never been a better time in history to be 65-ish.

One workforce report found only 19% of older workers experienced negative discriminatory behaviour towards them at least “every now and then”. That’s not too bad. I experience that level of negative discriminatory behaviour towards me daily in my house. There are a bunch of surveys asking such “mature-age” workers what factors from HR and management affect them. Those factors aren’t that far off those that affect every worker regardless of age. Topping the list though ahead of the average-aged worker were recognition and respect. The tone of this article probably isn’t helping.

What would help people at the far end of the career arc is the same thing that would’ve helped them at the start of that journey – feeling welcomed and valued, a clear idea of expectations, and a managed process to move ahead. Oh, and a discount coupon to a skin clinic and a time machine.

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Don’t Believe The Hype (How to demotivate employees if you really want to)

hype

This article with video from ‘Good To Great’ author Jim Collins identifies three primary employee demotivators. Actually, he doesn’t limit them to employees but rightly says they are inflicted on people in many forums. Parents especially are noted as perpetrators. Those three demotivators are:

  • hype
  • futurism and
  • false democracy.

There may be others but these three are good ways to put out the fires that might be burning inside people you have who are already inherently motivated. Crazy. You’d think that employers would want to not do that, yet I see an awful lot of hype, futurism and false democracy in a lot of workplaces. All of it is well-intentioned. In one of my previous management roles where I was a significant agent of change, I had a little personal catchphrase, “No fireworks, no bugles.” What I was trying to reinforce to myself and to others was my own anti-hype position. I really did not want to overpromise. I’d learned from being on the receiving end of too many projects or ideas that were going to magically transform everything into a wonderland of worker amenity and prosperity. Never quite panned out quite as wonderlandy as they painted it. Few things do. Honestly, I’m not anti-hype. It has its place. Used in short bursts at appropriate times, it can generate heat, energy, attention, focus and movement. My problem is that, often, the hype is all there is. Fireworks are fabulous but i wouldn’t want to work for one. In fact, isn’t that the meaning most of us apply when we see, hear or use the word? Too much hype. Nothing but hype. Over-hyped. Don’t believe the hype. What must follow hype to avoid demotivation is prompt and positive change of meaningful substance.

Workplace examples of death by overhyping I’ve seen have included introductions of performance management systems and departmental restructures. That said, I’ve also been involved in introductions of performance management systems and departmental restructures that were highly successful, well received and used hype, to some extent, very well. So, I’d disagree with Collins if he means that all hype is bad. I suspect he doesn’t mean that. I believe he means the hyperbole that isn’t followed up with action of substance. Far better to, as he says in the video, “…to confront the brutal facts.”

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What’s the best bang for buck for leaders wanting to fire up their team? The answer may surprise you so I’ll tell you now – it’s ‘Business As UnUsual’

cogs

Yesterday I was leading a time management workshop with a dairy technology company. We were talking about structured problem solving and the conversation scampered across onto the topic of employee engagement and motivation. Specifically, someone raised their annual employee engagement survey. If electricity could be generated by the power of a group of people rolling their eyes, then I would have discovered a truly sustainable source of energy. To paint their view of the survey as cynical would be an understatement.

It was not my place nor was it the time (in a time management workshop) to address this but I do try and have my default point of view in such situations be curiousity. ABC is my motto – always be curious. So, instead of piling onto survey-bashing, I asked questions. And my intent was to draw focus away from the negative perceptions of the survey so my questions weren’t ones like, “What was wrong with the survey,” or “What didn’t you like about the survey”? I asked them when they thought the best period of engagement was at the company and what was going on then to make it so great?

Turns out there was general agreement that there had been a six month period about six years ago of great optimism and energy. A new CEO had arrived who’d communicated well and had gotten many (though not all) staff involved in cross-functional, multi-level teams tasked with solving several key problems that had been identified by one of the first such teams. There was a sense of, not just optimism, but demonstrable progress. The initial rash of killer problems did indeed get solved. War stories still get told.

But after that, no more teams, no more deliberate and systemic cross-functionality, and if there was progress, it was incremental and almost imperceptible.

Inherent in this example might be the answer to the question posed in the title of this article. What’s the biggest bang for buck for leaders wanting their people to feel engaged? Slight efforts at improving BAU (Business As Usual) just won’t do it. War stories get told about wars where big efforts against the odds are required. I’m not suggesting team leaders start wars or create artificial conflicts or faux problems. Enough political leaders do that already. But BAU doesn’t engage most people most of the time. It doesn’t excite or scare people into discretionary effort. It doesn’t figuratively set their safe platform on fire forcing people to not stand still. What leaders need to influence groups into change or significant steps up is BAUU – Business As UnUsual.

Sometimes BAUU just happens – a new CEO or an external threat emerges such as proposed law changes or the emergence of an Amazon-sized competitive threat to your market. In the absence of those genuine threats, how can you safely generate a positive one of your own?

 

Check out some other ideas around influencing the people you lead with my online learning videos at BrainBasedBoss.com

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How Much Of A Values Overlap Is Needed Between Employers & Employees?

geese sunset

There’s a lot to be said for working for an organisation where your personal values overlap significantly with the organisation’s. In the employee recruitment process, along with interviews, CVs, referees and behavioural profiling, I’d really appreciate a single, simple graphic: a venn diagram showing how much of a ‘values overlap’ the applicant has with the potential employer. The temptation would be to print it out in full colour. Out of respect for the planet and its future, please do not do this.

How do we know what a person’s values are or those of an organisation? Quite a lot of people and organisations might publically declare them to us and the world. Individuals can pop memes and inspirational posts up on social media in a hope that we will view them and extrapolate them to be lovers of sunrises, geese in migration, or, on Mondays, flocks of geese migrating across sunrises. Companies have professionals facilitate out of their leadership team a printed list of values that gets framed and hung pride of place in reception and the lunch room. I’m sure all these people and organisations are well-intentioned but reality is often incongruous with those stated intentions. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, which still makes it infinitely superior to the intersection of Albany Highway and Oteha Valley Extention which seems to have been paved with 3 different sized ox carcasses, then a very thin and crumbly layer of off-brand asphalt.

Regardless, or irregardless, of what we say our values are, our behaviour betrays us. This is true of us and of organisations. There’s plenty of white collar fraudsters in prison who had accountability, excellence and integrity on the values statements of their business or professional association. Although, in fairness, the fact that they’re in prison does at least tick the ‘accountability’ box.

Venn diagrams and values posters aside, if you’re into observing reality, a good indicator of shared values are the growing range of corporate social responsibility projects going on. Some are well established and more about support and sponsorship. Funding a native parrot is great. Few employees or customers are going to tweet, “I hate Kakapos!!!” Nor should they, as three exclamation points are excessive and the plural of Kakapo is Kakapo not Kakapos. These types of corporate social responsibility efforts are passive for the vast majority of employees. The ones that may be a measure of some degree of values overlap and engagement are the ones that require overt activity from people on the ground. Some are well established and most worthy but do not require a lot of effort or cognitive contribution. Collecting coins in a bucket outside your work’s front door in exchange for colour-coded flowers or stickers for a good cause is admirable. Hoofing it into a steep muddy forest to plant carbon-offsetting treelings to save the world for our grandchildren is up the rankings a bit in my opinion.

If corporate social responsibility can be defined as a corporation’s initiatives to assess and take responsibility for the effects on environmental and social wellbeing, then we need to look at funding or support via inertia for the production and distribution of nukes, landmines and cigarettes. I’m not a fan of smoking but it is kind of shocking to see cigarettes third in a list that started with nukes and landmines. I guess if you added up the death, injury and misery, then cigarettes belong on the list. Someone recently sent me the findings of a study into the world’s deadliest animals. First was mosquitoes, then mankind itself, then snakes. Sixth was freshwater snails. That’s way more out of place than a list with smoking, nukes and landmines.

Collectively, we as consumers have more power than we realise. If we can leverage the power of the group to stop buying the products or services of a company that doesn’t agree with your views on marriage equality, then why can’t the talent in the employee marketplace exhibit that same influence by choosing to work with someone who does agree. A company cannot and should not ask an applicant their views on marriage equality or many other belief-based topics. Most applicants are not going to directly ask a recruiter or potential employer their official or personal views on such topics either. But, they might watch the news or so some internet searching and the organisation’s behaviour will betray its true values.

For an activity to learn more about your team’s values and internal ‘operating systems’, check out my one-page personal user-manual project at http://www.myusermanual.net

The term ‘silent majority’ is likely equally applicable to employers as it is to the voting public. Most people do not attend marches or sign online petitions. Most employers do not declare themselves to be pro or anti most things. But if you’re an employer who wants to attract the truly talented and those within that group with whom you share values, you’ve got to stand for something. Those potential employees are talented; they’re not psychic.

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How Many People Hold Themselves Back Professionally Because They’re All About Themselves?

E activity

If you’re an actual reader of LinkedIn posts, you may have noticed a recent trend. Clearly some social media guru made a pronouncement and folks are following suit. Have you noticed the deliberate extra line spacing and single sentence paragraphs? The hope must be that their first sentence is so intriguing and so compelling that readers simply must click the ‘see more’ and scroll and scroll. Here’s my opinion – the only time I’m into multiple scrolls is at Bakers Delight and it involves cinnamon icing. (Confession – I needed three attempts to spell ‘cinnamon’ correctly. I’m not better than you.)

I was intrigued by two recent posts in my LinkedIn timeline. Both were effectively on the same topic. One was an unsuccessful job applicant slamming the employer for not getting back to them with feedback on why they didn’t get the job. The other was a tech company director slamming a potential client they’d spent 10 hours preparing and pitching to, only to again never hear back after not getting the gig.

I’m not going to slam the two posters with a ‘Harden up and move on’ retort. I did actually comment on their post (in a non NZ Herald commentor kind of way, you know, positive and constructive) and they ‘liked’ my comments.

To both I said something like, look you’re right, that feedback would have been useful to you and they would have been great employers / people if they had given it you. And, sometimes, it’s a lazy and shortsighted move on their part if they don’t. The world’s an increasingly small place and ’employer brand’ is important to attract talent. If you got an interview and you came 2nd, then you clearly are talented and probably would’ve been great at the job but someone else was better or fit better or had something extra of value or it was political. In all those scenarios, you can’t do anything about it and while it may be interesting to you and you might get closure, it really isn’t performance-enhancing feedback. But it does give you closure and does leave you with a less bitter taste in your mouth and you’re more inclined to speak positively about that employer and not slam them on social media posts. That stuff adds up and sticks.

And, if it was an internal application then definitely they should have given specific feedback and had a conversation around the whys and the what nexts. If that was the case, and they didn’t do that, well that too is a kind of feedback – one that suggests maybe they’re not the best outfit you could be working for, so start researching where else might be.

The above situations are the top part of the pyramid. Sales pitches and job applications are a numbers game and most are instantly rejected. If you came 2nd, you deserve feedback and it’s in their interest to give it to you and become known as someone who does. If you came 214th, harden up and move on. Recruiting is a cost that is measured. Time is a big factor in that calculation. You either are or are not worth it. If you’re not sure, then the onus is on you to convince the employer / client that even if you’re not successful, you are worth the feedback on why you weren’t.

For the sales pitch people, they could have qualified the opportunity better to make sure they weren’t being used by tyre-kickers to squeeze an incumbent or just get free ideas. They could have stipulated early and formally in the process an expectation of feedback and a definitive mechanism for how it should occur. If you’re not confident enough to do that or they’re not willing to accept it, then you’re not worth it.

For the job applicants, they could play the sentiment card. Or, they could as a parting remark, make a specific request to the interviewer. making eye contact and acknowledging they know their time is valuable etc and they might (might) convince one person at a personal level to commit to calling them afterwards and sticking to that commitment. The key part is acknowledging their time is valuable. The upside benefit of the feedback is entirely to the applicant. The downside cost is entirely to the interviewer. There has to be something in it for them. What’s their WIIFM. (brainbasedboss.com) The applicant can’t offer much if anything tangible. The very least is acknowledging their time is valuable and you’d appreciate it and the difference it would make to you. My experience as an interviewer, employer and reader of Linkedin post comments indicates the vast majority of applicants don’t do this small, simple thing. They just expect it, don’t ask for it, and act surprised when it doesn’t arrive. I get it but it’s a self-centricity that will probably hold them back in their careers generally.

I want to finish by getting back to the headline of this article – people holding themselves back because they’re all about themselves. I do a little interactivity with my audiences at my presentations. It’s short, fun, safe and makes a great point on this topic. It’s from a piece of research by Northwestern University / Columbia Business School led by Adam Galinsky. People stand and are paired. They click their fingers on their dominant hand 5 times. I ask them to imagine their index finger is a marker and to write on their own forehead the capital letter E 3 times. Whilst they do this, they observe their partner doing it on their forehead. Everyone sits and we debrief the activity. As you can see in the header picture of this article, there are two ways of doing it. Crudely oversimplified, and by itself it means nothing, but the general idea is that there are two types of people in this world and neither is right or wrong. It’s just useful to know which your natural default is – self-oriented or other-oriented. Many of those LinkedIn commentors certainly made theirs obvious.

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Terry Williams Book ‘Getting Better Buy-In’: 5-day free kindle promotion

Hi. Hopefully, I’ve filtered this blogpost so it only goes to those who follow me and it doesn’t get shared onto my social media platforms. There may not be any free lunches but for 5 days from today, if you’re up for a short leadership read, my new book ‘Getting Better Buy-In: A leader’s motivation handbook’ is free on kindle for 5 days. You don’t even need a kindle as it’s readable on any browser.

Happy reading and if you like it, please feel free to leave a review on Amazon.

GBBIFB

How Open-Minded Are You?

Minds are like parachutes

This blogpost might be challenging for some. It was for me. I like to think of myself as open-minded. (Actually, I just like to think of myself generally. But that’s something else I need to work on). But am I really that open-minded? How would I know? Is there a scale of 1 to 10 upon which I’m a 7?

Psychologist Carol Dweck led the way with research on fixed versus growth mindsets. Crudely and sweepingly summarised, there are two types of default thinking positions and if you don’t effortfully choose one, you likely have a default. The post explains more. I especially like point 2 – when you meet an idea, do you start in response with statements or questions? That was something of a relief to me as three of my five sentences in paragraph one were questions.

There’s a quote that the ability to change your mind is a superpower and another that the true test of intelligence is the ability to have two opposed ideas in your mind and retain the ability to function. If I’m having a good day after a good sleep and have eaten wisely without deadlines yelling at me, then I’m in a resourceful state and I’m certain I could manage that. Other days not so much. It’s the other days that can cause us and our people some problems. It’s for those other days that wee need to prep and practice so when it gets tough, our open-mindedness keeps goings.

Do read the article but if you’re having a low resourcefulness day, here’s 7 quick questions to assess yourself against:

  1. How do you respond when your ideas are challenged? (My new thing is ABC – always be curious – WHY are they challenging them?)
  2. Are your first responses statements or questions?
  3. Do you seek first to be understood or to understand?
  4. Do you use the phrase, “I might be wrong but…”
  5. How often do you interrupt?
  6. Can you simultaneously hold opposed ideas?
  7. How much effort do you put into testing your own views? Do you deliberately seek evidence to the contrary?

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Employee Engagement : No Silver Bullet

silverbullet

This article in the UK’s HR Magazine makes the great, obvious and yet sadly-ignored-for-convenience’s sake point that having engaged employees won’t magically solve all your people problems. They are people after all. It’s human nature, I suppose, to look for that one thing. Eat the superfood blueberries and you’ll live forever. You won’t, but if you live on blueberries, it might seem like forever.

I was a teenager when the teenage mutant ninja turtles were teenagers. They are my age. They’re not teenagers anymore. They’re no longer fighting crime and living in a sewer. They’re mortgaged in the suburbs, fighting their own teenage kids and teaching Splinter their sensei rat a lesson of his own about how to adapt to living in a retirement community not of his choosing.

“We first started getting into trouble in this country when we started seeing engagement as a box ticking exercise,” he said. “Managers had all these targets to meet that on paper looked impressive, but in reality did nothing to change the workplace. We have made a mistake in HR of seeing engagement as a silver bullet that fixes everything else.”

And, whilst employee engagement might not be a magic bullet, as long as you specifically define it as the observation of discretionary effort, it does have a proven return on investment with greater productivity, revenue and profitability. And whilst blueberries aren’t magical, if you eat them instead of gulping sodas, maybe you’ll delay diabetes and that retirement community a while longer.

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