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Empty Nesting

empty nest

Both my kids left home this past week. They’ve done it before. They may do it again. It’s not quite like a generation or two ago when leaving home was a definitive cut-off and a one-way trip. These days there’s the term ‘boomerang kids’ for those who keep coming back (no matter how far you throw them). And, apparently, in Italy they never leave.

They first left home a year ago to go to university in a different city but they were staying in halls of residence and they were together – regularly checking in with us, and back each term break. Given how much time they used to spend out or in their rooms, it really didn’t seem that different. This time round it seems more real. They’re flatting separately and we’re now also missing things from our house as well as them. Still, how many frying pans does one really need?

Also- that’s two drivers off Auckland’s roads lessening our household’s contribution to the congestion by 50%. I challenge all other Auckland households to do the same. Hey, Auckland Transport, I’ll expect some congestion charge discount in your planning thanks.

In my new presentation about change and how to build resilience in anticipation of inevitable if unpredictable change, I briefly reference the Sigmoid Curve. It’s an oldie but a goodie as a mental model for understanding natural processes and lifecycles. Originally noticed in the world of nature, it’s subsequently been applied to lifecycles of products, organisations, societies and relationships. Picture a seed and its growth as a graph. Initially growth is negative as it gears up and stores resources for the big sprouting then it shoots and grows up to a peak then declines then [spoiler alert] some terminal point.

sigmoid-pic

The trick, experts say, is to pick a point before the decline and either start another curve or reinvent the current one so that it is, in effect, a new one. Timing is important as you need the resources to begin again and no one is giving resources to a declining curve.

I want to make the analogy to work teams, using both the kids leaving home and the Sigmoid Curve.

As fast as two decades of parenting has zipped by, the change in our home ‘team’ was inevitable, even if the specific circumstances and timing were unpredictable. This is true in work teams and at a much faster rate. I led one group for over a decade and one of the things of which I’m most proud was that at the time of the initial recruitment and building of my team, I was also developing plans and processes for the inevitable reinvention of that team. It did take longer and I didn’t HAVE to do it, but within only a few months my righthand person had to quit and go overseas due to a family health crisis. I was ready and whilst surprised and supportive, I wasn’t shocked – family health crises happen. Not only was I able to instantly implement plans to temporarily and permanently replace that person, I was able to have that person involved in the process, thus helping me out and giving them a lessened sense of guilt and a heightened sense of closure.

One of the most dangerous phrases in business and life is, “If it aint broke, don’t fix it”. That’s super naive and dangerously unrealistic. I”m not saying deliberately break things (although I”m not saying not to do that) but we all have a spare tyre in our cars because a flat tyre is inevitable. We try to save a bit of money and have a few spare frying pans and advice for when our kids leave home. So, regardless or perhaps because of, how optimal you think the team you’re leading right now is doing, start prepping for the inevitability of change and someone – a key person – leaving the nest.

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To what extent are you seeing what you want to see and disregarding the rest?

muscles skinny mirror

Meta-cognition is a fancy term for thinking about how we think. We don’t often do it because we’re all so caught up in actually thinking or, more probably, doing stuff with as little thought as possible. (I might be judging myself on that point). The mindset and beliefs we have got us to this point and if this point is OK or better, there are risks in changing and challenging. But things won’t get better if you don’t.

In short, one answer is to deliberately surround yourself and seek out and expose yourself to information sources that you know will challenge you. I’m not suggesting you live in a perpetual state of stressful heightened awareness and self doubt but at the very least you gotta have someone who’ll call you out. Diversity is the broadest sense is even better. Source from beyond your bubble.

You won’t have time to think about everything, after-all that’s why you revert to confirmation bias to begin with, but perhaps approach conversations with an open mind. Don’t be so quick to judge.

Surround yourself with different types of people. Don’t label yourself. Be well-rounded and willing to hear different types of opinions on politics, religion, and life in general. This is a sign of intelligence not passivity.

It takes incredible mental strength to challenge your own deep-seated beliefs. Stand by your convictions, of course, but just realize some of that just may be rooted in confirmation bias. Be open. After-all. life is full of the gray stuff. We wish it were simple. This is right. That is wrong. It doesn’t always work that way. That’s why it’s good to be aware. Self-aware.

This article explains confirmation bias and some more thinking around addressing it.

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Getting Better Buy-In: How to move your people to move with you

231H

In the workshops I lead, and with the people I’ve had reporting to me who also had people reporting to them, one of the most common questions I’ve heard is, “How do I motivate someone”? I don’t think that’s the best or first question to ask.

I’ve been a trainer and facilitator for over twenty five years. In the middle of that, I was also a senior manager in a complex and changing organisation for a dozen years. Both roles involved helping people move towards behaviour change. The thing about behaviour change is that you can’t do it for them, nor can you always be around when the going gets tough, when most people easily revert. For those people doing the actual moving towards behaviour change, they need to:

 

  • want to do it,
  • think they need to do it,
  • believe they can do it, and
  • think they should do it now.

 

The combination of all those conditions is what we label ‘motivated’. They need to be self-motivated. Armies might have generals, stage plays might have directors, and sports teams might have coaches screaming on the sidelines but the soldiers, athletes and actors doing the doing are the ones who need to be motivated. The generals, directors and coaches just need to make sure they recruit well, train for technical skills and create a culture and environment where people’s natural motivations can come through. It’s easy to say in a single sentence but it’s not easy to do, especially when many leaders don’t even realise that’s what they’re supposed to be doing. There’s way too much of that image of the sports coach screaming from the sidelines as the poster child for motivation. There are definite times and places for that approach but it’s far less necessary than many think.

It might sound controversial for someone authoring books on how to motivate, influence, persuade and engage people but I don’t think any one person can motivate any other one person meaningfully in the long run. What they certainly can do is create an environment and provide some tools where individuals and teams have:

 

  • clarity on what they’re trying to achieve,
  • clarity on what action steps are required, and
  • surety that the effort required is worth it, even if the results are not guaranteed.

 

That would apply in war, sports and drama, as well as any workplace you’d care to name.

One of my favourite leadership quotes is, “The true test of your leadership is what happens when you’re not around”. (I tried to find out who originated it to give them credit. Even with Google, I could not find it. Maybe it was me? It sounds like something I would say). Think about the implications of that quote.

I’ve worked for people in the past who were charismatic, passionate and energetic – the sorts of people many would believe to be what motivators look and sound like. Just being around them, you couldn’t help but be turned on to the work by their infectious enthusiasm. However, it quickly became evident that it was all quite fleeting and superficial. Fireworks are exciting but you wouldn’t want to work for them.

I’ve read widely the works of motivational authors and attended the presentations of many motivational speakers. It might be argued that perhaps they should call themselves speakers and the audiences can decide whether or not they’re motivational? Maybe they’re entertaining, and maybe they’ve got great content, but does that move anyone in the audience to lasting and meaningful behaviour change? The truly great ones who genuinely motivate don’t just speak or write, they provide structures, systems, tools and the design for environments that will allow and enable us to motivate ourselves. Because, ultimately, we’re on our own for the most part once we close that book or walk out of that auditorium.

I mainly work with leaders or potential leaders in the workplace or those that support them. That said, I see the principles I write and talk about being applied successfully outside work. You might be a sports coach or captain. You might be in the arts or sciences. You might be a sales person, business owner or project manager. You might be a mum or dad. Chances are, you have more than one of these life leadership roles where you need to move people towards behaviour change. Whether it’s to practice the clarinet late into the night before the national championships or whether it’s to get a marginal customer service rep to answer more calls, you’d like some tools to motivate people that don’t rely on you doing all the heavy lifting.

My drive to collect ideas, techniques and tools to help motivate and engage people stepped up a gear in earnest in 2013. I had just finished presenting to a group of dairy farmers. One came up to me afterwards with a question. They had a worker nicknamed ‘Sleepy’ (red flag right there) and, as a well-meaning employer, they felt Sleepy had heaps of unfulfilled potential but was just doing the job and no more, and was treading water. I didn’t have an answer on the spot and was frustrated with myself as a result. So, me being me, I threw myself way too obsessively into research which led to me having a couple of books published on the subject.

Motivation is a toolkit approach in my opinion. A foundation tool for me is one that influences focus and attention. It’s the Reticular Activating System (RAS). What is this RAS?

Have you ever encountered a situation where someone asks you a question like, “Hey Terry, have you noticed the new Toyota Prius? It’s that fluorescent lime-green colour”. And you hadn’t noticed it but, the moment it’s drawn to your attention, for the next two weeks you see nothing but lime-green cars everywhere you go. That’s the RAS in action. You knew what it was but you might not have known what it was called.

Picture the RAS as you’d picture a bouncer in a nightclub. The nightclub in this metaphor is your conscious mind and it has a limited capacity. The clubbers in the queue are the sensations from our five senses. Ideally, the bouncer would only let in VIPs and exclude the riff-raff. “You’re in. You’re in. You, not with those shoes”. But, as we’ve already demonstrated, riff-raff does get in, such as lime-green cars. And it gets in using the same technique that clubbers have used on nightclub bouncers for years – bribes. For a brain, that’s dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to reward and pleasure. The problem for many of us is that random stuff gets in there like lime-green cars, the ranting de jour on our Twitter feed and shiny things. What we’d like in there are high-value thoughts that can help us and move us forward. How can we switch our own RAS onto deliberate and positive foci and how can we do that for the people from whom we’re trying to get buy-in? For now, let’s focus on how you need to represent your goal tangibly in the physical world so it can serve to activate your RAS.

This physical form needs to have three characteristics. The reason the lime-green car activates your RAS and sticks in your mind for ages afterwards is that it’s:

 

  • novel,
  • distinctive, and
  • physically exists in multiple locations.

 

Advertisers know this, which is why you often see an ad on a bus shelter at the same time you hear it on your car radio – behaviour change is moved by multiple aggregated hits. To leverage this mind-system to your own ends of self or team development and reaching whatever goals you have, you need a novel, distinctive and physical reminder in multiple prime eyelines. For your team, where are these eyelines? What are people looking at all day and as they arrive and leave? Is it their computer screen, clock on the wall, the fridge door in the kitchenette, the entry door to the office? Mass-produced motivational posters of geese flying in formation or rowers at dawn are all well and good but do they really motivate at all, or are they just good for covering the smudge marks on the wall? If you’d spent the twenty dollars you spent on that poster on a pizza, would that have been more motivational? The trouble with posters and pizzas is that they’re both short-term motivators, if they’re motivators at all. What would be more specifically motivational for your people on an ongoing basis?

Whatever personalized and customized focus visuals you create, their images and messages will wear off, so they need to be regularly updated. Short-burst campaigns are more effective than dusty old posters. Those things just become part of the wallpaper and certainly quickly fail the novelty and distinctiveness tests. A powerful one I saw in one sales workplace was a wall-sized graphic of an airliner that was coloured in as the team progressed towards their sales incentive of a trip for everyone to Fiji.

A second tool, useful for teams, that I see gaining momentum is the ‘personal one-page user-manual’. Rather than hope those around us figure out how to get the best from us, why not write our own one-page user manual and show it around? This helps people connect better and work together more effectively, removing a common demotivator. They’re written informally and bullet pointed on one page – no ‘Game of Thrones’ epics. It’s a great way for people in workplaces, sports, schools, and even families to better synch their personal ‘operating systems’ and lessen unproductive and demotivating conflict & stress. I’ve popped a template up at www.myusermanual.net.

Sleepy didn’t last long on that dairy farm. He’s now a very successful commission-based real estate agent. Perseverance is often cited as a major contributor to success but sometimes we all need to know when to quit.


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Performance Management Moneyball

data screen

I’ve been following NBA basketball pretty intently for thirty five years. These days I watch games in high-definition on any one of a number of devices via an online streaming or on-demand subscription service the NBA provides me. You know who else is watching that same footage and has access to the same stats and more in real time? The players!

We probably couldn’t see it in 1982 because of collusion with broadcasters or just the terrible quality of analog broadcasts in the 80s but players were probably smoking and drinking on the bench during games. Maybe they were trying to blend into 80s society? I can’t say they were for sure as I wasn’t there but I can’t say for sure that they didn’t. In 2017, modern players all sit each with their own individual tablet device provided by the team with close-to-realtime videos relating to their own performance, accompanied by statistical breakdowns on the team generally and them specifically. No one is smoking or drinking and if anyone so much as opens a bag of skittles, they’ll likely get fined and sent to make an appointment with a counsellor, then attend a restorative justice session for any members of the team who were emotionally triggered by the insensitivity.

Kiwi Steven Adams is doing well in the NBA for the Oklahoma City Thunder. He, and we, could simply assume so based on his recently formalised nine-digit contract. A nine digit contract!? I barely have that many digits on my hands. Salary in pro sports, as in any other job, is no real gauge of performance. As pro rugby players do, even in little old New Zealand, Adams wears a device within his uniform as he runs up and down the court and it measures much more than the official game stats and transmits that information to where it is automatically and instantly collated and compared and returned as multi-media reports to Adams, his coaching team and the management, who ultimately sign off on contracts.

There is a correlation between easily measured metres run and success at basketball worthy of reward. It’s not everything. If he was a disruptive influence in the team, talent notwithstanding, he could be cut or traded. A Lakers player who thought it would be hilarious to tape one of his teammates confessing to cheating on his popstar wife, then putting it on social media is no longer a Laker. He is now with the Brooklyn Nets – a team with one of the worst 3-year stretches in the history of the game. Karma baby.

The Nets’ GM is Sean Marks. He’s a kiwi – New Zealand’s first ever NBA player and now an executive on the up. When you have a job that is historically on the bottom, the only way is up. He’ll have performance measures of his own in place. The team is owned by a Russian billionaire and they’re famous for feedback. Could marks’ performance be managed as clinically as Adams’?

If we’re talking about performance management in work generally, the underlying foundation ultimately is measurement of the actual level of performance and comparison to an expected level of performance. Ideally, these would be as objective as possible and for some jobs that is challenging. Basketballers can count points, rebounds, assists and a variety of other easily measured things. Historically, some players on poor teams on the last year of their contract did something called ‘padding their stats’. They put their own interests ahead of the team to make their numbers look good. I’ve worked in a couple of places where sales folk did similar things. The nature of the measuring of performance drove behaviours that gamed the system.

Nowdays, with moneyball execs and algorithms and such, there is a basketball measure called ‘Real Plus/Minus’ that, whilst not perfect, does a fairer and more accurate job of ‘scoring’ a player’s actual contribution to the success of the team. Fans can see in realtime and players at the next timeout the difference their efforts are making or not. How do you think that might impact the performance of average working people in more mainstream jobs, like plumbers, contact centre reps or cheesemaker? I have a sideline as a comedian and that is the most well performance managed job on Earth. For a start, it is literally (and I literally mean literally) a performance. If they laugh that’s good feedback. If they don’t laugh, that’s also good feedback. It’s instant, it’s honest and it’s independent.

Real Plus/Minus is complex to calculate and only started in 2014. Not all coaches love it. Some stick to their subjective ways. Prior to that, coaches and scouts had to look at whatever numbers that were available, then think about how they felt about that player and their contributions to productivity. And on that, players were judged. How confident are we that most managers of work performance don’t manage performance like meteorologists of old, licking a finger and waving it in the wind?


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Why do some people micro-manage?

time bunny

I ran a couple of workshops this week on effective delegation with a law firm. I’ve also run these many times with many non-law firms. There’s a point after we agree on a definition of what delegation is, then discuss the potential benefits and differing objectives delegating might purposefully achieve if conducted effectively in a structured and tailored way. Right after that we tackle the reasons, justifiable or otherwise, why some people might choose not to delegate, or to do so ineffectively (whether or not those people were even consciously aware of why they were doing so).

Earlier, I’d sought from participants real-life stories from their own experience or observations of instances they considered to be effective and ineffective delegation. This week, as always, the vast majority of ineffective and unfortunate examples involved actions that could be encapsulated as ‘micro managing’.

We’ve all been there.

My own story was being lectured and berated on my sweeping technique in a building supply warehouse in which I worked in the mid 80s. I’m certainly over it but even in the retelling, I still get a hackle-raising sense of frustration in my blood. Others shared similar tales from their own back-stories.

One of the major reasons the groups self-identified behind people choosing to either not delegate or to pretty quickly start sticking their oar in again was to do with time and perspective.

If all you’re focused on is today and the ticking clock of a deadline, it may well be true that you can do it better and quicker yourself rather than delegating it. But if you’re focused on the big picture and the long game, you’re more open to realising and accepting that the point of delegating isn’t just about getting this piece of work done as soon as possible. It’s about getting many more pieces of work done again and again constantly. It’s a false economy to try and fool yourself that hanging onto tasks that could be done by others is effective leadership, simply because this one time you beat the buzzer. There are many more pieces of work than you are physically and mentally incapable of doing. It’s a simple capacity issue – if you’re focused beyond today. Delegating isn’t about flicking a task or two to the lowest-cost grunt able to competently do it, it’s about building capacity in your team in a planned, measured and deliberate way. Quite apart from getting stuff done, it exposes different people to your clients, builds trust, identified problems and mistakes early enough to rectify them, creates skills for succession planning and developing cover. If only one person can do a particular task and they get hit by a bus, or leave, or set up in competition, that’s a poorly managed risk.

Some people naturally have a time focus on the immediate short-term; others naturally look down the line a bit. The group had some ideas about how to not rely on nature, logical argument and luck to nudge the mindsets of those those now-fixated folk into the future a bit. One was around stories – not dissimilar to Scrooge and the ghosts of Christmas past and present. If micro-managing leaders can be exposed to leaders who used to be like them but saw the light, or that light they saw was the fire that burned them, them some lessons can be passed along forming organisational learning and memory. And everyone benefits, maybe not today but soon enough. And the sooner they start, the sooner it’ll happen.

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How Can You Make Your Own Luck When It Comes To Recruiting And Retaining The Best Employees?

Recruiting and retaining the best employees shouldn’t be a matter of luck

Recruiting and retaining the best employees shouldn’t be a matter of luck

This recent article in the business section of the New Zealand Herald cites research conducted by a firm of recruitment consultants. I’m not suggesting for a moment that they have a vested interest in interpreting the results in any particular way, but they interpret the results in a particular way… that says employers aren’t recruiting effectively. (If only there was someone around who could help them?)

Sarcastic and cynical as I am, I’m not disputing the results of the survey – just their narrow interpretation of the cause. There’s never ONE cause. Maybe poor recruitment contributes. I bet it does.

The Hudson survey “paints a bleak picture for employers”, saying: “Of every 10 employees: four are not good hires, eight aren’t engaged in their work and six are actively seeking other employment.” Ouch! This is born out by other research I’ve been reading over years and around the world. There’s a bit of variation, mostly by industry, but this survey isn’t that surprising and New Zealand isn’t that bad. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of scope for improvement.

Apart from the recruitment tools being used which the recruitment company focuses on, the primary cause of the problem implied is that employers are recruiting almost entirely for skills – technical skills. It’s that old mindset of, “I’ve got a vacancy, I’d better fill it because it’s costing me money” without doing the correlating maths on how much it costs to fill that vacancy and get it wrong – to fill it with someone technically competent (and that’s even assuming they get that bit right) but quickly disengaged or a misfit in several other ways.

Bad luck? Like most games, you make your own luck in the recruiting game. I was meeting recently with a manager who hadn’t had a single instance of negative turnover for nine years. Yes, people had moved on but for the right reasons such as internal promotion. He used the usual suite of tools to find a pool of potential applicants, whittled them down through CV checking, interviews, reference checks and even the occasional behaviourial profile. But he added another step. Shortlisted applicants all got to sit in on some actual work with some people who, if their application was successful, would be their co-workers. Those co-workers got a right of veto. I used this myself in the past with some success in a call centre that wasn’t a typical call centre. It gave applicants a dose of what their potential working reality could be. Sometimes they got put off by us and our work; sometimes we got put off by them. Either way, it’s better for both parties that be known early and up front so neither employer or employee have to suffer the consequences of misfitting. And those are greater than the costs of vacancies.

Another means of increasing your odds is to encourage referral of potential applicants from existing employees. Some firms even offer a commission for this. BUT if you do that, ponder how this might affect behaviour and what exactly it is you’re wanting to incentify and provide commission on. Any commission should be for a successful applicant who is still there after a predetermined period and performing well. Not just for putting someone with a pulse into a vacancy. Rather than just advertising to the great untargetted masses for your specific vacancy, wouldn’t it increase the chances of success if you sought via an informed gene pool – the people who are already aware of what it takes to do the job and who is likely to prosper there?

Wringing the final life out of my luck metaphor, when it comes to those few shortlisted candidates who are demonstrably technically competent but you’re not absolutely certain that they’ll fit and be engaged, you’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run. Often it’s better to walk away and play another day. Cheaper in the long run even if baby needs a new pair of shoes.

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Re-blog from Nov 2011 & my most read post ever

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The Communication Issues That Prevent Effective Leadership (According To Employees)

comms issues

I found a short and snappy graph today about where workplace leaders are supposedly falling short. This is from the US, is a survey of a thousand workers and I haven’t delved into its methodology at all but it might be a conversation starter. It asked employees but it was clearly offering a pre determined list of options – I’m pretty sure someone isn’t going to refer to themselves as a “subordinate.” Myself, most days, I feel at least ordinate.

I’ll probably trial this in the communication workshops I run. I might give my participants that list (without the results) and ask them where they think most managers fall short, or where their own manager falls short, or where they feel they themselves fall short, or all those things. Then reveal the results. To start a conversation.

Pretty shocking that 36% result for bosses not knowing their own employees’ names! (Employees now, not subordinates. Consistency please.) I’m self-employed and I manage to remember my employee’s name.

Employee Engagement Requires More Than Caring Bosses

boss hugThis blog post makes a clear demarcation between the behavior of bosses that can enhance employee engagement and the lazy assumption that it must all be about being nice and friendly and a soft touch.

I’m seemingly forever clarifying to people that employee engagement is not synonymous with employee happiness or morale or satisfaction. They’re all nice things. They’re all interesting. We’d all probably like to work in a job where there are higher levels of happiness, satisfaction and morale. BUT employee engagement is a very narrowly defined phenomena – the application of discretionary effort. It isn’t about how workers feel or think or think they feel. It is about how we observe they behave. To what extent do they do more than they have to because they choose to – for whatever reasons? It’s not about evil, moustache-twirling villainous bosses extracting everything they can and more out of labour. It is about people’s fundamental human, psychological needs and how they are served (or not) in their work.

Our jobs need to be about more than a paycheck. We take a job for the money but how we perform once we’re hired is less about money than managerial wisdom has thought for years.

And it isn’t about bosses being ‘nice’ or a soft touch. I can get my own hugs thank you very much. A boss who, on the surface, may seem ‘un-nice’ or uncaring might actually be driving high levels of engagement in the people they lead. Regardless of their cliche and superficial people skills, if they can stimulate a sense of purpose in their people, backed up with allowing some degree of autonomy and provide a track for development and progression, then that goes a long way to enhancing engagement levels and the benefits that ensue for productivity and profitability.

But if you still want hugs – get a dog. A big one. I recommend a huntaway. Way less employment court consequences.

Secrets Of Building Winning Teams

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Successful organisms and groups in nature rely on diversity as a defence mechanism and to provide tools to deal with a wide range of situations – business is no different. Here’s the rest of that thought, expressed in my lead article from the Careers section of The NZ Herald on 20th July 2013. To save me re-typing it, here it is in image form with a link back to the Herald’s original online article.

Herald Jobs Article Terry Williams The Brain-Based Boss 20July2013 Entire

Congratulations On Your Engagement

Officeworkers_460x230

Today’s business section in the Herald runs my latest column on employee engagement.

Q: I want to be a great leader. What’s this thing called “employee engagement” I’ve been hearing about? Is it just consultants coming up with some new term to sell me their services, or what? I’m hoping it’s real. Economic times are tough. I need something to get more out of the team I lead.Bewildered of Birkenhead

A: Dear Bewildered of Birkenhead,

The phrase “employee engagement” might be new and it certainly is flavour of the month in leadership literature, but the underlying concept is true and timeless human nature.

Employee engagement is not “morale” or “satisfaction” or “happiness”. Plenty of unhappy people are highly productive and plenty of deliriously happy folk are fine with showing up, punching a clock, getting paid and going home regardless of whether anything productive happens. Employee engagement is the extent to which an employee chooses to apply discretionary effort. It’s doing more than you have to because you choose to.

So, there are engaged employees doing more than they have to, present employees who do only what they have to, and disengaged employees who are reading this careers section at work to find a new job with anyone who isn’t you.

The numbers vary a little across time, industry and geography, but they’re remarkably consistent: 26 per cent are engaged, 28 per cent are disengaged and 46 per cent are present.

These are averages. What are the proportions in your workplace?

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