Java with Joe: Don’t Let the Cynics Stand in Your Way!



I doubt that any statue has ever been dedicated to “The World’s Greatest Cynic,”  although I think we can all say we’ve met some people who could qualify for that title. The fact is that most organizations have their share of cynics—people who believe that “human conduct is motivated wholly by self-interest.” In the work setting, this fundamental attitude plays out in negative attitudes toward the organization, its leaders, its mission, and its everyday practices.

One interesting review of research on cynicism in organizations  points out that despite their negative attitudes, “a cynic can continue to function in most organizations, conducting the day-to-day duties of his or her role. Depending on the nature of how they implement their cynical views and motives, they may even advance up the corporate ladder, based on effective finger-pointing and back-biting.”

The same review also notes that “the effect of cynicism can be disastrous, particularly if the cynic is a manager”… that cynical managers “insidiously instill cynicism in their employees and organizational culture”…and finally that “none of this makes for effective member participation in organizational change efforts.”

So let’s say you’ve committed yourself to driving some much needed change in your organization—whether that’s a small unit or an entire enterprise. You’re deeply dissatisfied with some aspect of the organization’s practice and performance, and you’ve found that others are similarly dissatisfied, to the point where there’s some real momentum for change. You’ve forged a vision of what that change will look like, created a plan for how to make it happen, and maybe even identified one or two “first steps” that will get the plan moving forward.

The problem is that the cynics will be there waiting for you. Openly or behind the scenes, they will argue that the change is unnecessary or doomed to fail. They will badmouth the proposed change effort as “just another program of the month.” They will gripe about how the change will make their lives and that of other employees more difficult. They will challenge your sincerity, your reasons for wanting the change to happen. Obviously, none of this is helpful.

If your organization is riddled with cynicism, then that’s what has to change, before anything else can happen. And turning that kind of situation around is never easy. The review quoted earlier cites research suggesting that “organizations must address this increasing cynicism by managing more fairly, and operating in an open, honest, straightforward, and particularly, realistic manner.” And if you’ve been following this blog or if you’ve read my book—The Engaged Enterprise: A Field Guide for the Serving Leader—you know that I believe that adopting the principles of servant leadership is a great first step toward building an organization that is resistant to cynicism.

On the other hand, if the cynics represent only a small minority in your organization, you can probably bypass them on your way to achieving a successful change initiative, so long as you get the rest of the organization on board—and that brings me to the critical distinction between cynics and skeptics.

Unlike the cynics, skeptics want the organization to be successful. They haven’t given up on the mission. They don’t believe that all change is bad, that all change initiatives are doomed to failure. On the other hand, they won’t necessarily be convinced right out of the box that you’ve got it right.  They need to be convinced—and that’s a good thing.

We need skeptics because they ask good questions to keep us honest and on track. They force us to take another look at our plans, to see if we have this change well thought out. They test our commitment, and  push us to make sure that what we’re proposing isn’t just another fad. So, if you can pass the test—if you can make a compelling case for the change your organization needs to make—then the skeptics will have done their job and they’ll give you their support.

And the cynics? They may change over time, as the organization changes. Or they may decide that the organization is not the right place for them. Or the organization may decide that it’s time for them to move on.

But let me be clear about all this. Change is hard. Dealing with cynics is hard. Depending on the size of the change you’re proposing, the noise from those cynics can get pretty loud. If you feel yourself getting discouraged by all this, let me suggest that you turn to Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments, written by Dr. Kent Keith back in 1969 when he was a sophomore at Harvard. Kent, whom I am privileged to call a friend, went on to become a university president, author, and CEO of the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership. Over the years, his “paradoxical commandments” have inspired people all over the world, including many well-known political, business, and religious leaders. Mother Theresa kept them posted on the door of her school.

Here a few of Kent’s commandments that seem especially relevant to me when it comes to dealing with the cynical side of human nature:

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Do good anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with smallest minds. Think big anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.

In other words, when you encounter the cynics sitting on the sidelines and trying to keep your organization from becoming its best self, take comfort in the intrinsic value and reward of just trying to do the right thing.

With that in mind, I’d like to leave you with a famous quote from Teddy Roosevelt. It comes from a speech TR gave in Paris back in 1910, about a year after he finished his second term as President. Roosevelt was a man of his times, and in his speech he referred to the “man” in the arena, but there’s no question that his words apply to anyone, male or female, who chooses to “dare greatly:”

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

I’ve never seen a statue dedicated to the world’s greatest cynic, but I have seen statues dedicated to those who strove for excellence and spent themselves in a worthy cause. So don’t let the cynics stand in your way!





Java with Joe

Think less about your personal brand…and more about being a person.

It’s a new year and many of us are thinking about what we might like to do differently in 2017. Many self-improvement gurus—folks like Tom Peters—would suggest that one step we absolutely must take if we want to succeed in life is to create a powerful “personal brand.” Writing in Fast Company way back in 1997, Peters wrote:

Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.

Google “personal brand” today and you’ll come up with over 68 Million hits; check out Amazon and you’ll find over 300,000 books promising to help you craft or improve your personal brand.

I can’t say that I’m crazy about the term personal brand itself, because contrary to what Mr. Peters and others say, I find it hard to think about people the same way I think of laundry detergent or running shoes or any other product. I also have a problem with much of what’s written about “personal branding” because so much of it is about crafting an image of yourself and getting maximum visibility for that image in the market place. It’s like selling Tide detergent or Nike shoes.

In other words, personal branding strikes me as being more about style, image, and connections than it is about being a person of substance.

What others think about you is certainly important. Your personal reputation (my preferred term) walks in the room ahead of you, and often shapes whether or not people in that room are willing to listen to you, trust you, or follow you. But that’s not about image. No—you build a reputation that inspires trust not by worrying about your image, but by treating others with the respect and dignity they deserve, by helping them succeed, by delivering on the promises you make. You build a reputation that inspires trust by not focusing first on yourself.

So let me suggest that this year, instead of working on your personal brand, you work on yourself as a person. We could all benefit from asking ourselves questions like these:

  • What are my personal core values?
  • What values motivate me to do the work I’m doing?
  • Do I consistently live my values, in the actions I take and the decisions I make?
  • Do I listen to others more than I talk about myself? Am I viewed as a person who has “warmth”?
  • Do I consistently look for ways to help others succeed?

I think the best way to succeed in life—which certainly includes succeeding in your career—is to consistently live your values and consistently help others succeed. Do that and people will perceive you as someone they can count on to make the right decisions in difficult situations. Do that and they’ll view you as a values-driven person—someone driven by a higher sense of purpose rather than a desire to polish your “brand.” Do that and you’ll be respected because you respect others, because you take the time to really listen to them, instead of just looking for ways to advance your own opinions. Do that and you’ll build a personal reputation and a presence that inspires others to believe in you, trust you, and follow you.

Do that and you won’t have to worry about your personal brand. It will take care of itself. 

That’s what I think. As always, please let me know what you think.


What’s On Your New Year’s List?

Run a half marathon
Learn a foreign language
Spend more time with friends… 

How about taking your organization to a whole new level?

It’s that time of year again…the time when many of us take a little closer look at our lives and make a list of things we want to change…goals we want to achieve…in the coming year. Actually, 41% of Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions, and another 17% sometimes/infrequently make them…and those who explicitly set goals are ten times more likely to achieve those goals than people who don’t make their goals explicit.

So go ahead and make a list of things you want to accomplish this year…and while you’re at it, why not include taking your organization to a whole new level of performance. After all, if making that goal explicit can increase your chance of success by ten-fold, what have you got to lose?

Of course, the real question is what do you do next, because setting an explicit goal is just the first step. It’s a long way from there to success…as witness the fact that 42% of people who make New Year’s resolutions say that they never succeed. So my suggestion for dramatically improving your organization’s performance is that you focus on increasing its level of employee engagement, because engagement has been proven to improve performance on a whole range of key metrics.

And then I’d suggest that you start by making people unhappy!

Now generally, I don’t advise making the people in your organization unhappy. But whether it’s running a marathon, learning a new language, blowing the doors off your revenue target, or anything else that’s easier said than done…we all know that achieving a challenging goal takes persistence. It takes the kind of tough mindedness that just won’t let you quit. And for many of us, that mental toughness is most likely to come from a deep dissatisfaction with the way things are…dissatisfaction with knowing how good we could be if we could just make the right changes…dissatisfaction that’s so deeply felt that we’ll keep banging away even when success seems almost impossible. Most winning athletes and coaches will tell you that they are motivated more by the dissatisfaction of losing than anything else!

So pick out one or two areas where your organization just isn’t cutting it. And don’t just rely on your own perspective. Ask your managers, your employees, your partners. Ask your customers. Maybe you’re taking too long to respond to customer questions or complaints. Or maybe you’re product quality isn’t what it should be. Or maybe you’re losing too many good people because you’re not providing enough opportunities for professional development. Find those areas of dissatisfaction and make them yours.

Once you’ve identified a few areas where your organizational performance isn’t what it should be, or what it could be, make sure everybody knows why this is important. Connect the dots. Explain how fixing this problem would help us do this and this and this more effectively, which would help us produce these results, which would benefit all of us in these specific ways.

Use examples. Tell stories. Ask for suggestions about how to fix the problem. Then come back with an explicit goal and a clear plan for how to achieve it. As the year goes on, keep coming back to the organization to ask for feedback, report on results to date, and remind everyone of why this goal is worth achieving.

I’m not suggesting that you focus only on where your organization needs to improve. Of course you need to recognize and celebrate what your people do well. But if you can also focus on those few areas where improvement is possible, you’ll be much more likely to get to that next level of excellence.

So go for it. Identify those areas of dissatisfaction. Use them to mobilize and motivate your organization. And remember…when it comes to driving positive change, dissatisfaction is your friend!



Java with Joe: It’s Not about Building Trust…It’s about Building Belief!


In these Java with Joe sessions, we talk about the questions that many leaders are struggling with as they work to build a more engaged workforce and a more productive organization. If you’d like to join the conversation with a comment or a question of your own, something that’s keeping you up at night, please jump in.

So, here we go.

To say that this presidential election was one of the most controversial and emotional in recent memory would be a complete understatement!  No matter how you voted, you’d probably agree that one of the election’s most noteworthy ( or should I say depressing?) features is that despite the very real differences between Ms. Clinton and Mr. Trump, they both had one thing in common: according to the polls (which of course had some issues of their own), both candidates set record “lows” for trustworthiness.

Trust matters. No organization—whether it’s a small business, a Fortune 100 global giant, or the government of a nation—can function effectively over the long term unless its people basically believe that its leaders can generally be trusted to speak the truth and do the right thing.  That’s undoubtedly why I’m so often asked by leaders I meet with, “How can I build greater trust in my organization among our employees? ”

I think the answer is embedded in the last paragraph. If you want to build trust among your employees, you have to change what they believe about your organization. More specifically, you need to create an environment that encourages your employees to hold these five critical beliefs:

 “I believe our leaders are genuinely connected to the mission of the organization, and put that mission first in their decision making.  

“I believe our leaders are thoughtful and predictable in their decision making.”

 “I believe our leaders care about me and what’s important to me.”

 “I believe our leaders value and respect my opinion.”  

“I believe our leaders understand and appreciate what it takes to get my job done.”

How do you build these beliefs? You do the things we talk about in this blog all the time. You talk to your people about the organization’s mission, about what it means to you personally. You explain how any given decision is related to that mission. You put yourself in your employees’ shoes, just as you do with your customers; you ask what’s important to them, and what the organization can do to meet those needs. Then you make a genuine effort to deliver on those ideas—or explain why you can’t. You set a high bar for performance, do everything you can to remove the barriers to your employees’ success, and celebrate when they  “do the ordinary things exceptionally well.” You say thanks more often, and place blame less often.

Do these things day in and day out, and your employees will believe in you and your organization. Do these things and your employees will trust you, because you’ve earned their trust.

Java with Joe: Building engagement? I wish I had the time.

During my tenure as Chief Human Rmugsesources Officer at Cleveland Clinic, I held regular “Java with Joe” sessions with small groups of leaders at every level of the organization. These informal meetings often turned into Q&A sessions on the subject of employee engagement. These days, when I speak to other organizations about their employee engagement and leadership issues, the Q&A session is again one of my favorite activities. So I thought I’d bring back Java with Joe to answer questions about engagement that I’m often asked. If you’d like to join the conversation with a comment or a question of your own, something that’s keeping you up at night, please jump in. OK…so here’s today’s question:

 How can we do a better job of sustaining the long term change that’s required to turn around poor employee engagement?

This question often comes with some explanation of why it’s so hard for the organization or its leaders to look past the short-term. In a large, public company, the issue may be pressure from analysts and stockholders to deliver outstanding quarterly results. In a not-for-profit, it may be pressure from the Board or a lending institution to sustain the organization’s bond rating. Sometimes it just has to do with a leader’s having too much to do and too little time to do it in. As one highly regarded manager in a mid-size firm told me: “I’m already working flat out just dealing with day-to-day stuff and the crisis of the week. I honestly don’t see how I can find the time to execute a consistent, long-term engagement plan—even though I know it’s important.”

I appreciate that it’s not easy for leaders at any level to sustain a long term engagement strategy in the face of all the day to day pressures they face. On the other hand, I also believe deeply that you can’t build an organization that performs at the highest level unless you build an engaged workforce, and you can’t build an engaged workforce without working at it consistently over the long term. So the question is, how do you find the will and the time to do that work?

First of all, you need to make engagement a strategic priority. I often ask the leaders I meet with: “Does your organization have a strategic plan? Does it have an annual business plan to deliver on the strategy?”  I’d say that at least 70% of the time I get a yes to both questions. But things change dramatically when I ask: “Does your strategic and/or business plan have a ‘people’ component? Is that component just as robust as the others?  Is it reviewed as frequently and closely?” I get a yes answer to those questions around 30% of the time.

I’m sorry, but that won’t get the job done.

If you want to sustain an effective engagement strategy, you need to include it in your organization’s larger strategic plan. You need to put engagement on the agenda at your regular leadership meetings. You need to put key engagement metrics on your “executive dashboard” to help answer the question “Are our leaders doing the things necessary to grow engagement?”

With respect to engagement metrics, one tactic I’ve found valuable is to use Survey Monkey to periodically “pulse” on three management accountability questions: Has your group worked with your manager to develop an engagement plan?  Does your group meet regularly to manage/review the plan? Are you making progress against the plan?

OK, but so far this is only relevant if you’re part of the leadership team for the whole enterprise or a major division or business unit. But what if you’re not a leader at that level? In that case, you still have to do what it takes to keep the spotlight on engagement in your own unit, however large or small it may be. Put engagement on the agenda at meetings. Talk to people about the issues that drive engagement. Ask what you can do differently to help them feel more connected to the organization and its mission.  Keep doing the work, one step at a time, one day at a time. That’s how you build engagement.

I know: you’re really busy. But this is important, more important than at least some of the stuff you do every day. (For example, I’m pretty sure it’s more important than answering at least some of those e-mails in your in-box. )

What it boils down to is do you really believe that highly engaged organizations outperform those with less engaged employees? Do you view your role as leader as building the kind of culture and work environment that fosters high levels of engagement? Or deep down do you really believe that engagement is just “some HR thing” that takes time away from your real work?

Since you’re taking the time to read this blog, I’m pretty sure I know how you’ve answered those questions. And because of that, I’m equally sure that you can find the time and the will to build a highly engaged workforce. Go for it!

Java with Joe: Don’t let your organization settle for high employee job satisfaction and morale.

During my tenure as Chief Human Resources Officer at Cleveland Clinic, I held regular “Java with Joe” sessions with small groups of leaders at every level of the organization. These informal meetings usually began by my asking: “What’s keeping you up at night?” and invariably questions came back about the challenges of creating and manmugsaging an engaged work environment. These days, when I speak to other organizations about their employee engagement and leadership issues, the Q&A session is again one of my favorite activities. So I thought I’d bring back Java with Joe to answer questions about engagement that I’m often asked. If you’d like to join the conversation with a comment or a question of your own, something that’s keeping you up at night, please jump in.

OK…so here’s today’s question:

Employee satisfaction. Employee morale. Employee engagement. What’s the difference? Does it matter?

Let me start by saying that while these terms do overlap, there are differences among them.

Do those differences really matter? They do, if you’re trying to build an organization that delivers extraordinary results.

OK, so let’s take a closer look at these concepts, starting with job satisfaction, which seems to me the most basic of the three because it refers simply to how content employees are with their work environment, benefits etc. It answers the question “Are you comfortable?” The problem is that a high level of job satisfaction doesn’t necessarily mean that an organization is getting truly outstanding performance from its employees.

It’s definitely possible for an employee to be satisfied with his/her job but not be a particularly high performer. People can get comfortable in their performance zone. They feel safe there, and not particularly challenged. For some people, though—and in my experience, this includes your “high potentials” and many “millennials”—this safe, secure feeling isn’t enough. If these people don’t feel challenged, they will eventually get bored and leave. They’ll move to an organization where their leaders expect them to be better than average and work hard to help them get there. For these people—the people most likely to take your organization to new heights—job satisfaction is nice, but it’s not enough.

Employee morale goes a step beyond job satisfaction, implying a greater sense of purpose and a more direct connection to performance. It’s hard to imagine someone saying of their organization, “Our employees have really high morale, but they don’t perform especially well,” or vice versa. Morale, however, can change quickly when difficult times set in, if the foundations to sustain it are not in place.  I hate to compare efforts to raise morale to “pep rallies,” but that’s all too often what they resemble.

If you’re really trying to build a high performance organization, I think you need to go beyond thinking about employee morale. You need to be thinking about employee engagement. Why? Because employee engagement includes not only how comfortable your employees are and how they’re feeling in the short term, but also whether or not they feel a strong emotional and intellectual connection with their work and their organization. And here’s the really important thing: with highly engaged employees, that connection motivates them to put extra effort into what they do on the job.

That discretionary effort is what employee engagement is all about. It’s what takes you from ok performance, or even good performance, to great performance. It’s what sees you through the difficult times—and difficult times always come.

So let’s sum up. Job satisfaction and high morale are important, but they’re not enough—not in today’s hyper competitive business environment. These days we can’t afford to set the bar that low. We need to build that strong intellectual and emotional connection between our employees and our organization. We need them to feel that the organization’s mission is their own personal cause, to the point where they do the ordinary things exceptionally well, and sometimes even do things that go beyond the ordinary.

That’s the goal we should all be setting for the organizations we lead, because organizations that have high levels of engagement consistently outperform their competition. (The research is rich with evidence on this.) But the other reason is that it’s just so much more fun to come to work every day when you and the people around you feel connected to something bigger than yourselves, when you’re all pushing yourselves and one another to be better.

So don’t settle for just job satisfaction or good morale. Don’t sleep walk through your career as a leader and let your employees settle for OK performance. The people you serve are better than that and so are you.

All my best and thanks for tuning into this edition of Java with Joe. And please, add your thoughts and reactions to the conversation, and let me know what’s keeping you up at night.

Java with Joe: Sometimes you just have to ask an employee to get off the bus.

During my tenure as Chief Human Resources Officer at Cleveland Clinic, I really looked forward tomugs the “Java with Joe” meetings I had with leaders at every level throughout the organization. These were very informal sessions, with small groups of 10-15 people, where we sat down over coffee with no real agenda other than my asking “What’s keeping you up at night?” Invariably questions came up about the challenges of creating and managing an engaged work environment.

These days, when I speak to other organizations about their employee engagement and leadership issues, the Q&A session is again one of my favorite activities. So I thought I’d bring back Java with Joe to answer questions about engagement that I’m often asked. For now Java with Joe will become my blog, and I hope you find it useful.

If you’d like to join the conversation with a comment or a question of your own, something that’s keeping you up at night, please jump in.

So, here we go.

Question: I have a couple of people in my organizations that I just can’t seem to engage, despite my best efforts. What should I do next?

I hear this question all the time, from managers at many organizational levels. It can be very frustrating when no matter how hard you try, there are still some people who just cannot or will not get on the bus. What’s even worse is when they even seem to be working against you. According to Gallup’s research, it actually takes four actively engaged employees to neutralize just one actively disengaged person. From your own experience I think you’d agree that these people can really suck the energy out of an organization, when you consider all the work around you have to come up with to offset their negativity, all the complaints about their attitude you have to deal with from their teammates. And sometimes what makes the situation even more complicated is that these people may even be achieving the business goals set in front of them.

So what do you do? My first recommendation is to understand that as a leader you can’t actually engage any employee. After all my years as an HR leader working to build engaged organizations, I’ve come to the conclusion that as a leader all you can do is work hard to create the kind of environment in which employees want to get engaged. What I’m saying is that getting engaged at work…or not getting engaged at work…is a choice, a decision, that only the employee can make.

The fact is that there will always be some employees who choose not to be engaged no matter what you do, and at some point it’s not worth banging your head against the wall trying to figure out why. You’re a leader not a psychologist, and you probably won’t figure it out anyway because more often than not, these folks don’t understand why themselves.

So again, what do you do? I always recommend making attitude just as important a performance issue as any other business goal. This means actively managing the employee by having frequent performance discussions that include their lack of engagement and negative attitude. During those discussions, which you should document, you provide direct feedback about what you mean by a negative attitude, why that attitude affects the organization, and where it could lead if their attitude doesn’t improve. And where it could lead is that you might have to ask that person to get off the bus.

By the way, frequent performance discussions that include engagement issues should be part of your management process with everyone in your organization, so that the disengaged employee will not be surprised or feel singled out when you have this discussion.  I’ve had many emotional meetings with managers who have had it with an employee! Something tipped the scale, it was the last straw and they want to fire the person. But when I ask for documentation around their performance discussions with that person, all too often it’s shallow or even non-existent.

Contrary to what managers think, you can move an employee out of your organization for a negative attitude, just as for any other performance issue. But you have to do it in a way that is fair and compliant.

I realize that none of this is easy: dismissing an employee never is. But being a leader is not an easy job. And remember, no matter how hard you work at building an environment where employees want to be engaged, you’ll be judged not only by what you do, but what kind of behavior you tolerate in the organization. Which means that when you finally do ask those disengaged people to get off the bus, you should be prepared for the silent cheer that will go up from the rest of your organization!


Got Great Judgment?

Judgment…“the ability to make a decision or form an opinion objectively, authoritatively, and wisely, especially in matters affecting action.”

In every election year—and in this one more than most—we ask for many things in the person who eventually wins our vote. We ask for honesty, experience, and integrity—and we ask for good judgment. We want to know that our leaders will make the right decision and choose the right course of action when the pressure is on, the stakes are high, and there’s either too much or too little information available. That’s a lot to ask, and few people have met that high standard in every situation they’ve faced. As Will Rogers once said, “Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.”

But it’s not just political leaders from whom we seek good judgment. We all hope to work in organizations in which the leaders consistently demonstrate an “ability to make a decision objectively, authoritatively, and wisely,” as the dictionary defines judgment. And we all aspire to be that kind of leader ourselves.

During my career I’ve had the good fortune to work for and with a number of leaders who were highly respected for their ability to exercise good judgment in complex, high stakes situations. They were certainly different in style: some were introverted, others were charismatic; some relied heavily on “the data” while others seemed to act more intuitively.  But when I think about it, they all had one thing in common: they all had the ability to imagine how each of the possible decisions on the table would actually affect a wide range of stakeholders they served.  And they insisted that their advisors break out of the box of previous training and functional expertise to take a similarly broad view.

Peter Mercury, the GM of the Global Services Division at Digital/Compaq Computer/Hewlett Packard and one of the best servant leaders I ever worked for, made this decision making process very explicit. When faced with a complex problem—for example, whether to carry out a reduction in force, or whether to take money from the marketing budget to increase the spend on training—Peter would call his “kitchen cabinet” together. He’d ask for our input, ask questions, and encourage debate. And he’d ask us: “OK, if we put 100 people in a room—employees, stockholders, customers, partners—how am I going to explain to those folks why we made this particular decision? If I can’t convince them all that this is the best decision we can make given what we know right now, then it’s not the right decision.”

So yes, good judgment definitely comes from experience and an ability to make sense of complex data. But I’m convinced that it also comes from a deep seated commitment to caring for the people who will be affected by your decision. Like so many aspects of great leadership, it comes down to values.

What about you? Are you clear about the core values that guide your decision-making? When you’re facing a tough decision, do you take the time to really think hard about its impact on the many constituencies you serve? I’d suggest that no matter how much pressure you’re under to “just go ahead and make a decision,” that would be time well spent.

Engage Me if You Can!

For some time now I’ve been speaking and writing about the value of building an engaged workforce, and about what it takes to accomplish this. And quite often, in my conversations with business leaders, I’ll hear something like this: “I feel like I’ve done about all I can to create a great working environment, and yet there are some people I still can’t seem to get engaged. It’s as if they just refuse to make that emotional commitment to the business and their work. So what do I do?”

My first response to this question is often a story about my father years ago when my mother and sister were preparing for my sister’s wedding. As they were frantically trying to make sure that everything would be just perfect, my father finally asked what all the stress was about.  Their response was, “Well, you know how some of our family are. They can always find fault in something, something to complain about.” My father came back with, “Look, all you can do when you have a party is to have it in a nice place, with good food and drink and good music. Then if some people come and can’t find a way to have a good time, it’s their own fault!”

The moral of this story, and I have come to believe this, is that as leaders we really can’t engage anyone! All we can do is work hard to create an environment that encourages people to become engaged. But the fact is that no matter what we do, some people, for whatever reason, can’t or won’t respond. It’s almost as if their attitude is, “Engage me if you can!” Eventually, whether to be engaged or not comes down to a choice people need to make.

So what do you do about people who choose not to be engaged despite all of your efforts?

Beyond making a sincere effort to see if there are any appropriate issues involved, you don’t spend too much time trying to figure out why they won’t engage, because you never will.  You’re trying to lead an organization, serve the organization, and get results, not serve as a psychologist or social worker. So let’s assume that you’ve had some serious conversations about their attitude, with no appreciable improvement. At that point, they may finally figure out that this place might not be the best fit for them and leave. If not—to borrow a phrase from Jim Collins in Good to Great— it’s probably time for you to  “move them off the bus!” If someone is truly disengaged, it’s very unlikely that they’re performing at a high level, so you can go through the appropriate process to performance manage them out of the organization.

But what about that actively disengaged employee who still manages to deliver results? Bearing in mind that according to Gallup it takes four actively engaged employees just to neutralize the negative effects of one actively disengaged person, it seems fair and entirely justified to consider attitude a performance issue and act accordingly.

Many leaders step back from actively managing attitude, particularly if they hired the person, because they don’t want to admit that they made a hiring mistake. But I’ve never met a leader who’s batted a 1000! As a Servant-Leader, we can’t be afraid to admit a hiring mistake, especially when you’ve done all you can to support and lead the person.

It’s a myth that as a Servant-Leader you should tolerate actively disengaged, cynical and toxic employees. In fact, you’re not serving your other people or the organization if you do. As a leader, what you accept or tolerate has a far greater impact on your organization’s culture than what you say.

As I’ve said in so many previous postings, building an engaged enterprise is not easy, but is it worth doing? What do you think?



Is Anyone Listening?

I think most of us would agree that the current Presidential race has been one of the most controversial and interesting elections in some time, regardless of which party or candidate you support. I suppose it’s because so many people feel that our country is at a very important crossroad.

As the election process has unfolded, it has also become very clear that many of us profoundly distrust not only that process but our political culture as a whole. There’s a strong sense—cutting across party lines—that “politicians” will say and promise virtually anything to get elected, but that all too frequently they fail to deliver on their promises. There’s a sense that politicians—especially those “on the other side”—simply can’t be trusted to tell us the truth. Without putting too fine a point on it, they lie.

And underlying all of this, there’s a sense that the people who run for office, and get elected to office, just don’t listen to us. It’s easy to see where that comes from. Just watch any debate or interview. How often do the candidates answer a question directly, as opposed to shifting over to one of their well scripted talking points?

Some people say, “Well, that’s just the political game. They have to play it that way or their agenda will never be heard.” Or, “These questions are complicated, but people don’t have patience for complicated answers.” Maybe. But let me ask you this: how do you feel when a political figure—or anyone else for that matter—refuses to give you a straight answer to an important question?

For myself, when I ask someone a question and they dodge it, I feel that I haven’t been listened to and that the person on the other side of the conversation simply can’t be trusted. If you want me to trust you, the first thing you need to do is show me the courtesy of really listening to what I have to say. Listening is the foundation on which we can build a trusting relationship.

This is true for all relationships, not just that between political leaders and their constituents. It’s certainly true for business leaders. I’ve mentioned in previous postings that I believe the Servant–Leader model is a better way to lead, but how can you begin to serve your people if you’re not really listening to them?

What do I mean by really listening?  I mean something like what Stephen Covey refers to as “empathic listening.” In Covey’s words, “In empathic listening, you listen with your ears, but you also, and more importantly, listen with your eyes and with your heart. You listen for feeling, for meaning. You listen for behavior. You use your right brain as well as your left. You sense, you intuit, you feel.”

As Covey points out, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak.” That’s a habit we have to work hard to overcome.

How do you do that? Start by being present with your people, making eye contact and doing your best to remain non-judgmental during the discussion. Avoid distractions: don’t look at your watch or check your e-mail, and turn your phone off. (I know that sounds ridiculously obvious, but people do this stuff all the time.) Try as hard as you can not to think of your response while the other person is talking. Speak less. Try to remember the words of the Greek philosopher Epictetus, who said, “We have two ears and one mouth, so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

And when you do speak, be honest. Yes, it’s true that as a leader at any level, you need to be sensitive to the “politics” of the organization, which sometimes means being careful about what you say and to whom you say it. But it’s also true that if you’re trying to build trust and high engagement across your organization, you have to start by really listening to people, and you have to be honest when you respond. People may not always like what they hear, but they’ll know your position and they’ll have a better idea of how to predict your reactions in the future—both critical to building trust.

So, once again, it comes down to this: you can’t be an effective leader if your people don’t trust you, and your people won’t trust you if you don’t listen to them. You don’t always have to agree with them, or do what they want you to do, but you have to respect them by listening to them and really hearing them.

And as always, I look forward to hearing from you.


Watch Your Language!

If you’re trying to understand—or change— an organization’s culture, one important leverage point is the institutional language. This is the array of words and phrases that appear consistently, although often unconsciously, when people in the organization make reference to its employees, leaders, customers, practices, etc. Institutional language is important because it is grounded in a set of values and beliefs which is then communicated throughout the organization when you use that language.

When the challenge is to build a truly engaged enterprise, the language related to employees is particularly important. For example, I’ve worked in organizations that referred to their employees as either “professional staff” or “non-professional” staff. Whatever other purpose this distinction may have served, I’m pretty sure that it didn’t encourage the so-called “non-professionals” to bring their A-game to work every day.

And just think about those TV newscasts we’ve all heard in which government officials, faced with a major weather event, announce that all “non-essential personnel” have been told to stay home from work.  Think about it: how would you feel about going to work every day for an organization that regards you as “non-essential?”

A public relations executive colleague of mine once told me, “Never use internal language you wouldn’t want your customers to discover, especially when you might be referring to them.” It’s interesting that we generally take great care to examine our “customer-facing” language, but rarely think much about how we talk about and to the people who serve those customers.

Of course, you might be thinking that this is much ado about nothing. You might be asking, does the institutional language we use really matter all that much?  While working on a journal article, I found an interesting article by the CEO of the Arizona Girl Scouts organization that dealt with this question. After a survey revealed that many of the organization’s volunteers felt that the organization did not trust them, the CEO took a hard look at its institutional vocabulary.  For example, in a 4-page brochure used to recruit volunteers, she found the words “must,” “mandatory,” or “required” used 84 times. Ultimately she concluded: “In our zeal to promote the health and safety of girls, we had unknowingly used command-and-control language that implicitly communicated that we did not trust our volunteers to make their own decisions in the best interests of the girls.”

Speaking more broadly, she then added: “…we discovered just how powerfully our own language had influenced and contributed to our organizational culture. We are still debating whether the language described or created the culture. Perhaps it did both.”

So yes, institutional language does matter.

When Cleveland Clinic made the commitment to build a culture that fostered high levels of employee engagement, we made a number of changes to our own institutional vocabulary—the most important of which was to substitute “caregiver” for “employee” in all of our communications.  Our ID badges were changed to say “caregiver,” and “We are all caregivers” became our mantra, even appearing as the title of our annual report. The message was transmitted repeatedly on our internal communications media, and reinforced by managers at every level in their meetings and presentations.

The rationale for the change was simply that everyone who worked at the Clinic had the potential to create a positive—or negative—experience for a patient, family member, or colleague. Not only the doctors and nurses, but also the people who delivered the patient’s meals or cleaned their rooms or answered questions about a bill—everyone had a role in creating a positive, or negative, experience for our patients and their families. The transporter who helped reassure a nervous patient on the way for a test procedure, the facilities worker who asked a family member who looked a little lost if they needed help, the admissions person who answered questions with patience—all of these people were “giving care.”  

And this isn’t just something that applies to hospitals and other non-profit organizations. Whether the organization provides a product or a service, everyone in the organization is important to living out its mission. Everyone has to see themselves in the value chain of serving a customer directly or serving someone who is an internal customer. When people see themselves this way, you have the starting point for a truly engaged enterprise. When they don’t….

But here’s the thing: it’s important, but not sufficient, to use the right language. As a leader, you have to go out every day and earn the right to use that language. You’ve got to “walk the talk.” If you want to make it clear that everyone in your organization matters and has a role to play in the organization’s success, it’s not enough to start referring to employees as “associates” while continuing to treat them as replaceable cogs in a wheel.

At Cleveland Clinic we took whatever steps we could to reinforce the idea of “We are all caregivers.” We established a highly popular caregiver wellness program and a recognition program that celebrated the little things that our caregivers did every day. We created the Cleveland Clinic Experience Program, in which we took all 43,000 caregivers off line over a nine month period to meet in small, cross-functional groups—groups that included staff from every level and function, including physicians and senior executives — to talk explicitly about how each of their roles touched our patients. And when we were forced to close one of our community hospitals, we worked very hard to place 90% of the caregivers from that facility into other jobs within our system.

The result? Our engagement surveys, and perhaps more importantly, our patient feedback, made it clear that our new institutional language did indeed resonate with our people, and did make a difference in how they felt about their work and how they actually performed that work.

So once again, language does matter. As a professor of psychology at Stanford commented in an article on the relationship between language and thinking: “… it turns out that if you change how people talk, that changes how they think.” And changing how people think is the first step to changing how they act.

Which brings me to you and your organization. Does your institutional language need to change? Does it encourage or discourage engagement? Is it as empowering as it could be? Are your employee handbook and policies loaded with command and control language—“must,” “required,” “cause for dismissal,” etc.? What about the language you personally use every day at work?

Let me know your thoughts and reactions.

How Will Your People Vote?

At this point in what is shaping up as the wildest presidential election in many decades (and possibly one of the wildest in our country’s history), it’s easy to get a little discouraged with the democratic process. Sometimes it may even be tempting to agree with Winston Churchill’s remark that, “The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.” On the other hand, Churchill also said, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

In any case, what it comes down to for me is that the process of voting is a powerful way not only to reach important decisions, but it’s also a great learning tool for those in a leadership position. Self- awareness is critical to growing and developing as a leader. With that in mind, I have a question for you: if you asked the people in your organization to vote on whether or not you’re a successful leader, what would they say? And what might you learn from what they say?

Now, to make such an exercise useful, I think you’d want to make the question more specific.  As I’ve made clear in other postings, I believe strongly that servant-leadership is a better way to lead. I believe that because of the considerable body of research that shows that organizations that apply the principles of servant-leadership consistently outperform their competition across a whole array of key metrics.  In Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership, for example, the authors show that while the eleven public companies cited in Jim Collin’s Good to Great achieved a 17.5% total return on investment over a 10 year period, eleven similar size, publicly held, servant led companies actually returned 24.5% over the same ten years.

Command and Control                          Servant-Leadership

. Position authority                                          . Moral authority

. Might makes right                                         . Puts others first

. Survival of the fittest                                    . Puts the organization first

. My way is better                                            . Empowers others

. People are tools                                             . Welcomes feedback

. The end can justify the means                   . Builds consensus

.  Who screwed up?                                        . Seeks solutions not blame

Most companies, however, are not servant led. Most companies, and most organizations within companies, still adhere to the traditional command and control model. How does servant-leadership differ from command and control? This simple chart can help answer that question.

So the high level question you might want to pose to the people in your organization is: As a leader, where do I fall on a continuum between “pure” command and control and “pure” servant leadership?

What if you asked your people to “vote” on your leadership effectiveness by completing the following exercise, answering seven simple questions that together can help place you on that leadership continuum? The results  might be very interesting, don’t you think?

Please answer the following questions by using the seven-point scale.

1.      [Your Name]  often asks for feedback on his/her leadership style, he/she often asks how he/she could better support the people in the organization, and he/she really uses the information?

Command & Control                                                                                   Servant Leadership

2. [Your Name] often takes the mission statement off the wall, talks about it at staff meetings, and    discusses what that means for everyone on the team, especially when we face a difficult decision.

Command & Control                                                                                   Servant Leadership

3.  [Your Name] does not do most of the talking during staff meetings and makes it a point to draw people out to participate, asking for their opinions so as to reach solutions together whenever possible.

Command & Control                                                                                   Servant Leadership

4. [Your Name] seems to consider his/her role as a leader to be a privilege, one that the  people in the organization give him/her every day.

Command & Control                                                                                   Servant Leadership

5. When mistakes are made, [Your Name] treats them as learning opportunities for the team  and himself/herself instead of looking for someone to blame.

Command & Control                                                                                   Servant Leadership

6.  [Your Name] puts people in positions to succeed by giving them roles which play to their strengths.

Command & Control                                                                                   Servant Leadership

7. [Your Name] often allows other members of the team to get recognition which he/she could have received,  because it would’ve been the best thing for their development at that time.

Total Score_____   Average Score_______

Command & Control  1………………2……………3………………4……………..5…………..6…………..7 Servant Leadership

Once you’ve collected the survey, and done it yourself, you could ask yourself questions like these:

How does my rating of myself (my overall/average score) compare to the rating the people in my organization gave me?

On which specific questions was the difference the greatest between the way I rated myself and the way the others on my team rated me? What does this suggest in terms of what I do every day as a leader?

What specific actions could I take to move myself along the continuum toward servant leadership?

Give it a try. I think you’ll find the results, and the ideas they generate, very thought provoking. And as always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

My Best,




A Better Way to Lead

Most employees are not going to really care about their work or their organization’s customers until they themselves feel cared for. In other words, if you don’t care, they won’t care.

But what makes an employee feel that their organization does in fact care about them? The research on employee engagement is actually a great place to start looking for an answer to this question. One study of engagement, conducted in 2012 by the Dale Carnegie organization, notes:

“… engaged employees lead to happy, loyal customers and repeat business. …although there are multiple factors affecting engagement, the personal relationship between a manager and his or her direct reports is the most influential.”

Of course, this relationship between supervisor and employee has many dimensions, and it’s worth noting that many of the factors that go into the relationship have themselves been identified as key drivers of engagement. These include:

  • The opportunity for stimulating work
  • Opportunities for professional development
  • Having his/her opinions listened to
  • Recognition for good work.

Clearly, a direct supervisor plays a critical—a “direct”— role in each of these areas.

So here’s the question: how can an organization get its direct supervisors—and in fact, its leaders at every level—to put time and effort into making sure that their employees have the opportunity to develop new skills and do stimulating work, have their opinions listened to, and receive the recognition they deserve? And what might happen if you and your organization embraced a leadership model that demonstrated this kind of caring for your people every day.

All of which brings me to Servant-Leadership.

Servant- leaders put their people and their organization first, well ahead of their own prerogatives as the “boss.”  Servant-leaders share power and decision making as much as possible. Instead of harping on the weaknesses of the people who work for them, they build on their strengths, providing opportunities for professional development and stretch assignments.  Servant-leaders listen to the opinions and ideas of others, regardless of position. They co-create solutions , tapping into the collective genius of the people in their organizational unit. And servant-leaders direct the spotlight away from themselves and onto others, sharing recognition or giving it away entirely. Finally, they do this with high levels of emotional intelligence!

The result? Servant-led organizations (which include industry leaders like Zappos, Southwest Airlines, Marriott, and Starbucks) outperform their competitors across a whole range of key performance metrics.

The bottom line? For me, at least, it’s simply this: Servant-leadership is a better way to lead!

What do you think?




Servant Leaders = Engaged Employees = Loyal Customers

Have you ever been part of an organization with a serious morale problem? If so, you know what a miserable work environment it can create. Turning that situation around is anything but easy, but as difficult a challenge as it is, it can also be a huge opportunity. Because more often than not we learn more about ourselves and our business in these very difficult situations. I know I have.

Some years back, I served as the VP of HR for Digital Equipment Corporation’s $3.5B global services division. Digital, once a technology industry leader, had missed some strategic reflection points in the marketplace and reacted ineffectively to the shift to a PC-driven, open system software environment. The result had not been pretty. Downsizing cut the workforce from 120,000 to 60,000, deep cuts were made in areas like professional development, and employee morale took a big hit.

When the new GM of the Global Services division tapped me to lead his HR organization, he put the morale problem at the top of my to-do list, and I went looking for help. That’s when I learned about the Service Profit Chain, a concept laid out in a groundbreaking article and then a book published by a team of Harvard Business School professors.

Drawing on extensive research into service-driven companies like Southwest Airlines, Taco Bell, and ServiceMaster, Professor Len Schlesinger and his co-authors linked profits and growth back through customer loyalty to employee loyalty and satisfaction. And what drives all of this? Leaders who are “caring vs removed,” who lead by “listening, coaching, and teaching vs supervising and managing,” “motivating by mission vs motivating by fear.”

So here’s how you connect the dots. Leaders who really care about their employees encourage employee satisfaction and loyalty, which drive higher performance, customer satisfaction, and customer loyalty, which in turn drive higher growth and profits.

One of the points I found then and still find most compelling about the service profit chain is the distinction it makes between customer satisfaction and customer loyalty. In this view, customer satisfaction is not an end in itself. Customers who are merely satisfied will do business with you again, but they are also highly susceptible to the appeal of your competitors. But customers who are highly satisfied—8 to 10 on a ten-point scale—these people can become loyal customers.

And here’s what’s so important about that difference. Loyal customers develop an emotional connection to a company or brand. Think Disney. Starbucks. The Ritz. Zappos. Apple. LLBean. And because of that emotional connection, according to Professor Schlesinger’s research loyal customers— compared to merely satisfied customers— are actually six times more likely to be repeat customers, refer friends, and pay more!  They’ll even cut you some slack if on occasion you fail to meet your own high standards of service.

Incidentally, some people have a negative reaction to the idea of loyalty. They think of it as an outdated concept, or as some kind of mindless, emotional state—“blind loyalty”. I disagree. To my mind, there’s nothing outdated or irrelevant about the idea of loyalty. And as for its being mindless, again I disagree. Sure, loyal customers will cut you some slack, but they won’t stick with you unless you consistently deliver the kind of service that made them loyal in the first place. You can’t ever take loyalty for granted. You have to earn it and re-earn it, day in and day out.

That’s as true for employees as it is for customers. Like loyal customers, loyal employees will give you the  benefit of the doubt when you make a mistake— and what leader hasn’t? And just as with customer loyalty, if you want to build a workforce that is highly engaged, loyal to the organization, and committed to its success, you need to earn that commitment every day. You do that by showing that you care.

Sometimes that takes a major new initiative. At Digital, for example, the talented engineers who worked in our services division cared a great deal about staying current in the latest technology. So our leaders worked very hard to find enough money, even in hard times, for us to make a significant investment in the kind of professional development they valued so highly.

But much of the time, it’s the small things that make the biggest difference. So leaders who care talk less and listen more. They turn the spotlight on others instead of themselves. They have the courage to get to know their employees on a personal level. They take the time to be a mentor instead of just a boss.

Remember: you can’t force someone to be loyal. Not even Tony Soprano could pull that off. You can’t even pay someone to be loyal. Somebody else will always come along with a better offer. Loyalty can only be earned.

Nothing I’ve learned in the past 20 years has made me think that the concepts laid out in the service profit chain no longer apply. When I became CHRO at Cleveland Clinic in December of 2007, the Clinic was (as it continues to be) renowned for its outstanding clinical results and medical breakthroughs. Nonetheless, the Clinic’s performance back then in terms of patient satisfaction did not match its reputation.  When the results of the Federal government’s first patient experience survey (the so called “HCHAPS”) came out in 2008, the Clinic’s overall rating was just average, and its scores on the individual metrics were below average across the board. In the CEO’s words, “People come to us, we save their lives, but they don’t like us very much.”

Not surprisingly, at least to anyone who understood the service profit chain, the Clinic also had a serious employee engagement problem. When we commissioned Gallup to do an engagement survey in 2008, our scores were only in the 44th percentile of large healthcare systems.

To turn the situation around we launched a series of enterprise initiatives, some focused directly on the patient experience but many focused on improving employee engagement. For example, we changed our institutional language to refer to everyone at the Clinic as a “caregiver.” This reminded us in a small but important way that we were all in the value chain of delivering care and creating a safe, supportive experience for our patients and their families. Not just the physicians and nurses, but also the food service workers, the facilities staff, the people who transported patients around the hospital.

We also launched  a new caregiver wellness program, a new caregiver recognition program, and significant upgrades to an array of benefit programs. Equally important was the gradual implementation of servant leader training for leaders at every level, from supervisors to top executives.

Servant Leadership, which I’ve discussed in other blog postings and journal articles, has been implemented in a wide array of customer-focused organizations, including such industry leaders as Southwest Airlines, Starbucks, Marriott, Toro, and Kaiser Permanente. Compared to command-and-control leadership, servant leadership emphasizes moral authority rather than position power.

To help us transition to servant leadership, we worked closely with Ken Jennings and his Third River Partners organization. In Ken’s words, servant leaders—or in his language, serving leaders—“upend the pyramid, build on strengths, raise the bar, blaze the trail, and run to great purpose.”

Servant leaders put the enterprise and their people first in everything they do. They find ways to empower others. They focus on removing the barriers that prevent others from succeeding. They listen more and talk less. In short, servant leaders are caring leaders.

What did all this achieve at Cleveland Clinic? As these initiatives took hold and became embedded in the culture, caregiver engagement rose to the 87th percentile, and patient satisfaction rose in direct parallel.

So let me lay it out one more time: business success depends on customer loyalty, which depends on high levels of customer satisfaction, which depend on high levels of employee performance, which in turn depend on high levels of employee engagement. And that depends on caring leadership.

Now ask yourself: what is your organization doing to connect those dots?

Go Small or Go Home: Doing the Ordinary Things Extraordinarily Well


How many times have you heard that the key to success is to “go big”? “ The conventional wisdom is that if you don’t have the Big Idea, the Next Big Thing, The Breakthrough Concept, you’ll never be a big winner.  That’s what it’s all about right? You either think big or you go home.

I’d like to suggest something different. Thinking big is important, but unless you and your organization start thinking, valuing, and celebrating “small,” you will never succeed!

Great teams focus on doing the ordinary things extraordinarily well. They obsess over the details. Why? Because that’s the only way to turn a Big Idea from just an idea into an actual win on game day.

One of the most moving interviews I ever heard was with tennis star Pete Sampras after he beat three former US Open Champions to win his last US Open before retiring.  He was at that time, and still may be, arguably the best tennis player in history. He was asked during the interview what he thought was the key to his success. Pete, never a person to use a lot of words, simply said “I just worked really hard at my game and was able to do the ordinary things extraordinarily well I guess!”

Again—great athletes, great leaders in any field, and great organizations do the ordinary things extraordinary well. Don’t get me wrong. “Go big or go home” has its place when you’re “standing in the future” to create a compelling vision for yourself or your organization. You have to dream big, and paint a vivid picture of what success entails, or you won’t get to experience that success. But unless you focus on the details, the ordinary things that end up leading to extraordinary results, you’re going home.

Successful organizations have learned to harness the power of big ideas by knowing they come to reality by thinking small.

Have you ever sat in a meeting and have someone present a strategy by saying, “Here’s my idea for a new strategy. It’s a loser but I’m presenting it anyway.” Of course you haven’t, because every strategy sounds like a winning strategy. But often, the difference between a winning and losing strategy is the ability to execute. In order to execute well, you have to get small. I’d be willing to bet that your last great customer experience didn’t come because someone did something heroic for you. It much more likely came as a result of an ordinary interaction in which the other person took great care to make every little detail go perfectly.

I’ve been working with organizations for over 30 years, helping to build engaged enterprises. We often start at the enterprise level, rolling out a new big idea or program, and there’s no doubt that what happens and what gets communicated at that level is critically important. But in the end real progress only comes when we get small, because building engagement is a local phenomenon.

It happens when every manager, in every unit in every division, builds plans with their people and executes on those plans. It happens when leaders and employees at every level take responsibility for making their organization a great place to work. It happens when leaders at every level come to understand the power of a simple thank you when they see someone doing an ordinary thing extraordinarily well. It happens when leaders learn that taking the time to know their people on a personal level is time well spent. It happens when leaders recognize that there are no back offices in any organization, when they believe and make everyone else believe that everybody’s work is critical to the success of the organization.

So what do you think? When was the last time you got small with your people?

Let me know your thoughts.

Joseph M. Patrnchak