After Onboarding, How to Prevent the Descent into Disengagement

New employees are easy to engage given the fair amount of attention they receive at the outset. They’re likely to be welcomed with open arms and treated to meetings with executives who explain the company’s mission, vision and goals; reinforce their value to the company; and introduce them to their respective departments to meet their managers and co-workers. Knowing where they fit in the organization and how they can contribute, these new employees are anxious and eager to get started.

This level of attention wanes the longer employees are on the job, and that’s when the potential for becoming disengaged sets in due to organizational complacency; i.e., “You know what you’re supposed to do, so do it. We’ll be in touch eventually.” To illustrate, I often ask participants in my internal marketing workshops how they get reminded of their fit and value in their respective organizations. Many of them acknowledge that their job descriptions are out of date. They also admit that job-related expectations and goals are typically discussed only during the annual performance review – an event about as welcome as a root canal.

More than organizational complacency

Another contributing factor involves marketplace dynamics. Evolving customer needs, competition, financial pressures, etc., also prompt changes in company goals and strategies. Yet revised strategies and adjusted expectations of employees may not be communicated top-down to everyone in the organization. Employees know things are changing within the company – but they don’t know the reasons for it and what they’re supposed to do about it.

To learn what’s going on in the company, some employees will take the initiative to approach their managers. Over time, however, they become frustrated if they have to continually seek out company and job-related information beyond the grapevine. Other employees just hunker down as they quietly disengage.

You can avoid this situation and keep employees engaged with this basic two-pronged approach:

  • proactively share what’s happening in the company and why
  • continually reinforce employees’ alignment and fit within the organization, including how their efforts individually and collectively contribute to the bottom line.

Onboarding new groups of employees may be once-and-done, but communicating the company’s purpose, its future, and how employees can make a positive impact, is ongoing.

“Don’t make your employees guess about whether they’re doing enough or fulfilling [the company’s] expectations… Make people feel like they are in the loop,  and they’ll feel more engaged… ”
– Alan E. Hall


Engagement Training & Development

Best Lessons from Bad Bosses-Part 2

We all love great bosses and hate the bad ones. The only upside to a bad boss is what we learn from our experience working with that person: primarily what not to do and, occasionally, what to do.

Following up my previous post on lessons learned from bad bosses, here is more great advice shared by colleagues.

Understand Who’s Important

The best lesson I learned from a bad boss is — to kiss your subordinates’ butts. Put another way, be of service and work for YOUR TEAM instead of the other way around. You need your team to get things done. If you are there for them when they need you, they will be there for YOU. So, for example, if one of your team members needs an extra day off or a little resource boost on a project and you deliver, they are far more likely to help you when you need to pull together a presentation for YOUR boss.

A lot of bad bosses get it reversed. They are busy ingratiating themselves to THEIR boss and treating their staff like dirt. My favorite and best boss taught me this lesson in a big way. In some ways it felt like he worked for me. Whenever I needed resources or him to push something through the system, he was there. This was a huge help in my being successful. This also meant that when he came to my office on a Friday at 4:30 p.m. begging for help on his board presentation — you KNOW I was there, and happy to do it. — Ivana S. Taylor, Small Business Influencer,
A Bad Boss Can Do Something Right

I learned that sometimes the rules need to be broken when something important needs to be done. Not unethically, but when a rule designed to solve one problem, creates a barrier to success, it can be the right decision to do the wrong thing.

We had a process whereby a certain form needed to be filled out. It was a form designed and created 40 year earlier by the founder when there was maybe 100 employees. We had over 2,000 at the time and the form was no longer needed. But no one wanted to stop using it because they feared the repurcussions. My bad boss simply stopped using the form. Two years later someone asked about the forms and he played stupid. We never had to do the form again. Nothing fell apart. Nothing stopped working. The world went on without it.

Lesson: The requirements of the past can stop you from creating a future. — Paul Hebert, consultant/speaker/writer for engagement, incentives and rewards

Don’t Ignore the Value of Engaged Employees

  1. Recognize the fundamental economics of having engaged employees, customers, channel partners, and communities, which is that: companies with highly engaged audiences relationships do better financially than the average company; relationships with customers and talent are a company’s biggest financial and brand equity asset; and disengagement has hard costs in terms of turnover, lower productivity, poor service, more accidents, less healthy people, and legal suits that can have a significant effect on the bottom line and brand equity.

  2. Empower and value people, rather than control them and treat them like statistics: people who feel empowered, act like owners and watch your back — people who feel controlled, act like slaves.

  3. Do as Tom Peters said:  “Manage by walking around.”  — Bruce Bolger, Managing Director, Enterprise Engagement Alliance

You Can’t Fake It + Other Important Lessons

  • Playing politics never pays — It’s shallow, transparent and short-sighted.  It may help you win the day, but it will lose you a ton of respect long-term with peers, superiors and subordinates.

  • Communicate clearly (not in code) — There’s no excuse for allowing ambiguity to cloud judgment, direction or execution. If your style of management is to expect your team to predict or guess what you mean and want, that’s terrible leadership. Not all news is good news, but people want clarity, not innuendos.

  • Invest time with your team — Absentee management never works. You can’t hide behind emails. And it’s never a good idea to look annoyed when one of your team members wants to see you or ask you a question. Successful management requires time, it requires an investment in spending time with your team to make them better, allow them to become more autonomous and productive. That just takes time, but it creates results, loyalty and longevity (for you and for them).

  • Superficial optics will backfire — This particular boss told us she wanted us to be at our desks as much as possible, so that people walking by would see how hard we are working. She literally said that to us. You can imagine what that did to her credibility.  — Matt Heinz, president, Heinz Marketing, Inc.

Special thanks to Ivana Taylor, Paul Hebert, Bruce Bolger, and Matt Heinz for sharing their lessons learned from bad bosses.

You’re invited to share
What lessons did you learn from your experience with a bad boss?



Overcoming Intention Deficit in the Workplace

Move aside attention deficit – not the clinical kind but the one found in the workplace where people are overwhelmed and/or distracted by constant communication from too many directives, emails, text messages, phone calls, social media, etc.

A serious consequence of this distraction is intention deficit, or more aptly, intentional deficit. It’s not that managers and employees lack intention – defined as “a determination to act in a certain way.” What they often lack is the actual doing or proactive follow through of an intention particularly when it comes to strategic or business-specific planning, special problem-solving, idea-sharing, and training/development. I hear about it from my clients, workshop attendees, and colleagues: they know what needs to be done but they’re so overwhelmed they’re not always able to follow through or follow up on their efforts. They tell me they’re so busy putting out fires that they don’t have the time to prevent most of them in the first place.

Being intentional involves:

  1. Focus and clarity – clearly knowing what one needs to do and why, and
  2. Deliberate thought and action – investing the time to make it happen.

Here are several ways to overcome intention deficit in each of these areas.

Focus and clarity

  • Explain your organization’s purpose and direction; i.e, your mission, goals, strategy, and rationale.
  • Clearly communicate what’s expected of employees to achieve those goals.
  • Reinforce the above often – including any changes in direction and strategy – and share progress/results so people stay on track or can adjust accordingly.

“The biggest lesson has been the importance of constantly repeating the mission. It means spending meaningful time with everyone that joins, even if that’s in a group setting. It means bringing the team together every week to talk about all of our projects, progress, and vision. Most importantly: It means focus, to keep everybody moving in the same direction.” David Karp, Tumblr CEO

Deliberate thought and action

  • Commit to and invest the time to accomplish what needs to be done in special meetings or retreats for planning, problem-solving, idea-sharing, or training.
  • Create a comfortable climate that encourages nonjudgmental thinking and discussion. It’s important to disconnect yourself and others from any technology that diverts your attention such as cell phones, email, and social media. (Note: This may be difficult for some people who are always plugged in. Remind them that the messages, emails, tweets, and posts will still be there.)
  • Know the end goal – what you’re trying to accomplish in a special session – while also staying mission-focused.
  • Set up appropriate “next steps” – such as interim or progress report(s), resulting strategic or action plan(s), additional meeting(s) – and just do it.

Staff members brought together for a specific purpose in a setting with minimal distractions tell me they’re better able to focus on the topic at hand. An added benefit of participating in a well-run intentional session is that employees appreciate the opportunity to work with their colleagues in a face-to-face setting, especially in silo’d organizations.

Focused attention and intention. Communication and collaboration among employees. The ability to move forward and/or resolve issues. What are you waiting for?

“Never mistake motion for action.”  Ernest Hemingway



Engagement Training & Development

The Three Most Important Questions You Need to Ask in Human Resources

In addition to the fine folks who work in Human Resources (HR), or in the absence of an HR function, everyone who is responsible for managing or supervising employees needs to consider three critical questions from the employee’s perspective. Answers to these questions are key to strengthening employee engagement. Note: Nonprofit managers can also apply these questions to volunteers who serve in their organizations.

  1. Does my employer care about me and my work?
    People need to know that managers recognize and respect their roles within the organization and will support their efforts to do the best job possible.
  2. What difference do I make?
    Employees and volunteers also need to know how their efforts contribute to the organization’s mission and goals. This includes having a clear line-of-sight as to how their work impacts customers or clients, co-workers, stakeholders, the community where the organization is located, and the organization’s overall success. (Think of the NASA janitor who wasn’t just cleaning floors — he was helping to put a man on the moon.)
  3. What’s in it for me?
    Addressing this question gets to the heart of why an employee’s work matters and why s/he should stay with the organization. Considerations include the meaning and purpose of the work involved, the quality of the workplace culture (how employee- and customer-focused it is), and basic benefits,

How do you learn the answers to these questions?
A variety of listening posts are available in most organizations, including (but not limited to): employee engagement or satisfaction surveys … exit surveys … management by wandering around (MBWA) … everyday conversations with employees … and “engaging conversations – open-ended, non-judgmental conversations with each employee about passions, aspirations and opportunities.”

Ask first, then listen for understanding.



People to People: Favorite Quotes on Collaboration

From important historical figures and contemporary business leaders, here are my favorite quotes on how working together makes a difference.

“The value in human interaction is greater collective wisdom as a result of improved communication and collaboration.” Michael Katz

“In speaking, we humanize ourselves. In listening, we bring our worlds together. In learning, we create understanding.” Yvonne DiVita

“More people would rather enjoy the camaraderie of smart collaboration than be lead, persuaded or managed.” Kare Anderson

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” Helen Keller

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

“Never do anything about me without me.” David Zinger


What Marketing is Missing

Marketing may do a great job of communicating brand value to consumers, yet it doesn’t necessarily do the same for communicating its own value within an organization. Far too often I hear marketing staff commiserate about how they struggle to get respect and buy-in for their programs, including from the areas they support such as Sales and Product Development. It’s a serious concern as all departments – individually and collectively – impact brand delivery, thus impacting Marketing’s effectiveness.

What’s missing is marketing Marketing itself — not for its own glory or credit, but for strengthening its relationship with everyone in the organization. It’s not that we don’t know what to do to market our function; it’s that we’re so busy taking care of everyone else’s marketing needs that we neglect our own.

Marketing is all fun and games … or is it?

It’s hard to be taken seriously when people associate you primarily with “fluff,” but that’s what a lot of people think about Marketing. Just because the Marketing Department occupies a place on the organizational chart doesn’t mean people know who we are or what we do.

To get other departments to better understand and support Marketing’s efforts, we need to intentionally get out of our silos and strategically market Marketing within our companies. It’s not that difficult or complicated. It’s a matter of investing the time to educate employees about marketing’s critical role within the organization — as brand steward and promoter … customer advocate  … collector and interpreter of market insight … etc. There are numerous internal marketing tools of engagement that can be used for marketing outreach and getting buy-in in for marketing initiatives.

Just like consumer or business-to-business marketing, internal marketing is not a once-and-done effort. It’s a long-term strategy that’s needed to build mutual trust, respect, and ongoing relationships between Marketing and the organization. Unless, of course, you want to be known as the “Department of Fluff.”


Engagement Training & Development

Management Communication Basics: Engaging Employees in Staff Briefings

With company e-mail dominating internal communications, staff meetings are becoming an endangered organizational activity. Yet managers and employees still need to get together to stay informed on what’s happening in the organization and how it impacts their work, including the opportunity to voice their concerns.

Why a staff briefing?

The purpose of  periodic staff briefings is to keep employees connected and get them “on the same page.” It is not intended to focus on problem-solving or detailed planning. Here’s a sample meeting template that helps engage employees and minimize passive participation.

  1. An aerial view of what’s going on – share new top-down information such as organizational strategies, operational updates, policy changes, etc., including the rationale behind any changes or direction. Employees need to understand the “why” as well as the “what” of executive decisions in the context of the company’s mission and goals. Allow time to address employee questions and concerns.
  2. New business/project/program development – overview of any new initiatives that support and/or impact departmental goals, including who is involved so staff know who to contact with questions.
  3. Current projects/programs – employee share progress updates, results.
  4. Teachable moments – employees can take turns reporting on business topics of interest to the group or share lessons learned from a recent work-related situation.
  5. Wrap up/next steps – acknowledge employee participation; agree on any follow-up action items.

Food and face time

In a positive work environment, face-to-face staff briefings serve employees’ needs for information-sharing, learning, and connecting with each other.  Consider providing food and/or beverage depending on what time the meeting is held. Refreshments can be a strong draw and serve to create a hospitable meeting environment, but they should not be the main attraction.

Email and other forms of digital communication are expedient and timely in keeping employees informed. However, face-to-face is better for periodic staff briefings because:

  • people are wholly present (for the most part)
  • there are fewer distractions in a focused meeting setting
  • actual body language and tone of voice minimize misinterpretations
  • feedback and clarification are immediate.

“Nothing replaces being in the same room, face-to-face, breathing the same air and reading and feeling each other’s micro-expressions.” Peter Guber

[Source: Peter Guber., Xplore Inc, 2015., accessed April 7, 2015.
Read more at]


Preventing Burnout for Non-Profit Workers

Given the importance of nonprofit engagement, I’m happy to share this post by Andrew Littlefield that appeared on the WeDidIt blog. It is reprinted with permission.

Keeping Your Team Fueled: Preventing Burnout for Non-Profit Workers
by Andrew Littlefield

Non-profit work is often romanticized. Well … at least by people who haven’t actually worked there before …

Students often pine about wanting to work for a non-profit, to pursue a career with meaning that will make the world a better place. 9-to-5ers in the business world will mention to NPO workers they meet that they would “love” to do that kind of work and feel like they’re making the world a better place.

How many times have you heard the tale of the corporate businessman or woman who left their corner office to go pursue an altruistic passion?

Then reality hits. You enter the non-profit world, and after just a few short years, you feel completely drained.

Non-profit work is tough. We love to get poetic about meaning in our work (which is undoubtedly important), but in doing so we often overlook other factors of workplace happiness that leave us feeling discouraged and defeated. Worse yet, the relentless pursuit of helping other often leaves NPO workers neglecting their own needs.

It’s a vicious cycle that has resulted in far too many talented non-profit workers falling out of the ranks.

So how do you keep this from happening to your team? You want to aggressively chase your organization’s mission, but is it worth high turnover among your ranks?

It’s not (all) about the money

It’s no secret that salaries in the not-for-profit world are often lower than what we’d like to see, and that certainly can contribute to burnout. However, it’s been widely proven that higher salaries don’t automatically result in higher levels of happiness. In fact, there’s a tipping point for financial happiness that is lower than you might think.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The good news is that non-profit work is perfectly suited for several well-researched variables to burnout prevention and job satisfaction.

The bad news is non-profit work is also very poorly suited for several of these well-researched variables of job satisfaction.

In his book Outliers (highly recommended reading), Malcolm Gladwell identifies three major factors of career happiness:

  • Complexity
  • Autonomy
  • Connection between effort and reward1

It’s within these factors that we’ll find clues to successfully leading a team away from burnout and discouragement. Let’s break them down.


Non-profits win this factor by a long shot; if your organization’s mission were simple, there would be no need for a non-profit dedicated to solving that problem. NPO work is by nature complex! They tackle big problems that require big, creative solutions.

The complexity of an individual job within a non-profit organization varies, but the overall mission as a whole is complex and challenging. That’s why your team is there in the first place!


Unfortunately, autonomy in the non-profit world can be a bit harder to come by. Even the most cutting-edge, forward thinking NPO often receives funding from government sources that require strict oversight and little flexibility. This in turn can stifle the level of autonomy a certain position on your team might have. Workers may not feel they’re empowered to make the decisions they feel are best for the organization and the cause. This is a burnout danger zone.

Connection between effort and reward

At first glance, this one might seem like an obvious win for non-profit work, but I would argue it’s actually a wash. Non-profit work certainly serves a greater good, which is one of the biggest draws for many (particularly young) workers. Seeing your work in the office pay off in a veteran getting a job, a homeless child being fed, or a bill passed into law can be extremely rewarding.

The problem is, many times these payoffs are a long way away from materializing. You can work towards a cause for years, even decades, before the fruits of your labor are finally realized. There may be many micro-wins along the way, and all those micro-wins added together can be significant, but it’s often hard to recognize them in the heat of battle. That can make the effort/reward connection tough.

Your team often needs what your donors need

Even though they’re behind the scenes, your team members often crave the same kind of feedback your donors do: they want to know the details of the problem they’re solving, and they want to know specifically how their contribution has helped.

Make that connection tangible for them. Even if the payoff is a long way off, help them understand the importance of micro-wins. Do more than just tell them what a big deal it is, show them! Take them face-to-face with the people they’ve helped. Get creative and illustrate what their efforts have done.

Additionally, never stop communicating the details of the cause; the intricacies and difficulties associated with pursuing your mission. Don’t do this in a way that makes the problem seem insurmountable and discourages them, but keep them informed of how complex their job is, and pride will follow.

Finally, even though many of the factors that control the fate of your organization may be out of your hands (there goes your autonomy), actively seek out opportunities to hand over control to your team members. From big to small, give them a chance to take the reigns. That might mean they screw something up, but there’s value in mistakes.

  1. Gladwell, M. (2008). The Three Lessons of Joe Flom. In Gladwell, M., Outliers (149-150). Back Bay Books: New York, NY



Engagement Marketing

Summer Blog Break 2014

After an extremely busy six months of speaking engagements and client work, it’s time for my annual blog break. I find summer is the perfect time to clear my head, catch up on a backlog of reading (preferably outside in the sunshine), and stimulate new content marketing ideas.

This is only a temporary break from blogging. I’m working on several client and writing projects this summer and will continue to stay active on Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media networks. Until I return to blogging in mid-late August, you can find many great current and archived posts on:

Have a happy and safe summer!


Keeping Employees from Becoming Invisible

New employees are easy to engage. Companies welcome new recruits with open arms as they explain the company’s mission-vision-values and goals, outline employees’ work duties, introduce them to their managers and co-workers, and perhaps even assign them peer mentors. I’m simplifying the onboarding  process here, but  new employees receive a fair amount of attention to engage them from the start.

This level of attention wanes the longer employees are on the job, and that’s when the potential for becoming invisible sets in. To illustrate, I often ask attendees in my internal marketing workshops about their job descriptions. Less than one-third typically respond that their job descriptions are up-to-date. In some companies, employees only get reminded of their fit within the organization and what’s expected of them during the annual performance review – an event about as welcome as a root canal.

Gradual descent into disengagement

It’s not that employees are clueless about their roles or that managers are purposely keeping them in the dark. (I know, I’m giving employees and managers the benefit of the doubt here.) The reality is that marketplace changes – including increased competition, evolving customer needs,and financial pressures – also prompt changes in company goals and strategies. Yet revised strategies and adjusted expectations of employees don’t necessarily filter down to everyone in the organization. With managers struggling to cope with limited resources, information overload, and demanding bosses, who’s got time to update job descriptions? Or keep employees in the loop by addressing their questions and concerns in staff meetings?

To learn what’s going on in the company, some employees will take the initiative to approach their managers. Over time, however, these employees may become frustrated and disengage if they have to continually seek out company and job-related information. Meanwhile, other employees will:

  • Tap into the company grapevine to get information
  • Hunker down and keep doing what they’ve been doing until they’re told differently
  • Grow frustrated and eventually leave or retire on-the-job.

To prevent employees from becoming invisible and disenfranchised within the company, managers need to proactively share what’s happening in the company and why. They also need to reinforce employees’ alignment and fit within the organization, including how their efforts individually and collectively contribute to the bottom line.

“Don’t make your employees guess about whether they’re doing enough or fulfilling [the company’s] expectations… Make people feel like they are in the loop,  and they’ll feel more engaged… ”
Alan E. Hall