How many Souls Have Left the Building? A Conversation on Employee Engagement.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Brad Federman, author of a new book on Employee Engagement (unambiguously) titled, “Employee Engagement.”

I wanted to get his opinion on all things Engagement – What is it?  Why don’t companies understand it? What can they do about it?  He offered some great insight, even better sound bites, and a compelling argument as to why this is THE business challenge the will separate the winners from the losers during the economic recovery.

Seven questions and answers that will be sure to lead your organization to Engagement bliss, or simply scare you to death.   One thing is for sure, if your company wants better execution, then your organization better address the engagement issue now or it will address yourorganization later.

Take a look and let us know what you think.  I’ll make sure Brad responds to any questions that you may have.

Many books have been written about the topic of Employee Engagement.  What makes this one different?

(Answer) First, most books on Engagement tackle a piece of the subject, but do not take a holistic view providing the reader with a less than realistic view of what engagement really is.  It would be the equivalent of educating someone on small business loans and giving them the impression that they understand everything there is to know about the economy.  Second, this is not an HR book.  This is a business book for managers, leaders, and executives who want to grow their organization regardless of their function.

Why do you think so many companies still have a problem grasping this concept?

(Answer) The entire economy has been turned upside down, the employer-employee relationship has been turned on its head, a generational shift is occurring in the workplace, technology has dramatically altered how we communicate and perceive one another, yet most of our tools, structures and research we use as well as the habits we live by come from the 80’s and 90’s.  We have yet to catch up to our current reality.  Some don’t recognize the changes, others hope things return to what they coin “normal”, and many that recognize and grasp our new reality struggle with how to act on it.

World at Work recently released a study stating that Engagement has decreased 9% worldwide and 20+% among high-performers.   Did this surprise you?   What do you think the implications are for companies trying to navigate what appears to be a slow moving economic recovery?

(Answer) No it does not surprise me about this study.  The implications are simple and straightforward.  Those that focus on engagement now will recover faster and stronger than those that do not.  Many organizations are still healthy because they never lost sight of engagement during this difficult period.  When the economy does recover, the floodgates will open at certain organizations and they will lose their intellectual capital.  But that is not the scariest part.  The scariest aspect is that that there are companies right now that do not realize the bad shape they are in with their business. They blame their ills on the economy.   My question for those organizations is…You may have the bodies, but how many souls have left the building? Without spirit they don’t have a business.

What do you consider the top three reasons for decreased engagement?

(Answer) Fear, Control, and Self Interest starting with senior leadership then cascading down from there.  The ingredients that create strong, productive relationships are also the same ingredients that create healthy, dynamic organizations – Trust, Transparency, Authenticity, Ownership (accountability), Creativity and Resourcefulness.  Unfortunately difficult circumstances cause many organizations, specifically senior leadership, to neglect what is important.  During difficult economic times people tend to act or make decisions based on fear, concerns, or anxiety.  All of us have fears, concerns, and anxiety but if we are able to admit when we are falling prey to them and work through those issues with others then we are able to make healthier decisions.  When stress and fear take over we look at the world in exclusive terms and in limiting ways.  We become focused on mitigating risk and lose sight of opportunity.  We decide to put in a number of controls to create predictability and political jockeying goes into overdrive because everyone wants to keep their job.  These types of behaviors not only spread and change the culture of an organization, but they hamstring the very people who can help us survive these challenges and come out of the other end.  Stress and fear can either be our jailor or our counselor.  It is our choice.  Too many leadership teams during downturns like this one choose, consciously or unconsciously, the jailor and then rationalize it to make themselves feel comfortable.

Many CEO’s still view Engagement as Soft and HR-ish.   Assuming one of them gave you 30 seconds to convince him/her that this is important, what would you say?

(Answer) First of all I would love to have more CEO’s give me 30 seconds.  Any takers?  More importantly, I would like to see a CEO convince me that it is not important.  But since you are asking the questions, here it goes…I would ask them “What factor(s) is most paramount to their success? “  Is the answer is product innovation, sales, service. My next question is going to be “How do your people impact service, sales, product innovation?” Then I would ask them “Why it is acceptable to only 11-24% of their employees proactively helping the organization toward that goal?”  Last I would ask them “What do they think the impact is?”  Seriously, we would not settle for a manufacturing plant at 70% capacity, so why would we settle with our people.   We shouldn’t. We should invest in them.

Can you share a success story from a company that has made significant improvements in Engagement and the business impact of doing so?

(Answer) We worked with a high tech firm.  They were using a home grown survey that had too many questions, was not tied to research, and was not adding any value.  The survey was seen mainly as an HR activity.  They decided to make a change and they went with our survey the Engagement Index.  The first year that we worked with them the feedback illustrated very low levels of Engagement.  We were very clear with them about which issues were needed to be resolved in order to get an ROI from this process.  We also helped them with follow up, focus groups, and action planning.  Leadership was seen as a large portion of the issue.  There was a real lack of trust in their senior leadership.  First came a bit of shock, then regret, and then the excuses.  We helped them process the feedback and they came to the realization that not only did the organization have to make changes, but their leadership had to as well.  We have worked with them for four years now and their engagement levels have significantly improved.  There leadership is now trusted, and people believe in the mission and direction of the company.  Many employees shifted from being angry, complaining, sabotage – to pulling for the company even during difficult times.  Financials had been going south, but one year into our efforts they were able to create an 11M positive shift in profit and the engagement numbers and financial numbers have continued to go in the right direction. They have taken the shackles off of their employee’s hands, allowed them to get back to work, and work passionately together along the way.

Shameless Plug Time – Say anything you want here to convince readers as to why they should purchase this book.

(Answer) This is a book about business, but more importantly, it is a book about life.  The book will help you improve your relationships, team, division, organization, or strengthen customer relationships.  Any professional, manager, or executive would benefit from this read, but don’t take my word for it.  Here is what others have said:

“This will be the definitive book on employee engagement for years to come.”

“I know this sounds crazy, but this book has more to do with navigating life than improving employee loyalty, etc. I was surprised at how much I gleaned from this “business” book.”

“If you read one book on Engagement, make it this one!”

“Thoughtful. Brilliant. A genie in a bottle!”

“It will give you insight into the language and concerns of the decision-makers.”


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