Nan Russell: You don’t need an expert

You don’t need an employee engagement expert to confirm what you already know and Gallup polling substantiates: the majority of employees are disengaged at work. You don’t need an employee survey to tell you why discretionary efforts are tamed, passions for work are fleeting, and ideas are tethered. And you don’t need a consultant to explain why cynicism is up, enthusiasm is down, and trust is the new workplace currency.

All you need is to reread the children’s story, “The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg.” Remember that story about the greedy farmer who wanted more than one golden egg each day? By the story’s end, he had killed the golden goose and was left with no golden eggs at all.

Every day company leaders unintentionally kill enthusiasm, ideas, and initiative. They eliminate resources while still expecting immediate results. They shut out dialogue and limit open communication, while still requesting candid feedback. They pocket stock options and bonuses, while reducing staff salary and benefits. They reward unfavorable behaviors, while operating with myopic interests and escalating bureaucracy. And then they wonder why those they are striving to engage are alienated, distrustful, and fed-up.

You don’t need an expert to tell your organization that while basic productivity and job presence can be bought, staff ideas and discretionary efforts must be earned. In this era where intellectual property (the golden egg) is the competitive edge for most enterprises, organizational survival is contingent upon natural followership. So, a 20th century mindset that sees employees as interchangeable pieces won’t fuel innovative products and services, or enhance customer impressions in this now 21st century.

You don’t need an expert to tell you that out-of-touch leaders operating like medieval warlords with refrains like: “just make it happen;” “there’s no budget;” “I don’t care what it takes;” or “they should be thankful they have a job” fuel employee mind-sets akin to a scene in the movie, Stone Cold.

In that movie, Tom Selleck plays a small community police chief at odds with the town council who is telling him how an investigation should be handled. “We can fire you,” the council tells him.” “Yeah,” he responds, “but you can’t tell me what to do.”

Employees know what many leaders haven’t figured out yet. Parental, top-down cultures are as old-school as one-size-fits all print-only marketing approaches. What’s needed to change the direction of suffocating the geese with the golden eggs is a balanced understanding, which includes:

This is Not an HR Problem to Fix: If you’re one of those leaders (or companies) that proclaim employees are your most important asset, then either make that statement true, or stop saying it. What’s wrong in workplaces across America can’t be fixed with HR programs. Better recognition, more communication, or enhanced training isn’t enough to build trust and develop mutual respect.

Recognize We’re In this Together: Yes, there are problems with some leaders. But there are problems with some of the rest of us, too. Finger pointing, blaming, perpetuating an “us vs. them” mentality exacerbates the problem. Bottom line? We need each other to survive and thrive. Disengagement costs jobs and future opportunities.

Own Your Piece: If you’re a leader, take a look in the mirror. Yes, you’re under extreme pressure to meet goals and quarterly numbers, but ask yourself: are you killing the initiative of those around you with terse emails and escalating demands? Are you caught-up in a single-player game? And what about the rest of you? It’s not your company’s responsibility to make you engaged at work. This is your life, your career, your challenge. Ultimately you work for yourself, no matter who signs your check. Own your motivation and your future.

What’s Ahead?

We are approaching an era where the strongest performers, those with the golden eggs of ideas, experience, solutions, and innovation will accept nothing less than workplaces that enable them to do their best work.

These winning cultures will fuel the next generation of exceptional organizations that understand, in the big scheme of things, it’s only when we’re all winning that we truly all win. And no one will need an expert to explain why these are the magnet 21st century companies that thrive.

Column by Nan Russell. Nan is on the web at

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