Category: Employee Engagement


A World With No Bosses



That’s right…I said no bosses. Zero. Zilch. Nada.  But, oh the chaos that would ensue from all of those unsupervised children running rampant throughout your organization! (electronic tone clarification: sarcasm)

Okay, so I’m being a bit facetious with that last statement, but maybe I got your attention? I’ve been wanting to blog about this topic ever since attending the 2014 Association for Talent Development (ATD) International Conference & Expo in Washington, D.C. last month.   I had the pleasure of attending a learning session titled, “Skills for Driving Innovation in Flat Organizations” given by Dr. Debra France (@fstinno) with W.L. Gore & Associates.  Since its founding in 1958, W.L. Gore has operated using what they call a “lattice” structure, a model where relationships are everything and hierarchies and even titles are minimal, nearly non-existent.  They have been featured in many innovation and management-related business articles and research studies over the years, as I’m sure many of you are aware.


There are three main roles at W.L. Gore:

  1. Sponsors: Every single employee has one. Their purpose is to create micro-environments for innovators by coaching, mentoring, guaranteeing continued development, and supporting ideas. These are volunteer roles, and everyone chooses their own Sponsor by just simply asking. You can “break up” the relationship at any time, for any number of reasons. Some people might be Sponsors to 2-10 at a time, depending on how many they are willing to take on. Some, on the other hand, might not be a Sponsor to anyone at all (which is usually not a good sign).
  2. Team Leaders: The people in these roles are identified/elected by the team. Specific responsibilities are provided in detail in the Support section below.
  3. Associates: This comprises the large majority of the organization, as it is every other role that is not a Team Leader.

Note: You can be both a Sponsor and a Leader, or you could also be a Sponsor and an Associate.

As stated on their website, the lattice structure creates a culture described as “a team-based environment that encourages personal initiative and person-to-person communication among all associates.”  Employees are expected to grow and continuously nurture their lattice from Day 1.

At the core of this structure are several small and agile teams, which form naturally around business needs and opportunities. Everyone on the team holds each another accountable, to the point of stack ranking their teammates on both the Impact and Effectiveness of their contributions to the larger enterprise. Employees develop their own “commitments” (equivalent to performance objectives); and projects, tasks and ideas advance through influence and consensus, not authority.


Centrally-supported employee development efforts are heavily focused on communication and how to facilitate and grow strong relationships. I’ve already mentioned the support Associates get from their Sponsors, so let’s take a look at what the role of Leaders is at W.L. Gore and how they support the team.

Note: An overarching belief at W.L. Gore is that there is the need for a “Leader” role with specific and differentiated responsibilities, but yet the act of “Leadership” is expected of all.

The Role of a Leader in a Bossless Organization

Direction (strategies, priorities, decisions) – Make sure decisions are made and made well…but by the team.

Expectations – Is the environment healthy and productive? Is the team aligned with the broader enterprise? What metrics are being used to measure success?

People – Provide motivation, development and resources for the team (in conjunction with Sponsors)

Interfaces – Foster interdependencies across, beyond, and between the entire enterprise to create value. Ensure the team is interfacing with other teams.

No Easy Feat – Start Small

Dr. France readily admitted that this has been an easier road for them than maybe others because they’ve known no other road. Life at W.L. Gore has been like this since the very beginning. For companies interested in exploring this structure further that are already larger than 10 employees, she advised that you start with something small in a functional area or with a project in which you think it could work well, and then monitor and measure success.

Is There Something To This?

I have to believe that W.L. Gore is doing something right – they have been included on all Fortune 100 “Best Companies to Work For” lists since 1998 and have thrived as a business over the course of time. Although not new to them, this structure is becoming an increasingly popular practice in today’s business world, with Zappos being one of the most recent companies to gain media attention around their decision to go bossless.

So even if you don’t make the leap to strip away all management titles at your company, what can we learn and apply from organizations like W.L. Gore? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Special thanks to Dr. Debra France for sharing W.L. Gore’s story with us and sparking conversation and ideation around this concept!

photo credit: rossjamesparker via photopin cc

5 Lessons Business Leaders Can Learn From High Schoolers [Video]

What can business leaders learn from this 5 minute high school spirit video? A Lot!!!

Lakewood High School Lip Dub 2013 – Roar from Lakewood High School on Vimeo.

Lessons learned:

  • Team spirit leads to school spirit (i.e., engage at the functional/team level and advocacy for the broader organization will naturally follow). Students proudly displayed their unique Senate, Soccer, Tennis, Bridge, and Drama swag, but in unison for the greater good of the entire school and community.
  • Encourage affinity groups to convene. People like to connect with other people who have similar values, experiences, and interests. What are you doing to enable these connections at your organization? One of Maslow’s needs is Social/Belonging – it’s a human need that must be met before esteem and self-actualization can be reached. And HUMANS work for you, not ROBOTS.
  • Your employees have a life outside of work (crazy, I know!). Did you notice a few parents and younger children in the video? Do you host open houses or other family-friendly events at your workplace? Your employees will likely be proud to share some of their 9-5 with the other half of their life.  It will allow them to be more authentic in the workplace if they’ve shared the personal side of their lives with their teammates. Plus, you’ll only be gaining more ambassadors for your company!
  • Engagement doesn’t happen without leadership.  Someone had to “let” this happen. Students likely came to the “powers that be” with an idea, and luckily they listened, sought to understand, were open to trying new things, and were okay with taking a risk.
  • It’s okay to let loose, have a little fun, and let your unique personality shine through.  Be authentic and don’t be afraid of what other people will think (you might just be a male swimmer with a closet desire to shake your booty in your speedo on camera!). On a more serious note, let your guard down every now and then around your team and just be yourself.

And yes, these are the types of things that run through my head while watching clips like this – just trying to keep it real! Anything to add? Please share!


Back to School: Motivating the “Student” Spirit

Employee MotivationWhen we were young, our teachers rewarded us with things like pizza parties, “You’re Super!” stickers, and the privilege of lining up first for recess. Our friends motivated us by attending our theatrical performances and yelling our name from the audience or writing on our car windows with shaving cream the night before a big game.

We’re not in grade school anymore, but our need for motivation hasn’t vanished. According to Bill Hewlett, co-founder of Hewlett Packard, “Men and women want to do a good job, a creative job, and if they are provided the proper environment, they will do so.”

As a manager, how can I create a motivating environment?

Gone are the days of old-school management. It’s an individual choice to perform or not— it can’t be a directive. You need to create that environment Bill Hewlett referenced. How, you ask?

  • Catch your employees doing things right. Pop over to their desk and interrupt them to give thanks or say job well done…versus with a “fire” that needs to be put out.
  • Hand over the wheel. Empowerment builds excitement! 92% of employees want to be asked for their opinions or ideas, and 89% want to be involved in decision-making.
  • Don’t forget about pizza parties and stickers! The same simple and cost-effective forms of motivation work for adults too. Need ideas? Purchase the book 1501 Ways to Reward Employees by Bob Nelson, PhD.

As an individual contributor, how can I create a motivating environment?

Think you’re off the hook because you don’t manage people—wrong! We’re all responsible for creating a motivational environment, so do your part by:

  • Igniting energy in others. Raise your own energy level while at work – it will be contagious.
  • Sending along kudos.  Recognize individuals or teams for something awesome they’ve done. You can do this by sending an email to their supervisor, calling attention to them in a team meeting, or submitting a note to the employee newsletter or intranet editorial team.
  • Being nice and exuding positivity. Back to the basics on this one—please, thank-you, good morning, etc. People want to work with colleagues they get along with and will be motivated to work constructively with you if you’re pleasant.

I hope these “back-to-school” tips are a good reminder to us working adults that motivation drives performance!

photo credit: CanadianAEh via photopin cc

Take Your Job to the Grave


So, you may be thinking there’s an error in the title of this post. Is it missing a “Don’t” or “You can’t” at the beginning?

Nope – you read it right. It says to take your job to the grave, and here’s why…

New answers to age-old questions.

I’ve been reflecting this past weekend on the inspiring career of my aunt, Mary Jo Scalzo, who just retired as Superintendent of Oakwood City Schools in Dayton, Ohio. Mary Jo worked in a variety of roles in the education field for 41 years, including that of a teacher. In a recent article in the Dayton Daily News, she shared her passion for teaching: “No career is more rewarding than teaching. It provides an opportunity to affect someone’s life. It’s very powerful and meaningful.”

Even in retirement, Ms. Scalzo has accepted a position as Executive Director of a consortium of school administrators committed to providing quality professional development and coaching for education leaders.

As I reflect on my aunt’s career, I’ve been asking myself the following questions:

1. Will Mary Jo be “taking her job to the grave”?


2. Did she put in some late night and weekend hours and have to make sacrifices in other areas of her life?


3. Is that okay?


4. Did she make a positive impact on the lives of others through her work?


5. Would she do it all over again?


We spend a lot of time at work.

We always hear people say that you can’t take your job to the grave with you…That in the end, this is not what matters…That you need to spend more time with family and friends doing the things you love and making a more meaningful impact on the world. We’re told that if we don’t do these things, we’ll regret it in our final hour.

But wait – why can’t you make a meaningful impact, tap into your passions and strengths, and develop deep and impactful relationships with others through your work? Why are we told that putting “too much” of ourselves into our work is a bad thing?

Take a look at these staggering statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Time spent at work

The fact that we spend on average 8.8 hours on work-related activities per work day means that we spend just shy of 100,000 hours working between the ages of 22-65.

I don’t know about you, but that’s not something I’m willing to sweep under the rug and approach with an apathetic attitude. Talk about something I would regret in my final hour – it would be how I spent that large amount of time!

How can I make the best use of 100,000 hours of my life?

So you might not be in a role that you feel is as impactful or meaningful as an educator, healthcare provider, social worker, organizational leader or CEO, etc.  The good news is that you don’t have to be. Anyone in any role can turn those hours into something that makes an impact, something you’re proud of, and something that you don’t regret when reflecting on how you spent your physical time here on Earth.

The reality is that we have to work. That truth is not going away (unless you win the lottery), so let’s make the most of it. Here’s how:


Tap into your heart and get engaged.

A recent study by Gallup revealed that 71% of American workers are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” in their work, meaning they are emotionally disconnected from work. That’s one heck of a way to spend 100,000 hours! Click here to learn 6 ways to take ownership of your engagement at work and start putting your heart in the game. You will find your job much more fulfilling if you do. Don’t wait on someone else to do this for you – use your own power of choice.

Add value to those around you.

Leadership guru John C. Maxwell often shares this core tenant of leadership – add value to others. Just by saying your please’s and thank you’s, lending a helping hand to colleagues, and putting the needs of others in your workplace above your own, you can make a very meaningful impact on the lives of others. No doubt you will take those meaningful contributions to the grave. This is completely regardless of the field, role, or position level you’re in.

Align work with your strengths and purpose.

Whenever possible, align your strengths and what you may have discovered is your overall purpose in life with your career. For more on this, check out my esteemed colleague Erin Schreyer’s recent post on the topic. Erin is a certified leadership and talent management coach and strengths trainer and has very insightful thoughts to share on this matter.

Work is not everything, but it is one thing.

Work should certainly not take up your entire focus in life – there are obviously other very important facets of your life that you will take to the grave, including family, friends, hobbies and faith just to name a few. You need to determine the “balance” that is right for you so that you can live every aspect of your life to its fullest.

However, according to the graph above, it is a significant aspect of our lives, so let’s make the most of it. This post is a tribute to Mary Jo Scalzo, who made the most she could of her 100,000 hours. I hope you choose to do the same!

Case Study in Employee Communications: Not-so-average announcement yields not-so-average results


We hold an annual employee event each year called the H’Oscars where we celebrate our successes, provide a forum for learning and collaboration, and recognize the contributions of top talent. This event brings together the entire US organization and some of our international employees in one offsite location for 2-3 days.

It’s one of the most talked about topics amongst employees (and even non-employees who catch wind!), and everyone is always anxious to find out where it is going to take place each year.

An Idea

About two months ago, I received a random email from two employees who had an idea for a video about this event. I could tell they were excited about the concept and had put some thought and creativity into their suggestion. I was grateful they reached out and appreciated the level of engagement and drive behind the request. There was nothing I could do with it at the time, but I tucked it away in my inbox to revisit when planning was underway.

The Announcement

About a month and a half later, we were ready to announce the date and location of our 2013 event. That email I received back in April immediately came to mind.

Our typical approach would have been to share a “Save the Date” at a company meeting, in the newsletter, maybe in an executive blog, possibly a company-wide email, maybe even a video of our CEO announcing the location in our global enterprise online community.

OR…we could hand the responsibility off to two employees with a BIG idea and have them run with it!

We chose the latter.

We met with the employees one time, briefed them on the event, and told them we have two objectives for this announcement:

  1. Share the location and date.
  2. Build excitement.

They took it from there. Below is the result. It speaks for itself.


The Results

GA_2Increased adoption and engagement in our enterprise community.

The video was posted to a Corporate News group in our online employee community and also featured in a teaser on the global home page. We saw an immediate spike in visits.

  • Unique logins increased that day by approximately 30% compared to a typical Monday.
  • We continued to see increased logins over the course of three days by approximately 10%.
  • Views on that post were 4x greater than what we typically see on other posts in that group.
  • We received more comments and “likes” on that post than we typically get. Below are a few examples of the comments.

“World changerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrs…… I was rolling… this is awesome.”

“I. Died. This was great!”

“This was hilarious, I literally chocked on my drink, was not expecting that at all! Great job!”

“Too funny.  Just sad I’ll have to miss H’Oscars, esp. if this is any indication of what it will be like this year!”

Redistribution of responsibilities.

Aside from the high numbers of employees who voluntarily “chose” to consume the message; active engagement in our employee community; and the buzz this had generated; we also gained the added benefit of reallocating work typically done by the H’Oscars planning team. No CEO scripts to write, slides to design, or emails to draft.

By bringing “fresh blood” into the task of making this announcement, we also inherently rejuvenated the creativity and enthusiasm that went into it.

Why was this hugely successful?

1. Because employees are smart, talented, and want to contribute.

Do not take their ideas for granted. If you did your hiring right, you have talented team members bursting at the seams to contribute positively toward your business.

Listen to your employees. Outwardly demonstrate your confidence in their abilities. Empower them to take action.

2. Because employees pay attention to their colleagues.

Your general employee population is too far removed from the C-suite and possibly from the corporate communications team (depending on the size of your organization) to feel closely connected to the messages they send. This is an ongoing challenge for corporate communicators and executive leadership. However, they are very connected to the team members sitting to the left and right of them. Tap into these spheres of influence and informal internal networks as part of your communication strategy.

The two employees in this video were “real”, front-line team members with no direct ties to corporate communications, HR, or executive leadership. Get different faces and voices out there every now and then. People like to hear from those they can relate to.

3. Because it struck a personal cord with its audience.

For those of you who don’t know, the background music to the lyrics in the video is from a song called Regulate by Warren G and Nate Dogg that was released in the summer of 1994 and featured on the Above the Rim soundtrack. The average age of our workforce is approximately 32. That would mean that the majority of our workforce was around 13 years old when this song was released. I don’t care what “clique” you were part of in the mid-90’s…if you were a teenager in 1994, this song resonates with you.

Know your audience.

4. Because it was easy and enjoyable to consume.

The average person’s attention span in 2012 was 8 seconds, down from 12 seconds in 2000. This presents quite a challenge to anyone with a message to share. If we wanted to generate some buzz and excitement for this year’s H’Oscars, we needed to grab people’s attention and keep it short and sweet. Brief videos are a great channel to use to accomplish this objective.

What new communication strategies and channels have you used recently to engage your employees in your messaging? Please share!


When “Me, Me, Me” is Oh So Good


I stopped at a Fairfield Inn just outside of Knoxville, TN with my family on our way down to Florida last week for summer vacation. We were in the breakfast area looking for a pitcher of water, but with no luck. I stopped a hotel associate and asked where I could find some. Her response was,

Sure, no problem – I have some in my gym right over there and have the door propped open for you.

Later that day somewhere in the Carolinas on HWY 26, I came across the following post while browsing my Facebook feed:


What do the hotel associate’s response and FB post have in common? Ownership.


Isn’t it funny how well you take care of things when they’re yours?



BreakfastThat hotel associate in Tennessee was running a stellar show for breakfast – coffee always hot and filled, tables wiped down, service with a smile…she owned the place…and my were her customers happy! Leadership at that establishment definitely knows a thing or two about empowerment.

My FB friend was putting a little glitz and glam into her home…spent her hard-earned resources doing it…and was excited about it. Quite a bit different than how some people treat rental property.

Do you want your employees renting or owning their responsibilities at work?

I think it’s safe to say we all want our team members to be excited about their work and to take pride in it just as in the two examples above.

Below are 4 ways to create a culture of empowerment amongst your team so that they will own their to-do list and contribute successful results to the business:

1. Involve the individuals themselves in developing the What’s and How’s.

What is your team working on and how are they going about accomplishing it? Empowerment is direction without the details. Share the vision, then work with them collaboratively to both create and execute the roadmap.

Just as the homeowner above picked out new granite and countertops, have your employees “pick out” what they want a project, sales presentation, or process to look like. Don’t just have them rent your ways of doing things.

2. Apply a “walk before you run” approach.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANot every team member is going to be comfortable with a culture of empowerment. They are all likely at different stages of their career and have had varying experiences that have shaped their levels of confidence. Recognize this and tailor your approach to empower each one appropriately.

  • Toddlers – They are curious but have a lot of questions and still look back for reassurance. You’ll have to be a little more hands-on, but it will pay off in the long run.
  • Adolescents – They want to be on their own and typically have the confidence, but still need resources and guidance.  Mentoring employees at this stage in their career is very important. Stay connected through check points.
  • Adults – You may have more senior level employees on your team who have been around the block a time or two. Keep them challenged by asking them to run with a project that is a bit out of their comfort zone or is new for the company. Harness their rich knowledge by encouraging them to serve as informal mentors to others on the team.

3. Be okay with – no, encourage – mistakes.

Tell your team to make mistakes. Promote a culture of learning alongside your culture of empowerment. The two go hand-in-hand. Use the mistakes as teachable moments to help your team grow.

4. Still be a team.

Everything is better when created in partnership with others. Although each team member will flourish when given ownership of certain tasks, you need to foster a collaborative team environment where everyone is willing and able to lend a hand. My FB friend would have never enjoyed her new granite and cabinets if it weren’t for manufacturers and contractors. Likewise, your team needs to rely on the strengths of those around them to add value to whatever it is they’re working on.

In what other ways have you developed a culture of empowerment? Please share!

photo credit (Woman): Camdiluv ♥ via photopin cc

photo credit (Food) : Kevin_Morris via photopin cc

photo credit (Hands): Maja_Larsson via photopin cc

Engage Your Core…at the Gym AND at Work?


Photo credit: Gigi Yogini and Fluid Frame

In my yoga class last night, the instructor kept reminding us to engage our core. This is something she often says, but I really focused on it this time during a challenging balance pose. Wow – was I amazed by the impact it made on my ability to successfully sustain the position!

As an experienced talent management professional, this immediately hit me as a “duh” moment. I have been practicing yoga on and off for years – why in the world did it take this long for that simple piece of advice sink in? I preach this same concept day-in and day-out in my work life – the power of engaging your people “core” in the workplace.  After all, an organization’s people and people practices are core to its success.

The benefits gained by engaging certain muscles during exercise can be directly translated into the value gained from engaging your employees in the workplace:

  • It provides support by lessening stress from your sometimes over-worked primary “muscles.” Take the heat off your managers and executive team by engaging your individual contributors.
  • Just as it enabled me to sustain my balance for a longer period of time, engaging your workforce helps you move from short-term gains to longer-term, sustainable business success.
  • It leads you toward the achievement of desired results. Engaging my core in yoga helped me finally sustain a difficult balance pose I had been struggling with for months. Similarly, fostering a highly engaged workforce will not only help your company meet its annual objectives but also some of your more lofty stretch goals as well.

But (big but!)…

  • It’s not easy. It takes effort – real effort – so prepare yourself for a workout!
  • It requires the leaders of the company to make the conscious decision to commit. You can’t do engagement half-way and expect added value – you’re either in or out.

Ready to start increasing revenue, market share, and retention? Great! Here are three steps to get started:

1.     Conduct an assessment.

You need to establish a baseline. How engaged is your workforce currently? What key drivers of engagement are you excelling in and what others might you need to improve? Do your results differ per demographic – business unit, tenure, gender, age, role? In order to focus your efforts strategically, you need to know the answers to these questions.

Several vendors specialize in engagement surveys. I’d be happy to make a referral based on personal experience if you would like to reach out to me through the Contact page.

 2.     Research best practice.

Start eating up all there is to know about employee engagement by reading articles, attending webinars, and talking with members of your professional associations. Jot down ideas and key take-aways and think about how you could apply the concepts and sample programs/activities at your company.

3.     Develop a strategy and action plan.

Now that you’re armed with meaningful data from the first two steps above, begin developing your informed strategy and detailed action plan. Put metrics in place to monitor the effectiveness of your efforts. Continually revisit and adjust your plan as necessary.

So what are you waiting for? Start engaging your core today!