Ways to Help Employees Self-engage!

Employee engagement, solution focusIf you aren’t a regular Apple store or Zappos’ customer, you may not have experienced one of the higher forms of the engaged employee.

More often than not, you may have experienced the opposite.

Many employers still don’t recognize the multitude of valuable aspects of having employees who are interested in their work and the customer – internal or external.

And, the engaged employee doesn’t have to come from reading a manual.

Employee engagement is actually a two-way street.

You can help people realize and own the choices they have – you don’t need to have all the answers.

I recently overheard this comment: ‘When you focus on the problem, you get no engagement. When you focus on solutions you get progress and engagement.’

One of the simple keys to employee engagement is to ask them better questions. Of the many employee engagement roundtables that I have conducted, close to 100% of them worked well when people are asked the following simple questions:

‘What works in this organization?’

Why? Instead of probing for the problems, most of which we already know and certainly will provide little insight, have them notice what they are doing right.

Build on each of their points with either, ‘tell me more,’ or how did you manage to do that?’   

Start with the little things – dig deep on them. Then, watch the bigger ideas and insights emerge.

Once you’ve exhausted the questions in this part of the conversation, you can move to the next one, which is:

‘Even though, like most businesses, things can get messy, it does sound like a lot’s working around here. So, what could we do better, more of, or slightly differently?’

Why? While this may sound like you are going to get in trouble with a load of complaints, you’re not. The first section will reframe the dialogue so that people want to be constructive in what ‘needs to get better.’ Notice that you’re not asking, ‘what’s wrong?’ which looks backwards. You’re asking them to look forward to things getting better.

You’ll find that their former complaints start to sound more reasonable. You are now ready to ask them, Suppose we made progress on some of these issues, what would be happening?

Followed by, What would you see management doing to help make that happen?’

Followed by, ‘What would you see yourself doing to engage in that change?’ 

And, ‘What would one small step forward look like?’

Why? Because staff can self-engage in the solutions.

Will this change staff engagement overnight? Possibly. Better to keep asking these questions over time and watch what happens. It’s all about fully engaging staff in the solutions they want.

This article was a redux of a blog I wrote for Shawn Murphy and Ted Coiné in 2012.

Employee satisfaction video

More on employee satisfaction (click picture)






Challenge Blame, Judgment & Assumptions: Peter Attia redefines problem, finds better solution

Why work hard on a problem in the organization if it might not be the problem we imagine it to be.

Even if we think we know the answer, we might still be working on the wrong problem.

The surgeon Peter Attia felt contempt for an overweight patient with diabetes. But years later, regretting his decision, he wondered if our understanding of diabetes right? He reexamined how assumptions may be leading us to wage the wrong war.

Here’s what Attia was saying about the problem he imagined he faced:

Cause and effect are not always what they seem. Accept the possibility we could be wrong.

Stop blaming the apparent source of the problem.

As an expert on the issue, let go of having to know the answers. Be willing to be wrong.

Be patient. When you must find the answer right now you may only find short-term measures, not real solutions.

The ‘truth’ is constantly evolving, so letting go of our assumptions will help us see things we’ve missed.

Like Peter Attia, how do people in organizations accept the possibility we could be wrong about the ‘problem’? Can we let go of our fixed mindset and the prescriptions we have to solve the problem? How do we come from ‘not knowing’?

How can Solution Focus help us redefine the problem and move to better outcomes?

1. If necessary, clarify the problem, but do not enter into it.

    • Limit talk about: causality, what’s making it worse, who’s to blame, consequences of failure, barriers to success, etc.
    • Be skeptical. Ask Is it possible we are looking at the problem the wrong way?

2. Ask Suppose we found the solution, i.e., something different, what would that look like?

    • Look at what would be different / better from many different perspectives, the more unlikely the perspective the better.
    • Think of outcomes for parts of the problem no longer being a problem – What would be happening instead?

3.  Summarize the picture without the problem (created in step 3) and decide on some priorities and where to begin.

4. Take some small action steps towards the solution by doing something different and notice what’s working. Of the things that don’t work, stop doing them.

5.  Continue redefining the problem by doing something different.

What are the problems in your organization that you’d like to redefine?

Peter Attia’s TED Talk

Aza Raskin on redefining the problem


Destructive People: Be patient. Lose battles. Win the war!

An individual’s damaging or destructive behaviour towards others in the organization usually forces us to a) look for the causality of the behaviour, b) apply a label to it, and c) seek a prescription to ‘fix’ their attitude.

We are in for a lot of frustration.

Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig.  Robert Heinien


The limitation on making any progress is in the behaviour of others towards the problem person.

For example, if the deviant person constantly bullies people, they likely live in a separate universe from those advising them to stop. They cannot hear you because they have a fixed mindset*. Their fear may drive them to any measure they can take to advance or protect their interests, including appearing to support you.

They are not a customer for change** At least, not the way you want it to happen. They may change their fixed mindset at some point, but their way and at their speed, not yours!

Hence, not only are they in denial, you are too. So, if they have a fixed mindset, how do you modify your’s first?

1. Avoid putting energy into: a) satisfying their demands, b) hoping they will change by allowing us fix their issue.

2. If the person’s bad behaviour is systemic then it’s not going away for a while. Why be caught like a deer in the headlights by the problem? Let someone else change his or her fixed mindset – another time.

3. Reframe the opportunity for change by addressing the system around the person. Set a vision for the future based on better outcomes than the ones the badly behaving person seeks.

4. Focus on small steps towards the outcomes desired by the folks affected by the bad person. The difficult person will still be there, but you’ll be moving in another direction.

Great things are done by a series of small things brought together. – Van Gogh

5. Be patient. Lose battles. Win the war!

Questions for people who want to make progress:

What are you working on that doesn’t need to change? i.e., whats working that becomes your resources for being resourceful and resilient over time?

Suppose a miracle were to happen and the problem went away? What would you be doing instead? What would others be doing to help you?

Suppose that were happening more often, what outcomes would you be achieving?

 What small steps might you have seen yourself taking to begin reaching your outcomes?

Again, we are not going to ‘fix’ the problem person this way. We going to help those around them make progress.

More thoughts on getting beyond fear using solution focus.

*Coert Visser on the positive aspects of growing beyond a Fixed Mindset

**Ben Furman on ‘Involuntary Clients’

How to Let Small Changes Infect Big Organizational Change

Planned or not, change happens all the time. Have you considered that it’s the humans that have to change, not just the system that needs to change?

Organizational change is difficult and there’s been lots written on how it often fails. I’m not sure about ‘failure,’ but let’s save that for another time…

The systemic change plan:

Yes, a change plan, (or direction) is important. The organization needs clarity on how the goals, strategies, and broad actions necessary for change will actually happen. And a great communication plan helps. So, descending from the mountain with a change process helps support systemic change. Better still; engage your stakeholders in developing the change plan.

That said…

The small changes people plan (vs the planners). Things to consider:

A rigorous change plan can be an abstract and intimidating concept to most people. Perhaps they see what’s wanted, but can they see how to achieve the change? An old rule is that people have to see what’s in it for them (WIFM) – including the fear that they may not be with the organization for long. It’s helpful if they know their role in the process. And because change relies on new levels of collaboration, remember that everyone is trying to collaborate – just not each other’s way.

With lots of hard work the people in the organization may buy into the change, but at what level of consciousness?

All organizational change happens at the personal level. How do we get people to personally embrace and act on change?

In order to consciously adapt to new behaviours, people have to experience change in ways that resonate for them. So, training is useful, but it’s not the only answer to human change.

Organizational culture is often a fuzzy or abstract concept, or a statement of values that’s taken lightly. Can your organizational culture be more consciously understood and its role expressed in the plan?

Many new decisions – thousands of them – will have to take place. Will people see those decisions as a risk to themselves personally? Can we help them see that all decisions will be supported? And that some decisions will not ‘work,’ but are instead critical parts of the learning process?

Finally, when people worry about big changes they are often also concerned about small changes. Yet it’s the small changes that lead to the big shift. Help people make many small decisions to move forward.

Some Solution Focused questions to ask about that change plan you are working on:

# 1. What do we want to keep? What works (that we don’t want to disrupt by mistake)?   Do not skip lightly through this section. Break it down to the individual level.

# 2. Suppose the change happens, what will we be doing?   Illustrate the desired outcomes in terms of what people and relevant stakeholders will actually be doing. Sell them on that future, not the  goals. See it happening in stages.

Download file
Download file

# 3. How will we enable people to make small changes leading to the big changes?   Take the pressure of having to make it happen all at once. Start someplace small where everyone can both participate and witness the change

What have I missed?


Forget the decision making. Think solution outcomes.

I know an organization that consciously avoids decision making. It’s their default position and it seems as though they’re always losing ground. Compare that to Apple’s Steve Jobs legacy of arrogant decisiveness!

Organizations make a vast aray of individual and collective decisions. Yet, save for a few like Richard Branson many give little thought to the issue!

Authors Gary Williams and Robert Miller note that executives have a default style of decision making developed early in their careers and fall into one of five categories of decision making styles:

  • Charismatics are easily intrigued and enthralled by new ideas, but make decisions based on balanced information
  • Thinkers are risk-averse and need as much data as possible before coming to decisions
  • Skeptics are suspicious of data that don’t fit their worldview and, thus, make decisions based on their gut feelings
  • Followers make decisions based on how other trusted executives, or they themselves, have made similar decisions in the past
  • Controllers focus on the facts and analytics of decisions because of their own fears and uncertainties

Jeff Goins gives us some insights from the writer’s perspective: When You Don’t Know What to Do

  • Just pick something. Be honest. Very few choices in life are make-or-break decisions. Hard to believe, but sometimes there is no wrong choice. You just need to do something.
  • Move forward. Don’t get stuck in self-doubt or feeling sorry for yourself. The best way to beat indecision is to build momentum. No hesitation, just motion. Move.
  • Accept the consequences. If you fail, own it and move on. There’s nothing productive about wallowing in self-pity. Don’t be burdened by regret. Fail forward. Learn from your mistakes. And move on to the next choice.

What’s your decision making approach?

Here is a simple solution focused approach to help with outcomes-based decision making:

Ask youself (and your colleagues) the following questions:

  • Suppose a year from now (or your time frame) this decision was a good one, what would be happening? How would it be helping me? How would it help others? What would be my first steps towards implementing the decision?
  • Suppose I chose not to make this decision what would be happening (time frame) from now? How would that choice be helping me and others?
  • Thinking of the two answers rank each on a scale of 1-10, 1 being least appealing and 10 being ideal. Compare and decide.

In other words…

think first about solution outcomes…

not just the decision!