In the age of engagement, you can’t thwart ambition


ambition by tja88

There are more articles, books and posting out there on engagement, creating engagement, the benefits of creating engagement, and so on than I can count.  So, of course, I’m going to write a post about engagement (Once in a while, I do like to suppress my contrarian urges and go along with the crowd).  Instead of yet another voice telling you how to generate engagement, however, here’s a tale of how to make sure it gets utterly destroyed:

A friend recently told me that, at the employer she has been with for years, and after having recently completed a graduate degree that the company funded, during her Annual Review (a practice that, all by itself, tends to smother engagement anyway.  Click here for good reading on the subject) she was penalized….yes, actually penalized, for seeking other opportunities within the company.  “Clearly, you’re not happy here,” she was told.  “Everyone else is doing good work because they are committed to their position.”  and, with that, she received a less-than-stellar review that impacted her income, of course.  During the course of the year other people had transitioned to new roles both into and out of that department, leaving her flabbergasted at the comments in the appraisal.

My poor friend’s predicament left me wondering how, in an era where engagement is so widely and openly discussed, any employer can seek to crush its people’s ambitions?  Clearly, this person was not disloyal – after receiving advanced education she was looking to return that value to the company by applying it internally (something she had limited opportunities to do in her current role).  Nonetheless, she was chastised and punished for trying to bring greater value to the company and create her own sense of engagement by taking on a more challenging position (because, obviously, no one was much interested in creating that sort of engagement for her).

I heard this story right on the heels of a great Fast Company article describing how many employees are now forced into faking enthusiasm.  Clearly, as both the article and my friend’s experience demonstrate, the situation with regard to engagement is getting worse instead of better.   Also, if you want people to be dedicated, celebrate their ambitions.  Chris Seper recently placed a very popular article on LinkedIn speaking to the situation directly: “Why I celebrate when my employees leave”

Here’s a tip for those who are still struggling with the concept:  Engagement….or passion…or loyalty…or whatever word you want …. is not about appearances.   Nor is it something that you should rely on people creating for themselves, because such things are not brought about through the perserverance, discipline and dedication of employees.  Perserverance, discipline and dedication are the results of employee engagement, not the inputs.

Stranded by the tide, and the return of the water

Stranded by the tide
Stranded by the tide

…stranded by the tide…by federstern

Those of you who follow this blog regularly…yes, both of you….are well aware that I haven’t done much with the blog for a while.  In fact, I haven’t done anything in over two months.  Let’s just say, life’s been busy.

  • My older son, not yet 8 years old, has had an intestinal problem that, while temporary, is difficult and a lot to deal with.  He’s also had problems with kids and teachers at school socially, and self-esteem and confidence and just plain belief in himself have all taken massive hits.  We’re working through all of that and it sure isn’t easy.
  • My P.o.S. car died, necessitating finding a newer, cheap slightly less P.o.S. to run around in for a while, straining the family budgets.
  • I was enrolled in a Project Management Professional class, which concluded in November and I had the exam date set for December 9th
  • The usual Holiday time running around that will make anyone crazy.

So, there’s been a lot going on and, truth be told, I had lost a whole lot of enthusiasm with the blog.  It wasn’t scratching the itch anymore personally, and I was at something of a crossroads professionally – which was brought to a head by the PMP prep course.  You see, for all my affinity for Lean and Operational Excellence as the foundations for improving the workplace, and life, my experience with them has primarily been intellectual.  My professional day job resists Lean thinking significantly, and gives me little opportunity to practice.  The vast majority of my professional background is in project management and, as I contemplate career moves, I simply don’t have enough resume fodder to get where I want to go by using Lean as my primary driver.  This realization, more than anything else, led to my absence from the blogosphere for a while.

Truth be told, I had no idea where I was going with this thing, and although I didn’t want to give up, it seemed I had no ability to move from where I was.  I felt like a ship, stranded at low tide.

During this time, however, there were a number of positives occurring that began to set the stage for better things.  First and foremost, I was contacted by an acquaintance with an entrepreneurial opportunity.  While it is challenging to find the time to work on that endeavor, it’s remarkably interesting and, if the idea comes to fruition, it is potentially quite lucrative.  Being a part of concept development in the early phases of a start up endeavor is incredibly satisfying.  As a part of that opportunity, I created my own LLC.  I’m not exactly certain where that is going, (it will be some sort of speaking or writing of articles kind of thing), however, contemplating what I can do with it is also a great project.  Here’s my logo and banner:


I’m not a wizard with the graphics just yet, so cut me some slack as I work those things out.  Nonetheless, I think it’s going somewhere.  I have a URL reserved for it and will be building out that site in the weeks/months ahead.


By the way, I did pass the PMP exam and I am now a certified Project Management Professional (I’ll have to update my profile).  That designation appears to be opening doors already as I’ve had a couple good conversations with people in companies I am curious about already.  What I do, and when I do it, are still up in the air – but the future is looking brighter.  Additionally, just this past weekend, I was presented with a speaking opportunity out of the blue, which should give me a much-needed opportunity to help launch the LLC.

What all this reminds me of is that we very often don’t know where we’re going, or even how we got where we are, and when we hit these low times it tends to feel as if we’re going to be stuck there forever.  What is most important to remember when things get this way, however, is that sometimes the best thing we can possible do for ourselves is to simply endure.  Stay in the game, last as long as it takes, don’t back down and don’t get ahead.  Just simply stand there against the things that attempt to pull you apart and prove out that you can last longer than the troubles that surround you.  When you give up, you start down the long spiral ofnever feeling fulfilled.  When you endure, you keep yourself prepared for better things.

Because, eventually, the water will return.

Be honest with yourself (a call to conscience)

My conscience
My conscience

My conscience by bittersweetvenom

I am often surprised, when presenting someone with new ideas for how work can & should be done  (many of them proven via case studies or, in some cases, personal experience), at the reaction I receive.  Yes, there’s often disbelief that work can be a place of enjoyment, or that bullying is a suboptimal approach.  What strikes me as completely strange, however, is the number of people who are certain they are acting in acccord with the best possible practices and that anything other than their own well-developed habits is, clearly, not the way to get things done.

This dynamic seems to surface most often when talking about the behavioral aspects of work relationships.  Those based on interpersonal dynamics, respect for people, leading with humility and the determimation to avoid comman-and-control in favor of collaboration focused on developing autonomy, mastery and purpose.  It is these so-called “soft skills” – those that focus on invoking humanity, where it often seems that conscience is something to be ignored, denied or suffocated rather than something to be embraced.  Pointing a finger and blaming, in perfect accordance with the “naming, blaming & shaming” dynamic so prevalent in most workplaces and especially apparent in failing organizations, is how they get things done.

Clearly, berating or embarassing a person is, simply, not nice.  It’s rule #1 of kindergarten behavior.  Yet, it’s seen as a sign of strength and leadership by many, if not most.  For these folks, never having to get o that point isn’t even considered.  For them, the ability to dismiss humanity, and not embrace it, is the key to leadership.  Which is nonsense.

I wonder what would happen to the image these folks have of themselves if they were asked to sit down, reflect upon their actions, and to judge those actions through the eye of basic politeness?  What if they also examined their actions in terms of long term, prolonged success for themselves, others, and their organizations?  The diminshed productivity and quality in environments where bad behavior is the norm is well known and frequently dicussed and written about.  Yet, it prevails.  So, we need a slightly different focus than simple, analytical reports demonstrating the business impacts.

What we need is a call to conscience.  Pushing people to achieve more than they thought themselves capable of in order to achieve a greater good is, indeed, a high, humanistic goal.  Consider the drill seargent or coach who hollers and shouts at their charges, earning their hatred but, ultimately, earning their respect.  This is a person for whom creating interpersonal difficulty is done not just for a purpose, but with an intense understanding of emotional intelligenace.  They know how to push.  They know what drives a person to achieve more than that person had thought possible.  These great coaches, however, are very often also the ones who know which people can be shouted at and which ones need to be massaged.  Simply put, they understand people.  And they use that understanding to achieve a greater good for the organization as a whole.

For others, however, they yell in order to create an atmosphere of authority and an impression of themselves.  Since most people don’t like getting yelled at, these folks who act without much sense of conscience – if conscience means doing what is right, for as many as possible, for as long as possible – are able to get their way right now.  Unfortunately, that short-term thinking usually means they are always yelling, since no one will work with or for them for very long, so they must always yell to get their way since they never foster long0-term relationships and a shared understanding of a future vision.

If you want sustained, long-term performance, you must create an environment that allows it.  By listening more to conscience, and less to the need for short-term, immediate, and fleeting results – perhaps the foundation will be built for generating healthier, happier people and, consequently, more successful orgnizations, too.

Don’t be a tool

tool of the trade
tool of the trade

tool of the trade by steamby51

If you want to understand slang, there’s no better source than The Urban dictionary.  While far from the classiest site on the internet, let’s face it – there are a lot of references out there that most of us thirtysomethings and beyond just don’t get anymore.

Which isn’t to say we haven’t learned a thing or two we can teach the younger crowed.  According to the Urban Dictionary, a tool is

“One who lacks the mental capacity to know he is being used. A fool. A cretin. Characterized by low intelligence and/or self-steem.”

A lot of the information out there on various blogs and career advice sites advises college graduates to become exactly this – tools.  Although well intended, the advice that is spewed out usually tells people how they can get a foot in the door, appease their boss, be praised by co-workers and, in general, give up on their own thoughts for quite some time while doing all that is necessary to fit in and be just who the boss and the company’s culture want them to be.

Or, in other words, to become complete and utter tools.  If you don’t think these folks who step up and do just what the boss desires in order to get promoted, grab the best assignments, and maneuver their way through the corporate minefield are tools – just ask their co-workers.  You know, those folks who are much more interested in doing a job or – heaven forbid – living a life than their handy counterparts.  There’s no doubt that the do-gooders are considered to be tools by that crowd.

My advice to those young, aspiring people who are entering the world with just about as much freedom as they will ever have in their entire lives is simple – Take advantage of it.

And don’t be a tool.

There will be plenty of time to sit in a cubicle, navigate corporate politics, curry the favor of blowhards and nincompoops, and monitor your 401K.  For a short time, however, you will have the ability to experiment with life….and your career.  Why work for someone else?  Start your own business. It can be just about anything, since the consequences of failure are so low.  Trust me, as you get older – no matter how smart you get about business – going out on your own gets more and more difficult.  Those mortgages and tuition bills are pretty limiting.

And it’s not just about the money.  You might enter into something lucrative that will have you well-positioned by the time you’re 40, or 50, or even 60, leaving you in a position to fund your own start-up or to completely switch careers.  Unfortunately, those kids have a way of wanting your time – and you’ll need to make some difficult decisions on how much of it you’re willing and able to give them once they arrive.

Before all that, however, you have the freedom to test yourself and learn much about the world of business and, even if you don’t really enjoy that, you’ll learn quite a bit about how to budget, plan, and negotiate.  All that will serve you well no matter what you do with yourself.

Looking back, I wish someone had told me this advice back when I had all the options available to me.  There’s much more to be learned by doing for yourself than by doing for someone else.  Especially when working for someone else has such gained such notoriety for turning independent, creative, bright people into nothing more than a tool to be used by someone else.

Do you envision the ideal?


clear by mrszeldalink

Do you have a vision?  If you have no picture in your mind of the ideal state, either for yourself or your organization, you will stagnate.

An envisioned ideal helps you to constantly progress in the direction of a desired outcome – even if it is, for all intents and purposes, and unattainable ideal.  The Lean community refers to this as finding “True North.”  Even if you are unfamiliar with Lean’s philosophy, or think it’s a load of hooey – it’s hard to deny that imagining what the future ought to look like helps to orient everything else towards that perfect vision.

If, as you encounter problems, you are simply responding to each one in turn without much sense of how to learn and grow from it, you will only find yourself meandering from problem to problem forever.  In fact, you will likely find the same problems keep popping up – to be countered with the same solutions. Consequently, a boring, mindless do-loop results.  In the end, this dynamic leads only to activity for the sake of activity – and not for purposes of driving towards some goal.

In many cases, there’s not even a problem to tackle with an old, tired solution.  Often times, people will get busy just doing anything – since the demonstration of activity it what’s prized the most, far above actual accomplishment.  This is short-term thinking at its finest – a mindset that worries only about whether or not work of any sort is being done and not about what that work is bringing to bear for the future.

Activity for its own sake will, inevitably, be revealed as a waste.  People who seem to master the corporate game with connections and politics but produce nothing are, eventually, sniffed out.  Organizations that churn out products – even expensive, shiny ones but bring nothing of value to the market will, similarly, die out.  These entities do things for the sake of doing them, but have no understanding of why.

Developing that ideal vision for the future is fundamental to finding purpose.  Once you have that purpose – that guiding, inviolable sense of why you’re doing what you’re doing – you will begin to orient all your activities towards reaching that ideal.  You can only hide activities that go nowhere for so long.  To achieve any goal, personal or professional, you must first create your vision, define your purpose, and align every activity towards making that purpose a reality.