Fresh Insights

Engagement. Engagement. Engagement. It’s what all the progressive workplaces are talking about.  They know that when their people, their customers and their stakeholders are engaged that the results follow.  Attracting and retaining people is easier, customer relationships and sales thrive. There are less workplace claims and accidents, great ideas happen which increase productivity, innovation is actively driven and profits flow.

Engaged employees create successful workplaces.

Disengaged employees have essentially ‘checked out’.  They are turning up but tuning out.  There is no passion nor commitment to helping the organisation be at its best.  These people are the untapped opportunities in the business.  The worst cases are the actively disengaged employees. They are not happy and this is displayed through dysfunctional behaviours that often proactively undermine the success of those around them and the business.

Gallup’s State of the Global Workforce report is compelling.  It surveys 263 research studies across 192 organizations in 49 industries and 34 countries. Researchers studied 49,928 work units, including nearly 1.4 million employees. It tells us that engaged employees are rare.  Worldwide only 13% of the employees are engaged. Now that’s not good.  Australia is one of the highest at 24% with New Zealand following at 23%.  The USA has one of the highest where 30% of employed residents are engaged.

They draw strong conclusions that the higher the engagement of employees the better the results.  If we focus on creating committed employees, then profit and success will follow.

Yet we are not really sure what is the best lever to do this. We are now learning is that we are often over complicating how to drive change or in this case -  engagement.  If we really want it to be clear for our employees, customers and stakeholders we need to make it simple.  We need to reduce the complicated and ongoing strategies and multiple focuses. 

There is a misnomer that if I drive the top 3-5 initiatives then we will cover the main areas and get the change we need.  This is not right.

My good friend, best-selling author and expert in ‘implementing projects that matter’, Peter Cook, says that if we want to drive new habits we need to make things simple.  Focus on one thing at a time.  We over complicate change by introducing too many things at once.  Peter says we need to make things simple for ourselves and the organisations we work within.

A team at Booz & Company, led by Jon Katenbach, found that not enough leaders recognise that less is more.  Jon and his team write in the firms Strategy + Business magazine that leaders “find it hard to resist the temptation to pile one directive on top of another; even when those efforts are aligned to the same ultimate goals, they often undermine one another.”  They also found that leaders underestimate the impact of focusing on behaviours as the key lever to driving a company’s success.  We need to learn to pick our battles.

Or leaders create such ambitious strategies or goals that it would be often easier to pack up shop and start again. These may be some of those ‘change’ programs that you have been a part of in the past.

In the late 80’s Alcoa, the company that for over 100 years manufactured aluminium was on the decline and shareholders were wanting a solution.  A new CEO, Paul O’Neill, was appointed.  Investors were nervous.  Product lines were faltering, people were leaving and accidents were occurring every day.

In his first address to Wall Street he started his speech with; “I want to talk to you about worker safety”.  Wall Street, and those who hired him, became awkward and restless.  What the?  You talk about safety, out of everything you need to focus on?  Not finance, marketing, share price, customers or people?  For O’Neill, worker safety trumped profit.

O’Neill said; “I knew I had to transform Alcoa. But you can’t order people to change. So I decided I was going to start by focusing on one thing. If I could start disrupting the habits around one thing, it would spread throughout the entire company.”

Every time he talked his first words were about safety. Every meeting’s first agenda item was safety. Every time he commenced a meeting including board meetings, shareholder meetings or Wall Street addresses, he started with; ‘If in the unlikely case that we need to evacuate... etc.”  For every board meeting report safety was the first item.  Of course they covered everything else like profit, turnover, customers, etc. but safety was the first. O’Neill wasn’t the talking example.  He was the walking example.  He was relentless about his pursuit of safety.  Both physical and psychological.

“Our goal is that no worker will be hurt at work.  Our goal is zero incidents”.  People thought that was outrageous and unattainable. “I don’t want to budget safety. I want to fix it”.

Why safety?  He says that safety is an element of a broader set of philosophical ideas about human beings. 

As a result, Alcoa turned into the safest company in the world, profit was five times larger when he retired from when he started, and market cap had risen by $27 billion. 

So how did O’Neill turn around the largest, slowest and potentially dangerous business into the most profitable and successful in its history? 

He started with one thing and then watched it ripple throughout the business.

By focusing on the one thing that will affect the whole organisation is key to high engagement and therefore change.

If you want to learn more about how to create great cultures download my white paper “Feedback Cultures are Game Changers” or subscribe to my blogs by filling out the ‘Stay Connected’ form on my home page.

Is honesty the best policy?

Do we hide behind “I’m just being honest” as an excuse to verbally assassinate someone?

You’re in a performance review and your Manager tells you that a couple of your colleagues think your ego walks in the door two hours before you do.  It’s ok though… He’s “just being honest”.

You’re having a discussion with a colleague and she raises her voice, points her finger and lets you know that “you should keep your mouth shut unless someone asks for your opinion”.  It’s ok though…. She’s “just being honest”.

Then there’s one of my favourites that happened to a good friend of mine once.

He just finished delivering a finely tuned presentation that he had been preparing for weeks. Afterwards, someone he knew came up to him and said; “That’s the first time you have spoken and I haven’t wanted to slap you”.  It’s ok though…. They’re “just being honest”.

Those four words: “I’m just being honest”.  They seem to give some people permission to say whatever they think.  After all, we do live in a world of free speech.  But there are consequences... serious long term ones.  Not only have the trust and respect bank been depleted, but so has the ‘discretionary effort’ bank too. We don’t want to go the extra distance for these people anymore.  Regardless of whether we are friends or work colleagues. They have hurt us.

We’ve all worked with abrasive people.  Laura Crawshaw, Founder of the US-based Boss Whispering Institute, says there are two types of abrasive leaders;

  1. those with a ‘mental disorder’
  2. those with a ‘moral disorder’

So why do people choose to grind your self esteem down to the size of a pea?  There are many reasons.  We are complicated beings.  The common ones are;

Blamers: Those that always think someone else is the problem and it is someone else that needs to change.

All about Me’ers: The “I’m right. You’re wrong. The end” kind of people.  They just need to win.

Black and White Thinkers: They jump to conclusions based on small pieces of information and sometimes none at all.  They are quick to label and quick to judge.

Catastrophisers: (Yes it’s a new word I have made up) They tend to blow things out of proportion.  Things are dramatic and the words “always” and “never” are common in their vocabulary.

Working with these types of people has a significant effect on the engagement of your people and the culture you create.

  • People will leave.
  • The good ones will go first.
  • Productivity will decrease.
  • Absenteeism will become an issue.
  • At-work accidents start increasing.

It’s our own moral compass that we need to take ownership of.  When we speak, our words can harm our colleagues and create an emotional wake… whether we like it or not.

I have learnt two very important techniques to avoid doing this.

  1. The content needs to be delivered with undisputable facts – not your opinions or feelings as these are often what causes the damage.
  2. It is not what you say but how you say it that can make the difference. The difference between something said in frustration and with accusation, versus the same thing spoken tentatively and with compassion is enormous.

I’ll finish with the three gates that Rumi (one of the most influential Persian poets of the 13th century) asks us to consider, in order to decide whether we should say what we think we need to say;

Gate 1: Is it true?

Gate 2: Is it necessary?

Gate 3: Is it kind?

So next time you start a conversation with; “Don’t take this the wrong way but…”  Think again! 


Georgia Murch can show you a better way to blend being candid with being kind and still have a strong relationship at the end of it. 


To read more about how to have the ‘Tough Conversations’ grab a copy of Georgia’s book Fixing Feedback or sign up to receive her regular blogs by Staying Connected.

About Georgia

Georgia is obsessed with the power of great communication. She knows how great communication leads to great collaboration and helps create outstanding cultures.

Follow Georgia




Phone: 0402 119 333