You are using an outdated browser. For a faster, safer browsing experience, upgrade for free today.


Discover The Employee Engagement Secret

EE Secret

Three distinctive individuals can exist in a typical organization based on activity, attitude, and contribution to the collective work. These individuals rarely identify themselves as one or another, yet all three persist organizationally. They do not wear tee shirts for identification, yet you will recognize each one once a description gets provided. Ironically, most organizations never discuss or acknowledge the separation of these identity groups. Self-examination and a candid workforce will help you discover where most team members fall within this analysis.

One specific identity group is called "Seaweed." Just as seaweed does in nature, these individuals move with the current. They go with the flow. They exert nothing positive or influential, and offer little resistance to either positive or negative situations within the organization. Not only that, but they do not "rock the boat." They come to work and do the job they get paid to perform.  

Seaweed is necessary to your organization because they provide the bulk of the effort to get things done. No fanfare or exciting changes result from the daily grind they deliver. Call them the Honda Accord or the Toyota Camry for the organization. They are nothing fancy but very dependable. Their mediocrity humbles them. Being risk-averse, they will rarely speak up, even in the face of organizational failure. They are like sheep and will move in whatever direction they get pushed.

Another identity group for your organization is the "C.A.V.E. people." The word cave is an acronym resulting from Citizens Against Virtually Everything. These individuals are never excited about anything and resist changing or improving the organization. Nothing the organization does will ever satisfy this population's preoccupation with negativity. They wallow in the muck of cynicism. They are eternal pessimists that never see a positive outcome. Their half-empty perspective about everything the organization attempts is much more than the devil's advocate. This group seems to relish and enjoy the organization's perpetual and eventual failure to prove the same negative sentiment as accurate. They are likely bitter and distrustful. They have a contemptuous attitude that others recognize but do not understand. 

These cave people are the complainers. This tendency to complain is not constructive by any means. They complain in the face of anything positive the organization attempts. Nothing will ever work to improve things. We are all doomed to inevitable and eventual failure. If given a crisp fifty-dollar bill, the cave people would complain because they did not receive two twenties and a ten-dollar note. There is no good in the world of work. 

The third identity group is the leaders of the organization. With or without a title, these people influence those around them. They have most likely been influential all their lives. People follow their lead. Others look to them to determine a response. They are the kids in high school that others want to be. Some may despise them, but they always wanted to be accepted among them.   They are those that make things happen in your organization, whether it is good or bad. Gaining buy-in from this team is imperative to success in whatever endeavor your organization attempts.

The key to organizational success involves two simple ideas. Gaining the support of the leaders is not only important, but it is also necessary. There are techniques to leverage and influence the leadership group. Assigning them to project teams and facilitating their buy-in is very essential. Organizations may also constructively coerce these individuals to gain support. Be careful; it takes particular skill and technique (supervisors can learn this) to keep this coercive activity from coming across as a threat. Either way, working hard to gain support is critical to organizational change or improvement.

The most often neglected identity group for success is the seaweed. These individuals have been driven into the apathetic perspective and are like a seed waiting to get sewn. They are like latent leaders waiting for a spark to reengage for the organization. Do not ignore the potential or the effort required to engage some of these people. They can be inspired and resurrected to become significant for your team. 

Some may be the sleeping giant put to rest by a dysfunctional management team of the past. People can become apathetic and lose engagement for many reasons. Two examples are managers who do not listen or those who view correctable issues as complaints. This lack of leadership works like a sleeping pill and causes potential leaders to become tranquilized within an organization. Bad managers walk around your organization and shoot people with poisonous darts, turning them into seaweed. While present for the organization, the seaweed's contribution is minimal, and their enthusiasm is non-existent. You do not get discretionary effort from the seaweed on your team.

The pandemic and work-from-home accelerated the current employee engagement problem. When you blame employees for quitting in mass numbers, you are the issue. It is not your people or the generation; it is your opportunity to change. It is always your fault as the leader. I constantly hear executives gripe and complain about generational differences, attendance, and engagement. My typical response is good, now do something about it because complaining will not solve your problem.

I am going to be candid. When you hire or promote mediocre or poorly trained supervisors into your workforce, you get what you damn well deserve. It is like hiring a lousy coach and expecting the team to win. Everything your organization desires starts with suitable supervisors who can get the seaweed to engage. The hidden epidemic is inadequate supervision in the workplace. You create catchy value statements in the boardroom, make amazing videos about your culture, and espouse the fantastic organization.

Meanwhile, your employees see a different reality. Just like hotels and cruise ships have areas never seen by the customer, your employees see the dirty parts of your organization. And worse, they know you are hiding it. When I engage with companies to assess culture, engagement, or morale, I ask to see the restrooms front-line employees must use. This simple observation discloses everything I need to know about employee engagement problems. There are other simple diagnostics as well.

Take a moment and consider your front-line supervisors. A recent study of eight thousand managers stated that 67% preferred giving negative feedback over positive feedback. When asked why, they said it felt awkward or uncomfortable giving positive feedback. Or they do not know how to provide positive feedback. Front-line supervision is the most important and often neglected population in an organization. To make matters worse, they are selected for job skills rather than leadership ability most of the time. 

Think about the potential for your team if more of your seaweed could become engaged or reengaged. You get what you desire by hiring, training, and equipping the right people to do the job. When you settle for mediocrity at the supervisor level of an organization, seaweed begins to grow. This seaweed gets harvested from your team by other organizations.