Are Your Employees Disengaged

By  Steve

Do you believe your employees are engaged?

If you do, I wonder whether your perception about your employees is slightly at odds with the reality?

Based on my own research, people, and that would include employees, managers  and directors have certain desires or wants  which help them thrive. If they thrive then, there’s a good chance the business will thrive.

What helps people become engaged employees?

This forms a link in the chain of my whole business philosophy and in bulleted form, these are what I think are the critical elements;

  • Purpose and Significance – Your work has a purpose beyond the work itself.
  • Self Determination – The power to affect the framework of your work and environment so you can perform at your best.
  • Flow – Finding the optimum halfway house between your ability to get the  work done and the challenge it represents to you.
  • Impact – Seeing outcomes and results from your efforts which have a positive effect.
  • Connection – The sense of belonging and the willingness to go the extra mile.

The Myth of Sticks, Carrots in Management

I think it was Frederick Winslow Taylor who believed that businesses were being run inefficiently. His answer was to see humans as cogs in a machine almost like organic widgets. These widgets did of course have certain behaviours because they wern’t machines at all, they were human. To get the behaviour you wanted needed two things. Reward good behaviour and punish so called bad behaviour.

I’ve since found out that sticks and carrots are being handed out like confetti in some and possibly most of our schools. However I want to focus on the world of business and leave the school discussion for another time.

Taylor saw workers as lazy and stupid and they needed people called managers to tell them what to do. This has become known as Taylorism.

At the opposite end of the spectrum we have someone called W. Edwards Deming. Deming unlike Taylor saw people as intrinsically good, His philosophy was to see that it was normally a system failure that led to poor performance and yet it was the people who were blamed. More importantly, the people had no control or influence of the system.

Deming proved his point with the red bead experiment. This was a simple example related to the errors that  would accrue due to faults in the system. So, rather than faults with the workers it was  in fact the fault of managers who didn’t ask the right questions.

And yet, many organisations are run on very old fashioned and out of date way of seeing the world. Managers  wrongly apply incentives as a way to improve the outcome or solve a problem. This gives the illusion of control where in fact there is no control because they haven’t solved or found the true underlying cause of the fault or problem.

A Quick Story

My first full time job was as an apprentice to the Post Office, this was before they became British Telecom. My apprenticeship was to work at their factory in Bilton Way, Enfield. It was here that I learned to take apart and completely refurbish switchboards.

As I remember it we were learning about faults and how to repair them properly. Imagine a light fitting hanging from the ceiling where the cable becomes unconnected inside the light fitting. One could quickly repair the problem by reattaching the connection. The problem would show up again as overtime the weight of the light fitting would soon stretch and break the connection.

The real answer was to dig a little deeper and find out what the underlying cause is. In this case the quickest and easiest remedy was to find a way to hang the light fitting in such a way that the electric cable wasn’t being stretched. In other words attach a metal chain from the ceiling to the lamp fitting.

This is a very simple story with a very simple remedy and yet everywhere I look we still seem to be making the same mistakes of focussing on people as the problem when it’s not.

Deming and Management

I’m sure  you’ll appreciate I tend to see the world through interconnected systems because I believe this is the only way to build self sustaining businesses. Deming did come up with ideas some of which may seem contentious. I list them below here for you to take a look at;

  • Create and communicate to all employees a statement of the aims and purposes of the company
  • Adapt to the new philosophy of the day; industries and economics are always changing
  • Build quality into a product throughout production
  • End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag alone; instead, try a long-term relationship based on established loyalty and trust
  • Work to constantly improve quality and productivity
  • Institute on-the-job training
  • Teach and institute leadership to improve all job functions
  • Drive out fear; create trust
  • Strive to reduce intra departmental conflicts
  • Eliminate exhortations for the work force; instead, focus on the system and morale
  • Eliminate work standard quotas for production. Substitute leadership methods for improvement
  • Eliminate MBO. Avoid numerical goals. Alternatively, learn the capabilities of processes and how to improve them
  • Remove barriers that rob people of pride of workmanship
  • Educate with self-improvement programs
  • Include everyone in the company to accomplish the transformation

Deming and his principles of knowledgeYou can no doubt gather that trying to do all the above is asking a lot and that assumes you agree with them. I hope in a way that you don’t agree with all of them just because I say or suggest you should. My thinking style is to seek to challenge the status quo and create an environment of ideas and innovation, My hope is that you would challenge my thinking so it can be tested against your ideas and experiences.

Before moving away from Deming, I’d like to share a quote made by him in connection with a book by Peter Senge, called “The Fifth Discipline.” A great book which discusses the learning organisation and systems thinking, well worth a read.

Deming said; “Our prevailing system of management has destroyed our people. People are born with intrinsic motivation, self-respect, dignity, curiosity to learn, joy in learning. The forces of destruction begin with toddlers — a prize for the best Halloween costume, grades in school, gold stars — and on up through the university.  On the job people, teams, and divisions are ranked, reward for the top, punishment for the bottom. Management by Objectives, quotas, incentive pay, business plans, put together separately, division by division, cause further loss, unknown and unknowable.”

Is now a bad time for you to continue with my ideas?

If it is, perhaps you could bookmark this page, otherwise please read on.

If it’s okay with you I’d like to come back to my bulleted list?

  • Purpose and Significance – Your work has a purpose beyond the work itself.
  • Self Determination – The power to affect the framework of your work and environment so you can perform at your best.
  • Flow – Finding the optimum halfway house between your ability to get the  work done and the challenge it represents to you.
  • Impact – Seeing outcomes and results from your efforts which have a positive effect.
  • Connection – The sense of belonging and the willingness to go the extra mile.

In some respects this is not rocket science. You will probably see that all of the above is what you’de want or at least welcome.

But that’s the point, as humans we would want all these things but how often do we experience them in our organisation? What about your employees, what  do they really think and feel?

I’m going to expand a little further on these points before signing off and want to explore  how we might reach our primary goal of improving employee engagement?

Purpose and Significance

If you have a clearly thought through vision and goal for your business, people will respond to that. In some cases having a clear vision will attract the right people to the role because they will have a shared vision and want to contribute.

From a departmental standpoint, one can create a goal by considering the business vision. Align the department goals with the business vision and strategy. In a similar way, you can coordinate employee’s performance to the departmental goals. By encouraging people to see other departments as interdependent you will start to see teams work together for the good of the business.

One word of warning. It’s possible there may be departmental goals already in place which push departments apart. This is an unfortunate by product of departmentalisation and occurs when departments have for example separate budgets, cost centres and managers. Proceed with some caution!

Self Determination

Self determination can be looked at as intrinsic or internal motivation. Other’s may call it autonomy, either way this is about doing something in which the person doing it feels as though they own it. People will do amazing things without extra pay just for the love of it. So, how do we get there?

Share the goal of the company and department and explain the reason why it’s so important. If possible allow the employee to decide how they will reach that goal. If that’s not possible encourage your employee to make secondary or peripheral decisions.


Have you ever played a sport or  become embroiled in a task which time seems to have vanished. This is what I mean by a flow state. There’s a book with the same title called “Flow – The classic work on how to achieve happiness” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. The central thesis of the book is mindful challenge.

Software games developers seem to have developed the games we may occasionally play by creating this flow state. Typically they start of at a level where we may initially struggle at the level we’re at. Once we master that level we are challenged with the next level up and so on.

Creating a flow state is as much to do with the individual person or team member as it is to do with your organisation. Having said that, I still think we should give thought to creating a culture of continuous improvement and therefore provide continuous challenge because people will feel connected and engrossed.


All of us like to feel as though we have contributed in some way towards a positive outcome and this applies in a business or elsewhere.

You can help your people feel they’ve impacted the business positively by feeding back the outcome or results based on their contribution. One of the ways to do this is to acknowledge mini successes for a piece of work or project.

If there are negatives which need to be discussed, think about how you would do this. Humans are wired to focus on the negatives and so a balanced approach is often better.


Having a sense of belonging can help people feel good about themselves and good about the organisation they work in. This then forms a feeling of commitment and a sense of wanting to provide value to their employer.

Much of this also goes back to having a strong  vision. Employees want to feel inspired and a good vision will help a lot.

Valuing people for who they are leads to better engagement. This could include helping employees find the right role for their skills and talents and empowering them to make  decisions.

This article has run on for longer than I anticipated so you have my apologies for taking up more time than I  thought I would.

Wishing you all the best.



A Tennis playing father of two. The two in question are at an age where everything they do is correct and anything I suggest is stupid! Luckily business is a tad easier... Once I start to understand the challenges and your vision, I can usually plot a way forward. Understanding and Discovery are my two watch words.


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