How Leaders Can Get A Firmer Grip on Employee Engagement and Other Key Intangibles
By John Guaspari – Foreword by Jim Kouzes
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-938548-33-8 / 165 pages / $24.95
ePub ISBN: 978-1-938548-34-5 / $11.99
Kindle ASIN: B011SLY09G / $11.99
ePDF ISBN: 978-1-938548-35-2 / $11.99
Helps leaders discover a new way to address one of their biggest challenges – employee engagement
Low-key, humorous style offers clear, accessible insights
Best-selling business book author offers lessons learned based on 30 years’ experience
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Ask leaders what their biggest challenge is, and they’re likely to say: “It’s the people part of the job … the soft stuff … the so-called Intangibles.” And for years, honorable, intelligent leaders have been making good-faith, well-funded efforts to address this challenge. But they invariably come up short. And when they do, they try again. And then again. And yet again.
Otherwise Engaged shines a bright light on the cause of this challenge: a fundamental misunderstanding of the true nature of the Intangibles. It’s a how-to book in that it focuses on the too-often overlooked first step in any such effort: How to stop doing the things that cause people to dis-engage. Once you gain a better, deeper understanding of the true nature of the intangibles, you’ll discover that you already know what to do in order to be more effective in this domain. No need to master new knowledge or techniques. No need for the excess baggage that comes with big, organization-wide programs or initiatives.
Otherwise Engaged shows you how to get a grip on the Intangibles.
Through a story told in a light, humorous style, the author helps you discover what the problem is. In the process, you’ll develop a felt need to challenge the assumptions under which you’ve been working and to become more open to the possibility of considering a different way. You will discover:
- How to recognize and embrace the fact that the Intangibles are … intangible
- Why employee engagement can be a trap and how to avoid it
- How to create a culture where employees feel empowered
- Why leaders so often do the wrong things to elicit trust and respect
- Why good faith efforts to promulgate values throughout an organization can be ineffectual and, in some cases, even damaging
The book offers specific, prescriptive steps to more effectively deal with the Intangibles, showing you how to become Otherwise Engaged: by adopting an approach to engagement that’s other than the traditional one, and by ensuring that this approach has a laser-sharp focus on how what’s done (and not done) and said (and not said) affects the other person.
About the Author
For the past 30 years, John Guaspari has helped leaders take on the challenge of being more effective at attending to the intangibles. He is the author of six previous books on the topic, including the best-selling I Know It When I See It, The Customer Connection, and The Value Effect, seven best-selling training videos, as well hundreds of articles and columns. He has worked with corporate clients in scores of industries and has delivered some 1,500 intangibles-related presentations, seminars, and workshops. Long before entering the world of consulting, he began his professional career as an aerospace engineer and then went on to hold corporate positions in such widely varying functions as marketing, customer support, quality, leadership development, and organizational effectiveness.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Jim Kouzes
Part One: Getting a Firmer Grip on the Problem
1. Meet the Wilsons
1a. Ultimately, It Has to Do with Butterfly-ness
2. The Wilsons Tackle Engagement
2a. Maybe We Need a New Word for Engagement
3. The Wilsons Tackle Empowerment
3a. You Can’t Bestow Empowerment
4. The Wilsons Tackle Trust & Respect
4a. Toward More Practical Definitions for Trust and Respect
5. The Wilsons Tackle Values
5a. Company Values, Human Nature, and Gresham’s Law
6. The Wilson Family Meeting
6a. It’s Not About Action Steps
Part Two: Getting a Firmer Grip on the Solution
7. A Widely Held — and False — Distinction
8. Draining the Swamp — Respect, Solipsism, and Employee Engagement
9. On Being More “Other-Wise”
10. Conclusion — A (Perhaps Not So) Modest Proposal
About the Author
“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do what you want done because he wants to do it.”
— President Dwight D. Eisenhower
This book is about leadership, the defining characteristic of which is the existence of followers. For our purposes, leader can mean a C-level executive or it can mean a frontline supervisor. It can mean a person with explicit positional authority over a business unit of a Fortune 100 company as well as someone called on to head up an eight-person, ad hoc project team who must lead through influence alone.
It’s also about Engagement, a concept that’s popping up more and more often on leaders’ screens these days. And that’s for a very good reason. Compelling research done by CEB, Gallup, Hay Group, and others demonstrates the indisputable correlation between high levels of Employee Engagement and substantially improved business results, as measured along such critical dimensions as profitability, productivity, and employee retention rates.
Engagement doesn’t happen in a vacuum, though. Focusing on it inevitably means coming face-to-face with such related matters as Empowerment, Trust, Respect, Company Values, and the rest of the so-called soft stuff . . . the people stuff.
Attending to all of this effectively is a non-trivial challenge. But leaders don’t become leaders by backing down when faced with such challenges. They take action – the summum bonum of complex organizational life – by launching serious-minded, well-funded initiatives to drive up Engagement levels, appropriately genuflecting along the way to Engagement’s first cousins, the other Intangibles. They do their homework, researching the currently accepted tools and techniques, settling not just for any practices, but only for best practices.
It’s all very sensible, logical, and rational, and often as not, the results come up short of expectations. So the question becomes: Why?
It’s a question I’ve been trying to help leaders in hundreds of organizations representing scores of industries answer for thirty-plus years now. Over all that time, there have been two incidents that, more than any others, brightly illuminated just what the answer might be. Here’s one of them.
I was standing on the stage of a corporate auditorium. The title of the presentation I was about to make was the standard one I used in such instances: “Making the Business Case for The Intangibles.” If you were to try to imagine a group of people predisposed to be skeptical about this sort of subject matter, you’d be hard pressed to come up with a better one than the hundred or so people I was facing at that moment: the security team of a business unit of a major technology company. Suffice it to say, these are not people whose day-planners tend to be overfilled with matters pertaining to the soft stuff.
A few days earlier I had told a colleague that this assignment would be a piece of cake: “All I have to do is make a logical, left-brained argument to an overwhelmingly logical, left-brained audience that logical, left-brained arguments aren’t enough.” I was joking, but I also knew that this pretty well captured the essence of the challenge before me. I believed that what I had to say had the potential to be of considerable value, even to such logical, left-brained folks. That wouldn’t be the case, though, unless I could find a way to get past the Starship Enterprise-grade deflector shields that such audiences reflexively deploy – set to eleven – when under threat of bombardment by what they perceived to be such Kumbaya-ish subject matter.
So I took a risk. Instead of beginning my presentation by talking about the Intangibles, I decided to try to get them to vicariously feel one.
I began by telling them the story of what had happened on the evening our son Mike was born some thirty years earlier. I described my wife Gail announcing that the big moment had arrived, the phone calls to the hospital and obstetrician, the gathering up of the go-bags, the short/long three-mile drive to the hospital. I told them of how the song that happened to be playing on the car radio when I turned the ignition key was Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” and that by the end of the song we had arrived at the hospital, that by the end of the night mother and baby were doing great.
Here’s how I concluded the story: “To this day, whenever I hear ‘Piano Man,’ I get a powerful emotional jolt. I cannot prove it to you. I cannot show it to you. I cannot put it in front of you so that you can touch it, or taste it, or smell it. But don’t you dare try to tell me that this feeling is not real. What’s more, everyone in this room has an equivalent story to tell about something that will trigger a deeply rooted bit of sense memory and give you that same kind of emotional jolt. That’s what I mean by The Intangibles. That’s what we’re going to be talking about for the next hour or so.”
It worked. I could tell by the body language that their deflector shields had come down. Most of all, I could tell when, at the end of the hour, I thanked them for their time and attention and exited stage left, at which point one of those oh-so-logical/rational security professionals held up his iPhone – volume cranked up to eleven – and serenaded us all with Billy Joel’s “Piano Man.”
That was one of the most gratifying moments of my professional career. What happened next, however, was not.
A fifteen-minute break was called, and an HR director for the business unit approached me.
“May I offer you some constructive feedback?” she asked.
“Of course!” I replied.
“This is a pretty diverse group,” she said. “Not all of them are baby boomers like you and I are. So their tastes in music are likely to be different from ours. I think your story would have been more effective if instead of using a song by Billy Joel you had used one by someone like, say, Katy Perry.”
What I said in reply was this: “Hmm. Interesting point. I’ll be sure to give it some thought.”
What I had wanted to say was this: “But that’s what actually, you know, happened. ‘Piano Man’ is the song that was on the radio! An hour ago I stood up in front of these people and opened a vein and shared a deeply personal, deeply emotional story!! One that I had never shared in public before!!! I understand that this is a diverse team and that, Lord knows, they’re all the stronger as a result!!!! But ‘Piano Man’ is what was on the radio that night!!!!! And besides which, Katy Perry is younger than Mike!!!!!!”
All of which goes to prove yet again that attempting to deal with the Intangibles is like trying to lasso a cloud. Don’t get me wrong. I am more than prepared to concede that she may have missed the point of the “Piano Man” story because of my shortcomings as a presenter. But the guy who held up the iPhone seemed to get it. So, too, did all of the people who sang along to “Piano Man” when he did. So how was it that an HR director – an HR director! – didn’t?
I think it has to do with the fact that leaders have a strong bias toward logical, rational, data-driven solutions to problems. It’s a bias that is reinforced by the dynamic push and pull of organizational life. You don’t become a leader – or at least you won’t be a leader for long – by relying on gut feelings and emotion alone.
For the record, I am not immune to the appeal of such a worldview. Both my undergraduate and graduate training were in aerospace engineering, and I spent the first several years of my career in that profession. I, too, like to be data-driven.
But doesn’t the fact that so many well-intentioned initiatives fall short of expectations represent important data? In what sense are you being data-driven when you come up short and think, “We did our best. But, you know, it’s the soft stuff that’s the hard part, so . . .,” thereby shrugging away the possibility that maybe the approach that was taken wasn’t so sensible and rational after all?
Which brings us to the root of the problem, and I think it has to do with the fact that security professionals are not the only ones with hair-triggers on their deflector shields. Sad to say, pretty much everybody has them. It’s just human nature.
Well-intentioned and sensible though they may be, those rational, well-resourced, best-practice-driven initiatives amount to the application of mechanical, utilitarian prescriptions to what is essentially a problem of the spirit and soul. It’s not just that such approaches don’t work. It’s that they can’t work, any more than even the most powerful antibiotic will cure a viral infection.
That’s a costly problem for businesses, since they invest a lot in what has come to be called their human capital, and there are enormous benefits to be realized by leaders who are able to get a firmer grip on Engagement and all of its cousins – if, that is, it were possible to get a handle on those Intangibles, which by definition can’t be touched.
A paradox that, and it’s what we’ll be covering over the next 138 pages. Such is the ambiguity of the leader’s challenge. Embrace it. You might just as well, since you can’t embrace the Intangibles themselves.
* * *
A few words about what you are about to read in “Part One: Getting a Firmer Grip on The Problem.”
In it, you’ll meet the Wilsons: the father, Matt; the mother, Jennifer; and their children, Matt Jr. and Jessica. You will be given a behind-the-scenes look at what happens when Matt (a high-powered management consultant) and Jen (a small-business owner) strategize about how they can best apply familiar business practices in their household so that: (1) their kids are fully engaged members of the Wilson clan; and (2) they, Matt and Jen, are more effective when it comes to attending to other key family Intangibles, such as Empowerment, Trust, Respect, and Values.
Obviously (or at least I hope it will be obvious), the Wilsons’ story is a parable. No parents would ever take such an instrumental, mechanical approach to something as personal and sublime as their relationship with their children.
So why tell their story at all? Because – no surprise here – dealing effectively with the Intangibles is difficult to do well; if it weren’t, you wouldn’t be reading this book. And one of the things that makes it such a difficult challenge is the breathtaking complexity of modern organizational life. However committed we might be to getting a firmer “grip” on the intangibles, the fact is that we’ve got a thousand-and-one-things pulling us in this-or-that direction, so our efforts might not be as focused as we would like them to be. And however well-intentioned we might be when making those efforts, some of the things we might wind up doing could actually, sad to say, do harm.
By observing what goes on in such a simple “organization” – four people, all co-located, all in frequent and direct contact with each other – we are better situated to isolate and discover the causal connection between the seemingly sensible techniques employed and the less-than-ideal results attained.
And who knows? You might even feel a pang or two of recognition along the way that makes you think: That sounds uncomfortably familiar. Maybe even: Holy crap! I’ve been as big a knucklehead as Matt Wilson!
The hope here, too, is that you will find the Wilsons’ story entertaining and amusing enough to draw you through some of the abstract argumentation needed to help you get that firmer “grip” on those intangibles.
On to Part One.
Praise for Otherwise Engaged
“Guaspari offers brilliant analogies and real-world examples to illustrate concretely his methods and principles and principles in a way that is entertaining and engaging . . . If your organization is looking to start or re-tool your employee relations or engagement efforts, Otherwise Engaged will point your conversation in the right direction.”
— See full review by Charles Franklin in Small Business Trends
“An engagingly funny fable that John Guaspari uses to guide the reader to answer the profoundly serious question posed by the book – Why do employee engagement activities often fail? . . . Thought-provoking and charming.”
— JIM KOUZES, Dean’s Executive Fellow of Leadership, Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University, and coauthor of the bestselling book, The Leadership Challenge
“In this very readable (and yes, engaging) book, John Guaspari reminds us that great leaders create an environment which connects people to what is important for them as well as the company. Using a simple metaphor and providing clear, specific actions which a new or experienced leader can take, Guaspari shows us that, in the PowerPoint world of analysis and logic that permeates most organizations, it is really our humanity, and feelings of trust, respect, and safety that generate commitment and therefore performance. Pick up this book. You will learn that a wise leader doesn’t try to motivate people but rather understands ‘the intangibles’ that motivate us all.”
— DAVID DOTLICH, Ph.D., Chairman and CEO, Pivot Leadership, and author of The Unfinished Leader and 10 other leadership books
“Otherwise Engaged is vintage Guaspari: clever and entertaining while also substantive, thought provoking, and wise.”
— DAN CIAMPA, coauthor of Right From The Start: Taking Charge In A New Leadership Role
“Having worked with John Guaspari in a previous life, I can unequivocally say that he practices what he preaches. Anyone in a position of leadership at any level would be well advised to take the advice John provides in Otherwise Engaged.”
— GEN. JAMES B. SMITH, former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia
“Employee engagement has been the elusive holy grail for companies and leadership since surveys revealed there is a serious gap between what we believe creates engagement and reality. This is a story that has been ongoing with no conclusion. Guaspari tells the story that needed telling, and he does it using humor and metaphor like only he can. This is a fun book that packs a powerful message all business leaders must hear to finally engage their people.”
— DAVID CASULLO, President, Bates Communications, and author of Leading the High Energy Culture: What the Best CEOs Do to Create an Atmosphere Where Employees Flourish
“John Guaspari’s latest book, Otherwise Engaged, is a must-read in today’s highly packaged, productized, and transactional business environment. It reminds anyone who aspires to fully lead others that they must genuinely unleash (rather than pay lip service to) the vital intangibles of engagement and respect.”
— PAUL ALLEN, Chairman, Allen & Gerritsen Multiple Awardee: “One of the Best Places to Work in Boston”
“An insightful and fresh perspective on contemporary talent and organizational effectiveness topics – engagement, empowerment, values, trust – in a useful and practical narrative . . . it will challenge you to think differently as you implement solutions to human capital issues.”
— JOE BONITO, Senior Vice President, Ledership Development Executive, Global Human Resources, Bank of America
“John Guaspari takes the vagaries of intangibles and serves up a hilarious how-to with his latest avatars, the Wilson family. Otherwise Engaged provides a solid approach to the elusive topic of employee engagement. Guaspari’s brilliance is his airtight logic, but lucky for us each “aha!” is paired with a “ha ha!” – a business book rarity. I’ll take it!”
— ELISABETH SWAN, President, Swan Consulting & Associates, Inc.
“Otherwise Engaged should be required reading for anyone in a leadership position in any type of organization. You’ll come away understanding how critically important employee engagement is to the achievement of personal and business objectives. And John Guaspari’s writing style and wit make it an easy and enjoyable read.”
— WALTER J. FLAHERTY, COO and CFO, New England Aquarium (Ret.)