Employee Engagement Hinges on “Thinking Managers”

Why employee engagement hinges on thinking managers

When it comes to bridging the engagement gap, are your managers part of the problem or part of the solution?

If you weren’t able to attend Ann Herrmann-Nehdi’s recent HRDQ-U webinar, “Developing ‘Thinking Managers’ to Bridge the Engagement Gap,” here’s a taste of what you missed:

  • Survey after survey shows that a large portion of the workforce is either only partially engaged or totally disengaged.
  • US businesses lose $11 billion annually as a result of employee turnover.
  • Managers account for as much as 70% of variance in employee engagement scores.
  • Everyone processes information differently based on how they prefer to think, and these preferences affect what will engage them, what will frustrate them, how they prefer to get work done, and what kinds of work will inspire them to give it their all.

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Employee Engagement and Retention: What You Don’t Know Could Cost You


The “shocking” to “disturbing” headlines about employee engagement are almost routine these days. Study after study turns up numbers in the range of 70 to 80 percent of the workforce that’s either not fully engaged or actively disengaged at work, costing companies billions in annual turnover.

It’s not that executives aren’t throwing money at the problem. In fact, by some estimates, companies are collectively investing upwards of $1.5 billion a year into trying to turn it around, without much to show for it in return.

But there have been a few positive signs beginning to emerge. Modern Survey’s Fall 2014 Employee Engagement Index showed engagement levels are beginning to inch up, while disengagement is at its lowest point since the study began.

Sounds good, right? Well, keep reading.

That same survey examined “who wants to leave” and found that, surprisingly (or “alarmingly,” as they put it), nearly a quarter (24%) of fully engaged employees are currently looking to leave their companies.

Something is clearly wrong when companies are spending billions of dollars on engagement, and they can’t even count on their fully engaged people to stay.

One of the biggest culprits? By and large, leaders, managers, and even L&D and HR professionals don’t know their employees. They don’t know what they care about, what matters most to them or what they pay attention to. This is the critical “homework” that has to be done before you put all that money into engagement and retention efforts.

Because work of any kind is primarily a mental activity, the best way to get to know your employees is to start by understanding how they think. This is the filter through which they communicate, listen and process information. It influences how they approach a task and what kind of work they find stimulating (or draining).

As part of the process of writing the second edition of The Whole Brain Business Book, we looked at some of the data around work satisfaction, and generally speaking, we found that the highest satisfaction comes from those who have a strong alignment between their thinking preferences and the mentality of the work they’re assigned to do. The lowest are associated with those who are misaligned—unless they’re looking for a challenge in that specific assignment and have been prepared and are motivated to stretch.

And that’s why this isn’t just about them; it’s also about you. Unless you’re intentional about your thinking, which is what Whole Brain® Thinking is all about, your own preferences will become filters and blind spots, impacting how you communicate, make decisions, assign work and create development plans for others. When fully engaged people are still looking to leave, being able to see past your own preferences and “get inside their heads” is the critical missing piece.

So before you make assumptions about what’s going to engage and retain them, start with thinking. In our experience, it’s the much more cost-effective—and just plain effective—route.

On-Demand Webinar: Developing Leadership Agility for an “All of the Above World”

What’s your biggest leadership challenge?

Engaging employees?

Preparing emerging leaders to step up?

Building high-performance teams?

Developing a leadership mindset across the organization?

If you’re like most training leaders today, the answer is “all of the above.” The good news is, you and your leaders already have the best tool for navigating an “all of the above” world—the brain.

Even better news: Kevin Sensenig’s webinar for Training Magazine has the practical strategies and steps you need to take full advantage of your brainpower and consciously shift your thinking when the situation requires it.

The webinar recording and follow-up resources for Developing Leadership Agility for an “All of the Above” World are available now for on-demand access.

Take a moment to check it out and download the materials, because particularly as the world grows more complex, the time you spend now getting your thinking in order will pay off exponentially in 2015.


Managers, You Aren’t Responsible for An Employee’s Motivation

With all the chatter about employee engagement and its impact on productivity and retention, we know that employee motivation is a key issue at all levels of leadership.

But people who lead continue to make a fundamental mistake in this area: They believe and behave as if they are responsible for an employee’s motivation.

Here’s a news flash: Motivation of an employee doesn’t come from the manager; it comes from within the employee.

Why is this so hard to grasp? One possible reason is we’ve established a cadre of leaders who think that visible action on their part is the primary way to lead—that you must do something or you won’t be viewed as a leader by those who are led.

The fact is we all motivate ourselves. The more important and useful function managers and leaders can serve is to encourage this inner self-motivation, and there are a number of ways to do this:

  1. Provide employees with work they find stimulating. When people aren’t stimulated by the work, they drop out of the game. Look for clues in their thinking preferences, paying attention to both their primary preferences, which typically are associated with the work they’ll most enjoy, and their areas of avoidance or lack of preference.
  2. Provide a work climate that allows this stimulating work to be performed in ways that satisfy and fulfill the employee. Don’t assume the way you would tackle the work is the best way for the employee. Create an environment where employees have a say and a stake in their own productivity and engagement.
  3. Provide incentives and rewards that supplement the self-actualization the employee is already experiencing. But remember, when it comes to rewards and incentives, one size doesn’t fit all.
  4. Provide the necessary tools, materials and support that allow the employee to optimize quality performance. Employees frequently have a better sense of how to get the tasks done in the most efficient, effective way. Give them the tools they need, and then…
  5. Get out of the way!

This surprisingly direct and simple process is founded on two human resource basics:

  1.  Know your employees. Understand their thinking preferences, their expectations and their job needs.
  2. Understand the mental requirements of the work being done. This requires an investment in time, energy and skill to diagnose the work elements of the tasks to be performed and then construct a thinking profile of the job.

The next step in this process is exceedingly elementary in concept, but impossible to carry out if the preceding steps have not been rigorously performed. This next step is bringing the employee into alignment with the work. When the employee’s thinking preferences are well aligned with the mental demands of the job, they’ll be more productive and engaged, and their companies will benefit as a result. It’s a win-win all around.

Want to fuel your own inner self-motivation? Read more about job fit and alignment for greater work satisfaction in our post, Commencement Advice for Everyone.


Hiring Is Up, But Will Your New Hires Stay?

conference room

Earlier this year, we talked about the challenges new hires often face when joining a company, and how organizations and their leaders can “teach culture” to ease the onboarding process.

Another new survey of 500 human resource professionals shows just how important the onboarding and employee engagement processes are — in real financial terms.

According to Allied Van Lines’ 2012 Allied Workforce Mobility Survey, employers are losing nearly a quarter of their new hires within the first year. Of those that remain, one-third fail to achieve productivity targets.

Citing an average cost of $10,731 to fill one position, and another $21,033 per new hire for relocation, the study shows how this retention and productivity problem is more than just an HR issue; it’s a bottom-line issue.

Why are new hires leaving? According to the respondents, the top three reasons are managerial relationships, job performance and career advancement opportunities.

As the economy turns around and hiring picks up, your organization may need to take a fresh look at the onboarding and employee engagement processes. So much has changed in the workplace and business environment over the past few years, yet many of our internal systems and processes haven’t kept up.

Here’s an innovative approach a pharmaceutical company we’ve worked with has taken.

While training and a strong coaching culture already existed, the company worked with its sales managers to help them better understand the mental demands of the sales rep positions they were filling as well as their own and their employees’ thinking preferences.

By mapping the job responsibilities against the thinking processes involved, and then looking at their own thinking preferences as well as the preferences of the new hires, they could not only put together a more focused, targeted development plan, they could better align their coaching to the individual.

Many of the new hires were recent college graduates. This approach didn’t just give them a faster way to learn the ropes and achieve productivity goals — although it did, reducing the average ramp-up time from two years to just seven months — it also brought them into the culture in a more significant way. They appreciated the insights they learned about thinking preferences, many commenting that they’d wished they’d known this information when they were in school.

What onboarding or retention challenges have you seen since hiring has picked back up? Have you used any Whole Brain® Thinking approaches to make the process easier and more effective?

Engaging Employees: Pay Attention to What Really Matters

Engaging Employees: Pay Attention to What Really Matters

conference room

From business magazines to HR publications to health and wellness websites, employee engagement is one of the hot topics of the moment.

The Googles and’s of the world are often name-dropped as examples of companies that are doing it right, keeping their employees happy and, well, keeping their employees.

But what makes them happy? Is it the perks like free food and dry cleaning? The financial incentives? The social activities?

Before you install that coffee bar, take a look at what employees say really matters to them.

While Google offers many perks, the research shows that these aren’t actually the primary drivers of job satisfaction. Referring to the results of his study of more than 1,400 US-based companies, Mark Murphy, CEO of Leadership IQ, put it bluntly about what motivates employees:

“What they really need is a workplace that isn’t going to irritate them.”

What actually makes Google so successful, he adds, “is the competition of ideas, the pure meritocracy, whoever has the best idea wins.”

Blessing White’s Employee Engagement Report echoes these findings. In their survey of more than 11,000 people around the globe, they found that “employees worldwide view opportunities to apply their talents, career development and training as top drivers of job satisfaction.”

And managers, they point out, aren’t necessarily focusing on the things that matter most to their employees.

No wonder employees are irritated. And no wonder the high potentials at those organizations are looking for other opportunities.

What motivates one person won’t necessarily motivate another, but applying what we know about the brain makes it easier for leaders to understand how different employees prefer to think and approach their work and what they pay attention to. Because thinking drives behavior, it gives leaders the clues and framework to focus on what will really engage, motivate and retain their employees.

If you’re an HBDI® Certified Practitioner, be sure to register for the January 25th THINC™ Webinar, Don’t Lose Your Top Talent! Engaging Employees With Whole Brain® Leadership, for specific tips and takeaways on how to help your managers take action to engage their employees in a meaningful way.

Whole Brain® Thinking Killer Apps

lightening in hand

In last week’s THINC™ Webinar, Ann Herrmann-Nehdi discussed five Whole Brain® Thinking “Killer Apps” for 2010:

  1. Accelerating Leadership Development
  2. Making Connections That Pay Dividends
  3. Mindful Engagement
  4. Innovating Ahead
  5. Thinking Strategically to Think Around Corners

Is your organization prepared to effectively deal with these issues? They’ll not only impact success in 2010, they will also shape how well the organization is positioned moving into the years ahead.

During the webinar, Ann shared some examples of what forward-thinking companies are doing to hone in on these mission-critical issues, and how Whole Brain® Thinking is driving that process.

If you missed the webinar, you can view the recording, 5 Essential Applications of Whole Brain® Thinking for Success in 2010, to see the specific examples and find out what other participants had to say about issues such as customer service, innovation and leadership development.