Category Archives: Employee Engagement

How to dis-engage an employee

In the ever-evolving landscape of organisational dynamics, maintaining high levels of employee engagement stands as a paramount challenge for leaders. However, as evidenced by the disheartening tale of “Samantha”, sometimes leaders unwittingly catalyse the very disengagement they seek to avoid. Let’s delve into Samantha’s narrative and extract invaluable lessons on how not to disengage an employee.

Samantha’s journey begins within a semi-government organisation, where she, a seasoned procurement professional, finds herself amidst a series of leadership tumults. Initially recruited by her manager’s manager, she steps into her role with optimism, only to find her manager conspicuously absent, leaving her to bridge the gaps.

Unexpectedly, both her immediate manager and manager’s manager exit the organisation, thrusting Samantha into an acting manager role. Despite her competence, Samantha harbors no aspirations of climbing the corporate ladder, content with contributing as a high-performing team member.

However, the plot thickens when Samantha is encouraged to apply for the permanent managerial position. After a seemingly promising interview process, she receives an offer that not only falls short of her expectations but also undermines her worth and experiences a slap in the face to her dedication and commitment.

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Lessons about mateship from a 7yo

This Sunday it is Father’s Day. When collecting my two youngest sons from school yesterday, my seven-year-old son, affectionately known as ‘D-Man’, was covering a paper bag with a drawing he had just completed in class.

“Dad, you can’t see what’s inside the bag because it has the presents I bought for you from the Father’s Day Stall.”

 “Okay, don’t worry I promise I won’t look.” I said.

He then went on to say, “Dad, when we get home, can you give me ten dollars?

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Workplace safety starts at home

My eldest son is 17 and is eagerly searching for his first car. We have two parameters for his search. The first is his car must have a 5 Star ANCAP Rating, and the second is our budget.

Prior to facilitating a Safety Conference for Programmed with my good friend Jock Macneish in 2011, I would have shared different criteria with you regarding a first car for my son. He was only 11yo at the time so my criteria were somewhat premature, but a story shared by Programmed’s Managing Director Chris Sutherland changed my mindset.

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Do you have any Gloria’s working with you?

When working for Commercial Services at Monash University which had 750 staff over 28 sites providing a wide range of services for the students and staff of Monash University’s nine campuses, the CEO asked me to lead a recognition and reward project called Project Grateful.

He was a fan of Disney and had previously attended the Disney Institute’s leadership programs.

He handed me a ‘Star Card’, a card the size of a business card that read, “You’re a Star!” on one side, and had room for an employee to identify a colleague and create a short hand written note to either thank them or congratulate them for doing something useful, on the other side of the card.

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Five questions for your team

Gary RyanWhen working with my clients I am constantly asked, “How do I make sure that my team is focused and doing the right things?

If you want your team to be fully engaged and successful, below are five questions that you ought to consider. It is best if your team are included in the conversation to answer the questions.
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Why Mental Models Matter

Your mental models are your theories about how the world works. They come from your life’s experiences, your education, your family, your cultural background, your work experience, your religion (or no religion if you don’t have one). For most people, your mental models are sub-conscious – they affect how you behave but you aren’t aware of the impact that they have.

For example, if you had a mental model that as a manager you should have all the appropriate knowledge of someone in that role to justify your title and the money you are earning, and a staff member asks you a question to which you do not know the answer, then you are at risk of responding with a lie. You will simply make up an answer that will re-enforce your view of yourself as a competent manager.

This short video explains this concept in more detail.

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The characteristics of a high quality conversation

It is worth reading High-Quality Workplace Conversations Matter as an introduction to this post.

Providing conversations have a purpose and stay focussed on that purpose, below are five characteristics of high quality workplace conversations.

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What NOT to do when you first become a manager

On Sunday evening, a good friend of mine received the following message from his new manager who had been in the role for less than a week:
For those that did not join the hook up Friday you must join it on Monday at 11:00am even if you are on RDO we need to discuss this urgently.
Please note the time change due to another appointment at 8:30am.
My friend was on leave on Friday and was also on leave for the Monday, the same day as the second ‘hook up’.

The issue that the manager urgently wanted to discuss related to a safety matter. No doubt it is important that all staff, including my friend, are made aware of the issues that relate to the safety matter, and you won’t find me arguing with you about the importance of safety.

However, given the importance of the issue, and the manager knew that other staff were on their Rostered Day Off (RDO), and my friend was on leave, don’t you think it would make sense to provide many opportunities for staff to be brought up to speed about the issue when they returned to work?

Unfortunately, by creating only two opportunities for this message to be heard, the manager has sent the following message to his direct reports:

  1. Even though I’m saying that this safety matter is urgent, it really isn’t. What I’m really doing is making sure that my manager has seen that I have taken some action to make sure that my staff are aware of the issue.
  2. I do not respect your time. I have the right to send you messages when you are not at work and I expect you to read, respond and take whatever actions I have asked you to take, even though you aren’t at work.
  3. I believe that you put the company’s needs ahead of your own personal needs which is why you will be happy to give up your leave, at short notice, to attend any calls that I arrange.

What level of engagement do you think my friend has with his new manager? Do you think this experience has made it higher or lower? How happy do you think my friend was to have this message arrive while he was at another friend’s birthday celebration and then find himself diverting his attention to decide what he’ll do the following day when he’s on leave? “Should I attend the call or not?“, became his dilemma.

I discovered that his new manager was at least 50 years old, but as far as my friend was aware, had never led a team prior to his recent appointment.

In all honesty, he ought to know better. People know when they are being respected, and they know when they are being disrespected.

If you are a new manager, do everything you can to make sure that you respect your team members. Not doing so will disengage your staff and make your job all the more difficult. Why would anyone want to do that?

Gary Ryan helps talented professionals, their teams and organisations to move Beyond Being Good®.

Do Drucker’s leadership practices stand the test of time?

In 2004, Peter Drucker, an Austrian-born American management consultant, educator, and author, published What Makes an Effective Executive in the Harvard Business Review.

Drucker outlined eight practices and one rule that he had identified from the most effective executives with whom he had worked and/or studied. Let’s look at each of them and see if they are still useful.

Gary Ryan1. Ask, “What needs to be done?“.

This question provides focus. Nothing is more relevant. Focus implies prioritising. What do you prioritise? The activities that are going to give you the biggest returns/outputs for your efforts in the context of achieving the long-term success you are striving to achieve.

This question is also specific for the leader. “What tasks are aligned to my talents?” These are the tasks the leader ought to focus on, and delegate the rest of the tasks to others for whom the tasks match their exceptional talents.

Is this practice still useful?

Yes. This practice is certainly useful. Anything that provides focus in this age is useful. Distractions cost time and time costs money. Whether you are a for profit, not for profit, government or military organisation, time cannot be wasted with the limited resources that are available.

2. Ask, “What is right for the enterprise?

This question has a long-term focus and causes the leader to consider their responsibilities as a steward for the organisation. “Will the organisation be better off, or at least not worse off, as a result of the actions we are about to take?”. While no leader is infallible and there are no guarantees in business, not asking this question is likely to lead to failure.

Is this practice still useful?

Yes. Today’s actions must always be taken in the context of the longer term and the greater good of the organisation.

3. Develop action plans

Drucker explains that plans are a statement of intention. They ought to be living documents that change as forces require them to change. They should not become ‘straightjackets’ that stifle opportunities. Regularly checking progress data, learning from mistakes and successes should all provide information that is used to update the plan.

Is this practice useful?

Yes. Plans provide the detail for our focussed actions.

4. Take responsibility for decisions

Drucker says, “A decision has not been made until people know:

  • the name of the person accountable for carrying it out;
  • the deadline;
  • the names of the people who will be affected by the decision and therefore have to know about, understand, and approve it—or at least not be strongly opposed to it—and
  • the names of the people who have to be informed of the decision, even if they are not directly affected by it.”

Critically, Drucker advises that a ‘decision review system‘ must exist where decisions are evaluated against results. How many of your decisions would pass this test? Not many, I dare guess.

Is this practice useful?

Yes. Even though few people can claim to follow this rule, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t useful. The recent events with CommInsure highlight that leaders need to continually communicate their decisions, their reasons for them, who they will affect and be open to opposing voices from within the organisation who challenge the thinking behind the decisions. Groupthink is dangerous for organisations. Just ask Enron, BP, Arthur Anderson, the Hastie Group, and more recently Dick Smith (although we are yet to know the full underlying reason behind the collapse of this company) etc. about the quality of their decision-making processes.

5. Take responsibility for communicating

Effective communication is one of the greatest leadership challenges of the 21st century. Do your staff know what they need to know, when they need to know it? As a leader, do you know what you need to know, when you need to know it.

Michael Marquardt, author of Leading With Questions believes that effective leaders regularly ask the following three questions of as many staff as possible:

  • What are we doing well?
  • What aren’t we doing well?
  • What would you do if you had the power and authority to create positive change in this organisation?

Is this practice useful?

Yes. It always will be. A tip to help you to increase the likelihood that your team members will know what they need to know when they need to know it, is to make sure that important information from you to them is conveyed by at least three channels of communication e.g. verbally in a meeting, written via an email, published as an article on your company’s intranet.

6. Focus on opportunities, not problems

Jack Welch, while CEO of GE, was famous for teaching his leaders that they must become adept at seeing reality for what is really was, not what they might have wanted it to be. And then, to seek out the opportunities.

As Drucker highlighted, problems need to be solved, but they don’t produce results. Acting on opportunities does.

Is this practice useful?

Yes. Particularly the ability to assess reality for what it is. This leadership skill cannot be underestimated because it allows opportunities to be identified and seized with perfect timing.

7. Run effective meetings

Aah meetings. How many of you think most of the ones you attend are a waste of time? The problem is that too many meetings really are a waste of time.

Drucker advised that you should consider what type of meeting you are going to conduct, well in advance of the meeting. His reasoning was that different types of meetings require different forms of meetings which are driven by the different results they are seeking. His logic makes sense.

Is this practice useful?

Absolutely. At least half of a leader’s time is spent with other people. If this time with other people is not a meeting, then what is it? In this context, making use of this time is critical if a leader is to be effective. Drucker’s suggestions for the different types of meetings to achieve different results is well worth the read – and his suggestions are as relevant today as they have ever been.

8. Think and say, “We”

Leadership is not about you. It is about your organisation and those whom you are serving. They come first.

Is this practice useful?

Yes. As a practitioner of Servant Leadership it is possibly the most important of all Drucker’s practices.

Drucker’s rule – Listen first, speak last

In order to practice this rule a leader must be genuinely curious. Refer to practice 5 above for the three questions that a leader can regularly ask their staff.

Is this rule useful?

Yes. 100%. Use it. Follow it. Practice it. Your leadership needs this rule.

16 years may have passed since Drucker published his article. Each one of his eight practices and his single rule are as important today as they have ever been. They are interdependent and feed off each other. One thing is certain, they won’t harm your leadership effectiveness if you show them. In fact, the opposite will be true.

Gary Ryan helps talented professionals, their teams and organisations to move Beyond Being Good®.

Chris Judd’s Success Lessons

Gary RyanRetiring Australian Football League (AFL) legend Chris Judd has shared two key lessons for success in his recent speeches and newspaper article. Both lessons are not your run-of the-mill lessons. They are insightful and more importantly useful. Use them to help you stay on track on your journey toward more success and life balance.

Lesson 1 – None of us are Nostradamus

When quizzed about his decision to play again in the 2015 season, Judd was asked if it was the wrong decision. Here is his response:

Playing on this year had proved to be the wrong decision for the right reasons. By that, I meant that I hadn’t persevered for money, or for personal glory, but to help the club build a culture. I have some good memories from the second half of last season, and had hoped to solidify them. They were good reasons to play on. As it turns out, I was wrong. But none of us are Nostradamus. As long as you go about the process correctly, and your intentions are pure, even if you make a wrong decision, you can sleep at night. That’s how I feel now.

None of us are perfect. Occasionally you will make wrong decisions. As Robert Louis Flood stated, “The future is unknowable“. When your intentions are honourable, and it turns out that you made a wrong decision, so be it. Learn and move on.

Lesson 2 – Enjoy the good moments when they happen

When asked for his advice to current players, Judd replied:

I think one of the main things, if I had my time over again, is just to appreciate the good moments a little bit more. I was always so ambitious and focused on what was coming next that I probably didn’t recognise as much when something special had happened.

Jeffrey Hopkins, in his translation of the Dalai Lama’s ‘How to Practise – The way to a meaningful life‘ shares that too many people cause themselves suffering because they are not present in the moment. Rather, they are stuck in the past or already focused on the future.

You share this challenge. Remembering to live in the moment when you are doing something important is a critical trait to develop.

I recall that a good friend of mine shared some excellent advice with my wife and I prior to our wedding. He said, “I encourage you to take some time out during your celebrations. Just sit by yourselves on four or five occasions and take it all in. Commit the experience to memory. The sights, the sounds, the taste of your food and drink. You won’t regret it.”

We followed his advice and 18 years later we can both remember our wedding as if it were yesterday, as I can the birth of each of my five children and many other important events in my life as a result of practising this technique.

Taking the conscious time to be present in the moment is important for success because it provides you with the experience of success that you strive so hard to achieve. It is worth following Judd’s advice – enjoy the good moments when they happen.

Gary Ryan provided leadership development services to the Richmond Tigers in 2007 and 2009, and sat on the AFL Coaches Association Board of Management from 2009 to 2014.


Gary Ryan enables talented professionals, their teams and organisations to move Beyond Being Good®

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