Power and Change

Welcome to July.

Another month has come and gone in what seemed like a flash, despite the days often feeling like they drag on and on as we work our way through varying degrees of Coronavirus lockdowns.

Looks like after attempts to reopen bars and restaurants, and after Black Lives Matter protests and counter-protests, we’ve lost our focus on flattening the infection curve by social distancing and now we’re seeing an alarming increase in cases in places all over the United States.

There is lots of frustration from the lockdown.  We certainly value our freedom, don’t we?  And there are lots of different stories about how the lockdown was either a mistake or unnecessary, or the only thing that saved us.  I’m sure we’ll be debating that for a few hundred years.  I do know that it’s a huge inconvenience, and it’s cost hundreds of thousands their jobs which has jacked up our stress levels and added to the frustration.

Joy & Hope

But in these messages, I don’t want to spread gloom and doom; I want to spread a little joy and hope.  Let me start with 3 questions:

  • What ability do we all possess that could prevent the further spread of coronavirus?
  • What ability do we all possess that could prevent riots in the middle of peaceful protests, or even prevent the murder of George Floyd?
  • What ability do we all possess that brings real change in our lives?

The answer is our ability to Love.  I’m certainly not the first to talk about this.  From Jesus Christ to Ghandi to Abraham Maslow to Martin Luther King, Jr, we’ve always known that Love is the true power of change.

Love is a Decision

But you don’t have to wait to “FALL” in love.  Love is a deliberate decision that we need to make for our lives.  We need to make the decision to love others – collectively.  If we make that decision, everything that follows will put the needs of someone else first, whether that’s one person or a whole community.

When we decide to love, we will sacrifice what we need to make sure others have what they need.

It should be easy enough, but if I’ve learned anything over the 40 years that I’ve been studying leadership, it’s that people are…difficult.  To make this decision, you really have to understand the difference between what people WANT versus what they NEED.  Often this really is a matter of opinion.  Do we WANT the police to stop killing unarmed black men or do we NEED that??  Do we WANT to go out to a crowded bar and drink (meaning we don’t wear a mask) or do we NEED to??

Time to Reflect

This decision requires that you reflect deeply on what you and what others need, then put their needs first, sacrificing your own.  We have at least 2000 years of consistent proof that this works to bring change – but it is a LONG GAME strategy.  We have to be willing to endure for the short term.

Today, let’s love others by wearing our masks.  Let’s love others by allowing them to protest without us having to shout about how they’re wrong.  If you’re angry, stay home.

I’m going to change a famous quote from Zig Ziglar.  He said “You can get anything you want in life if you’re willing to help enough other people get what they want.”  I want to remind you that “You can get anything you NEED in life if you’re only willing to help enough other people get what they NEED.”

Do something today to put a stranger’s need above your own.  Let me know how I can help serve your needs.


Travel and Genius

Travel and genius.

“Creative geniuses are often marginal people; individuals whose vision was greatly expanded because they were forced to move from one cultural world into another, and thus were able to see the relativity of both.”  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, The Evolving Self, Harper Collins, 1993, page 74.

He goes on to support this statement by illustrating how people like Freud, Einstein, Picasso, and Gandhi all lived in multiple places with a variety of cultures.  The message?  Get out and experience other cultures!  As soon as this quarantine lifts, let’s book a trip!  Feed your inner creative genius.

Full disclosure:  I also own a travel agency and I’m a Certified Cruise Counselor, so I can help you book that trip! Send an email to david.veech@clandestinetravel.com.

A picture of a sunset at sea
What might a sunset at sea do for your brain?

– David

Mindset Stages – Or how the quarantine affects my family

People are coming up with new ways to work and new ways to have a positive impact on the people in their adjusted workplaces. Since our workplaces have suddenly become extremely diverse as more people are working from home, this is no small feat.  I love how times of crisis make people extremely innovative.  What really drives these changes is navigating a series of mindset changes – something that occurred to me when I reflected on how the COVID-19 quarantine affects my family.

We’re all learning new ways to use technology for talent development, productivity improvement, team development, and focused communications.  We’re learning how we respond to new and different problems, like dogs barking or kids interrupting our online meetings.  Perhaps more importantly, we’re learning that those little interruptions are not a big deal and actually increase our empathy.  Hopefully, the end result will be more effective leaders; leaders who can trust their people to get things done even when they aren’t in the same building; leaders who can build teams that collaborate despite being separated; leaders who are able to draw people out of quiet comfort zones to share thoughts with others.

Easter Revelations

We recently had a remote Easter Dinner (via Zoom) with my family.  I noticed a few distinct differences in how we are reacting and adjusting to the current constraints.  In Baltimore, my daughter has been working remotely in her company for a couple of years.  She goes to the actual office about once a week for specific meetings, then provides support to her team with phone calls, video chats, text messages, and collaborative online tools the rest of the week.  Her wife usually goes to work in a conventional work arrangement but is now home working remotely.  They have two small children (2 years old and 4 months old.) With her wife and kids at home, she’s now finding creative ways to make time to make progress on her work.  She is ready for the kids to go back to daycare and her true love to go back to work…like everyone else with children in the house.

In Austin, my youngest son and his fiancé are riding this out by discovering new ways to “go out” and party with friends.  They said they were more connected to their network than ever before.  He even told me how he lost in the championship game of their friends’ online beer pong tournament.  I guess Zoom really is changing things.  My son works for a marketing firm and is used to working wherever he may be (he was checking his campaign results over Thanksgiving weekend with us.)  His fiancé is a project manager for software installations, and she can complete a surprising number of tasks remotely as well.  They have two dogs, but no children, and both have said they wouldn’t mind working this way from now on.

After serving in the Navy for 4+ years, my middle child is home finishing his bachelor’s degree in social work.  He gets to experience the dramatic shift from small classes to not just online learning, but also an online Spring Commencement.  He’s not thrilled but accepts that this is the way things are and he’ll make the best of it.

Comfort to Resistance

We all face changes differently as our comfort levels are disrupted.  But even among those differences, there are remarkably similar themes.  Like others, I’ve tried to simplify this complex phenomenon into 5 general stages of mindset.  These are broad stages with indistinct boundaries.  I’m not sure anyone goes through these in a nice clean, linear fashion.

We’ll start in our comfort zone where there’s always a wide range of things people are comfortable with.  Regardless, if we suspect a change proposes to disrupt something we’re familiar with, we immediately resist.  Like denial in grief, it’s almost involuntary.

Then we start thinking.  The vigor of our resistance usually rests with our level of fear.  If we think we can figure out how to succeed under the change, resistance is pretty low.  We tell leaders that they have to overcome resistance as they manage change, but what they really need to do is manage the fear.  They can begin by helping people understand the likely impact of any change – on them – individually.  For millennials with dogs and no kids, the change may be a chance to figure out how to reconnect using devices they’re already comfortable with.  For boomers, it might not be so much fun.

Resistance to Advocacy

We move gradually but consistently from resistance to acceptance.  The individual differences in this process range from quiet resignation to avid anticipation.  Think “Oh crap…we have to work from home now” to “Oh man…we have to work from home now!”  It takes a while, but we as we push on, the necessary changes usually work out for the better.  As we acknowledge that the new is better than the old, we start building systems that will allow them to continue performing at that level, and maybe get better. We become advocates for the new way.  Sadly, this quickly lands us right back into a new comfort zone.

The time to introduce a change is in the middle of the acknowledgement stage.  That’s where we are now with the COVID-19 quarantine.  Leaders, step up now and address the need to introduce new ways to work.  That way, we don’t have to go back to normal.  We can go back to BETTER.Mindest diagram

Build team identity while working remotely

Three team members interacting at a distance through colored gears
Teams at a Social Distance

Build team identity while you’re working remotely.

A strong sense of team identity has proven to lead to higher reports of satisfaction on the job.  It turns out that we draw some meaningfulness out of having someone to depend and someone who depends on us.

It’s hard to beat the sense of belonging a team can create when everyone is in the same place.  Imagine football or basketball teams growing stronger together as they practice and play together.

Building a sense of belonging

Today, we need to reimagine what “together” really means.  In these quarantined days of working from home, here are a couple of things you can do to build team identity, keep the team spirit alive, and preserve that sense of belonging.


  • Huddle via Zoom every day. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.  What the heck are you going to talk about EVERY day?  I’ll leave that for you to figure out, but the guidance I usually give is if you’re working every day, you talk about work every day.  Huddle should be between 7 and 15 minutes.  Try not to go longer.
  • Have a Problem solving huddle via Zoom almost everyday. Face it; we have problems that we solve everyday.  Let’s get the team together to help each other out


  • Leaders need to make more explicit plans for what and how much the team needs to accomplish EVERY DAY. Break those big, broad projects into daily goals. Measure that accomplishment EVERY DAY.  Awareness of these expectations will also help build team identity.
  • If you don’t achieve your goals for the day, don’t blame; just ask what happened? This is problem solving at its finest.  What happened?  Who can help figure out why? When did it happen?  Where did it happen? How bad was it.  Then you can ask Why to get to the root cause.  Once you have a root cause, come up with some creative ways to solve it.

Team Name

  • Nothing builds team identity quicker than a fun team name. This always sounds a little hokey to some people, but believe it or not, it helps.  Put your team name everywhere!  Here are a couple of ideas for choosing a team name:
    • Have each team member pick 3 different team names that they like. You might go to a website like https://www.findteamnames.com/ or http://www.leadershipgeeks.com/cool-team-names/  for some inspiration.
    • Build a poll in Zoom and have everyone vote. Eliminate all but the top 3.  Have an open discussion about the origins and the merits of each of these and try to build consensus around the name.
    • Some of my favorite team names:
      • 4KaizenAGirl (it was a continuous improvement – kaizen – team consisting of 4 guys and a girl!)
      • May C4s Be With You (we teach the C4 process for problem solving, and this team had a bunch of Star Wars fans)
      • Disco Ninjas (I have no idea where this came from)
      • My Safe Word is Pineapple (Ditto)


  • Next, give everyone on the team an assigned role, but only for a week. Team members will rotate to a different role each week with a couple of different responsibilities.  Knowing that everyone has a role and is contributing will help build team identity.  Roles might include:
    • Huddle leader – responsible for conducting the daily huddle and making sure everyone has the help they need to succeed
    • Safety leader – responsible for checking on everyone’s health and offering a daily safety message to remind everyone that keeping people safe and healthy is the most important function of a leader. Google daily safety message and you’ll find a huge amount of information on doing this
    • Facilitator – responsible for keeping track of the time on your huddle calls and for writing down any new assignments made during the huddle
    • Productivity leader – responsible for making sure everyone has a plan to accomplish their daily goals, and then reports on productivity during the huddle
    • Quality leader – responsible for reporting any errors or defects the team made the day before and for making plans to solve the problems that led to those errors and defects
    • People leader – responsible for keeping track of attendance, including planned and unplanned absences, and keeping track of training plans and vacation plans for the team.
    • Social leader – responsible for having some team focused activity to do at the end of the huddle (15 minutes or less). It could be a word puzzle of some sort, or a riddle to figure out.  Make this pretty easy so you can start the workday with a win!
    • Feel free to make up other roles that are relevant for your team.

Information Board

Build a team information board in PowerPoint that will keep track of your safety, productivity, quality, and people so you can all see (just share your screen!) just how much better you’re getting!

Reach out

If you need some help, reach out to me.  David.veech@leadersights.com.  I have some pretty cool team building things we can do virtually.  Some are free, some aren’t.

Good luck.  Stay healthy.  Share.


On Going Challenges

I began the year talking about Challenges.  I want people to view a challenge as something positive that they want to achieve.  This weekend though, things happened that offered more to think about.

The Grander Scheme

We experience many challenges to overcome that aren’t things we necessarily want to achieve.  The loss of #Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and his other friends this weekend (1/26/2020) will bring many challenges for his family, friends, and community to overcome.  The #impeachment trial in the Senate, regardless of the outcome, will bring new challenges for the country and likely the world.  Today’s #Holocaust Remembrance Day brings to mind challenges for all of humanity to overcome.

Please keep this in mind…throughout our history, we have all been able to surmount these and many other difficult problems.   We surmount challenges especially well when we pull together to help each other out.  Even in the height of tragedy and despair, our challenges result in positive growth.

Balance and fairness

Going forward, what do we want to achieve?  I’m certain we all have different lists.  But let’s think about challenging ourselves first to do better with balance.  As I think of balance, it includes wellness, work/life, and fairness.

Fairness:  pay gaps and wealth inequality

We should be paying people fairly and equally for the work we ask them to do.  Last August, CNBC reported that “since 1978, CEO compensation rose 1,007.5% for CEOs, compared with 11.9% for average workers, according to the Economic Policy Institute.”  Good critical thinking forces us to examine the source.  Both CNBC and EPI lean politically to the left.  In many instances, I’m certain the pay is fair for both the CEO and the hourly worker, but the numbers themselves suggest growth rates like that aren’t fair.   Is this contributing to a widening wealth gap?   The Cato Institute, which leans politically to the right, dispels a couple of wealth myths but lands hard on cronyism.  It’s a well-written piece that will help in your overall critical thinking about these things.

In the Federal Reserve Study of the widening wealth gap, there is also growing disparity in pay for white verses minority workers.  There also seems to be a persistent gender pay gap.  Women only earn 82% of what men earn according to AAUW in this recent article.

I believe there are lots of factors that influence pay decisions that organizations make.  Many of them are poorly defined but well within the organization’s authority to change.  Of course that change requires the will to change.

Critical Thinking

I simply want to urge more critical thinking around policy making and decision making in government and organizations.  Maybe that should be my challenge to you:  Before making any decisions that affect other people, gather as many perspectives as a reasonable amount of time will allow.  I found and scanned through all these cited articles online within an hour.  Layout the options and share them with a few others.  Try to include some who are outside of your current circle and who you know will think differently.

It really is up to us in workplaces around the world to have better conversations and better dialogue about things that affect us.  We certainly can’t do it on Facebook or Twitter where civility goes to die.  With our apparently hardening political differences, if we don’t learn to dialogue more effectively, I think we’re in for some far worse problems and greater challenges.



We often throw out quite a few terms when we talk about leadership:

Transformational Leadership
Authentic Leadership
Charismatic Leadership
Inspirational Leadership
Visionary Leadership

We spend tons of money listening to speakers, professors, coaches, etc. to become those kinds of leaders.  What I’ve noticed over the years are a couple of things:

  1. We don’t really listen. We mostly agree with what those speakers, professors, and coaches say and conclude “Yep, that’s me.  That’s how I do it.”
  2. We don’t really change, because we don’t think we are the problem.

Leadership BS

In “Leadership BS,” Stanford Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer says when he searched for “leadership” using Google Scholar in 2013, he found 2,640,000 entries.  His search for “leadership” on Google produced 148 million links.  His search on Amazon returned 117,000 entries.  When I searched Google this morning (January 3, 2020) I got “About 6,020,000,000 results (0.80 seconds)”.  I got “1-16 of over 40,000 results…” when I searched Amazon for Leadership books.

Yet with all this stuff over all these years trying to teach leaders how to be better leaders, Gallup still reports that 66% of working people report they are either disengaged at work (53%) or “actively” disengaged (13%.)  How can this be?  Maybe the more appropriate response is WTF?

I’m not going to try to “fix” this with this short blog post.  What I want to do here is to offer you a device that can help you sort out what kind of leader you want to become and how you can get some help to become that leader from the only source that matters…the people closest to you.  Whether family, friends, coworkers, or employees, these are the people who see you when you can’t see yourself.  Once you see yourself, then you will find something to change about the way you work and lead.  Then, you might want to engage a coach (or therapist) to help you build strategies and hold you accountable.

Dynamic Stability

The foundation of the organization of the future is dynamic stability.  Our processes and systems have to be stable enough to allow enough repetitious performance to improve the skills of our people, and dynamic enough to change quickly in response to changes in the environment.  That change needs to allow us to achieve a new level of stability quickly or we end up with churn and chaos from constant, unregulated change.  After 19 years of thinking about this, I’ve learned the four things that create dynamic stability are:

  • Leadership mindset
  • Learning organizations
  • Team-based work structures, and
  • Mutual trust.

The Leadership Mindset

The leadership mindset, though, is the prerequisite for all the others.  The leadership mindset has four key components:  Vision, Values, Commitment, and Discipline.  Together with the mission (which should provide your meaningful purpose), these form the operating philosophy of the organization.

Your vision as a leader, should reflect things that you want personally, and things you want for your work.  For you personally, this vision should motivate you to get up every morning and get going.  It could be that you want to find the perfect mate, or that you want your name on a building.  For a leader of an organization, though, it should be inspiring and motivate action.  People should want to pursue the vision with you.  In that light, wanting your name on a building seems pretty selfish, so while it might be fine to motivate you, it is unlikely that it’ll motivate others.  In short, the vision has to be tailored to the target audience whether it’s an audience of one (you) or many.

Vision Exercise

Check out the attached vision exercise.  1_Sharing your Vision 2020

Find someone you can pair up with and work through it together, then find a way to apply what you learn from it.  I have to give credit to the Disney Institute for the attached.  Even though I’ve modified it, I completed the original exercise there in October 2001.  I’m still working on it.

If you have any questions, or would like some help sorting this out, give me a shout at david@dveech.com.

Happy new year and Happy new decade!

Happy new year and Happy new decade!

With every new year, millions make pledges to themselves to renew, refresh, reshape, and rethink.   Of course, by February, the vast majority are forgotten – swallowed by the reality of our very busy lives.

Change – again

Change in organizations is extremely difficult because change in people is extremely difficult.  But we change.   Let’s also face the truth that we will need to handle more change in the future than we have in the past.  I can say that with confidence because of our history.   Humans have lived through a distinct pattern of increasing technological change at an increasing rate of change over the millennia.

I often ask groups in workshops to make a list of the greatest challenges they think their organizations will face in the coming 30 years.  I encourage you to think about this as well.  It is, of course, pretty easy to simply acknowledge that we have no idea what the next 30 years will hold.  Most of us are stretching to go out five years.

Some input from groups looking into the future

The one thing I consistently notice in these listing exercises is the tone of the group as they brainstorm.  In every case, the challenges that people list are problems, not opportunities. As such, there is a distinctly negative tone, as in “we dread having to face this coming problem”.  On an individual level, its often the same.  We promise ourselves that we’re going to lose 30 pounds, exercise every day, get a raise, or some other problem we know we’re going to dread when we come to face it.

From Negative to Positive

What would happen if we spun these more positively?  How would it change your attitude if instead of thinking about overcoming things you dread, you think about accomplishing something exciting?  Practically speaking, these could be the same things, but our attitude can help us stay on track or push us off track.  To me, the thought of having to get up every morning and work out is more dreadful than setting a goal to walk at least 2 half marathons every month.  I can promote my chances of success by scheduling and paying entry fees for those races, putting extra, reinforcing pressure on me to go exercise so they don’t kill me on race day.

You can also select a beautiful race venue as a reward for completing a goal you have yet to achieve.  Last year, in January, I entered two half marathons over the Lake Tahoe Marathon weekend in October.  I had knee replacement surgery on January 31, so the money I spent on the races motivated me to work harder during my recovery physical therapy and on long training walks before October.

Goals for 2020-2021

So here are some of my goals this year:

  • Over the next 2 years, complete a half marathon in all 50 states.  I’m thinking about adding the US territories like the Virgin Islands and Guam too, as well as all 7 Canadian Provinces.
  • Lose 6 pounds a month for the first 4 months of the year to get down to and maintain a target weight of 190 lbs.
  • Read more:  At least one book or book summary every month
  • Write more:  At least 2 blog posts a month and finish a new book on problem solving and get an article published in a reputable business journal like HBR.
  • Speak more:  At least one presentation a month, whether to a small group, or a large conference.

Tell me what you want to accomplish.  How are you going to challenge yourself in this new decade?

Designing for Satisfaction

Last time, I teed up a discussion about team member satisfaction, and focused on the relationship (or lack thereof) between satisfaction and productivity.  This time, I want to focus more on designing for satisfaction.  In other words, how can we create workplaces that generate higher levels of satisfaction?

I’ve written about this before, so I went back to the archives and pulled a few older blog posts that I think are still good.  Let me know what you think.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Three key things lead to satisfaction: meaningfulness, awareness, and responsibility. One of the most natural things people do is to search for some kind of meaning or purpose for their lives. It seems to me that because we spend so much of our lives working our jobs, we ought to be able to derive some meaning from those jobs. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.

If we want satisfied workers (and you should because they are more likely to come to work and more likely to share an idea if they are satisfied) we have to make the work they do meaningful.


There are three parts to meaningfulness: significance, variety, and identity.  All three need to be deliberately designed into the work.


1. Make people feel valued. 

Everyone has something to contribute. Be grateful for their work (say Thank you!) I had a boss once who would never acknowledge the skills and abilities I brought to the job, focusing instead on reminding me consistently that if it weren’t for all the support staff we had, I could do nothing. I loved that job, but hated the leadership, so I had to go. The support staff was great, but that’s not what I – or anyone – really wants to hear.  Acknowledge the gifts everyone brings to work.

2. Require them to become experts in their jobs.

Let everyone know that the jobs they’re doing aren’t simple-minded, menial jobs. They require expertise, so build that expertise by developing, teaching, and supporting standardized work.

3. Link them more closely to customers.

If people can see how the work they do affects customers, they will usually take more pride in what they do. Collect more customer feedback and share it all with your people (not just the customer complaints.) When customers come visit, create opportunities for them to interact with your people. Place pictures of the end product or of individual customers who have benefited from your product or service in prominent places throughout the workplace.


Variety is fairly straightforward.  Studies have consistently shown that when people have a variety of things to do during the work day, they are generally more satisfied than those who simply do a single repetitive task.  What makes this difficult is people get comfortable with tasks they are good at, and will trend toward limiting themselves to just a couple of jobs they like.  That means the jobs that aren’t so nice have to get done by relatively new or potentially unskilled people.  Often these unpleasant jobs are quality critical or difficult.  Leaders need to balance the good jobs with the crappy jobs and let everyone have a chance to develop the skills to do them all.  The only way to do this is to create a physical structure that only allows the work to be done properly.  More on that in a minute.


Identity is a little more complex.  First, the grandfathers of satisfaction studies, Hackman and Oldham, focus on “task identity” rather than simply identity.  The work itself should provide a level of satisfaction that comes from a job well done.  That is, it is more satisfying to make a complete product than to simply add one small part to a larger product. The more people feel they contribute to satisfying a customer directly, the more satisfying the work (this is also part of significance).  People like work they can tell other people about.

But identity goes beyond the work.  Studies of intrinsic motivation cite affiliation with others as one of the critical elements.  Maslow included “Love Needs” in his original dynamic theory of human motivation, explaining how important it is for people to build interdependent relationships with other people.  These relationships create feelings of belonging to something larger and more significant than just themselves.  (So we’ve hit significance yet again.)

To satisfy both of these pieces of the satisfaction puzzle, leaders should transform the workplace so that the work required can be completed by a relatively small group of people, who can become a team.  Teams provide an almost magical multiplying effect to a workplace when they are structured and developed properly.  Note that I said we have to transform the workplace rather an simply select groups of people to be teams.  Teams require a common goal, so the work itself has to be that common goal.  I’ll have a separate piece on teams in another post, but the short version is that we can satisfy people’s need to belong by building an effective team; and we can deliver variety in the workplace by having those team members rotate between the several jobs the team must do to satisfy customers.

Action steps:

  1. Take a hard look at the work you have people doing.  Use Value Stream Mapping or Process Flow Mapping to really understand what has to happen and the way it’s happening now.
  2. Reorganize the workstations so that 4 or 5 people can work in close proximity on a single product (whether it’s an administrative report, a supplier contract, or a manufactured product).  Assign these 4 or 5 people to a team.  Set moderately aggressive production goals for the team to work toward.
  3. Assign a team coordinator to provide support and feedback to the team.  This person should be skilled in several of the tasks the team has to perform so they can coach the others through their cross training.  It is not essential that he or she be expert in all the tasks to begin with, but he or she should be skilled in learning and in teaching (a great place to develop this skill is with Job Instruction Training following the old Training Within Industry methods developed in the 1940’s.)
  4. Take the team and the team coordinator through a series of team building activities so they can get to know each other better.  This builds trust among the team that’s essential for successful team work and completion of products.  Have them come up with a team name that is unique but relevant to the work they do.
  5. Put a cross-training chart on a team information board to keep track of who has completed which of the functions required to complete your product.  Make a plan to get everyone to an expert level of competence in all the workstations they will rotate through.
  6. Spend some time everyday with the teams you create so they know you support their efforts to be successful.

As always, I welcome questions and comments.  Please send them in an email to us at david@dveech.com

Team Member Satisfaction

Although I’ve written about team member satisfaction here before, it is such an important topic to understand I wanted to amplify some of the basics.  Researchers have been studying satisfaction on the job for decades so there are clear findings regarding actions leaders can take to improve employee satisfaction.  But why?

Satisfaction and Productivity

When asked, many people first respond that a satisfied worker is a productive worker.  On the surface, that makes sense, but the science says otherwise.  There isn’t a clear causal link between satisfaction and productivity.  Some people are more productive and report that they are satisfied, but is their satisfaction a result of their productivity?  Or is it the other way around?

At a more practical level, don’t you know people in your workplace who love coming to work, chatting with others, decorating their space, and reporting high levels of engagement, but they don’t really seem to do a lot of work?  Or on the other extreme, don’t you also know people who always complain about things and don’t want to participate in group activities; who sound like they’d rather be anyplace else.  But when it comes time to get something finished, you can count on them to get the work done.

If not productivity, then what?

If we don’t get productivity from satisfied workers, what do we get that makes it such a vital piece of an excellent organization?  We get two main things:

  1. Satisfied workers are more likely to show up and stick around. We generally don’t have a big turnover problem with people who are satisfied.
  2. Satisfied workers are more likely to report problems, share ideas, and work in teams than dissatisfied workers.

These are incredibly valuable.  We can build work systems that deliver productive results, but without satisfied employees sharing their ideas to make them better, things just stop.  If improvement efforts stop, that doesn’t mean the workplace stays at a particular level.  I had a General Officer tell me once that “if you aren’t getting better, you’re getting worse.”

Satisfaction and Dissatisfaction

I’ll write a few more posts about specific actions you can take to promote a more satisfying and engaging workplace, but first, the basics:

There are things at work that satisfy people and there are things at work that don’t.  These are not opposite ends of the same satisfaction spectrum.  I can be perfectly satisfied with the work that I’m doing but be completely dissatisfied with other aspects of work.  Sadly this is a big issue in most places I visit.

The things that satisfy people usually revolve around the work they do.  If people feel like they are doing important and meaningful work, they will report higher levels of satisfaction.  Rewards, recognition, achievement, and acknowledgement also serve as satisfiers or what Fred Herzberg called “motivators”.

On another spectrum though, the workplace is full of dissatisfiers; things Herzberg called “Hygiene factors.”  These include pay and benefits, relationships with others (particularly supervisors), and policies and procedures.

Wrap up

In most places I visit, people are doing important work.  People consistently show me how much they love what they do in helping people.  But pay continues to be an issue as are cumbersome procedures make doing that meaningful work very frustrating.

We can’t fix everything, but if we can use lean management systems and tools to improve processes and procedures, and if we can get leaders to treat people with respect and dignity, we can make big gains in satisfaction and in engagement for our team members.

Stay tuned for other concrete steps we can take.

As always, I welcome questions and comments.  Please send them in an email to us at david@dveech.com.


A series of small successes


Culture, part 4.  We’ve fought the fight to turn our compliant culture into an involvement culture.  We’ve strung together a series of small successes that now has everyone excited about your improvement efforts.  But now, with your kaizen team spread thin facilitating improvement activities throughout your workplace, things seem to have reached a plateau just shy of the summit.  You hear people talk about the last improvement event and how much fun it was; how energizing it was.  But it seems like they are waiting for the Kaizen team to return before they will be allowed to do any more improvements!

I’ve seen this live and in person in a couple of businesses.  What should be a relatively easy step from excitement to engagement, turns out to be a climb.  Why is this hard?

The distinction between a culture of excitement and a culture of engagement is self-determination.  In the first case, people aren’t convinced that improvement is their job.  They like it, but they wait for some prompt before they take the next action.


Maybe it’s a concern about resources.  With the kaizen team comes attention, support, money.  When they go at the end of the week, there’s almost a vacuum in the improved work area.  In lots of cases, that vacuum means the process degrades.  It ends up at a level only slightly better than it was before the event after about 6 months.

Maybe it’s fear.  The kaizen team helped the team make a big adjustment.  They required a certain way to track certain metrics or present certain information.  People get conditioned to believe that if they try something different, they’ll get into trouble for messing with what the kaizen team did.

Maybe it’s permission.  If leaders haven’t specifically told people that it’s okay to implement good ideas and improve every process, people probably won’t do it.  We should emphasize that, not only is it OKAY to do, we EXPECT it.  We acknowledged it.  We reward it.

I’ve seen lots of organizations with systems to capture employee ideas.  In almost every case, the idea has to go to some higher level management or engineering team for “evaluation” and planning.  These more often than not delay the implementation of good ideas or leave people frustrated because someone rejected their idea.

The key thing to remember is that your problem collection system and your idea management system are not operational systems.  These are components of your learning system.  We use the problems and ideas as vehicles to build problem solving skills in the workplace.  We have to solve problems and implement ideas where they occur, with individuals being coached by their peers or leaders.  Once this system is on its feet, then we will have a mechanism to help us climb from excitement to engagement.

If you have any questions or comments about this topic, send an email to us.