They're Not "Cliches," They're "The Basics"

“The vision is really about empowering workers, giving them all the information about what’s going on so they can do a lot more than they’ve done in the past.”
Bill Gates 

When a phrase becomes popular, it’s often called a cliché.  And there are thousands of them, such as:  

*   “Time is money.”
*  “Beauty is only skin deep.”
*  “One bad apple can spoil the whole barrel” … and …
*  “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

The trouble is … when a phrase becomes popular, or when it gets repeated too often, we often dismiss it as a meaningless “cliché”.  But I would warn you to be careful of doing that … because many “clichés” still have enormously important lessons.

I see this happen all too often in the world of business.  People tend to think because they’ve “heard” about a particular topic, there’s no need to “hear” about it again.  What a mistake!!!  One of the biggest problems organizations have today is the HUGE gap between their creeds and their deeds.  In other words, they talk a good game but seldom walk a steady course.

For example, many organizations dismiss such words as motivation, teamwork, communication, customer service, quality, excellence, stress management, work-life balance, conflict resolution, change management, re-engineering, emotional intelligence, or employee engagement … calling them old, outdated, out-of-fashion “clichés”.  After all, they heard a speech or attended a seminar on that topic 5 years ago or 5 months ago.  But I would be willing to be bet that some of those organizations applied very little of what they heard and forgot the rest. 

Quite simply, the most successful people go over these basics time and time again. And they know from experience, when they drift away from these basics, they’re going to be in trouble.

That’s why I want to discuss  the “cliché” of employee engagement one more time … to help you understand it and do it.

1.  Why is employee engagement so important?

That’s easy to answer.  Engaged employees earn the company more money and cost them less.

In the classic 2006 Gallup poll, 71% defined themselves as “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” from their work.  In other words, they didn’t give a darn about the quality of their work, the satisfaction of their customers, or the profitability of their company.  They were simply there for one reason … to collect a paycheck and get out of there.

Only 29% of the workforce defined themselves as “engaged.”  They were the precious few who would go the extra mile without being asked. 

According to Gallup, engaged employees are more productive, profitable, and safer.  They create better relationships with customers, come up with better cutting-edge ideas, and stay longer.  And those are the very things you SHOULD be looking for in every employee … and indeed, every member of your team and/or household.

So how can YOU encourage employee engagement?

2.  Employee Engagement Tip:  Engage them in conversation.

Nobody wants to feel like a function … a body that shows up for a job, punches a time clock, puts in some hours, punches a time clock, heads home, and repeats the cycle for the next 40 to 50 years.

No!  People need to FEEL like they’re people … which means a lot more than being a function they perform.  That’s why Richard A. Moran is right on target when he says, “Treating people like numbers will prevent the company from meeting its numbers.”

Of course, some of you may say “I’m not a people person … I’ve got work to do …or … I don’t have time for all that communication stuff.”  Well, it’s time to stop the excuses and start the connecting.

It could be as simple as engaging in occasional small talk.  Start a conversation by saying such things as:

*  “Tell me about…
*  “How do you feel about…
*  “What’s your reaction to…
*  “Fill me in on… or …
*  “That was some game last night when…”

Use your imagination.  You can probably think of hundreds of things you could say to start a conversation.

Personally, before I speak to an audience, I walk out amongst them and start conversations with many different people.  And over the years, interacting with hundreds of thousands of people, I’ve learned to keep about 10 “sure-fire” conversation starters in the back of mind that always work.  That way I’m never caught off guard or have that weird feeling of having nothing to say.

Once you’ve started the conversation, it’s your job to keep it going by listening carefully to what is being said and pausing before you answer.  It communicates your respect.

Just as important as engaging your employees or colleagues in conversation…

3.  Employee Engagement Tip:  Refrain from actions that kill conversation.

Avoid confusion.  Don’t use jargon and acronyms unless you’re speaking with people in the same industry as yours.  When people are confused, they can’t be engaged.  Besides that, it’s rude to use terms that make it difficult for others to understand what you are talking about.

Avoid unprofessional or ignorant-sounding communication.  Don’t pepper your speech with unnecessary fillers and endings like “You know … Sort of … Maybe … I guess … OK … and … All right.”  These comments can become bad speaking habits that will annoy your listeners, rather then engage them.

Avoid arrogance.  If you use big-sounding, pretentious words that make you feel smarter and the other person feel dumber, you’re bound to create some emotion … but it won’t be engagement.  The same goes for bragging and one-upmanship.  Don’t do it!

Avoid conversational turnoffs. The whole purpose of “small talk” is to make the other person feel comfortable, even if it’s a stretch for you.  So refrain from such behaviors as interrupting the other person when he or she is speaking, over-explaining an answer to the point of boring your listener to death, offering unsolicited advice, being evasive when answering a question, or being closed minded and overly opinionated.  There may be a time when those behaviors are appropriate, but not if your goal is employee engagement.

4.  Employee Engagement Tip:  Instill pride.

It’s almost impossible for employees to spend 5, 10, or 20 years on a job … that in their minds is a colossal waste of time … and feel good about themselves.  People are simply not wired that way. 

People need to have some sense of pride.  That’s why one father posted a bumper sticker on the back of his tank in Iraq that read, “My son is an honor student at Clear Creek Elementary School.”

When it comes to work, people have to feel good about what they do and the contributions they are making.  They need to feel a sense of pride.  And that requires vision, leadership, and hope … all of which YOU can instill in your colleagues and your employees… even your family members.

Sophie Vanderboek, the chief technology officer at Xerox, addresses the VISION portion.  She says, “If you can articulate a vision that makes people passionate, there are so many amazing things they can do.” 

Peter Parsons articulates the LEADERSHIP portion.  He says, “Leadership is … making sure that the people who are working for you come in every day feeling like they are working on the most important thing.”

And C.Neil Smith nails the HOPE portion.  He writes, “Take from a man his wealth, and you hinder him;  take from a man his purpose, and you slow him down.  But take from a man his hope, and you stop him.  He can go on without wealth, and even without purpose, for a while.  But he will not go on without hope.”

Of course, vision, leadership, and hope are big words that are easier said than done.  So let me suggest a few simple things you can do along those lines to instill pride.

*Comment positively about an observation you’ve made on the other person.  Then, communications expert Marjorie Brody says, “Ask a question related to your observation, enabling the other person to talk more.” For example, you might tell a coworker, “I can see you love working with customers … or … Your attention to detail ensures that everything is done right before we ship it out.”

*Let the other person teach you.  When you notice exemplary behavior, you might say, “You’re really on top of things.  What other details and potential problems should I know about?”  Or before you have a team meeting, ask a few colleagues, “What items need to be on the agenda that are important to you?”

Don’t fool yourself.  Don’t ever think you don’t have time for all this “employee engagement” foolishness.  Don’t ever think you can’t afford the time or money for employee engagement training.  Drs. Markos and Sredevi in their research entitled “Employee Engagement: The Key to Improving Performance” say you can’t afford not to invest in this critical area.  They finish their article by writing, “The literatures indicate that employee engagement is closely linked with organizational performance outcomes.”


Create your own mini-employee-engagement program to implement this week.  It doesn’t matter what your job title is.  You still have to work with or serve someone.  How will you engage them this week?