Psychology


I’ve tried a few different diets (Atkins, South Beach, Weight Watchers, Volumetrics, the bean diet, the peanut butter diet, and a handful of others) and Weight Watchers is the hands-down winner from a number of perspectives:

(1)    I lost weight on it—a lot of weight. I lost 60 pounds the first time I tried it, 70 the second, and 60 the third. No, those were not incremental and yes, the reason I had to do the Weight Watchers dive multiple times is because I kept gaining the weight back. (Incidentally, each weight gain coincided with a new job, a job that was hitting the skids, or a job that was going so well, I let it take over my life.)

Brace yourself but you can't get fit eating this stuff. Impossible. (Image via Wikimedia; Source: Penarc)

(2)    It’s fairly flexible. I’m not restricted to eating just protein or just solids with high water content or just, and you’re not going to believe this one, beans.

(3)    It’s about as healthful as healthful gets. If you do it right, you’re minimizing calories and fat as you kick up the fiber in your diet, all while guzzling more water than a desert nomad. Without realizing it, you’ll end up eating more of all the heart-healthy kinds of essentials and much less sub-optimal food.

(4)    When you pair it up with intensive and consistent exercise, it’s unstoppable. The pounds will melt away.

But odds are that like me, even the most dutiful Weight Watcher will find herself gaining all the weight back and then some. Apparently, only 5% of dieters keep weight off after 5 years of dieting (Trieu, 2007).

Why?

Weight Watchers knows. All these diet companies know.  In fact, they’re beginning to acknowledge it.

Go to the WeightWatchers.com site and what’s the first tag line you see?

“Change starts here.” It starts here but it doesn’t end here? Hmmm….

Then take a look at the “Success Stories.” How many of them feature people who have lost weight on Weight Watchers (!) and gained it back? Dinorah’s story is a good example.

Click on the “Eat Well” tab. Wait, eat what? That’s right, “eat well.”

All-out cheese? On Weight Watchers? Not likely. But all-out mixed messages? Yeah, likely. (Image via Wikimedia)

Then, what do you see? Yep, three—count ‘em, THREE—separate articles on Thanksgiving, including one called “Thanksgiving Countdown.” We’re counting down to a turkey feast? On a diet?!!! Hee-haww! Now, this is what I call a weight loss plan. All I have to do is starve myself a little but keep in the back of my mind the simple thought that in just days, I’ll be stuffing myself so full I could be the premiere float in the next Macy’s parade. But best of all, Weight Watchers will help me run the countdown. That’s what I call service.

My favorite, though, is the “Topic” link toward the bottom of the page: “All-Out Cheese.”

All-out cheese? What kind of diet IS this? We can eat cheese all-out? I can go hog-wild on cheese?

Honestly, every time I read this, I think about that film, Defending Your Life, where the main character gets to eat anything he wants risk-free while he’s on trial in the afterlife. (Take a look at the 2:53 mark in the following clip.)


But then I click on the “How Weight Watchers Works” tab and I see something different:

“We know you want to keep weight off for the long haul. What you eat is important, and the Momentum program will help you to make smart choices and keep hunger in check. And what you learn will stay with you for a lifetime.”

And Weight Watchers is by no means the only diet organization sending mixed messages. A friend of mine went to see a diabetes-specialized dietitian. One of the first pamphlets she handed him was a guide to fast food. Are you kidding me? Want a quick guide to fast food? Here’s mine: Never get any again. But, Mike, what about all the salads? Salads? The three leaves of lettuce that comprise those salads didn’t fill up the very hungry caterpillar and they won’t fill up a grown human being either. Skip fast food. Period.

Weight Watchers telling everyone to eat well, dietitians guiding diabetics to fast food, what’s going on here?

Can I stuff myself beyond recognition at the nearest Mickey D’s or do I have to eat smarter? Can I get drunk on mozzarella the next time I have to work late, or do I have to eat more thoughtfully? Can I make long-term, life-long changes on diets such as Weight Watchers or does change only START here? Will these people make up their minds?

Well, the problem is they can’t because—and I’m only guessing here—the marketers want to make this diet as accessible to every human being as it can possibly be while the nutritionists want it to work. As long as the forces of evil battle the forces of good for diet supremacy, we’re going to see this tension on even the better diet program Web sites such as Weight Watchers.

To its credit, the Weight Watchers organization seems to be sending purer, more homogeneous messages of late. See the Jennifer Hudson campaign as an example:

But the problem, as we have seen on Weight Watchers’ Web site, is still out there. Needless to say, if Weight Watchers can’t make up its mind about whether it wants dieters to feel as if they can eat with abandon or make smarter choices, then how can its dieters?

Dieters end up food-obsessed (just check out the Weight Watchers message boards) and bouncing on and off the program. They even have a glossary for the bounce. They say they’re “on program” when they’re sticking to it and “off program” when they’re not.

If my history is any indication, when you start using words like “off program,” you’re done. Consider yourself an official yo-yo once you start brandishing the binary diet language.  The very possibility of leaving the program makes you vulnerable to recidivism.

Again, per my last post, it comes down to RESOLVE. You’re either in it to win it or you’re not.

These thoughts are hardly revolutionary. Just two years ago, a handful of researchers in Australia captured the reasons why dieters drop off and then jump back on a program (including Weight Watchers). They pointed to the mixed messages coming from diet companies and singled out the following dieter’s representation of the problem: “They all work..when you stick to them. It’s when you go off them that they don’t” (Thomas et al, 2008, p. 4).

Let me summarize the tips emerging from this post:

(1)    Resolve is everything. Per the last post, you have to stick to the diet.

(2)    I know this is going to come as a huge shock to some of you but on any respectable diet plan such as Weight Watchers, you can’t have anything you want most of the time. You can’t. I’m sorry. You CAN have some things you want in controlled portions once in a while BUT all-out cheese and fast food? No. No way.

(3)    There’s no off-program, on-program. There’s always on program (but see the tips below for how to think about this).

(4)    This DOES NOT mean you can’t have non-diet meals. Your program has to allow for those meals. If your program does not allow for those meals, then modify the program or find a different one. You can’t spend your life eating one type of food or even one series of foods because sooner or later, you, your family, or friends will go nuts watching you and they will—mark my words—try to sabotage your efforts. You will have to make portion-controlled concessions from time to time: your diet MUST allow for this. How to do this will require a blog post all to itself (coming soon) but for now, just consider the thoughts here.

(5)    Counting points or sticking to one type of food does breed obsessiveness. Use methods such as Weight Watchers’ point system to learn how to make smart choices and then free yourself from it. If you’re THINKING properly about how to get fit and feel better, you won’t need the point system after a while. You’ll make those smart choices because you’ve internalized the lessons and WANT to get fitter and feel better.

(6)    Do find a diet such as Weight Watchers; the online channel is fine. It provides a healthful approach to getting fitter and leaner.

So, what do you think? Am I right? Or, do you have experiences to the contrary?  Do tell! Would love to hear your thoughts.

–          Mike Raven

References

Thomas, S.L., Hyde, J., Karunaratne, A., Kausman, R., & Komesaroff, P.A. (2008). “They all work when you stick to them: A qualitative investigation of dieting, weight loss, and physical exercise in obese individuals. Nutrition Journal, 7, 1-7.

Trieu, G.(2007). How many Weight Watchers points is that?. Retrieved from http://www.healthyweightforum.org/eng/articles/weight_watchers_points/

Ever notice how the thing that turns losers into heroes is the knowledge that they CAN do something they were sure they couldn’t do?

Who can forget the Jedi-style arse-whoopin’ Luke took when Yoda showed him that with proper resolve and concentration, an X-Wing Fighter CAN in fact be levitated out of a swamp on Dagobah?

Luke’s defense? “I can’t believe it,” to which Yoda responded, “That is why you fail.”

Or, do you remember how through a combination of time-travel and renewed confidence, Harry Potter was able to defeat a cattle-rush of dementors? Once again, our loser-turned-hero reveals the secret of his success: “You were right, Hermione! It wasn’t my dad I saw earlier! It was me! I saw myself conjuring the patronus before!  I knew I could do it this time, because well, I’d already done it! Does that make sense?”

And then there are the superheroes. Spiderman (think Tobey Maguire struggling with his moral commitment to the Spidey suit), Batman (particularly Chris Nolan’s first where Bruce Wayne has to find “the courage to do what is necessary”), even the cult-classic Supergirl film where the words “You can” literally free her from the hands of a monster (see the 2:15 mark in the YouTube clip below)—all highlight the essential fact that belief predicates action. We can do something because we believe we can do it.

To do heroic things, to change our lives or the lives of others in seismic ways, we have to believe we can do it. Such belief requires total and absolute resolve. Likewise, to make huge changes in our own lives, to look and feel better no matter what’s happening to us at work, we’ll have to be resolved—purely, totally, and absolutely.

I can hear the objections already:

  • “Whoa there, tiger!  I have a job. I have kids.  What do you want me to do?  Drop in the middle of a meeting and do 20 pushups?”

  • “You’re nuts! There are expectations. I can’t start eating bird seed while everyone else is chowing down on a steak at Morton’s during a business dinner.”

  • “My company’s caving in around me and you want me to starve myself and run around the block a couple of times? I have things to do!”

No one’s talking about starving but yeah, the steak is out (for reasons well beyond cholesterol and the other usual suspects; I’ll explore these in subsequent entries). The point is that compromise and negotiation may be the tools of the trade when you’re structuring a strategic partnership or working a product through development but they don’t cut it when it comes to improving your health.

You either make the rules and do it full monte or you don’t.

The objectors break in again:

“No, no no, Mike. You don’t get it. You’re such an extremist. With you it’s always black and white. Listen, you can do little things. A little bit of exercise here, a little bit of dieting there—it worked for me before, it’ll work again.”

Oh, yeah? It worked for you before, huh? That means, at some point it stopped working which is why you’re considering doing something again. So, ultimately it…uh…wait for it… FAILED.

The cabbage soup diet is about as healthful and lifetime-sustainable as a BP oil line. Bon appetit! (Image via Wikimedia; Credit: Sloveniagirl)

If it worked for some time and then didn’t work anymore for whatever reason (your job changed, your life changed, the weather changed, whatever), it failed. Assuming the diet wasn’t some crackpot liquid or cabbage-type fiasco (which would fail for a host of reasons)but was a healthful intervention (such as Weight Watchers), why did it stop working? What changed? That’s right: RESOLVE. When we’re on a roll and doing well on a diet and fitness program, our resolve is strong but yes, things can get in the way. When that happens, we cease to believe in the importance or priority of the program anymore. We stop believing in the all-importance of our health.

One important footnote to this is that the diet companies themselves bear a great deal of responsibility for our decaying resolve (I’ll explore this in my next post) but regardless of who is to blame, it is we who stop believing in our own efforts to look and feel better.

So, Tip #12 is as follows:

  • Resolve to get healthy. Resolve completely, totally, and absolutely to do what it takes to look and feel better.
  • In our resolutions, we should focus on improving our health, not on weight loss. We all know that being overweight is a bad thing but it is not THE thing. If we do the things we need to do to make our bodies work better, then weight loss will go hand-in-hand with our improved health.
  • Resolve that we have no choice. Health insurance may or may not be optional depending on how political forces play out but good health itself should NEVER be optional.
  • We should make our commitment to good health part of our life, part of the way in which we identify ourselves. Far from being ashamed of it, we should wear it proudly.
  • Above all, believe. Believe that we can do it, and do it.

Because when we stop believing, that is why we fail.

(In my next entry, I’ll look carefully at why a diet such as Weight Watchers is a terrific diet—perhaps the best–but MUST ALWAYS fail unless we change the way we think about and deploy it).

Would somebody please get Charlie Sheen some help? If even half the things people are saying about him are true, the guy has got big problems: surely, one of his friends (to the extent that he has any real ones) or members of his family (to the extent that they’re capable) need to do something for him. I mean, we’d all do the same for our own loved ones, right?

Charlie Sheen (Image via Wikimedia, Credit: Angela George)

Well, maybe.

The guy did bring a lot of this on himself. No one forced him to do coke, hookers, and everything in between.  He’s had a hit film run, has a hit TV sitcom—what IS his excuse exactly?

But then there are the other pieces. We don’t know how he was raised, or how he wasn’t. When he felt like grabbing another kid’s ball on the playground, was his mother/nanny/generic,-easily-and-frequently-replaced-caregiver giving him a nod and a wink to say, “It’s okay, hon. I don’t give a crap.”

We don’t know what his mental and physiological predispositions are, whether he’s genetically prone to depression and addiction, for example. We don’t know how many good doctors turned him away, how many bad ones are in his pocket, enabling him.

We don’t really know what it’s like to be on a Hollywood set, what the expectations are, how he’s expected to behave, and what the consequences are for failure to comply.

There are just a lot of moving parts here and while it may be easy to blame him for his own mess, should we, really? Sheen has made a lot of bad choices but per my earlier post, were they all really his to make or were some of them made for him, constructed for him by where he came from and how? As entrenched in his own history, choices, and consequences as he is, can he even see the way out?

I don’t have a clue. I don’t know anything about Charlie Sheen but I do know something about me and, perhaps, people who behave like me.

What I do know is that we can all get ourselves into some pretty big messes of our own as we sacrifice our physical and mental health for satisfaction and perceived security at the office. Like an addiction, life at the office can absolutely consume us, landing us in a mess that could probably look something like Charlie’s (though without the drugs, non-prescription, anyway).

And I know we can’t even begin to see our way out of those messes until we understand what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and find alternatives. Only by holding ourselves accountable for our messes, can we crawl out from underneath them.

When business is good, we’re almost happy to kill ourselves for the sake of our work. We eat and caffeinate ourselves to keep ourselves humming like a tuning fork because God knows, louder than even the sound and fury of all that work is the deafening vibrato of silence.

We stop for nothing—as long as we remain seated. We get up and move around only to find something with which to steel ourselves for the big meeting or a protracted date with Excel.  Coffee and donuts work but donuts certainly aren’t hip so we find other things, less obviously unhealthy things that are still sugar-, fat-, and calorie-rich, nonetheless.

KFC's Double Down: Death by bunless fried chicken (Image via Wikimedia, Credit: Michael Saechang)

When we worry, REALLY worry about whether we will succeed in all the fine and noble things we do behind a laptop, at a meeting, or while we’re on our way to a client site, we don’t have to worry for long: Vending machines, gas station convenience stores, and of course, airport concessions are there with new and powerful intoxicants such as KFC’s Double Down and anything with the word holiday next to it at Starbucks. Thousands of fat and sugar calories later, even a piss-poor Powerpoint deck can start looking snazzy.

When business is bad, well we know the drill there. A post or so ago, I ran through a scenario in which employees increasingly become lost in multiple business reorganizations and shifting quarterly goals. Some find surer footing, some don’t, but the point is that through it all, they can very likely lose themselves. When we don’t know where we’ll be working from quarter to quarter, or whether we’ll be working at all, is it any wonder that we eat, drink, and yes, be merry to make ourselves feel better?

But there is a way out for us (still not sure about Charlie).

If we examine ourselves and our behaviors, really try to understand why we just hit the office vending machine for a Twix, or treated ourselves to a peanut butter shake at Cold Stone Creamery just before a client presentation, or thought that General Tso was a mandatory invitee on order-in Fridays—if we dissected all the things we know we shouldn’t be doing, we’d be well on our way to putting a stop to them.

So, Corporate Survival Tip #34:

Look at everything you put in your body and everything you do to your body, and ask why. If you know it’s a bad thing to do, ask yourself why you need to do it. If the answer is that you can’t imagine life without these things, that’s fine for now. If the answer is that you just haven’t had time to think about these things, that’s fine for now, too. As long as the answer you come up with sounds right to you, as long as you’re truthful with yourself about it, then it’s a start. Over time as you continue to think about these choices, you’ll either end up validating them as good ones or rejecting them as bad ones. When you’re ready, and ONLY when you’re ready, make any changes you think follow from your self-examination.

Accountability is the key.  Once we understand what we’re doing to ourselves and why, we can find the motivation and strength to make changes.

Ironically Charlie Sheen himself underscores this very point in his classic cameo in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. “Your problem is you,” he said to Jennifer Grey’s character.

(Take a look at the minute mark in this video)

Your problem is you. Our problem is us. It isn’t the easiest thing to accept; in fact, Jennifer Grey ended up threatening to cut off one of Charlie’s balls.

But if we can get past the guilt, ire, and self-incrimination, we might just get the help we need.

–          Mike Raven

I’ve never been good at taking care of stuff, particularly other people’s but my own, as well.

Who cares about a calculator, anyway? (Image: Wikimedia)

When I was in high school, my father lent me what was then a fairly advanced (and expensive) scientific calculator.  I crammed it into a deep recess of my backpack because, as my wife would comment years later about similar incidents, I could not be bothered to place it somewhere safe.

When I needed it, I’d pull it out, quickly slam it on the desk, and begin punching the keys. No time to coddle this thing.

When I didn’t have a moment to reach into the crowded, nether-regions of my knapsack for a ruler, I’d use the calculator. Sure, I ticked up the sides of the housing but what did I care? It was all about the job.

And, since I couldn’t be bothered to buy a decent knapsack to begin with or resist stuffing it to overcapacity, two things eventually happened:

(1) The calculator disappeared.  It had apparently slipped through a widening hole in the nylon, and was MIA for 2 days until my math teacher found it.

(2) Upon recovering it, I noticed a full-on lightning-style crack a la Harry Potter had seared through its tiny greenish LED screen.

But, of course, as I learned that we have to pay for things we break and suffer all sorts of indignities even in full payment, I’ve become more selective in what I abuse.  My wife has it right: I can’t be bothered to take care of certain things because I am too busy focusing on others.

I wish I could say I take care of the whole wonderful world of the stuff I touch but I neither can nor wish to.  In business terms, I achieve greater operational efficiencies by taking advantage of what I call the Law of Selective Abuse. We consume, even trash and destroy, some resources liberally so that we can generate some exponentially greater level of value for ourselves (or organization).

Insurance companies have to wrestle with this concept all the time. Think moral hazard. How often do you floor a rental car? How often do you floor your own? When you sheath a DVD you’re about to return to Netflix or pre-chapter-11 Blockbuster, do you carefully slide it into its case or smush your oily fingers all over its neat concentric lines like a perp getting fingerprinted?

Moral hazard, indeed! (Image via Wikimedia)

Now, what if the resources we were trashing in the name of operational efficiency and productivity were our own people, our own employees? Yikes.

The analogy works well. Heading into this latest recession, companies carried a lot of infrastructure (i.e., a full knapsack). Lots of people, lots of expensive but outdated software implementations, lots of real estate and equipment, and lots of projects and even businesses that in many large corporations, couldn’t really be accounted for.

Then, witness the collapse of financial services companies: This not only limited borrowing power but also eroded revenues from what was one of the largest customer segments for many large businesses. Bye bye better knapsack.

If we look at just one thing in an organization/knapsack, just one employee (i.e., calculator), what do we find? A few things:

(1)    The organization tosses that employee about much like my knapsack did that calculator. The employee is not likely to land in any part of the organization for very long. Why? It won’t stop to take the time to figure out what to do with her.

(2)    While she is working on the project of the day/month, the organization will burn through her. She will be over- and mis-utilized because the org can’t find the resources it needs to get the job done; instead, it will use what it has handy. As the org continues to lay people off, it will find that it has fewer and fewer people with the talent to get that job done. In that case, the org continues to task that calculator with lots of stuff she can do, lots of stuff she can’t really do, and lots of stuff there’s no way she can do. It will all wear her down, even beat her down. But the org will continue to do it. Why? All in the name of getting the job done, quarter by quarter. (And, yes, a candle CAN burn at both ends for quite a long time as this video clip demonstrates).

(3)    Eventually, the employee will slip through the cracks and get lost. Best-case scenario, she is tasked poorly. Worst-case, she gets canned before she has a chance to (continue to) demonstrate value.

What happens to the employee in this picture? We’ve already talked a bit about that in previous posts about employee engagement. When we’re lost, we lack purpose. When we lack purpose, when we have no meaningful objective within an organization, when those objectives keep shifting, we become sick.

But what happens DURING the selective abuse? What happens when someone keeps ‘punching our keys?’ What happens when the company keeps wanting more and more from us—more and more of our time, more and more of our life? What happens when companies try to ramp up productivity by spreading more work around fewer employees who may or may not have the skills necessary to handle all that work? And just how do those employees suddenly find the physical bandwidth to handle that work? How do they defy space and time?

Stay tuned… Coming soon to a blog near you…

But in the meantime, questions of the day: Is this you? Are you the calculator? Have you been burned out? Have you seen any of this happen to friends?

Thanks for reading!

-Mike Raven

In all his hand-to-hand matches with stealth government agents and terrorists in which he suffered minor knife slits across his limbs, did 24’s Jack Bauer ever hit the ER for an X-ray and stitches? In all their encounters with the Smoke Monster, or run-ins with the ‘Others’ across sideway-, forward-, and back-flashes, did the Lost castaways ever have to pause to tend to a simple but deep gash that wouldn’t stop bleeding?

Of course not but in my own little reality show, things work a little differently. In my own show, I can’t carry a bottle of Perrier up a flight of stairs without the thing falling through a paper-thin Stop & Shop bag (yes, Stop & Shop, you’re on notice), crashing to the ground, and propelling an arrowhead-like piece of glass upward into my left calf.  Now this didn’t actually hurt—much, anyway.  And it didn’t appear to be bleeding profusely—much, anyway. But it was hurting and bleeding and the problem was that it wouldn’t stop. So, off to the ER on a Friday night where all I could think about was that now I’d have to miss my evening run and worse yet, might have to miss a few more.

I just wanted to run. Image: Francesco Marino / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As the doc stitched it up, I asked if I’d still be able to run and he replied, “Well, I could tell you not to but you’re a runner. You’re gonna do it, anyway. So, I’ll throw some tape on and try to keep it stable for you. If the stitches dislodge, at least you’ve gotten a run in so no harm done, right?”

I wanted to hug this guy. “Right!” I affirmed.

There you have it: Engagement in its purest form.  All I cared about was making that next run.  And why was I so engaged? Put another way, why don’t I have the same passion for my work?

In my last post, I talked about how real employee engagement is about putting an employee to work on meaningful projects with meaningful outcomes for/with meaningful people that ultimately make a difference both for the organization and for that employee personally. What I implied but did not nearly emphasize enough in that mix is just how critical it is for employees to have a fighting chance to be successful at what they’re doing.

Let’s call this ‘Success Potential.’ If Success Potential is high, then employees become invested in what they do: they know they can get things done and that what they do will be valued. In such situations, employees are wholly and passionately engaged.

If Success Potential is low, if employees think they’re set up to fail, that what they’re working on may or may not be important but cannot or should not be accomplished given the organization’s (sometimes changing) priorities, we end up with a lack of engagement, even disenfranchisement.

Now, it’s true that some low Success Potential situations look high (e.g., for you Mad Men fans out there, remember when Joan is given a promotion in title only? Does she really have what she needs to be successful? Has the organization equipped her with the mindset?) and some high Success Potential situations look low (e.g., for your Project Runway fans, did you really think Michael Costello would go as far as he did; apparently, good designers DON’T need a ruler), but there’s no question about it: Passion, innovativeness, and yes, engagement—all those lovely buzzyworthy words business people throw about—are all tied directly to whether we think we can be successful at what we’re doing and make a difference.

I know I can be successful when I jump on the treadmill, when I flow through my Tai Chi form daily, and when I put good things into my body.  I look better, I feel better, and even better than all those betters, is that I am getting better and better every week.  Success Potential is high, very high, and I build on it every chance I get.

On the other hand, there’s my job with its odd, cold, mutable panorama of things in favor, where, returning to the Project Runway motif, one day you’re in and one day you’re out.  Certainly it’s hard to become engaged when I can’t jump into a project with the same outlook for success that I have when I jump on a treadmill.

So, 3 tips of the day (Tips #63-65):

  1. In the workplace, find stuff at which you can be successful. While this sounds like a ‘no duh,’ it’s anything but. Notice that I didn’t recommend attaching yourself to the boss you think will be the next CEO or looking out for the next big flavor-of-the-month project. My recommendation is actually a little more prosaic: Just look for the thing that you can do well, no matter how small, and which will likely hold its value at least through the next 6 months.
  2. Find personal sources of engagement—life passions, if you will. Within and beyond the workplace, within and throughout your life, find and do stuff at which you can be successful and that you’ll value over time. Good exercise and nutrition are great examples. Do these with gusto and look for other things, too. Engage in all these things relentlessly. Protect them relentlessly from the work-related things that want to diminish or poison them.
  3. Don’t sweat Tip #1. If you can’t find something to be engaged in at work, keep trying or find a different place to work. While you’re doing either or both of those things, always stay focused on your truest sources of engagement: all the life passions you’ll find in Tip #2.

With our focus where it should be—on finding true, personal sources of engagement, let me turn it over to you: What else are you good at the moment you begin doing it? What else can you be successful at as you continue to do it? What else gives you the satisfaction of knowing that it’ll be there to welcome you back, that it will grow with you, and that it will help you grow?

Looking forward to sharing…

All the best,

Mike Raven

Over the last few days, I have never felt more useful at work.  My boss, his boss, a couple of SVPs, and the CEO himself all wanted something only my team and I could provide. Put that together with the fact that we had just 48 hours to get it done, a mandate to sweep across the organization and pull whatever talent we needed, and a material, meaningful, and well-understood PURPOSE driving everything we were doing, and what do we get? An OPPORTUNITY! A real, honest-to-goodness, authentic opportunity to make a difference. And, you know, that’s all I—and tell me if I’m wrong–most of us really want.

(“One man CAN make a difference, Michael”)

When I am working hard for something I can believe in, for people with the power to make use of what I do, then I am needed. And when I am needed, I am in control. All of the fear, angst, and anxiety I talked about in previous posts, melts away, leaving me with a renewed clarity of vision and purpose.  When I have all these things, I am in modern org buzzspeak, ‘engaged.’

If you’re working for a big company, then you’ve probably had to take an engagement survey at some point, maybe at lots of points.  Now more than ever, large companies want to move the needle on productivity: they have to show their shareholders they can eke out greater revenue per employee quarterly. The thinking is that if you cut your labor force by 20%, then you’ve upped your productivity by 25% automatically, right?  Hey, even better, why not halve the workforce?  The moment you do it, you end up with a 100% productivity boost, right?

(Here, Donald Trump shows us HIS attempt to drive productivity)

Well, not exactly.  The math is right but in the longer term (maybe by next quarter), when a workforce is decimated, people scramble for the hills. They don’t work, partly because they don’t know whom or even what to work for, anymore.  Think sailboat here: You can throw some things overboard to gain speed but if the weight you happen to toss consists of your sail and rudder, you’re as good as lost.

Traditional sailboat, Mozambique

Hold on to that sail! (Image: Steve Evans, Bangalore, India)

So, companies drop some weight and find they’re not seeing the gains their consultants promised them.  They figure something must be wrong with their employees. The wrinkle is that large companies are so out of touch with their employees, so disconnected from what it takes to excite and drive them, that they have to hire more consultants to tell them they have a problem with… drumroll please… EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT.

The consultants administer surveys, they pinpoint managers with ‘engagement gaps,’ and the managers in turn do what anyone would do in their situation: coach their employees to answer the questions in such a way that the managers don’t get hammered on the next ‘engagement pulse survey.’ Duh.

Managers, listen up. If you want to enhance engagement, it’s pretty simple: Give employees a chance to work on something meaningful, for meaningful people, and for a meaningful, transparent purpose, and they will be engaged. Oh, and one other thing, you might want to stop firing them so much.

In the next post, I’ll look at what we can do to STAY engaged (and not merely by the companies we work for).

Thanks for reading, and I would love to get your reactions to this…

-Mike Raven

I just came out of a meeting with the SVP of New Product Development. He was crying.

No, he had NOT been fired. The SVP (let’s call him Sal) hadn’t lost someone dear to him. Sal hadn’t stepped on a nail or found out that his wife had been sleeping with his dentist.  Sal said, and I’m quoting verbatim, “I’ve never seen this company go through so much pain. I identify with this company, you know.”

It was somewhere around the ‘pain’ part that he began tearing up and smack in the middle of the word ‘identify’ that there was an unmistakable moment of blubbering.

Yes, he’s a three-decade veteran of this company and has seen more here than I ever wish to but I’m sorry: if there is no crying in baseball, then there is definitely no crying in management.

Allow me to invoke a Tom Hanks moment:

There can’t be any crying in either of those two sports, if you will, because when we cry about something, we’re privileging how we feel over what we must do. When we cry, we cave into and indulge ourselves within emotions that can easily drive us to exuberance or despair—two extremes that again, are not particularly helpful in solving problems or moving us forward.

I’m not suggesting we become Vulcans or Tibetan monks but I am suggesting we focus. The fact is that Sal and I had been working together nearly round-the-clock over the last two days and we had one job to do:  get the CEO a Powerpoint deck so he can talk intelligently about some alliance opportunities with another CEO. That was it.

Taking on the pain of the company’s 50,000 employees?  Not his job. As ego-gratifying as it must be for Sal to believe he bears some responsibility for his colleagues’ pain, it’s not his job.  Sal is not the company and the company is not Sal.

Sal cannot save Darth Vader. (Image from Wikimedia)

Turning the latest fire drill into an act of mythic heroism? Again, as personally satisfying and exciting as that might be for Sal, this is not an epic struggle between good and evil. Sal is not Luke Skywalker and the company is not Darth Vader awaiting moral metamorphosis.

The company doesn’t need to be saved. It’s just fine the way it is. Might it die? Sure but that would be just fine, too. Contrary to the narratives we construct for ourselves, companies and things, in general, do not need to be saved simply because they are in trouble or dying. Sometimes things need to be in trouble and yes, sometimes they need to die.

I don’t blame Sal for crying. But I do blame him for losing perspective and focus. Managers are supposed to have that at the very least.

This brings me to the point of this post: Perspective, focus, and a sharply defined scope of responsibility and emotional accountability are positively key to corporate survival. If we can’t tell where our job, our company, and our colleagues end and where we begin, then we’re done: we’ll never have a life within and beyond the organization—a prerequisite, as I have noted, for survival—if we can’t separate ourselves from it.

We’ve all heard the expression, “It’s just a job.” Well, it is. And there’s no crying in it.

-Mike Raven

Next Page »