Episode 5: Engagement by Design

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Hello leaders, yes I am talking to you! Engagement can't just be a buzz word you throw around. You can't just want your 'employees to be engaged' or 'your customers to be engaged'. It has to be a strategy that is embedded throughout your entire organization and this requires dedication, commitment and an understanding of what engagement really is -an emotion-. It also requires that you have the right resources to help them take your vision of engagement and make it a reality in every corner of the company. If you care about creating a company where your employees and customer are so engaged that they become brand champions you have to be intentional and focused on processes that lead to emotional outcomes. Please join us as we cover best practices and tips on creating an engagement culture. Joining Jeff on the show will be Marisa Keegan who is the host of the engagement focused podcast Utter Brilliance and wrote the book Culture: More than Jeans and Margarita Machines.


For the past ten years Marisa Keegan has been helping organizations increase both employee and customer engagement. While working for Rackspace, Marisa worked along-side leaders to define, embed, and live the values of the organization for both employees and customers alike. In 2007, Rackspace landed on the Best Place to Work list where it has been ever since. In addition, the managers in the Email and Apps division were recognized by Gallup as being in the top 95% of effective managers in the US.

A year after joining Modea, a digital advertising agency, the organization was recognized as the advertising agency with the best corporate culture in the country by AdAge Magazine.

For the past five years, Marisa has been a Leadership and Engagement consultant working with companies interested in strengthening engagement between their employees and customers. Marisa has her bachelors in Psychology and Masters in Industrial Organizational Psychology.


Jeff: Welcome. I am so happy you could be with us today. It is just a beautiful day in Virginia. We are just so excited. This Voltcast: Illuminating Leadership is going worldwide and I appreciate everyone in China, in Iran, in Turkey, in Emirates. They are listening. Of course, all my friends in the U.S. that have reached out and sent notes. You make this a great program and we love the feedback we are getting from you. Please, here is how you can reach out. Again I am Jeff Smith at jeff@leadership.com. Our website is www.voltageleadership.com. You can like me on Facebook at Voltage Leadership. You can connect with me on LinkedIn at Jeff Smith, Voltage Leadership Consulting and follow me on Twitter @jmujeff. I am so excited. Today we got Marisa Keegan with us. Marisa, do you want to say hi as I introduce.

Marisa: Hey, everybody.

Jeff: That is Marisa. Marisa and I have worked together at Voltage Leadership Consulting. She is also a wonderful thought leader. For the past ten years, she has been helping organizations increase both employee and customer engagement. She worked for Rackspace and while there, Marisa worked alongside leaders to define, embed, and live the values of the organization for both employees and customers. In 2007, Rackspace landed in the best places to work list where it has been ever since. In additions, managers and e-mail and after visions are recognized by Gallup as being in the top 95% of effective managers in the US. I am sure that she is going to have some great lessons to share with us about engagement.

Later on, Marisa also worked in the DAA, Digital Advertising Agency. Furthermore, she worked with Voltage Leadership. She has been doing just a fabulous job of connecting with our leaders and continues to work in various places spreading her wealth and knowledge. Marisa has her Bachelor's in Psychology and Masters in IO psychology. She is a fantastic leader. Also a mom to twin boys, married, and all kind of fantastic things I am looking forward to. Just recently went on a trip to Disney World. I am glad you got out before the hurricane, however.

Marisa: Me too.

Jeff: Marisa, welcome to the show.

Marisa: Thanks for having me, Jeff. I am excited to be here.

Jeff: One of the things that has been doing is she wrote a book as well as leading a podcast called Utter Brilliance, is that correct?

Marisa: That is correct, yes. We are interviewing leaders about business, leadership, and engagement and it has been a fun project.

Jeff: Then of course your book about culture, ‘Culture: More Than Blue Jeans and Margarita Machines’. You have just been an outstanding thought leader in the field already. Maybe tell me what got you interested culture, first and foremost, and then we will cover the engagement. Marisa, how did get interested in this culture stuff?

Marisa:  I always really liked learning about companies and the work they were doing to create a great experience for their employees and for their customers. It started in undergrad in psychology and went right through my master's degree in IO and then I was really fortunate when I came out of school to connect with a leader Pat Matthews who I just respect so highly. He was at the time starting his own company called webmail.us which eventually merged with Rackspace. When I met him, all we talked about was how we were going to be the company that won because of our people and because of the culture that we were able to create.

I joined his company at 25 people and immediately we were able to start winning Best Place to Work in the State awards and all kinds of recognition for the levels of culture engagement we were able to achieve. As that company started to mature and grow, we grew very quickly. I think it was from 25 employees to about 125 employees in a matter of months. We knew what our competitive advantage, as we tried to compete against companies like Google and Amazon as they were entering our space which at the time was business hosting for e-mail.

We knew the only way we were going to beat them is if we could hire the best talent. In many cases right out from underneath them which we were able to do kind of successfully in a lot of instances. Really that was where I started to become excited about culture and engagement and where I really had a chance to test and dig into what created great levels of engagement and a strong culture. I would say sort of the moment that sealed the deal for me and really showed me that the engagement and the culture space were going to be the places that I played for the rest of my career. We were trying to re-design our performance management system and this was ten years ago whenpeople were still thinking of the traditional performance review system, one year, annual performance review as sort of the standard.

I will never forget that Pat approached me and he said, 'We are in the process of redesigning our performance review process. I do not want you to look around at the people local in our community. I do not want you to go to a local event and ask people what they are doing. I want you to find the companies that are doing the best work in the world around performance management and the development of their people, and I want you to go visit them and I want you to understand what they are doing and why they are doing it. What would they do differently if they could go back and redesign their own processes?' He actually put me on a plane and I flew across the country to a couple of different companies and I got to really talk to the CEOs of those organizations and find out what they were doing that was cutting edge around culture and engagement. What their philosophies were as leaders, what they believed it was going to take to be able to have some of the best think engagement levels in the world.

It was really at that point that I transitioned away from sort of HR recruiting world and much more into the engagement. I am in the customer experience, employee experience base. I have never really looked back.  It just always been a thing I was passionate about, an area I am passionate about. I have spent every really day since then trying to figure out how I can help other leaders understand what it truly takes to create world class engagement.

Jeff: Marissa, this is extremely interesting. I know that from our work together. We are both extremely excited about culture, how does it impact organizations. I want to concentrate today a lot on this engagement part of the culture. We kind of titled this show Engagement by Design. When we think about engagement, that term gets tossed around a lot. It is kind of a buzzword these days. I think I was inside a company. I think of culture and engagement and a few other things. I might go, bingo.  When you are talking about engagement, what does that mean and maybe we will start the process of exactly what you mean by engagement and designing it. I am curious, what do you mean?

Marisa: Yes, absolutely. I agree with you. Engagement is becoming a word that is just so overused right now. It is trendy, it is a buzz word. I hear people throwing it around in the wrong context all the time and the truth is I actually do not know what will happen in the future, whether or not I believe engagement becomes so deluded that we have to try to find a different way to explain what I am talking about and what my fear is in the space are talking about. People will say things like we sent out a newsletter. We engaged with our customers. That is actually not engagement, right? Doing something tactical for your customers or your employees is not what engagement is about.

Engagement is about creating a true emotional reaction in someone that is positive and that draws them to the next place that you need them to be. For example, when we talk about customer engagement, what we need is we need to create processes within organizations. We need to design engagement so that from the time a customer becomes aware of who you are as you organization, you know what is going to take emotionally to draw them to take the next step with you. They are aware but they need to feel intrigued in order to explore your website more. Once they have explored your website, if they are not feeling intrigued then you lose them. Just the act of having that website is not enough to create that engagement moment.

You need to give customers moments to feel a positive feeling that will draw them through your organization to the point where they are monitoring your products and services, to the point where they are activating or they are buying your product and services straight through to the point where they are customers of yours and they are now evangelizing your product and services. They are out there really being your brand champions. The same thing happens your employees.  Engagement is about creating an emotion where people come to work every day and there excited and motivated and they are ready to do great work for you. It is not just dropping another program on your employees saying like that is a moment we gave them to be engaged. It has to be really well thought out and really well designed.

I heard someone say this about culture the other day so I am going to kind of steal it and twist it a little for engagement, but if you have good customer engagement today but you do not know how you got there or you have good employee engagement today but you do not know how you got there and if things start to change tomorrow, you will not know what to fix or you will not know how to get back to that place you are at. Engagement really has to be intentional, it has to be designed. We are working right now on frameworks that actually help leaders understand how you do this.

Jeff: Good. What a great start. So much interesting stuff that is in this, Marisa, with the engagement and culture. What I would do is we are going get ready go to break. After break, we will continue that discussion. I want to dive a little bit more into the employee engagement but already I have heard that engagement is about creating emotion, we have to be intentional and we have to design it. When we come back from break, we are going to pick up on that theme. We will see you in two minutes.


Jeff: Welcome back. This is Jeff Smith. I am here today with Marisa Keegan. She an author, speaker, podcaster, consultant, and all around great person. Before the break, Marisa and I were talking about engagement. We were really talking about how you do design engagement. We are talking about all of it, how do you do it with customers, and now we are going to continue the conversation to how do we get real intentional about how we design engagement to get the most out of our employees. Marisa, one of the things that you talk a lot about is it can just be a buzzword. It can just be a checkbox activity. When you see cultures that have great engagement, can you tell me about what happens inside those cultures and what are some of the major tools, tricks, etcetera, that people are using to get that great engagement?

Marisa: Absolutely. If we think about it from a high level in an organization, there are three focus areas that leaders have to pay attention to if they want to create engagement across the entire organization. Those three focus areas our organizational strategy, customer experience and operational design. An employee engagement actually falls within operational design. Again, you will notice we intentionally use that word design because it is not something that just happens. Organizations that typically sort of approach you and I about doing work around strengthening employee engagement, the first thing that we do is we talk about what are you currently doing from an employee engagement perspective. We look for things that are more than just the fun stuff, right?

Jeff: Yes.

Marisa: You mentioned my book earlier being, Culture Being More Than Jeans and Margarita Machines, we want to help people understand right off the bat that engagement is not about fun stuff. It is about what sort of under the surface for an organization. We typically try to sort through what they are doing that is fun but not necessarily engagement and what are they doing to track and measure and understand through engagement. Typically, we then can go ahead and look at what are the surveys that they are using, how they are measure engagement and what are they saying to their leaders and at the leadership level to start embedding engagement as strategy inside their organization at an operational level.

Jeff: Yes, it is a great start. I think it is true. The organizations I get to work with a lot of times, Marisa, are just what you described. There is actually a lot of times fantastic engagement but it is a little bit inconsistent across the board. I like this organized design. What do you see is sort of the role of the leader in the engagement? When I look at best practices, I am picturing someone now just coaching just for our session today, what is he doing really well now is a regular communication pattern. Yes, they have ping pong tables and they have the arcade machines because they are a technology companies so they got to check that box in there in their mind, right?

Marisa: Yes.

Jeff: It is funny how little I actually see people playing at those things but I got to tell you this culture is fantastically engaged because they come around a common problem, they get recognized and rewarded, and they just love solving the problem for the organization. What the leader does well is he gives them tough problems to solve and then rewards him for doing a great job and that to your point is way more important than the arcade or the free soda. 

Marisa: Yes.

Jeff: Tell me maybe about what leaders can be doing to design this engagement?

Marisa: Yes. Number one, I think they have to be committed. A leader really has to ask themselves, is this something that I feel like I should be saying I care about because other people are saying they care about it and I know it is cool and trendy or is this something that I am actually willing to wake up every single morning and make decisions and alignment with. The truth is many many leaders that I come across, they just want to check the box. They want their HR department to create the values and they want the HR department to kind of do the work behind it but they want to be able to say yes we care about engagement.

I think first and foremost, as a leader, do you really care about creating engagement every single day and are you willing to create alignment in your interview process, in your performance review process, in your terminations process, in everything that you do is you have to think about is this moment, is this decision, going to build my people up so that they can innovate and they can be problem solving and they can be working together or is this a moment that is going to create an obstacle that makes it less likely that they are going to be able to do those things? As a leader who cares about engagement, your main role is to understand what obstacles are in your people's way and how do you get those obstacles out of their way.

Jeff: Marisa, that is great. You and I have done an obstacle course together where we blindfold the leaders and we have to talk about that. When I go and clear the course, I make things easier, but I almost never thanked, right? Because that is really not the leader's job we think. It is their job to clear the obstacle course. I guess that brings me to a question, clearly it is a leader's job to have responsibility for engagement but who else is responsible for engagement in an organization? Is that just something we ship off to HR or whose responsibilities is engagement in an organization?

Marisa: I could not be more excited about that you are asking that question. I have been trying to figure out the answer to that question for the last ten years because it actually does seem to vary a little bit but what I have realized, I mean I have been talking to CEOs and leaders in best places to work now for ten years, I am really trying to get to the bottom of this and what I have figured out is that the CEOs in the best places to work in the country, they own and care about engagement. But they are the visionaries.

Jeff: Okay.

Marisa: They are the ones who say I care about engagement, I think it is going to be our differentiator, I built it into our strategic plan, I have big dreams for us in the engagement space. But then they have someone that actually is the person in the organization who institutionalizes their vision. If you think about that, the CEO has a million things to do. He or she cannot spend every minute of their day wondering if the people at the very front line of the organization are as engaged in the customer and in their experience in that company because they have just got too much other stuff to do but there is almost every single time that I come across a leader in the best place to work, there is a partner that that person has, and when the CEO, and typically it is the HR pro or the engagement pro, when they partner the level of engagement that they are able to create from their organization is incredible.

Now, I will say there are some organizations where the CEO and many of their executive leaders are so in sync that they do not necessarily need HR to play as much of an engagement role but HR are still always there as a major on coaching, development, and supportive role in engagement.

Jeff: Yes, that is interesting. It sounds like it could vary but let us get started, right? It is just a matter of do not wait for it be a perfect time. Make sure that you have the vision. It is about really connecting at an emotional level, being intentional and design it and I do not think there is a perfect time to start. You do not have to be in a place where you are in a bad spot, you do not have to be at three thousand employees. Engagement starts from where you are today and what I am curious about is making some of the design.

If you could talk about the three parts, the organizational strategy, operational design and customer experience. But when you sit down with the leader, you get called in, what are the first couple things that you really do? I know you said you kind of look back and see what they have already been doing but what are the first couple things that you might put in place in an engagement strategy?

Marisa: Are you talking about an employee engagement strategy or an overall sort of engagement transformation?

Jeff: Good question. I think we will get to employee later. This one is an overall engagement strategy.

Marisa: Yes. I take a look with the leader of that company into the three focus areas that you just mentioned. In organizational strategy, the things that we are looking for are: do you know what your organizational search through north is? Which is the direction you are heading? Not only do you know what that true north is but does everyone in the organization know it? Are all your employees able to say here is where we are trying to go. At Rackspace, when we were just e-mail and apps division, every single employee in the organization knew that what we were trying to do was build world class.... We were trying to be the best in the world that does business class e-mail hosting, right? That was is our true north, everybody knew it and the way we were going to win was through fanatical support which was how we were going to get there.

We look at true north directionally, does everyone know where they are going. We then take a look at the strategic plan of the organization. How much of that strategic plan is focused on your people and the engagement of your people and more importantly in many instances the engagement of your customers? Then after that, we are looking at organizational leadership alignment. Is your board in alignment with your strategic plan? Is your board developed enough that they can really speak to you and be good leaders on behalf of the organization.

Same thing with the executive leadership team. We will take them through the same types of exercises and try to make sure that the executive team is cohesive and that everyone is facing the same direction and that everyone knows where they are going and what the strategic plan means and how it is going to play out. That is organizational strategy. Then we head over to operational design which is internal employee driven. Do you have an engagement strategy for how you are going to engage your employees? Do your employees understand the strategic plan? Do they know what their role is in creating the strategic plan? Are they being held accountable every day for doing work that aligns with your strategic plan?

Then, from there, we jump into the customer experience which is, do you have a customer experience journey mapped out? Do know what the pathways are for your customers to come in? Do you know where their feedback comes from and where it goes once you have got in through that? Everything from a customer experience perspective. We help companies break that step down so they can figure out where their key points are and where they want to start. Because, like you said, what is most important is not really where company is today, it is about where they want to go tomorrow. There is a way to figure out where the best area is to start which, truth be told, I think so many leaders want me engagement but they just do not know where to start and what I think we can really do is help them figure out exactly where it makes sense for them to start as an organization.

Jeff: Marisa, brilliant. I love that. For me, it is often that case of the true north. Folks just get distracted, they are busy, they have got the Smartphone. We had Scott Eblin on last week with Overworked and Overwhelmed. We kind of talk about being racked and stacked. Each day they are going from meeting to meeting to meeting and so it is even hard to find time, like are we still on our true north? How do we change the systems that reinforce this engagement? I think some of it is even fun for the time for that. I think can some like you be able to give some insights is critical. I am curious about some of the work that you have doing in Medical Society site in Virginia. I know that that has been inspiring work and that you got some really great stories from there. Could you walk us through that journey?

Marisa: Yes, absolutely. One of the things that made me decide the Medical Society in Virginia was a good next step for me as a project is that they actually had, it is a 200 year old association and they brought on their first female executive vice president which is essentially the CEO and they had asked her to really help transform the organization and to make sure that they were sustainable in the future and that members were engaged and that they were offering programming that allowed the organization to be sound and continue to grow into the future. Within about a month of her being there, she reached out to me and she said, 'I am not quite sure what we need you to do but I just know that as an organization, engagement is going to be the future for us.' 

I ultimately decided to take on this project because for basically ten years the whole time that I have been interviewing and trying to understanding engagement, the feedback that my critics would give me was you come from this idealistic space, if the technology world engagement is so easy because you throw a ping pong table and some alcohol at them and you got engagement. I really struggled to prove to people that there is actually a design that creates engagement and what we have done in the organizations I have been in is that we went through the systematic designs step by step by step and created engagement.

I believe wholeheartedly that it can be done in any organization but I really was excited to take on this project for two reasons. Number one, I think it is my chance to sort of prove to the world that there is a system that can be used and a design that will help any organization achieve higher levels of engagement. Number two, the leader of the organization really cared about engagement and believed she knew some of the steps we could take to get their but saw me as a valuable partner and that is exactly the kind of relationship I would have to have with the CEO in the company because they have to be so fully invested in.

Jeff: Absolutely.

Marisa: When I came in, we had a ton of work to do but we kind of started right where I mentioned to you before which is that we took a look at our organizational strategy and we spent a year talking to members which are their customer, really trying to understand where the future of their industry and their business is going and we pulled together a strategic plan that I have to say when we presented it to our board and to the leaders of the organization, we got a standing ovation. They felt heard and that was an amazing experience.

Jeff: Keep it up, keep it up.

Marisa: Yes.

Jeff: Enjoy that.

Marisa: I know. One of the members, he is a long standing member actually cried and said thank you for bringing the happiness back because he felt like for the first time in a long time, we built the strategic plan around what he believed the future of the organization should be which is one where people want to be part of it and where they are drawn to it because we offer an experience that they want to be part. We took them through the whole process of creating a true north for the organization, creating a strategic plan, we are working on leadership and organizational alignment. The rest is another cool thing.

We did a completely redesigned board handbook where we talked about what it means to be a strong board, what it means to be a strong board member, what individually how they can strengthen their leadership on the board and that board handbook was presented at a national conference recently and we handed those handbooks out to people in the audience and we have had associations from across the country call us and ask if they can use our board handbook to help shape their boards. Really cool work there. Then we have been working on the operational design, what do with our employees and how do we help build an engagement model for them. How do we help our employees understand our new experience model which is the model we will use to ensure that we are bringing members through the organization and up as leaders.

Then we are working into 2017, we are going to be continuing to work around the customer experience and how we can create really strong customer experiences for our members so that they are wanting to come back and that they are not only part of the organization but they are actually leading and that they are champions of our brands. We do have a huge board meeting coming up this weekend actually so we have had a one pager created that outlines the three focus areas and all the work we have done within it. I am really really excited about it and I think it is beautiful and kind of lays the framework out specifically for NSP but I am happy to share that in any way with your listeners. I would be happy send a PDF of that to anyone that is interested.

Jeff: Well, that is great. In this segment, we have learned a ton from Marisa around how do we go about putting engagement strategy in for our culture and how do we do in our organization so things like making sure you understand your purpose, your true north. Having a clear strategy and connecting that to your organization alignment. It is not good enough just have strategy. You got to align it to your organizational processes, all the things that are there.

When we come back from break, what we are going to do is we are going to get down and dirty in some practical stuff because I know a lot of you are struggling with, how do I get engaged with my employees more effectively? When Marisa and I come back, we may have to explore some of these titles like Culture: More Than Blue Jeans and Margarita Machines because one of the listeners loves her titles. When we come back from break, we will explore titles and we will explore how to engage with our employees. We will be back in two.


Jeff: Welcome back and thank you so much for being with us today. I am on with my good friend, Marisa Keegan, the author of Culture: More Than Blue Jeans and Margarita Machines. She also does a podcast called Utter Brilliance. I absolutely want to check it out. Marisa, before the break, we were talking a lot about sort of the organizational level, how do we engage in this thing called engagement and how do we get it in place. In this segment, we will talk a lot more about how do we do it, maybe at the employee level. But first and foremost, what is up with the Culture Maven and these blue jeans and margarita machines? You are just outrageously creative, I love it. Tell me about these titles.

Marisa: Yes. Culture, I do not know where Culture Maven came from. We came up with that one day at Rackspace and it was about the time I was transitioning out of HR and Recruiting. I had been running those two departments and I wanted to hand it off to a really amazing HR pro. I did not want HR in my title anymore she was taking that over. We just came up Culture Maven. The book ‘More Than Jeans and Margarita Machines’, it came from people constantly asking when I was at Rackspace if what I did all day was throw parties. I said it is so much more than throwing parties. In fact, we had a whole team that did throw parties but I did not manage them, someone else. That was really what I wanted when I started that message around. We are saying culture is so much more than the fun stuff. It is really design thinking around the experiences that you want your people to have.

Jeff: I think that is a great lead in, Marisa, which I want to cover because I work in the same space. We get this all the time like as it seems like employees is not motivated or they do not seem that engaged during event that employees has been here for, name it, one year, three years, ten years to being in an organization and they just seem to be kind of status quo. When you are thinking about, what are your some of best practices you have seen specifically around employee engagement?

Marisa: Yes. I always tell people about, what you have to have as a leader is a curiosity around what is getting in your people's way. I always say the easiest way to start getting a pulse on engagement is to ask a few really thought provoking question, two of my favorite. One of the questions is, what is one thing that has happened here in our business in the last couple of weeks? That is been frustrating to you? What they tell you can be really powerful and so that is one question. The second question is what is one thing as a leader that you wish I would do differently so you can have a better experience here? Again, as a leader, the first step to trying to understand engagement and the engagement of your people is to try to figure out what experiences that they are having. Ask some key questions and try to be invested in figuring out how you can help them take down those roadblocks so they can forward...

Jeff: I think we lost Marisa there for a second. Marisa, are you back?

Marisa: Yes, I am back. Can you hear me?

Jeff: Okay. Yes, you just faded out for a second. Here is what I heard you are saying is it really starts with curiosity of the leader, asking some good questions to get a gauge for where do we stand, and then I am sure you are going into now is executing step. One of the things I like talk about is, to your point, it really starts with do you understand what it is like to be in your employees shoes? Similar, you need to ask that question about your customers, but for employees have you sat at their desk? Did they have the tools that they even need to do their job? If it is an open space environment which a lot of our companies we work with, is there ever a chance for that introvert to have a quiet place to get some work done? Like they want to be engaged, they want to be with others but they might process a little differently.

Being able to have side room to go and quietly think, that may not sound like engagement but that is actually the best engagement for some folk. I think it is a matter of starting out with do they have the tools, resources, to do the job. Do they have the expectations? If you are working on increasing engagement and motivation for your employees, one things I have you do is set clear expectations, make sure that people have the tools to do their job well, and then to your point asking these questions like what has happened the last two weeks that has frustrated you? What is one thing if I could do better that would make your job easier, now go do it, right? Maybe you can continue on. What are some of the best practices you are seeing in these cultures that have high engagement?

Marisa: They are constantly wanting, the leaders in those companies, are constantly wanting to know if they are doing a better job than they were yesterday, and they are open to the idea that they are not always going to get feedback. In companies where I noticed the leaders are checking the box, what I see is that they do a survey but they do not really look at the feedback or they ask a question but they do not really do anything about the response. Leaders in companies that are best places to work take that feedback even when it stings because it does not always feel good.

They really say we want to be better tomorrow than we are today and so they take that and they do something with it. It does not mean they fix every little thing but it does mean they explain why they cannot fix every little thing and they try to at least share with employees why the feedback or why that moment in time felt maybe not so great. But by at large, they take the feedback and they do something with it? Is that something that you noticed too, Jeff?

Jeff: Yes, absolutely. In fact, I was just thinking about that. I am working with a laboratory firm out in Colorado and the CEO met with every employee, a little more than 150 employees in this organization. CEO goes and basically does a start, stop, continue which we start doing, stop doing, and continue doing. It was a listening tour. I wrote this blog a while back but it is basically feedback is a gift. It is just not one easily received. All feedback is challenging here because even when it is good, you blush a little. Then when it was tough feedback, it can be like you get defensive and things.

What I really appreciate about the CEO though was he just took all the feedback in and then he came back and did a series of town halls and presented it back so that people knew that he was listening. Then he started going down the list and saying these are things that I think we can do. I appreciate this feedback, we are also not going to be able do that right now. I am going to keep it on the list or, you know what, just strategically, we are choosing not to do that. I cannot tell you what that did from a trust perspective because people knew that their feedback matter and then he start to go and do some of these activities. The engagement level has risen dramatically. They are having a turn over challenge and it has dropped almost 50%. To me that is a measure of engagement. They are like, ‘hey I am willing to give this leader and now this team of leaders longer to really capture my heart and do my best work’. Coincidentally, their quality and their efficiency have both gone up as well.

Marisa: That is awesome.

Jeff: Yes, it is.

Marisa: That thing you said that I just wanted to hit on is that what he said to his team is I heard your feedback, we will not get to all of it today, but I hear it and let us talk about what we are going to get to, what we are going to make a decision to hold on, and what we just cannot do right, what we may never be able to do. Just that conversation, the impact is so strong with employees because at least they feel heard and they feel like there is a plan.

Jeff: Yes, absolutely. They felt valued and that is engagement right there. It is a two way conversation. There are a few that first did not want to give a lot of the back but then once they saw, more feedback came. One thing that I had heard from you Marisa, was they measure themselves, right? It is not just about getting feedback, they are also measuring how they are doing. I think for folks to know how we are doing, you have to measure everything from, how well do I get feedback from my manager? To, how often is recognition given out? Also maybe, how often do I get to do my best work day in and day out?  I think the measurement is a critical component in top cultures that really create engagement. Does that makes sense to you? Is that what you are saying?

Marisa: Yes, absolutely. One of the questions on the engagement surveys that we used to do at Rackspace which we did twice a year, which is a lot. I would say most companies do engage with surveys once a year, but the best places in the country definitely lean more towards twice a year. The question that actually carry the most weight at Rackspace was the very last question which was as a result of the feedback I gave during our last engagement survey, I have seen changes happen.

If as a manager, you scored low on that question, you are probably in more trouble than managers who scored lower on more questions than just that one but that question matters so much because if people give you feedback over and over and over and do not see change, they will stop giving you feedback. You cannot become a great place to work if you do not have access to what is not going well so that you can fix it.

Jeff: Yes. Marisa, what I am curious about to is ownership. We talked about how we put a lot of responsibility on our leaders. We also put some responsibility on maybe human resources sometimes to do this. What about employees? What is their responsibility for their own engagement and being responsible for engaging with peers? I am just curious what part of the employees own in this engagement?

Marisa: They actually own quite a bit of it. Companies who allow the employees to not own it are making a huge mistake because it really is the employee's responsibility to play an active role in engagement for the organization. Now what does that mean? That means that if they are hearing of challenges that are happening at the front line or at their sort of level in the organization, it is their job to actively try to solve those problems. It is their job to not just wallow in whatever concerns there are but to talk to people and coach at a peer level to say, ‘hey could you go to that, could help us solve this problem?’ It is their responsibility to give honest and candid feedback. If you have an employee who you are asking for feedback and they never have had any yet, you know they are not happy and they are not having a good experience and they are not engaged, that really does ultimately fall on them.

If you put all the processes in place to be able to allow them to give that feedback. I would say you always have to look at yourself as a leader to make sure you really given them a free sort of communication channel but I do believe that ultimately every single employee in an organization is responsible for engagement and when employees at every level are engaged, you can tell, and you can also tell when there is employees who just completely checked out. I would say that is when you get to partner closely with HR to make some decisions around. Is it just coaching, is there something really big that you need to an obstacle, you need to get out of our way or is it time to have some conversations around whether that is the right place for them.

Jeff: Fantastic. I know you are doing this podcast and you have written a book. What is next in the life of Marisa?

Marisa: Yes. More podcasting. I really want to make sure that we are focused on engagement and that it is a podcast where leaders can come to learn about step by step, what they can do in their organizations to increase engagement. I am also working on trying to take this model that I just spoke with you about, and I am trying to figure out how I can get the information out there to more and more leaders. If they are committed to transforming engagement or strengthening engagement in their organization, they is a way to say okay where can I start, what can I do first, what can I do second. I would say, overall, I want to be hosting the podcast and getting to know more and more great leaders. I want to be speaking about this topic a whole lot more and I want to be helping more and more companies transform their engagement.

Jeff: Marisa, it has been just a joy to have you on the show. Marisa, for folks that do not know her, she is just an outstanding coach, facilitator, and a thought leader. I look forward to seeing where this engagement work goes for you Marisa.

Marisa: Thank you.

Jeff: Yes. Just know that this type of engagement stuff that Marisa is talking about works in all cultures. It really starts from where she talked about the leader being curious and know the engagement cannot just be an accident. This has to be dedicated time and strategy. For the folks that really go off and they work so much on what our finances and let us work on our product, that is the what of our business. But this engagement is the how. How are we going to be together? What do we care about and we need both to be successful. The companies that Marisa and I get to work with, the best companies do not just focus on the what, they also worry about the how. If you can set some clear expectations or able to align all of your practices, do some recognition, provide some ownership from employees and give ongoing developmental feedback, you are well on your way to engagement by design. Thank you, Marisa.

Maris: Thanks for having me.

Jeff: Absolutely. Thank you guys for being here today. We are so looking forward to having you back next week. Next week, will be with Jennifer Owen-O'quill. We are going to be doing something called Coaching for Peak Performance. We are going to deal with how do you take your performers that are maybe status quo or superstars and we are going to have different messages and give you tips and tools for how to coach most effectively in the workplace.

If you want to reach me, reach out at area code 540-798-1963. Shoot me the e-mail at jeff@voltageleadership.com. Our website is www.voltageleadership.com. You can like me on Facebook at Voltage Leadership, connect with me on LinkedIn at Jeff Smith Voltage Leadership Consulting. Follow me on Twitter @jmujeff. You have been listening to Illuminating Leadership. Again, next week we will have Jennifer Owen-O'quill for Coaching for Peak Performance at 1PM Eastern, 10AM Pacific. It has been an honor and joy to have you here today, Marisa and look forward to seeing everyone next week. Thanks and make it a fantastic week.