Wag The Dog in HR

As I think back on my career and recall the times I had the best work experiences—where I was connected and engaged the most—it almost always involved a crisis or a pressure-filled project. I can vividly remember working on a big Chrysler account or a huge GM Parts incentive program. We worked 24/7 for weeks. In one case, we slept in the office in order to meet deadlines. We visited the printer at 3:00 am to proof the printed pieces for the presentation while the first run was still on the roller because we didn’t want to waste the 4 hours until they could deliver the proof to the office. We were under tremendous pressure and we released that pressure the minute the job was done at a local tavern on the way to the employee parking garage.

We were a team with a mission. A mission that required sacrifice and hardship.

And the funny part was that from then on, regardless of the situation, we were still a team. I’m still in contact with those people 20 years later even though we work in different industries and in different places. Many of you with military experiences have similar feelings based on the team you were with during your tours of duty. Please don’t put words in my post—I’m not in any way drawing a parallel between military service and putting together a presentation for the suites at a major automotive manufacturer. You win that one, boys and girls. And, thank you.

Under Pressure Wag the Dog Style

The point I’m making is that many times (almost every time?) a team under pressure to achieve a goal becomes a strong, connected and engaged team.

So why not wag the dog to drive engagement?

Wag the Dog was a movie from 1997 about the President of the United States. After being caught in a scandalous situation days before the election, he manufactures a fake war in Albania which he can then win in hopes of driving up his numbers and ensuring his reelection. In other words, they created a fake situation to engage the population.

So I ask, if putting people into pressure situations help with employee engagement, should managers look for situations to amp up the pressure to help the team coalesce and become more engaged? Should we subtly put more faux pressure on projects to help create more engaged teams?

Full disclosure: I’ve never done this myself, but I would think that having specific projects that new team members could participate in—designed to be pressure-filled and manic—might be a great training process to create connections early in a career.

What say you? Too much real work going on to manufacture projects? Or, even if you have real work that you can put a little extra zip on, do you think that duplicitous?

Just thinking out loud. Many of the toughest, more productive teams are those that have been through the mill and come out harder and faster. Pro sports teams, military teams, spelling bee teams…

Ask yourself… Would you wag the dog if you could?


FOT Background Check

Paul Hebert
Paul Hebert is the Senior Director of Solutions Architecture at Creative Group Inc and a writer, speaker and consultant. Paul focuses on influencing behaviors and driving business results through employees, channel partners and consumers. Over the course of his career, Paul has worked closely with clients to design influence, marketing, motivation, incentive, loyalty, recognition and reward programs to increase effectiveness and reduce costs. Paul is a recognized authority on incentives and performance motivation. Want to know what’s going to motivate your people to perform at their best and impact the bottom line? Want to know whether your service award program really means anything at all? Curious what psychological principles drive sales behavior? Paul’s your guy… unless you fervently bow down to Maslow. Check out his personal blog at "What Is Paul Thinking?" when you're tired of his FOT rants.


  1. You got your taste of success with a high functioning creative team. I’d say you would find this type of work environment in the broadcasting industry as well or any other creative high pressure environments. After working for years in a broadcasting industry, I continually crave high pressure projects. What many people see as special ‘above and beyond’ projects, I see as normal projects that feed my creative soul. What is special in these high-pressure environments is that people MUST rely on each other quickly. That means that they have to rely on their true talents and work with other team members closely to cover any gaps in their talent. The result is negative politics is mitigated because that would jeopardize the project and frankly you simply don’t have time deal with trivial matters like whose EGO your are bruising.

    • Paul Hebert says:

      Thanks for commenting Michael. I know people in the broadcasting industry and you’re right – similar “deadline” driven environment. I guess we need more real deadlines and less meetings about missed deadlines. And I do think you get addicted to the rush of that kind of work, looking for it in every assignment.

      Adrenaline is a hellava drug.

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