Employee Engagement and 6-Second Abs

We (my family – not sure if I was part of the discussion) have been trying to get back (back?) in shape. So we started making the changes necessary to ensure we all end up on Family America Ninja Warrior. I mean we’re doing it all.

We’ve read all the books. We set the environment up just perfectly to be in the best physical shape of our lives. We have the gym membership. We have the clothes… brand spanking new gym clothes and light as a feather gym shoes. We went through the refrigerator and the pantry and got rid of anything with more than 3 grams of carbs and stocked up on quinoa – whatever that is. We DVR’d all the P90x infomercials and have them playing 24/7/360 on every TV in the house. They made me put pull-up bars in every doorway in the house and you can kill yourself if you’re not careful tripping over all the jump-ropes and ab-wheels randomly strewn around the house. We each line up and weigh ourselves every 6.3 seconds.

And yet…

And I’m still not at my ideal weight. I’m still not able to do 100 burpees or plank for longer than – well – let’s just say I know how to spell plank but may not know how to do one.

I don’t understand it. We did everything the books and experts told us to do to get in shape. I sit here… dejected like sad Keanu, looking at my gym membership card waiting for my six-pack abs to appear. Heck at this point I’d take 4 pack abs – or even AN ab.

What happened? We were set up for success in 99 out of 100 ways!

It’s Always ONE Thing

Here’s what happened. We (meaning me) didn’t engage in the process. I didn’t do anything. I didn’t decide to use the tools laid out in front of me. I didn’t take advantage of any of the interventions that were supposed to help me get that Abercrombie and Fitch poster gig.

Because I didn’t commit. No amount of set up, environment, communication, measurement (type of survey or how often) will make me get in shape until I decide to be a part of the process.

Your employee engagement efforts are the same.

They have to play the game… They have to do that one thing to have engagement.

You can set up every single thing the gurus of glad-handing, the experts of engagement, the wizards of wonderful recommend and still not have great engagement scores.

And that won’t happen until your employees DECIDE to engage. Like motivation – engagement is inside each person. THEY have to decide they want to engage. They have to determine if it is worth it to them. Some will say yes to the help. Some won’t.

Here’s my advice. Don’t build the environment until you’ve talked to your teams.

Like me – you could spend a ton of money on your exercise and diet “environment” only to find out no one wants to get in shape. Same thing can happen with engagement. You can spend all the time and energy you want on cafeteria food, daycare, foosball and perks to find out that none of your employees really care about the company’s mission or aren’t in alignment with your values. That’s just polishing a… well… you know.

Like cross fit or any other regimen designed to get you in shape, it won’t work if you don’t do it. Genius, no?

Engagement won’t work if your employees don’t decide to engage.

You can’t trick them into it.

You can’t survey them into it and you can’t recognize them into.

They have to decide to engage based on their feelings of trust and reciprocity. They will engage if they feel you’re open, honest and real with them. #PROtip – things like recognition and honesty help them decide to engage. But they make the decision.

And that is what you pay your managers for.

Get your managers involved and get them to start the conversations with your employees. Help them build relationships with their employees so they can get a feel for what is needed and what the employees feel is missing.

Change comes when my desire to change meets an environment where I can manifest that desire.

We’re doing well with the environment. Not so much on the helping employees with their desire part.

Let’s get on that.

(Full disclosure and transparency: the first part of this post is pure fiction. We don’t have a single grain of quinoa in our home and I break out in hives when P90x commercials come on the TV.)


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. Kathy Rapp says:

    Awesome post, Paul! Quinoa – my feelings exactly!

  2. Eric Daniel says:

    Great post, Paul! Equating personal fitness to employee engagement is a great way to think about a healthy company. Engaged and interested employees are great evidence of a healthy environment.

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