Tag Archives: UK Engage for Success


(this article is a high-level summary of an in-process pdf that is (will be!) linked here: Loops . Please take a look when it’s available and comment. Download the pdf if you’d like but if you share it please leave the  contact information intact so people can connect to discuss)

I’ve always been process-focused, a product of an environment in various private sector roles. Focus morphed over the past several years into education and whole-person human development. It was a natural progression to dive into systems thinking, especially causal chains, process interrelationships, reinforcing loops.

Senge took us on a loops deep dive in The Fifth Discipline, exploring all kinds of different archetypes. I was given a copy shortly after its release, and loved it. Systems purists and academics really glammed on to the whole “systems thinking” thing and the resulting gobble dee gook is, in my opinion, a huge roadblock to furthering systems awareness and everyday application.

Loops are closed causal chains: a sequence of events where one thing leads to another, “closed” because the chain eventually links back into itself. Per chaos theory, if you look out far enough any loop is closed. Closed loops are self-perpetuating, or reinforcing: they tighten and gain strength on their own. There are good loops, sometimes called virtuous circles, and there are bad loops-vicious cycles. Bad loops can be straightened out with awareness and action. Good loops can be leveraged and are usually a whole lot more fun!

My big take-away was, simplified here for mortals like me, loops. Add a few key points to go along with those loops. There’s a lot that needs to be learned and accomplished.

  1. People Needs—social-emotional development, well-being etc—rule the roost, validated by decades of study and data on engagement and impacts on academic and workplace performance data. Can’t optimize “doing things” results without first meeting people needs;
  2. Human development, personal satisfaction and maximizing performance are interrelated in one big, lifelong reinforcing loop;
  3. We’ve thrown a monkey wrench into things starting with the way we raise and educate our children, through our adult working lives. Self-imposed authoritarian systems and potential- limiting practices have drastically suboptimized our ability (our right!) to be all we can be.

Big deal, right? Yes it is. We’re causing our own mental and emotional challenges up to and including increased levels of stress, anxiety, depression, suicides even among middle school children. Declining social health and spikes in significant social problems: opioid addiction, violent crime including mass murders, and intense rudeness and insensitivity…terminal redneck behavior. It’s fair to say our social fabric is tattered and torn, locally and globally. Emotional well-being, physical health and economic effects of these problems are profound.

Fall 2017 Impacts Profundity Update

We’ve been on a roll. Nationalism, race supremacy…random and planned lone wolf attacks. Most aren’t terrorists on jihad. ISIS is not the only group radicalizing, recruiting, hating. Newtown still wipes me out. And the Vegas slaughter was a whopper. Where do these people come from? Are there no warning signs? Neighbors and relatives said the shooter and his girlfriend were quiet, normal, stuck to themselves. So…why? My opinion: it comes down to chronic disconnection, self-imposed solitude. We’re social creatures and we must reunite with our tribe, badly. But that’s just part of it…..

Late addition, fall 2017: the huge spike in allegations of sexual harassment (see “Kids Bully, Big Kids Harass”)

Is the species simply dumbing down? From Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

“I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness…

The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance”

It’s not just poor education or inadequate preparation for the workplace or not becoming an acceptable member of society. Go back to #2 and #3. We’ve become skilled saboteurs of the loop of development > satisfaction > performance that would potentially ensure we realize our potential.

One major monkey wrench: compulsory education and command and control work environment–authoritarian practices, precision amputation of children’s and adults’ ability to think creatively, to freely explore the world around them, to develop and fully utilize their human capabilities. (see School and Work–One Big Prison System.) We’re posing a substantial threat to our selves and doing irreparable harm, making these issues high priority to address. It’s tough to see the subtle relationships behind these issues without a systems thinking view.

A Loopy Vision: make a positive impact on the greater good, improving social well-being through values-based and environmental interventions in all sectors of the general population: home, school, work, community. (1) Build a broad base of grassroots awareness, support and involvement to ensure  across-the-board, all stakeholder engagement. (2) Study, understand and leverage shared motivators, perceptions, attitudes and values that originate with basic human nature. And, (3) realize and leverage the existence of loops to formulate a systemic action plan.

This is nothing but incoherent babbling without first envisioning a systems and loops perspective.

The Greater Good Loop: closed loops connect me and others and connect employers, communities and society. If we are aware of the loops, we can consciously leverage them.

Do you buy into the notion that the Private Self and the Work Self are distinctly separate people? Sorry, it doesn’t even make sense. We’re not two people, we can’t somehow magically switch between them. We’re at work for the lion’s share of our adult lives, so it stands to reason that personal norms and belief systems are impacted by the work environment. And workplace influence does not exist just at work; it carries over to personal, home, social environments. To isolate them is to push any conflict under the surface, but only temporarily. What would really help things is if employers understood the systems relationships and took an interest in making sure there was no opportunity for conflict within its people.

Our work life helps shape our personal lives. A community’s social well-being certainly impacts the workplace, the sustainability of organizations that exist within a community. And a company’s success and results are driven by its internal culture, which is the collective influence of the individuals who work there. These are all two-way streets. Work, society and me: one big reinforcing loop. It may be a virtuous circle, may be a vicious cycle. One leads to prosperity, the other to failure.


Organizational Loops: People Generate Profit (gasp!)

It’s human nature to search for a connection, to belong to something bigger than “me”. An employer is very probably the most influential force in peoples’ lives, just because of the amount of time we spend at work. Organizations and their leaders are capable of exerting significant influence not just on employees, but on the surrounding community through their employees.

Consider the potential of an organization with a strong values base and principles-centered, ethical leadership that helps people feel a sense of purpose, belonging and stability, people with something to care about. Think about the impact on social issues when employees have a strong sense of community, a purpose larger than “me”, a values-anchored island of safety and sanity in the midst of the turbulence around them.

Oh, the bottom line…a company with a winning sustainability strategy has values and principles-based organizational expectations for leaders and followers alike, and sets its sights on being a normalizing force in the community. Doing so beefs up the local talent pool, and the existing workforce is highly engaged. There is an encyclopedia full of studies that validate the direct relationship between level of engagement and performance.

Teaser: it should go without saying: community activism builds a strong democratic society. Later.

What About “Me” Loops?

My work environment and society both continuously shape me, that’s easy to buy. But the thought that it’s a two-way street is a bit tougher to embrace. You’re telling me my company and even society is impacted by me? Only when I mess up really bad! Truth: balanced, personally aligned individuals impact both the workplace and society. A culture and its norms are depend on people with strong values who, by intent or accidentally, impact others. So collectively, we enable culture to survive and thrive. DANGER: this could instead be a toxic culture. Both are self-sustaining, reinforcing loops.

Individual community members are the foundation of society, therefore culture. As the workplace influences people, employers have a direct and significant influence on community social well-being. Employer impact potential is much broader than an individual’s, impacting an entire region’s or even country’s ethical foundation, economic stability, way of life, quality of life. The collective influence of people undeniably shapes company culture. So no matter how insignificant an individual’s impact may seem, the reality is more than a bit humbling:

My values and integrity have direct influence on society’s norms!

There are three levels of proven payback from social-emotional well-being:

  1. Individuals: less stress and longer, healthier lives with greater personal satisfaction;
  2. Social problems: well-being in general is an amazing antidote and it’s preventive vs reactive;
  3. Companies and the economy overall: a highly engaged workforce is more productive. Oh, and that physical health thing…have you seen the cost impacts of health issues lately?

At least one of these are wildly important things for most of us. They should all be, because of the  Me > Community > Employer loop, but it goes deeper. A closer look…

Social Impact: the Greater Good

The main traditional socializing institutions where norms are established and reinforced—church, education, family—have all lost impact on influencing people. Social development and norming are not good to leave to natural evolution, but there is a huge void in the socializing process.

People need a sense of community, of belonging to something larger than they are. The workplace has a chance to reach people on a regular basis and people will gladly embrace what the workplace offers. But it’s the reciprocating nature of influence within our personal and our employer’s virtuous circle that is the scary proposition:  how can we as individuals and even a large, powerful company, expect to influence society? The real question:

How much are individuals and companies willing to commit to impacting society?

The potential is limitless but there are both risks and rewards. No company can survive long-term without a vibrant community. No community can exist without solid norms. Communities with staying power eventually become the building blocks of culture. Communities, even entire cultures, without a solid base are destined to crumble and fall. I take that back…what risks? A sure bet?

The workplace influences me, I influence my workplace and environment. The workplace and individual both impact social well-being. We need to better understand the interdependencies, whether we have earned calling them virtuous circles or reinforcing loops. Key components: engagement and well-being; satisfaction and contribution, (maybe explored later in greater depth in TWO: Loops and the Greater Good.)


The Business Case for Engagement and Social-Emotional Learning

(LONG! Lots of ground to cover!)

It’s usually not easy to irrefutably link soft stuff like leadership, values and engagement to the bottom line. But a significant body of research from the past 20 years establishes a clear connection between level of engagement and performance improvement, in a broad range of businesses.  And there are more and more actionable tactics validated as effective in enabling people to fully engage.

In Time to Supercharge Our Engagement Thinking  the case was made that character development and social-emotional learning can logically be considered in the same big bucket as engagement. The attributes are the same. Social-emotional factors and high-engagement enablers are equally relevant in the private sector, community, and classroom. The findings and impact data that follow are mostly from the private sector. It stands to reason that impacts should be equally impressive regardless of demographic.

The Standard

Research conducted in 1998 by the Gallup organization set out to quantify the relationship between responses to twelve statements (Q12), and productivity, profitability, and retention specifically. The sample was large: 2,500 business units, 105,000 employees. The findings: business units scoring higher on five Power Statements realized 50% higher productivity; 44% more profit; 13% higher retention

 The Power Statements:

  • I know what is expected of me at work.
  • The mission / purpose of my company make me feel my job is important.
  • I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
  • Someone at work cares about me as a person.
  • There is someone at work who encourages my development.

While Gallup’s Q12 is the recognized engagement benchmark, later studies validate those early findings:

  • The Global Workforce Study by Towers-Perrin (2007) showed that companies with high engagement levels had an Earnings Per Share growth rate of 28% opposed to low engagement companies which showed an 11.2% decline in EPS in the same period.
  • Further Gallup research found that companies with engagement scores in the top 25% had an EPS growth rate of 2.6 times greater than those companies that scored below average.
  • The Gallup Management Journal’s 2005 Q3 survey found that 23.3 million of US workers 18 and older (roughly 17%) are actively disengaged. Gallup estimated that lower productivity of these workers costs the US economy about $370bil a year.
  • BlessingWhite’s The State of Employee Engagement 2008 found that 29% of the North American workforce is fully engaged, while 19% are actively disengaged. The study also shows a strong correlation between engagement levels and retention: 85% of engaged employees indicated they planned to stick with their employer, compared to only 27% of disengaged employees.  The report for 2010 showed little change, same for 2013. Why have we hit a plateau?


How important is retention? The study by BlessingWhite noted above and others all propose that employees are more and more peeking their heads out of the foxhole they’ve been hunkered down in due to tough economic conditions over the past several years. Even high performing, highly engaged people that a company can least afford to lose are getting braver about looking around.

Will they stay or will they go? And in both cases, why? The message is clear: If you manage to land good talent, you’d better do whatever it takes to hold on to it.

Replacing an employee can cost as much as 50-60% of his annual salary, but total costs of turnover can range from 90-200%, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. This is a 2008 report; it’s safe to say the cost has gone up, along with the complexity of replacing personnel. (http://www.shrm.org/about/foundation/research/documents/retaining%20talent-%20final.pdf)


Right Management, the talent and career consulting branch of employment services giant Manpower, conducted a survey the winter of 2009 to identify top actions companies were taking to help manage their workforce through the economic crisis. The top two most important leadership practices for tough times identified by senior leader respondents:

  • Engaging employees to ensure organizational alignment and commitment (51%); and
  • Clearly defining roles and expectations (21%). (one of the top levers of engagement)

Numerous later studies also validate the importance of engagement. The Right study is significant because of its origin-a top employment service. They know the business of recruiting and retention.

In 2006, 23.7% of American workers voluntarily quit their jobs. (US Bureau of Labor Statistics). Keep in mind the job market has shifted, from a decidedly employer-driven market to talent-driven.  Employers are begging for talent and there’s just not enough to go around. Retention is critical, as is recruiting. An employer with a highly engaging work environment is way ahead of their competition.

There are irrefutable numbers everywhere you look. Here’s a little more number crunching….

Revenue:  A typical company with $5 billion in revenues in an industry with average revenue growth of eight percent would see revenues increase by $400 million. A company with top quartile levels of employee engagement could expect an increase of $1 billion. And a company in the top quartile on both engagement and enablement could anticipate an increase of a full $1.8 billion.

Turnover: For an organization with 20,000 employees and an annual voluntary turnover rate of eight percent, the cost of turnover is approximately $56 million (assuming an average salary of $35,000). Reducing the voluntary turnover rate by 40 percent would yield annual savings of $22.4 million. But reductions in turnover through high levels of engagement and enablement would yield savings of over $30 million annually, a difference of more than $7.5 million.

Employee performance: For an organization producing $10 billion of product with 20 percent of employees exceeding performance expectations, increasing the percentage of high performers by 1.5 times (by transforming average performers into superior performers) would increase output by $350 million (ie, if 10 percent of population improves performance by 35 percent, overall performance improvement across entire population is 3.5 percent. (The Hay Group: Employee engagement and enablement critical.)

Engagement is good business. Since it is such a good thing, how do you “do” engagement? What things promote an environment of high engagement? What gets in the way?

It’s not possible to provide a Cliff Notes version of an answer to those questions.  But here’s couple of teasers: (1) as it is values-based engagement is highly personal. And, (2) engagement drivers are split between process / things and people / relationships. You must address the people issues before you can expect people to fully engage in fixing process issues.

 WIIFM Intangibles in the Private Sector

Forward-thinking employers who are deeply involved with and committed to their workforce’s and the community’s success will earn significant payback in return:

  • A more highly engaged workforce=bottom-line payback in every area that matters;
  • High regard among community members, impacting image and branding;
  • Employer-of-choice status: recruiting and retention are both greatly enhanced. Current employees stay, new applicants stand in line to get in;
  • Sense of community and a company culture that lasts anchored by social consciousness and a feeling of being a part of something that is truly worthwhile;
  • A well-stocked, continuously replenished talent pool—highly skilled and eager job candidates.

Barring economic meltdown or gross mismanagement, investing in people and the community is more than “corporate social responsibility” (CSR). It’s a high-powered strategy that ensures the company’s sustainability.


 Kids are People Too: Student Engagement

Gallup and America’s Promise

In 2009 Gallup and America’s Promise defined, measured and implemented a model of student engagement. “The primary application of the Gallup Student Poll is as a measure of non-cognitive metrics that predicts student success in academic and other youth development settings. Gallup’s research (identified three) key factors that drive students’ grades, achievement scores, retention, and future employment.” Follow-up studies and reports noted high-impact, specific improvement opportunities.

CASEL: Benefits of Character Development

CASEL’s meta-analysis (“study of studies”) used statistical techniques to summarize the findings of over 700 studies and found a broad range of benefits for students:

  • 9% decrease in conduct problems, such as classroom misbehavior and aggression
  • 10% decrease in emotional distress, such as anxiety and depression
  • 9% improvement in attitudes about self, others, and school
  • 23% improvement in social and emotional skills
  • 9% improvement in school and classroom behavior
  • 11 % improvement in achievement test scores

…while these SEL programs took time out of the school day, they did not detract from student academic performance. In fact, as noted above, on average, students receiving school-based SEL scored 11 percentile points higher on academic achievement tests than their peers who did not receive SEL, and they also attained higher grades. And even as grades and achievement test scores were improving, classroom behavior, feelings about self, and emotional problems were improving as well.

AJPH Report: Benefits of SE Development

The level of pro-social behaviors in kindergarten, such as cooperating with peers, being helpful to others, understanding others’ feelings, and resolving problems on their own predicted their education and job prospects, criminal activity, likelihood of substance abuse, and mental health in adulthood. Students with higher levels of P-S behaviors did better in all of those areas….they were more likely to have graduated from high school on time, to have finished college, and to have stable employment; less likely to have been in special education or repeated a grade; less likely to need public housing or receive public assistance; less likely to have been arrested or in jail; less likely to abuse alcohol or drugs; and less likely to have been on medication for mental health problems.

  • There is a strong relationship between pro-social skills and positive outcomes later in life, regardless of the student’s gender, race, or socioeconomic status, the quality of their neighborhood, their early academic skills, or several other factors.
  • The level of aggression that a student showed in kindergarten couldn’t predict whether the student would have a run-in with the law later in life—but his level of pro-social behavior could.
  • Feeling socially connected as a kid is more strongly associated with happiness in adulthood than academic achievement is;
  • Children who participate in programs designed to strengthen their social and emotional skills simply do undeniably better academically, and in life.

Reference Links


(pssst….Don’t Tell Anyone) We’re PEOPLE! Human Economics, the new Business Hip

A few points to ponder for starters:

  • The human dynamics of change are powerful and can be a deal-breaker whether a new continuous improvement initiative, strategic shift, organizational re-structuring, or even something simple as a new assignment;
  • The importance of a culture and values fit between employees and the company is clear. Yet, hiring and promotion decisions are typically based solely on competencies and achievements;
  • The Blue Zones longevity study, Gallup-Healthways wellbeing index, Engage For Success wellbeing / engagement report all provide increasingly clear evidence of a powerful correlation between whole-person wellbeing and not only increased levels of engagement but that people can live longer, more productive and more stress-free lives;
  • The new, enhanced well-being includes spiritual factors: sense of purpose, belonging, sense of community, values. Yet, focus remains nearly exclusively on eating your veggies and exercise;
  • The obsession over STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) in education, at the expense of instilling values, ethics, norms in young people means that the emotional development of young people in the education system is embarrassingly, dangerously short-changed.

But the evidence is overwhelming, experts are in violent agreement: we’re human beings! That realization may be causing a few ripples, but we need a tsunami. I’m going to lay out some “whats and whys”. Would love to see some “hows” from you experts out there.

From a recent HBR article by Dov Seidman From the Knowledge Economy to the Human Economy:
In the human economy, the most valuable workers will be hired hearts. The know-how and analytic skills that made them indispensable in the knowledge economy no longer give them an advantage over increasingly intelligent machines. But they will still bring to their work essential traits that can’t be and won’t be programmed into software, like creativity, passion, character, and collaborative spirit—their humanity, in other words. The ability to leverage these strengths will be the source of one organization’s superiority over another.

Seidman references findings from a global study by IBM in which over 1,000 CEOs participated, that executives are placing a high priority on hiring people who are “collaborative, communicative, creative, and flexible.” Another study finds “…a majority of executives insisting that “human insights must precede hard analytics.” (Only Human: The Emotional Logic of Business Decisions)

In The Effective Executive Peter Drucker made this observation:
Direct results always come first. In the care and feeding of an organization they play the role calories play in the nutrition of the human body. But any organization also needs a commitment to values and their constant reaffirmation, as a human body needs vitamins and minerals. There has to be something “this organization stands for,” or else it degenerates into disorganization, confusion, and paralysis.

McKinsey on Meaningful Work
The McKinsey Quarterly ran an interesting piece, Increasing the ‘Meaning Quotient’ of Work by Susie Cranston and Scott Keller January 2013. Note—the download link may require registration.

There are several quotients out there. IQ is, of course, intelligence quotient. Thanks to Daniel Goleman and others, just about as well-established is emotional quotient (EQ).
Intelligence quotient: derived from standardized tests designed to assess intelligence. IQ tests are designed to measure a person’s general ability to solve problems and understand concepts. This includes reasoning ability, problem-solving ability, seeing relationships between things and ability to store and retrieve information. Because IQ tests measure capability to understand not quantity of knowledge, IQ scores remain stable no matter what the person’s educational attainment level.
Emotional Intelligence: human qualities that are widely recognized as differentiating outstanding leaders from competent managers —self-awareness, self-management, empathy, social skills.

Along comes the New Kid, Meaning Quotient, a feeling that what’s happening really matters, that what’s being done has not been done before or that it will make a difference to others. The McKinsey article likens meaning to flow, championed by positive psychologist Mihàly Csìkszentmihàlyi’. (chicks-sent-me-highly, his own phonetic interpretation).

The article does a deep dive into what business leaders can do to create meaning. Meaning is an essential driver of higher workplace productivity: MQ was tapped by executives as the most essential to performance and results of the three quotients. This article is highly recommended reading.

IQ + EQ + MQ = Q cubed
The sum is greater than the parts, and one can be destructive without the others. And all three have attributes that contribute to an environment capable of supporting increased levels of engagement:

  • Intelligence Quotient: skills, tools, systems, capability to do the job, results / contribution;
  • Emotional Quotient: relationships, values, inner harmony / well-being, growth; satisfaction with the job and the work you do;
  • Meaning Quotient: alignment, connection to the top, hearing the calling of the work; immersion in the task at hand because it is challenging and to my liking (Mihaly’s “flow”).

IQ DESCRIPTION: ability to solve problems and understand concepts. Reasoning, critical thinking, problem-solving, perceiving relationships between things, storing and retrieving information.
IF IQ IS HIGH: Able to more easily acquire the right skills. Given the right tools and systems, should have the capability to do the job and deliver results.
Low IQ: inability to perform, incapable of understanding more complex task-intensive expectations.
Hi IQ, low MQ: higher order motivation of purpose is untapped. Capability is underutilized, skills are bottled up. Skating by, bored with the work. Personal agendas pursued by highly skilled manipulators when they don’t know or don’t care about the purpose.
Hi IQ, low EQ: survival instinct, reluctance or fear to perform, too paranoid to work with others. “Me first” because I’m better than you and I can’t trust you anyway.

EQ DESCRIPTION: the human qualities that differentiate outstanding leaders from competent managers, but also at the heart of healthy work relationships and environment. Self-awareness, self-management, empathy and social skills.
IF EQ IS HIGH trust and respect are both high. Constructive conflict, sense of humor, a general feeling of “we’re in this together,” and a corresponding ability to collaborate effectively.
Low EQ: office politics, bruised egos, avoidance of tough issues, bickering and fault-finding.
Hi EQ, low IQ: inactivity for fear of looking bad, being wrong. The person doesn’t feel capable, whether a personal or support issue. There is significant internal conflict and stress when a high EQ person struggles against these issues.
High EQ, low MQ: feeling frustrated, discouraged. Tendency to take the meaning disconnect personally. If there is a solid emotional connection the feeling is why the heck should I care this much? But I just can’t help myself, it’s the way I’m wired.

MQ DESCRIPTION: a feeling that what’s happening really matters, that what they’re doing will make a difference. Also reference Mihaly and flow: the work is challenging and has personal relevance.
IF MQ IS HIGH it can be a peak-performance experience: high stakes; excitement; challenge; feeling that work matters and it makes a difference at work and in the world. High commitment to achieving goals.
Low MQ: people put minimal effort into their work and don’t fully utilize their skills because they don’t see the point in doing more than getting by. “It’s just a job” that gives little more than a paycheck.
Hi MQ, low EQ: people see and buy into the big picture but may be ruthless in finding their place in it, or in the way goals are attained. For them, the end often justifies any means to get there.
Hi MQ. low IQ: while they hear the calling loud and clear they still need significant, specific guidance for things that need to be done. They may try harder but they simply lack the capacity to deliver results.

The McKinsey article ends with this:
Of the three Qs that characterize a workplace likely to generate flow and inspire peak performance, we frequently hear from business leaders that MQ is the hardest to get right. Given the size of the prize for injecting meaning into people’s work lives, taking the time to implement strategies of the kind described here is surely among the most important investments a leader can make.

Of all the human needs beyond basic survival needs the most powerful is purpose. We need to feel that what we do matters and that we are making an impact.

I have a vague memory from my higher education days, way too many years ago. It was the belief way back then that the New Millenium would be the age of humanity, of realization and attainment. That vision has so far been a delusion, but it may finally be coming to fruition. We must first divorce ourselves from our love affair with making stuff better—a transformation that requires heaping helpings of change management, especially for the human dynamic elements.

The Knowledge Economy is dead, long live the Human Economy. I can’t wait for the coronation.

Social Disengagement-the Four Enablers as Antidote?

Numerous independent studies concur that higher levels of engagement have significant impacts on not only an organization’s bottom line, but on individuals’ overall wellbeing. The UK’s Engage for Success movement promotes a deeper understanding and application of engagement as presented in the MacLeod Report.  The e4s model is based on Four Enablers that promote higher levels of employee engagement in the workplace. These enablers are excerpted below if for some reason you don’t want to access and review the full report linked above. Highly recommended: go to the source for this! Also, look around at the other resources here—the well-being report is killer—including a toolbox of application tips and tricks for each of the four enablers.

No need to dwell on it, but just for context: the US, for that matter the world, is fighting through some pretty ugly social issues. To me, one of the foundational causes of a good deal of these issues is social disengagement. Proposed: engagement theory does not stop in the workplace; the Four Enablers can also be leveraged to promote higher levels of social engagement.

EXCERPTS: the Four Enablers
I’ve taken some editorial liberty with the following, replacing work-related words with social. Therefore, “employees” are citizens, “work” is community etc. Please go to the source, the MacLeod Report, for the original thoughts.

LEADERSHIP provides a strong strategic narrative which has widespread ownership and commitment from community leaders at all levels and citizens. The narrative is a clearly expressed story about what the purpose of the community is (or of the organization), why it has the broad vision it has, and how an individual citizen contributes to that purpose. Citizens have a clear line of sight between their community role and the narrative, and understand where their actions fit in…A strong narrative that provides a clear, shared vision for the community or organisation is at the heart of social engagement. Citizens need to understand not only the purpose of the community in which they live but also how their individual actions contribute to that purpose.

ENGAGING LEADERS and OFFICIALS are at the heart of this social culture– they facilitate and empower rather than control or restrict their constituency; they treat the citizenry with appreciation and respect and show commitment to developing and increasing opportunities, and rewarding the involvement and efforts of those they represent…Firstly, engaging leaders and officials offer clarity for what is expected from individual members of the community, which involves some stretch, and much appreciation and feedback/coaching and training. The second key area is treating their constituency as individuals, with fairness and respect and with a concern for each citizen’s well-being. Thirdly, leaders and officials have a very important role in ensuring that community systems, services and opportunities for citizens to interact with them are designed efficiently and effectively.

An effective and empowered citizen VOICE – citizens’ views are sought out; they are listened to and they see that their opinions count and make a difference. Individuals speak out and challenge when appropriate. A strong sense of listening and of responsiveness permeates the community, enabled by effective communication…The ‘Sunday Times Top 100 Companies to Work for’ found that feeling listened to was the most important factor in determining how much respondents valued their organization, and the same holds true for communities and social groups. Being heard reinforces a sense of belonging and a belief that ones actions can have an impact.

INTEGRITY Behaviour throughout the community is consistent with stated values, leading to trust and a sense of integrity…Most communities have espoused values and all societies have behavioural norms. Where there is a gap between the two, the size of the gap is reflected in the degree of distrust within the community; if the gap is closed, high levels of trust usually result. If a citizen sees the stated values of a community or government being lived by leadership and peers, a sense of trust in the community and the government is more likely to be developed, and this constitutes a powerful enabler of social engagement.

What do you think? How do the Four Enablers come to life as real, actionable things that will enhance social engagement? Please reply by identifying an Enabler, and your thoughts on an actionable to-do. Just to salt the mine…

What is the level of interest and involvement of citizens if word was to leak out that an elected official was hosting a series of input-gathering brainstorming meetings open to the public? (YAWN) The town hall meeting is certainly nothing new. But accountability to act, with follow up and real results…now that is extremely rare to find!

What if the commitment was stated and then kept, that attendees would not only share their thoughts, but that the top-tier “keeper” items as clarified, refined and prioritized by the group would be published, assigned ownership, and results or status communicated by a certain date?

In Closing, Virtuous Circle(s)

Reference the e4s well-being and engagement report. Also, see Influence and the Greater Good.

Higher engagement triggers greater levels of contribution which, in turn, triggers even higher levels of engagement. And, the higher a person’s sense of well-being, the more productive and engaged they are. Contribution level also impacts a person’s well-being: if I’m delivering on my accountabilities I feel good about it. Last, work engagement drives individual engagement and reverse holds true too—individual engagement drives organizational engagement.

Add social engagement into the mix: the interrelationships are undeniable. Improve one, improve the others. Social well-being, cultural health, and economic sustainability are the prizes. Oh, almost forgot the WIIFM… this well-being / engagement interrelationship also means that people tend to live a lot longer, and are happier too.

That makes this at least worth thinking about, doesn’t it?

The New Wellbeing-a Trifecta WIN

I have been an employee engagement addict since my first experimentation in 1996 with Gallup’s Q-12 process. I am currently a “guru” in the UK’s Engage for Success movement, not noted as a resume feather but because e4s is an essential connector to experts and thinkers in this area that helps keep me up-to-date.

This past summer, a hospital CEO friend introduced me to Blue Zones (see below) and the new, proactive direction of health care management for providers. At the same time, e4s published a report that establishes an undeniable connection between well-being and engagement. Last, I discovered that my home state of Iowa has embarked on a Healthiest State Initiative,  which uses the Gallup-Healthways report noted below

It was exciting that my old friend Gallup is moving in parallel with my evolving personal interests! But what sealed the deal for me was that several key indicators of well-being are also among the critical drivers of high-engagement. Result of this Summer of Discovery… I am hopelessly caught up in this new collaborative initiative where well-being and engagement join forces.

I do hope you’ll check the links. Well-being is way more than just a slogan or an occasional CSR event that generates another t-shirt (I have a closet full). Well-being is a trifecta win and deserves to be front and center.

WIN for Me
Personally embracing well-being helps you live a longer, healthier, happier life. But the parameters of “well-being” have grown. It’s no longer just about bean sprouts and exercise. Well-being is also impacted by spiritual things: sense of community or belonging, being part of something greater than “me” or having a purpose or calling, living within a strong values base, personally and professionally.

I pay marginal attention to exercise and diet, I’m far from an exercise nut. Way far from. But those spiritual elements are dead-center in the middle of the world of engagement, therefore wildly important to me. And that “live long and prosper” thing is pretty tantalizing too.

WIN for Organizations
Healthier people are more productive and not just because they are at work rather than home sick. The cost of poor health for business is huge, and the social price tag is equally staggering. Even Harvard economics guru Michael Porter weighed in on this, in the context of shared value:  “There are numerous ways in which addressing societal concerns can yield productivity benefits to a firm. Consider, for example, what happens when a firm invests in a wellness program. Society benefits because employee and their families become healthier, and the firm minimizes employee absences and lost productivity.”

Springing from Porter’s shared value, Triple Pundit’s core philosophy is that the economy, environment and society are inseparably related, and an understanding of all three is critical to long term profitability.

Is it just me, or is promoting well-being a high-impact sustainability strategy?

WIN for Community
People and employers co-exist in the community. When citizens are generally physically and spiritually healthy, the community overall is a vibrant one. When a community’s citizens are spiritually and physically healthy, social issues—crime, drug use, abuse, truancy and dropout rates—all improve.

Citizens are also employees. A healthy citizenry and robust surrounding community means local organizations have a deep, well-stocked talent pool in their back yard. Recruiting and retention are both a breeze—people want to relocate to the community, and they want to stay. In other words, the entire region’s economic development status gets a major boost.

I have this urge to build one of those three-circled diagrams with the sweet spot in the middle. That sweet spot is the Trifecta WIN. The really important thing: the relationship is a reinforcing loop / virtuous circle. Each one of the three impacts the other two. So, how to kick things into motion?

Billion-dollar Questions
1. Which stakeholder stands to gain the most from well-being? Answer: ALL THREE.
2. Which of the three stakeholders is in the best position to have a major impact on well-being? Answer: while it starts with “me” the most influential institutional force in our adult lives that can trigger broad benefits is the employer.
So, what’s the holdup?

(a little more information…)

Blue Zones
In 2004, author / traveler Dan Buettner drew a really tough assignment from National Geographic: identify pockets around the world where people lived longer. He found several areas where people reached age 100 ten times more often than in the United States. Scientists then went to each location to study what could explain the difference in longevity and found that all these pockets had nine common lifestyle characteristics.

The real kicker for me is that these life-prolonging characteristics include both physical and spiritual elements. Purpose, values, connecting, social networks, family and sense of community all lead to a better, longer life. Still, most of the well-being community continues to lock in on the physical aspects only. Is it because that spiritual stuff is a little weirder therefore harder for people to embrace?

The Gallup-Healthways Report  (link to recent reports)
Healthways and Gallup conduct an annual analysis of well-being across the United States. In true Gallup bigger-is-better fashion, more than 178,000 interviews were conducted on physical and emotional health, healthy behaviors, work environment, social and community factors, financial security, and access to necessities such as food, shelter and healthcare. And it is ongoing: “Gallup conducts 500 telephone interviews a day with Americans to gather their perceptions of well-being, for a resulting sample that represents an estimated 95 percent of all U.S. households.”

From the introduction pages of the 2013 Gallup / Healthways report: “…individually, high well-being means a life well-lived—all the things that are important to each of us, what we think about, and how we experience our lives. In the aggregate, high well-being means healthier populations, more productive and profitable businesses, and more economically vibrant communities….Where a culture of well-being takes hold, positive health, cost, and productivity outcomes follow…. Simply stated, people with higher well-being cost less and perform better.”

“Well-being is about the interaction between physical health, finding your daily work and experiences fulfilling, having strong social relationships and access to the resources you need, feeling financially secure, and being a part of a true community.” (Tom Rath, Gallup / Healthways Report intro)

Virtuous Circles aka Reinforcing Loops

In September 2014, BlessingWhite’s article Satisfaction and Contribution: the Virtuous Circle  proposed that the more satisfied a person is, the greater their level of contribution. And it is a two-way street: the greater a person’s level of contribution, the more highly satisfied they are. When the highest levels of satisfaction and contribution are both present, engagement is maximized.

The UK’s Engage for Success movement published The Evidence: Wellbeing and Engagement in May 2014.  In the US and more recently around the world, Gallup and Healthways  are championing the same basic message: without wellbeing, people cannot fully engage. Without high engagement, people will not achieve their greatest potential level of wellbeing. One is not sustainable without the other. Our overall social health…the sustainability of our way of life…is also on the table.

Twenty years ago (can that be possible?!), Peter Senge introduced us to his thinking on reinforcing loops and other system archetypes in The Fifth Discipline: the Art and Practice of the Learning Organization.  Systems thinking has gone mainstream, one proponent being Gene Bellinger who published a systems thinking website in 2004. He offers this description of the reinforcing loop, also known as the virtuous circle or cycle, and its evil twin the vicious circle.
“A reinforcing loop is one in which an action produces a result which influences more of the same action thus resulting in growth or decline. If a reinforcing structure is producing a desirable result it is generally referred to as a virtuous cycle. When this happens there is a tendency to ignore it and let it go. This is a mistake, as nothing grows forever. When everything is going just the way you want it to that’s the best time to be concerned about how to ensure it continues going the way you want it to.
When a reinforcing structure is producing an undesirable result it is …a vicious cycle. The best way to deal with a vicious cycle is to find a way to break one of the feedback loops so the structure can no longer reinforce itself.
…. Because of the manner in which this structure reinforces itself it generally produces an exponential growth or decline. This exponential change may be unnoticeable for a period of time until it reaches a certain threshold. The structure then seems to change very rapidly causing one to wonder how it began all at once, when in fact it really didn’t. The growth just wasn’t substantial enough to be noticed.”

The premise of The Greater Good is based on the virtuous circle, a reinforcing loop. It is a broader application of a well-established model. Organizations and individuals coexist within a social system. Organizational and individual values and overall wellbeing reinforce each other and together make up society’s fabric, for better or worse.

It’s too simple and it’s too common sense, yet there are major ramifications for individuals and organizations, and for society. It’s good business for an organization to maximize their employees’ engagement levels, and to be actively involved in improving the health of the social system upon which the organization’s future depends. If you really think about it, this has got to be among the most essential sustainability strategies that truly matter.

A Little Social Science Fiction

What-if possibilities and a little radical thinking…needs to be followed with hard action!

From Kids Bully, Big Kids Harass: Too many young people suffer irreversible long-term harm, some are even driven to suicide by pressures they can’t handle. Key triggers: education demands, bullying, growing up in a vacuum. Too many adults are in pain too, suffering from workplace pressures, harassment–a.k.a. big kid bullying, isolation, lack of purpose. Same basic pressures.

     Stress, anxiety, formally diagnosed mental / emotional illnesses, self-harm, suicide are all increasing across all ages. Hypothesis: we’ve forgotten the importance of treating each other like human beings, and as a result we’re killing ourselves and each other far too often. Harsh? Reality usually is.

Sci-Fi is preceded by (1) Searching For Our Mojo and (2) Kids Bully, Big Kids Harass. Macro purpose: explore how we can leverage whole-person development to rebuild society and communities and improve quality of life, standard of living, productivity and global competitiveness. Big enough? Possible reader reactions:

(1) I’m intrigued. (Review the material linked above, continue with the series, add your thoughts)

(2) No way, pipe dream! (Please take time to re-read with an open mind, let it percolate a while)

(3) I don’t have time for this. (If you feel that way, I’m sorry to say you may be part of the problem)

We cannot continue down this path and survive. We’re at risk of social self- destruction well before nukes, holy wars, famine, epidemics or climate change will get us.

We make it tough sometimes, but I have to believe in the future of humanity. We’re collectively sick and tired of this funk we’re in, tired of paying a too-high emotional and physical price. We’re aching for a chance to make a difference. It’s a high-stakes game that we’re dying to get into, together. We just need more aware, informed, committed people. That’s “all”.

Folks have accused me of being progressive, a way-left liberal. I’ve even been called a socialist (gasp!). Some people have a serious angst attack when they see any conjugation of “socialism”, and some are even long-time friends of mine. Those people who think I’m a pinko snowflake tree-hugger will think this is way out of character:

Capitalism is the only economic system capable of sustaining species growth. Social democracy is the only ideology, the only system, capable of sustaining Capitalism with Conscience.

Capitalism and social democracy are not opposing ideologies. Productivity, profit (!) and global competitiveness are wildly important, just not at the expense of humanity or the planet. There is such a thing as capitalism with conscience, making the greater good the priority, replacing the $$$ bottom line. Radial thought: the only way to sustain productivity and profit is by first being mindful of social, emotional and physical well-being. Take care of people issues first. Second, be mindful of the planet that provides the critical physical resources needed to generate wealth. A mainstream traditional egghead has championed this wild notion. See this good starter read:  Harvard’s Michael Porter on shared value.  Teaser:

 “Companies must take the lead in bringing business and society back together…The solution lies in the principle of shared value, which involves creating economic value in a way that also creates value for society by addressing its needs and challenges.”

Human “needs and challenges” start with fulfillment and a safe, sustainable life and world.

The Ultimate Sustainability Strategy

We know the impact on social-emotional wellbeing when people feel a sense of community, have a purpose larger than “me”, and have an island of tribal safety in the midst of the turbulence around them.

Could an employer use its considerable influence to help provide a stabilizing force in the local community? Forgot to mention: that community happens to be the company’s current and future talent pool.  So a forward-thinking company that invests in the social-emotional well being of its host community would realize huge bottom line improvements. Not a hunch, it’s been validated over and over.

What if shared values were embraced throughout the community by all stakeholders? All-community stakeholder alignment would exponentially boost one isolated company’s impact. Conclusion: a broad collaborative effort to impact the greater good would boost our well-being, the social condition, and our economic prosperity.

Maybe capitalism’s Job One isn’t pursuit of economic and competitive advantage and market superiority—all outcomes—but to impact the human condition. Tall order isn’t it? This is more than science fiction. Or is the high potential of human development a wild ‘what-if” fantasy? It’s a high-return real-time effort: focus on people first and business and economic success are assured.

Whole Lotta WIIFM Goin’ On

To draw decision makers and do-ers in there must be buy-in, which means specific needs must be met. Clear and convincing, meaningful and do-able WIIFM drivers (why?) and goals (what?) are essential.


People of all ages perform better in a safe environment where they feel compelled to contribute and comfortable with fully engaging (see Engagement and Mojo—Peas and Carrots). People (all ages!) deserve that kind of environment. Dignity isn’t a privilege, it’s a right.

Physical health is directly and significantly impacted by our social-emotional well being. If we fully understood and measured the correlation, the degree and dollar amount of the impact would earn some serious attention from the right people.

Rampant polarization is paralyzing our ability to get things done—personally, productively, politically. We can learn to mind our manners and conduct civil, productive conversations. All that requires social-emotional skills.

Employer and Community WIIFM for Education…Why Bother? Not My Job!

Education improvement takes external awareness and understanding, support and commitment. Why should employers and the community bother getting involved in education? Isn’t developing kids the parents’ and educators’ job?  (HINT: it has to do with synergy, systems and reinforcing loops)

Critical to-do: build stakeholder awareness and transform it into meaningful, up-close and personal commitment.  I’ve previously written about what forward-thinking employers stand to get in return: a more highly engaged workforce that delivers bottom-line payback in pretty much every area that matters; employee sense of community; a stronger, sustainable culture that is anchored by social consciousness and a feeling of being a part of something that is truly worthwhile; high regard among locals; positive image, impact on branding; employer-of-choice status, enhanced recruiting and retention. Current employees stay, new high-quality applicants stand in line to get in; a well-stocked, continuously replenished talent pool—highly skilled, eager job candidates.

Company support of social-emotional development in schools, and becoming a principles and values-based workplace is a surefire strategy that ensures sustainability. Corporate social responsibility, goodwill / image, recruiting and retention, well-being that leads to higher engagement that delivers greater productivity and profit…this isn’t just the right thing to get behind. It’s damned smart business.

Individuals—Employee, Parent / Family, “Me” WIIFM 

Both young students and adult employees who are well-developed socially and emotionally  perform better and deliver better bottom line results. Academic achievement carries over into a successful career, successful life;

Wellness is lots more than bean sprouts and exercise. Social-emotional health drives physical health. Stress-free environment = live long and prosper. Lots of scientific validation for this!

Social and emotional well-being directly impacts a young person’s likelihood of being well-adjusted overall: less risk of self-harm or mental issues; less likelihood of running into legal problems, of being incarcerated or needing public assistance, greater probability of being a successful, productive, valued contributing member of the community. Kids shut down and withdraw or worse…they may die if the bullying is too much to handle. And it’s an all-age issue: stress, depression, anxiety, suicides are rising across the board.

It should be a no-brainer for parents to buy into the need for change. The well-being and survival of their kids is at stake. Still, we continue the insane cycle of being respectfully saddened and righteously indignant for an acceptable period of time before going back to our usual routine until the next suicide. One is too many, it’s the same for mass killings no matter who or what the killer is, who or what the victims are. Columbine, Newtown and most recently, Las Vegas, the Texas church massacre, VD in Florida happened. “Thoughts and prayers, thoughts and prayers”….again and again we wring our hands over the tragedies. Mental health, gun control, or both? Our indignation eventually eases, our memory fades, we get over the whole thing—we always do. Until next time. One is too many.


We need to broaden our scope, improve the social-emotional learning message, ramp up our delivery capabilities, and beef up post-learning support. Here are a few of the barriers in the way of social-emotional learning, and addressing bullying, harassment and violence.

(ONE) Awareness and prevention programs aren’t taken seriously and they’re not enough. That’s a firsthand observation of my school district, painfully reinforced in Colorado Springs early spring 2016: three high school suicides in one week, immediately following a broad suicide prevention program was completed.

(TWO) Social-emotional learning is not a priority beyond lip service. When it is part of a school’s curriculum it may be tolerated to comply with the curriculum, but still no real commitment.

(THREE) Zero tolerance policies are ineffective if not fully, visibly and consistently enforced. Still, enforcement that includes punitive actions against perps may be counter-productive: bullies bully for a reason, and those deeper reasons are what must be uncovered and addressed.

(FOUR) Violence including physical and verbal abuse and rape are power-based, and a domestic environment of abuse contributes to making childhood bullying normal and acceptable. The root causes of domestic abuse are difficult to reach. Punishment is also power-based and may only further propagate the problem by reinforcing the value of power.

(FIVE) Media confounds the issue with its Dirty Laundry obsession. Murder and other acts of outrageous violence get the most attention and the perps get front-page saturation headline coverage, instant name recognition. Everyone knows an abuser or a killer’s name, what about victims’ names? Kids who feel powerless, unnoticed or inadequate crave any attention…they cry out for help. And what behaviors do they see getting attention? “I am hurting. Maybe if I hurt someone else, someone will notice me.”

(SIX) It doesn’t end with youth in education. They are the by-product of deeper problems: a society that tolerates, allows, accepts bullying behavior. Society is controlled by adults, we must include efforts toward changing adult attitudes and behaviors.

Finally, finding Voice! The increase in allegations of high-profile sexual harassment in the fall of 2017 is a late addition to the list of social maladies from Searching For Our Mojo. It’s not unexpected, it’s nothing new, it fits with the other humanity warts and blemishes identified in Mojo (go look if you need a refresher).

Systems Can Make the World Go ‘Round…or Grind to a Halt

It would behoove us to get a little familiar with systems thinking, then make our efforts systemic. Systemic issues, systemic opportunities. Everything is related, so the right interventions can impact all the issues at once. (see Loops)

Deming and Systems Thinking

Edwards Deming….defined a system as a network of interdependent components that work together to try to accomplish the aim of the system. The aim for any system should be that everybody gains, not one part of the system at the expense of any other. In a business context “everybody” includes shareholders, customers, suppliers, employees, the community and the environment.

(Google “Deming Institute profound knowledge” for the Tolstoy version)

The reinforcing loop below is a system where everything is connected. Some elements are independent on-the-surface yet they impact one another. We must better understand these social-economic interrelationships and the subtle connections if we are to fully leverage our opportunities and resolve issues in a way that is socially sustainable….if we have the resolve and insight to face the issues and seize the opportunities.

The model is attainable and is relevant to all stakeholders. So let’s DO “it”! But what’s the priority order? Is there a correct “priority”? This is one big system where each element impacts the others. Dig into the relationships and feel free to make up your own connections. That’s half the fun.

At first it seems wrong to include bullying and harassment in the same conversation as suicide and mass killings. But the real issue is that we’ve allowed a culture of generally unacceptable treatment of each other to take root, and our indifference perpetuates the New Norm. The issues are all related, and must be addressed systemically, simultaneously. So, HOW? No trick question there, it definitely needs some deep thought. These are absolutely critical, long overdue conversations we must have.

Soon. What do you think?

11-2017 New Model