Tag archive for "engagement"

by Bill, Management

Discretionary Effort Beats an Inversion Strategy Any Day

No Comments 27 July 2014

iStock_000008353283MediumBusiness news has been rife of late with coverage of U.S.-based corporations (e.g., Medtronic, Walgreen, AbbVie, Pfizer, Aon, Eaton, Omnicon) either attempting or completing an effort to re-flag the business as a non-U.S. entity. By and large, companies are using such “inversion” strategies in an effort to reduce corporate income taxes (e.g., Ireland’s headline rate is only 12.5%) and giving them tax-favorable access to the gobs of cash they have stashed offshore.

As an American businessman, it pisses me off (sorry, Mom) that some (repeat, some) American corporations are willing to partake in, but not pay for the fruits of the freest, fairest and safest nation on earth, AND that the U.S. Congress seems more interested in mindless political dithering than providing common sense solutions. Here are some thoughts for those on both sides of this matter:

While the top U.S. headline corporate tax rate (including the average state rate) is about 40%, normal business deductions coupled with offsets (e.g., accelerated depreciation) reduce the effective rate for many large American businesses to zero (or less). You read that right.

Hence, I’m not sure that a cut in rates per se is all that significant or justified. What does make sense though is to provide a tax holiday that would give corporations the opportunity to repatriate offshore cash on a tax-free or reduced tax basis. Coupled with a requirement that a substantial portion of those funds be deployed over, say a five year period, in R&D, cap X, or new hiring, it would seem a win-win proposition. Private industry could certainly deploy that cash more productively for both selfish and beneficial interests than the government ever could.

Further, as espoused recently on CNBC by Mark Cuban, a reduction in the amount of government-induced bureaucratic hassle would be far better for business (and the American economy) than putting a couple dents in the headline corporate tax rate.

Finally, for businesses that are really interested in maximizing outcomes, tapping into the discretionary effort of their workforce via a more focused, fired up, capably led (read engaged) team presents serious opportunity for competitive advantage. Respected published studies on the bottom line benefits of an engaged workforce, including our own 2012 book on the subject suggest three things:

1. There is a lot of low hanging fruit. The economic loss due to having an American workforce that is about 70% DISengaged amounts to about $500 billion annually, or roughly 3% of the U.S. GDP. Capturing only a third of that discretionary effort that currently goes home each day unspent could mean the difference between an economy that is growing at 3% rather than 2%, which is a big deal.

2. Companies that distinguish themselves as employers of choice consistently outgrow and outearn their competitors by a factor of up to 10x. No tax cut is going to yield that kind of benefit.

3. Perhaps the greatest factor is that, unlike tax incentives which apply to businesses across the board, capturing the discretionary energy that is resident within your workforce creates a true competitive differential, one that your competitors don’t get unless they do the work.

Here are three things you might consider doing:

1. Tell your elected representatives that you expect them to take the necessary action to allow U.S. businesses to repatriate some of their offshore cash, but also to thwart efforts to game the system by reflagging. Further, encourage them to identify (and act on) ways that government can reduce the bureaucracy that stifles innovation and growth. Sooner is better.

2. Take a cue from Mark Cuban, and avoid investing in or doing business with companies whose American pride is overcome by greed. Moreover, tell them you’re doing it.

3. Take an honest look at your own workforce. Is it firing on all cylinders? Is it getting harder to recruit? What things are keeping your people from doing their very best work every day, and what are you doing about it? Are your people sufficiently focused, challenged, and appreciated? Find out, and then take action. It’s well worth doing, and you don’t need an act of congress.


A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement Bill Catlette is an Executive Coach, Advisor to Management, Conference Speaker, and Business & Workplace Author. He helps leaders connect the dots between People, Passion, Performance and Profit, hone their leadership skills, and achieve demonstrably better outcomes. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow them on Twitter.

by Bill, by Richard, Management, Motivation

Sometimes It IS About the Money

No Comments 22 October 2013

Few issues in the domain of business are thornier, more complex, and emotion-packed than that of how much money to pay someone for the work they do. Employee compensation thrusts its tendrils into considerations no less substantial than motivation, employment law, labor unions, production, and the very profitability of the enterprise. Oh, yeah. That.

Corresponding almost exactly with the arc of the Great Recession, we’ve been blinded of late by arguments put forth, like shiny objects, suggesting that the paper stuff that goes in your pocket (cash compensation) isn’t as important as the cornucopia of less extrinsic factors that have entered the deal in the workplace… things like concierge-type services, telecommuting, or participating in Habitat for Humanity builds alongside your co-workers.

Whoa, full flaps, brakes, stop! To be sure, there is considerable attraction and motivational impact in achieving a state of camaraderie, and in job-related perks that are special. Indeed, one of us helped launch FedEx, and for a while when the business was running on fumes, it certainly helped to be working alongside a charismatic CEO with a warrior spirit, to be a participant in reshaping commerce, and for every employee to have the opportunity to ride free on company planes, because the mixture of cold, hard cash was pretty lean.

But at the end of the day, people, nearly all of us are motivated, at some level and to a significant degree, by money. We are. Aren’t you? Sure, it’s not everything, but it’s definitely in the mix. And it’s more in the mix of late for two reasons:

1. Due to a still struggling economy and a slack labor market, real hourly earnings are mired US$0.24 below the December 2008 high.

2. Employee engagement levels are abysmally low, to wit the deal in the workplace tends to be more transactional, where cash is the coin of the realm.

So chewy and multidimensional is the comp issue that an entire professional association, WorldAtWork (formerly known as the American Compensation Association), exists to help employers figure it all out.

Credible studies abound, suggesting that higher compensation won’t necessarily buy you a better performing organization. In chapter 5 of our latest book, Contented Cows STILL Give Better Milk, we illustrate that with some NFL stats showing that many of the highest paid football teams in the US consistently turn in some pretty middling results.

Still, most of us don’t lead entire organizations; we lead individuals. And taken one person at a time, let’s be clear. Sometimes it IS about the money.

It’s sometimes about the money, because people who are struggling to make ends meet, or who believe they can earn substantially more somewhere else, or who feel taken for granted spend more time thinking about their comp-related woes than they do thinking about their work, their customers, and your business. When that happens, they can’t possibly be as engaged as you need them to be.

It’s sometimes about the money because, let’s face it: right or wrong, in our society, money sends a message. A message about a person’s worth. One’s composite view of his or her “deal” at work consists of at least these four factors:

  • Leadership: How do I feel about the person I report to, and the big guns who run the place?
  • Meaningful work: Is what I do valuable and important to others, and do I get frequent reminders of that? Expressed appreciation is a HUGE part of this one.
  • Lifestyle fit: Does this job support and promote the kind of life I want to live? Schedule, benefits, amenities, time demands, etc.
  • Compensation “Worth-its”: Am I satisfied with the money I earn?

You’ll notice that the above list is heavily weighted in favor of intangibles. Only one factor – the last one – is tangible. Most of us would like to maximize the mix of these elements, but they don’t all have to be perfect. If I really like my boss, and the work provides a real sense of meaning to me, I may be willing to work long and inconvenient hours for less than optimal pay. But if I have to work for a jerk doing stuff that doesn’t provide much emotional satisfaction, you’d better be prepared to fork over the big bucks, or I’m outta here. Mentally if not physically.

Think about your competition for talent. Someone else can always outbid you on the tangible; not necessarily on the intangibles.

Here’s our position, and some tips to go along with it:

  • You should never pay anyone more than you can afford, or more than they’ve earned. And not substantially more than the market dictates.
  • Without violating anything in the above bullet point, make your very best offer to attract and retain the best people for your organization, and keep them interested.
  • The question of whether or not you can afford a certain amount for a certain person must be balanced with the question, “Can we afford not to pay that certain amount?” Consider the cost both if the person were to leave, and if they were to power back. If you really are underpaying someone, do you really expect to get their best work?
  • Stay educated on what the market demands. Take advantage of current salary survey data for your industry. Your professional association probably has some. Be sure to filter for geography, profession, education and most of all, demonstrated capability.
  • You can offset the desire for more monetary compensation – to a fairly substantial degree – by paying lots of attention to the intangibles mentioned above. Especially appreciation. Simply saying “thank you” – and meaning it – can go a long, long way. It’s worth real money. But be careful about using these intangibles to justify paying less than you can, and less than you should.
  • Apart from paying “stay bonuses” or step increases, never increase anyone’s base compensation simply for hanging around another year. If given a choice, your compensation dollars would be much better spent as merit-based differentiation than endurance pay.
  • Paying people by the hour is intellectually bankrupt. Find a way to correlate people’s pay with the income or value they provide to the organization.
  • Give everyone as much information and control as possible over how much they earn. Here’s a conversation we love to hear (and have): “You want to make more money? Let me show you how.”

Until next payday, wishing you the best!

by Bill, Management

Discretionary Effort Is a Big, Dot Deal

1 Comment 29 August 2013

Since commencing research on what ultimately became our first book, I have taken a rather steely-eyed approach to the subject of employee relations. A data-driven sort, I suspect that, had that research not produced clear linkage between worker attitudes and corporate performance, I would have found something very different to do for a living. But it did, and thus work at the intersection of people and profit has been the main event around here for better than fifteen years.

With each passing month, set of quarterly earnings reports, and new worker engagement survey, there is further evidence that the nexus between people and profit is a big, dot deal. Witness Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace report which suggests that lost productivity due to worker disengagement now costs U.S. employers in the neighborhood of $500 billion annually, or roughly 3.3% of our $15 trillion national economy.

Let’s just say for grins and giggles that Gallup’s math is somehow off by one-third on the high side (I doubt it), and that only half of the remaining productivity loss could effectively be captured through better management performance. That still leaves better than a 1% potential improvement in GDP on the table, and very much within our grasp. In relative terms, that would cover the entire defense-related portion of the recent eight year budget sequester, with enough left over to buy the U.S. Navy a couple of new Nimitz-class aircraft carriers.

The same principle holds true on an organizational level. For fifteen years we’ve documented, most recently in our 2012 book, Contented Cows STILL Give Better Milk,  the outsized performance of employers of choice relative to their peers and market averages. As a case in point, the average annual total stock return for the twelve newly named “Contented Cow companies” during the period 2002 – 2011 was 10.7%, besting the broader market average by a whopping 9.7% annually, creating a wealth premium of approximately $70 billion annually. Nuff said?

In a recent presentation for University of Memphis School of Business students, I ventured that, over the next 20 years, discretionary effort, that extra morsel of effort that is applied exclusively at the will of the individual, will have greater effect on productivity and profits than the continued exploitation of technology. We’re not anti-technology mind you. In fact we tend to be fairly early adopters, but it seems unlikely that we’ll have another equivalent of the Internet invented every decade. Moreover, given that worker engagement levels are presently at sub-surface (whale poo) levels, let’s just say that there is a lot of low hanging fruit.

Here are a few steps wise managers and organizations are taking to improve worker engagement, and thus unlocking discretionary effort and better business performance:

1. Getting serious about personal development plans – For years (no, decades) most of us have paid lip service to creating and executing personal development plans with our staff. A funny thing happened as we began the climb out from the Great Recession. Workers at all levels began making it known in no uncertain terms that as long as they were going to have to provide their own job security, they expected more and better help in the learning and development department. Indeed, analysis of any legitimate engagement study reveals that learning and self-development are always among the top 3 engagement drivers. Aside from better developmental assignments, workers are looking for help with securing professional accreditation and KSA’s to make them more competitive for their next job (hint). As but one manifestation, overtaxed L&D organizations are turning with greater regularity to external coaches to  partner with high potential employees to help execute those plans. That is particularly the case with newly promoted organizational leaders (at all levels).

2. Reacting quicker to misfits and poor performers – Fans and even casual observers of Major League Baseball were witness to an unusual social drama this summer wherein two dozen or so players suspected of cheating via performance enhancing drugs were left twisting in the breeze for months as the league figured out what to do with them. In the interim, not just the involved players, but their teammates and fans grew highly agitated over the agonizingly slow pace of justice (about as slow as a Yankees vs. Red Sox game).

Taking a lesson from Major League Baseball perhaps, smart leaders recognize that being slow to move on people who either don’t fit or can’t / won’t perform is unkind to the person involved, and it poses a terrible drag on the morale and productivity of those around them. To be sure, really good leaders, the ones we call Leaders of Choice, are neither reckless nor callous about dealing with these matters, but once it is apparent that the situation is untenable, they act.

3. Getting better seed corn – Any good baker will tell you that great cakes start with great ingredients. That is as axiomatic in the workplace as the kitchen. If you want contented (read engaged), high yielding workers, it’s important to start with folks who have sufficient bandwidth, desire, and the capacity to be contented on your team. Over the course of the Great Recession and our climb out from its depths, many of us have not taken time to sharpen our sourcing and selection processes, to wit we could quickly be disadvantaged as hiring resumes (and it is).

Moreover, it has been so long since some of us were in a serious recruiting mode that we have missed much of a generational shift in the workspace. Consider, for example:

  • How mobile-friendly is your recruiting process (end to end)? For that matter, how candidate-friendly is it? (Remember, 138 characters + an RT can make a big difference.)
  • What have you done lately to establish, burnish, and take advantage of your employer brand? Are you regularly doing employee surveys to get feedback from the people who define that brand?
  • Do you have serious Millenial involvement in your recruitment process? Never mind involvement, let them run it.


A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He is co-author of the Contented Cows leadership book series, and Rebooting Leadership. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows


Guest Post, Management

Managing Expectations: Under Promise and Over Deliver

1 Comment 16 August 2013

Guest Post by Robert Cordray
There’s an old expression, “He who expects little is seldom disappointed.” That’s not a great catchphrase for the customer service department, but it does bring up the topic of managing the expectations of customers and others by “under promising and over delivering”. The premise is simple. Don’t make overblown claims that get a person’s hopes up, only to disappoint them when you can’t deliver.

Instead, make attainable promises that set realistic expectations, and then deliver in a way that exceeds those expectations. The Creole term, “lagniappe” effectively captures the delightful surprise that emanates from that extra morsel of effort or product. That’s a pretty sound philosophy for doing business, and here are five reasons why “under promise and over deliver” is such an important strategy.

Consumers value great serviceAccording to a recent survey by American Express, today’s post recession consumers expect great customer service, and they’re willing to pay for it. In fact, 70 percent of consumers are willing to spend an average of 13 percent more for goods and services with companies that provide excellent customer service. If those statistics don’t motivate organizations to do all they can to exceed expectations and provide a great customer experience, what will?

Customers aren’t getting great serviceIn the same survey, sixty percent of American consumers believe that businesses are doing little to improve customer service. This leaves the door wide open for businesses to stand out by going the extra mile to give great service. Small businesses appear to be a bright spot, as 81 percent of respondents feel that small businesses are doing a better job of providing good customer service than large businesses.

Bad customer service is costlyHere’s a sobering statistic. 78 percent of consumers said that poor customer service has caused them to either abandon a transaction or not make a purchase that they had intended to make. But it doesn’t stop there. When consumers have a good customer experience, they tell an average of nine people about it. But when they have a negative experience, they tell twice as many people about it. Add to that the interconnectedness of today’s consumers through various social media platforms, and that could spell big trouble when negative comments go viral.

Customer service delivers strong ROIAs previously mentioned, consumers are willing to spend more with companies that provide superior service. And consistently “over delivering” on customer service will help build the kind of reputation that attracts new consumers and creates the kind of long-term loyalty and advocacy that is essential for driving solid business growth. Companies willing to invest in whatever talent, training, and tools they need in order to elevate the overall customer experience, will in turn experience a very high ROI.

Workers prefer to be associated with ExcellenceOne of the greatest returns on product or service excellence is the attendant boost in morale of the organization’s staff.  People, all of us, want to be associated with a winner, and conversely, we hate being associated with schlock stuff. Employee engagement surveys consistently identify the organization’s reputation for quality as a primary driver of worker engagement.

In order to successfully implement the “under promise and over deliver” strategy, companies need to understand that it has less to do with lowering the bar on the “promise” end, and everything to do with raising the bar on the “deliver” end. After all, no successful business was ever built on a weak promise. Only by offering the best possible promise—a promise that stretches limitations—and then going the extra mile to exceed the consumer’s expectations of that promise, can a company experience the satisfaction and success that comes from, not just meeting, but exceeding its own expectations.


Robert Cordray is a freelance writer interested in helping HR managers and small business owners build strong teams through employee appreciation.


by Bill, Leadership, Management

How You Treat Dinged Up Workers is a Big, Dot Deal

No Comments 28 November 2012

Once again, the sports world is abuzz over the treatment of an injured player who, at least so far, has been kept on the bench despite being cleared to play. The player in this case is Alex Smith, quarterback of the San Francisco 49’ers. Since being cleared to return to play following a concussion injury, Smith has been kept on the bench by 49’ers coach, Jim Harbaugh, in favor of Colin Kaepernick, a rising star who has performed well in game situations. Nevertheless, tensions are rising.

Over the years, the default position of most coaches has been that injured players ought not lose their position due to injury. When medically cleared to return to play, they are returned to the lineup, and then it is up to their level of play to keep them on the field. If a better player emerges, all bets are off.

Good managers, like good coaches take this view also, because they know that one of the chief reasons their team-members suffer corporate “injuries” (i.e., failed projects, missed deadlines, etc.) is because they have extended themselves a bit too far for the team. They get going a little too fast, take on a bit too much (or both), and hit the proverbial wall.

Good leaders realize that the absolute last thing they want to do is to suggest that those who go all out for the team are taking that risk all on their own. They also know that it’s not just a personal decision, because as with the Alex Smith case, everybody else is watching. If people see a teammate treated in an inconsiderate manner after giving it up for the team or the coach, they will think long and hard before putting themselves in that position. They throttle back because they are afraid of what might happen to them.

Not unlike the job of a parent whose kid falls off their bike, our job as leaders is to help our teammates get up, keep them from getting run over, dust them off, and get them back in the game. Hut, hut.


A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He is co-author of the Contented Cows leadership book series, and Rebooting Leadership. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

by Bill, Management

Talent Acquisition is More Than Putting Butts in Seats

No Comments 21 May 2012

For some time I’ve resisted the urge to excoriate a term that has been taking more prominent space in the lexicon of HR professionals. I’ve done so largely on the basis that there didn’t seem to be much harm in the emergence of new-agey alternative vocabulary among knowing professionals. I’ve resisted until now, that is. The term – “talent acquisition.”

Oh, I understand perfectly why some might prefer putting some distance between what they do for a living and the functional title that has long been associated with it… recruiting. Recruiting, after all is about as sexy as dirt, or maybe something that is done with dirt, like farming, or agribusiness as it’s now known. Have you ever noticed that the replacement titles never get shorter?

Like farming and selling, recruiting is hard work, because whereas you can exercise some control over the process, the outcome is much less controllable. In this respect, it matters not whether you are operating from a grimy, dog-eared Rolodex or an iPad. As with farming and selling, recruiting is vital work, and still today is a profession where you do a lot of groundwork, unearth a few leads, experience regular headwinds (e.g., withdrawn reqs, failed drug screens), and at the end of the day are glad if you can hit a bunch of singles, a few doubles, an occasional home run, and bat 300 over the long haul. Yet, one can make a compelling argument that the decision whether or not to put someone on an organization’s payroll is one of the most important decisions that can be made. So, if we want to sex up the title a bit to give ourselves some psychic income (or perhaps a higher pay grade), I’m down with that, but let’s use a little caution.

In fairness, cautious branding doesn’t sound like something that would be advocated by someone who for fourteen years has serially referred to workers, in writing no less, as “contented cows.” Thankfully for us, the cow metaphor is simple and very tight; so much so that on July 3, John Wiley & Sons will release our third book in the Contented Cows leadership series (more on that later). But that doesn’t mean that we haven’t taken some serious guff over it. I will never forget an afternoon spent on Clark Howard’s WSB Radio Show when an otherwise wonderful experience was chilled by a caller who got pretty irate over my “comparing people to animals.”

My concern with the expression, talent acquisition is this: Both words miss the mark. Although talent is important, it is secondary to finding people who, by virtue of pace, preference, temperament, and values happen to fit your particular organization. In the vast majority of cases, there are more available people with the talent to perform a given job than those who “fit” the organization. Marriott International, one of our newly minted Contented Cows, learned long ago that mixing grumpy, self-absorbed employees (no matter how talented) with travel-weary guests is not a combination that yields good business outcomes. In similar fashion, talented or not, most people (repeat, most people) would not be happy, productive, or successful working at your place. So, if we myopically get too hung up on the talent side of the equation, we run a very real risk of overlooking some extremely important factors.

Second, I’m more than a little bothered by the term, “acquisition” when it comes to the employment process. You might be able to borrow talent for a while, but you certainly don’t acquire it. Indeed, acquisition is entirely the wrong term if our aim is to do more than merely complete a transaction. I don’t know about you, but when I ran the organization that was responsible for much of the initial high growth staffing of FedEx, starting a relationship with people who would be today’s couriers and tomorrow’s managers was a hell of a lot more than merely putting butts in seats. No, we were trying to capture hearts, minds, and yes, talents, in large numbers, but still one at a time, because eagles don’t flock. Our aim then, and now is to productively engage with people who want to join our team and do important work.

Our hope is that however you choose to brand your organization’s people functions, you will do so thoughtfully.


A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He is co-author of the Contented Cows leadership book series, the next edition of which will be released in July 2012 by John Wiley & Sons. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

by Bill, Leadership

On Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple and… High Standards

No Comments 06 October 2011

For decades, it has been suggested that three things are emblematic of America – baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie. Though it’s hard to argue with this list, I’ll suggest that it could use some updating.

Thinking back on the things that have impacted my life significantly, one of them indeed involves apples, but it is not apple pie. Rather, it is apple (make that Apple) products.

For better than two decades, nearly every word that I’ve “written”, including three and one-half books, has been created or archived on an Apple computer or device. Ditto for every business plan, tax return, letter, photograph, and email. If we’ve met or come into the same sphere at any time during that period, your contact information, ‘er “stuff” is recorded on one (likely all) of those devices. Many of my executive coaching sessions are conducted via videoconference on Facetime. Every morning, I awaken to a claxon-like sound blaring from an iPhone that, contrary to manufacturer’s recommendations, never gets turned off. During time in the gym and aboard airplanes for thousands of hours, music, other entertainment, and sometimes just peace and quiet has been piped into my body via an Apple product and those iconic white earbuds. Speeches are delivered with the assistance of visual aids created and stored on a MacBook Air. My daily schedule and nearly all electronic voice comm. is similarly enabled.

I bought my father Apple computers to add functionality to his life, and enable me to keep tabs on him from 600 miles away during his later years. When I called to wish him a happy 80th birthday, he proudly informed me that he had given himself a PC (as in WINTEL) computer. When I inquired as to why, he said, “The Mac isn’t enough of a challenge”, a comment that I passed along to Apple founder, Steve Jobs, suggesting that it might be the basis for his firm’s next ad slogan.

Though his products will remain deeply imbedded in my life, like millions of others around the world, I will miss Steve Jobs, a lot. No, I never met him personally, but due to a single leadership characteristic that he had in abundance, my life has been profoundly impacted. That characteristic? High Standards. Apple’s stuff isn’t “insanely great” as Mr. Jobs described it because they have the smartest people on the planet working for them.

No, lots of companies have smart people. Rather, it’s because Steve Jobs had standards that were higher, far higher than others, most particularly when it came to design and execution. Those standards were imposed on the people, ideas, and products that Jobs came into contact with via the company he co-founded. I’m sure the imposing was more welcome some times than others, but it clearly paid off, for Apple customers, employees, and yes, shareholders.

So, while we continue to enjoy the products that he helped introduce, Mr. Jobs may have left us an even bigger gift in the form of his example and an unrelenting insistence on setting a high bar that enabled, indeed compelled people to do something that is entirely too rare… their very best work.


A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He is co-author of the newly released book,Rebooting Leadership. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit theirwebsite, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

by Bill, Leadership, Management, Motivation

Discretionary Effort: Why Wisconsin’s Governor (and Yours) May be Playing a Losing Game

No Comments 27 February 2011

Having already wrung needed and significant concessions from them, the newly elected Governor of Wisconsin has been making a rather poorly disguised effort to nullify the collective bargaining agreements and rights of various groups of state workers, principally teachers. As with nearly every other issue of import these days, the whole world is suddenly watching, including like-minded governors in several other states who are licking their chops at the prospect of following the lead penguin into the drink. Whoa… Full Flaps, Brakes, Stop!

In the interest of full disclosure, I am no fan of labor unions. Indeed, a significant portion of my professional effort over the course of 3 decades has focused on helping organizations obviate unions by maintaining a positive employee relations culture, a culture in which both the individual and the organization can do their best work and gain the most from it.

That said, I respect every worker’s right to make a choice as to whether or not they are willing to enter into a direct, cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship with their management. That choice is most often based on whether or not management has earned the benefit of the doubt. If the answer is yes, workers feel no need to reach out and seek (let alone pay for) the protection of organized labor. Are you with me so far? Alright, hang on.

Demonstrations notwithstanding, I believe there is an even chance that Governor Scott Walker will pull off some kind of flash bang, middle of the night vote and get his way, even if it means reinventing the law right before our eyes. Even if that comes to pass, while winning the hand, he will lose the game. Correction, the people of Wisconsin will lose. How? Because there will still be a need for thousands of teachers, and every one of them will STILL make a quiet daily decision as to whether they want to give their full measure of effort that day, or mail it in. Given the backdrop, which choice do you think they will make?

For the last twelve years we have worked almost entirely within the field of Discretionary Effort, studying, writing, speaking, and teaching leaders about that extra layer of effort that every one of us can give to a situation if, but only if we want to. Eerily consistent with similar work by Towers Watson and Gallup, our own engagement surveys suggest that barely 50% of workers are, by their own admission doing their very best work, and that most of us routinely expend no more than 60 to 70% of our maximum effort in the workspace. In other words, a lot of unspent capacity goes home with us at day’s end.

So, if just half of the 50,000 or so teachers in a state, any state choose to ratchet the ‘ole effort meter back another 10-20%, what is that going to cost to compensate for the lost productivity? Perhaps more importantly, what will it do to the level of educational performance in the state? If you’re getting a mental image of a post office being superimposed over your local school district, you’re getting the picture.

Since the publication of our first book, Contented Cows Give Better Milk in 1998, we have maintained that giving workers (be they on an assembly line at GM, or a school in Racine) benefits they haven’t earned, the market doesn’t require, and you can’t afford is the antithesis of good employee relations, because some day you have to take all that stuff back. As the folks at GM did, and now a lot of teachers and other municipal workers face that same music, the last thing in the world we, through our elected representatives ought to be doing is rubbing their faces in it, just because we can. It’s not good business or good politics, and it’s certainly not good employee relations. Motivated people move faster.

As always, your thoughts and ideas are welcome


A thought leader in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He is co-author of the newly released book,Rebooting Leadership. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their  website, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

by Bill, Leadership, Management

Make Employee “Stay Interviews” a Part of Your Engagement Strategy

2 Comments 17 February 2011

From time to time we are asked by the editors of Workforce Online to respond to reader questions. Recently, we were asked to respond to a question about using “stay interviews” as part of an employee engagement strategy. I thought the answer might be of interest to you.

Dear Workforce:
I’d like to start implementing “Stay Interviews”.  What kinds of questions should we be asking and how do I convince managers that this is important?

As opposed to exit interviews which are triggered by a staff member’s departure and yield nominal benefit, or “no interviews” which is akin to playing Russian roulette, “stay interviews” are conducted for the express purpose of strengthening the bond with your best people, and discovering what causes them to remain with the organization.

They can be one of the lowest cost, highest yielding activities by a management that is striving for greater levels of engagement and productivity. That’s exactly how it should be presented to your management team. (i.e., If we won’t make time to have a 40 minute chat with our best people, how and when will we make time to replace them?)

Our research, and others’ has consistently demonstrated that the top things which create stickiness between the individual and the organization, and the attendant discretionary effort include:

  • Having meaningful work and the freedom to pursue it
  • Working in a positive, challenging, high performance (read, elite) culture
  • Getting lots of opportunities to learn and grow (preparing to leave, if necessary)

Aside from not getting enough of one of the above, the chief cause of hitting the exit ramp is working for an unskilled, immature, or self-absorbed leader.

Conducted by a trained interviewer with position authority, stay interviews should focus on the above factors. Though some organizations find it convenient to conduct them coincident with the regular performance review cycle, we don’t recommend it, as performance reviews often carry too much baggage. Often times stay interviews are conducted on a skip-level basis as a means of adding credibility and objectivity to the process.

It is as important to realize what a stay interview is not as what it is. They are not a negotiating session, or a platform from which to rationalize or defend the status quo. Be plain about this from the start. Rather, the interview is an opportunity to listen (really listen) to the very people your annual report likely credits as being your most valuable asset. The interview should deal with questions like:

  • Why do you stay (with this organization, team, leader)?
  • What do you like best/least about you job?
  • If something has caused you to consider leaving in the last 6 months, what was it? Has it been resolved?
  • What would you like more/less of? What one thing would you like to see changed?
  • What’s your dream job, and are you making satisfactory progress to achieve it?
  • What can I/we do to support that effort?
  • Do you have any similarly talented friends or acquaintances who should be working here alongside you?
  • Is there one person in the organization who has really been helpful to you of late (so we can thank them appropriately)?

Not unlike the financial audits that every company does periodically, a combination of stay interviews with your best people, and engagement surveys of the entire workforce will inexpensively provide the organizational equivalent of color Doppler radar, with measures of actionable intelligence and goodwill. Good luck!


A thought leader in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He is co-author of the newly released book, Rebooting Leadership. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their  website, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

We Need More Like Daniel Hernandez

by Bill, Exemplars, Extra Milers, Leadership

We Need More Like Daniel Hernandez

1 Comment 13 January 2011

Daniel Hernandez

Were I still a corporate recruiter, I would have been on the phone this morning with University of Arizona junior, Daniel Hernandez talking about his future. With both words and deeds, Mr. Hernandez has, since last Saturday’s Tucson massacre, demonstrated many of the essential requirements of being a leader, at any level. Here are four that quickly come to mind:

Courage – Leaders are those we can count on to do the right thing, even when it is difficult, dangerous, or unpopular. Wading unarmed into a free fire zone to administer aid and comfort to one’s teammates certainly qualifies. While thankfully leaders don’t often have to get shot at to prove their mettle, our people do expect to see us personally absorbing some of the risk and punishment that is headed their way.

Decisive – Leaders must have the willingness and ability to act in the face of adversity, uncertainty, and the absence of guidelines. Mr. Hernandez had no clue what lay ahead when he jumped in to assist U.S. Rep., Gabrielle Giffords. It is doubtful that in his young life he had taken courses or read anything that told him to act, but act he did. Especially in today’s risk averse corporate environment, recruiters should screen and probe diligently to ensure that all candidates destined for a management position can demonstrate this quality.

Able to Focus and Communicate – As one who makes a significant portion of his living speaking to large audiences, I can vouch for the fact that efficiently and persuasively articulating a cogent message before a sea of faces (let alone the President of the United States and a world-wide tv audience) can be daunting. Doing it the for the first time on short notice, with short rest, no teleprompter or notes (even on the palm of your hand) is remarkable.

Humility – One of the greatest challenges I find leaders struggling with is the realization that leading is not about “them”, but about others. Given a perfect opportunity to grandstand or take a victory lap, Mr. Hernandez chose instead to deflect hero status to others he deemed more deserving, and focus instead on a powerful message. His behavior stands in stark contrast to a population that at times seems entirely too self-absorbed.

In a nutshell, I don’t know what young Mr. Hernandez wants to do with his life, but I do know this… We could do worse than look for “Hernandez-like” qualities as we go about searching for tomorrow’s leaders.


A thought leader in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He is co-author of the new released book, Rebooting Leadership. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows


Considered thought leaders in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden speak to, train, and coach managers on leadership practices for better business outcomes.

OUR PREMISE: Having a focused, engaged, and capably led workforce is one of the best things any organization can do for its bottom line.


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