Employee Engagement (Bah! Humbug!)

One of our long-standing traditions at Christmas is watching our favorite Christmas movies.  It begins with “Trains, Planes and Automobiles” on Thanksgiving – the official opening of the Christmas season in the Davis house – and then the parade of classics begins: “White Christmas,” “Christmas in Connecticut,” “ It’s A Wonderful Life,” “The Gathering,” and “Miracle on 34th Street.”  But #1 on my list is when we watch “A Christmas Carol.”  Over the years, we’ve come to enjoy three versions: The 1970 Albert Finney musical adaptation, “Scrooge;” the 1992, “The Muppets Christmas Carol,” and my all-time favorite,  the 1984 George C. Scott “A Christmas Carol.”  Scott captures the essence of Charles Dickens’ protagonist, Ebenezer Scrooge.

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!  Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.  The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thick lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice.  A frosty rime was on his head and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin.  He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.

Sounds like just the kind of guy you’d like to be around – or even worse, work for.  You might be asking yourself what this has to do with (extra)Ordinary Leadership?  As I watched this movie (for the 100th time?) I suddenly saw it through the eyes of the leadership work I’ve been doing and saw so many great illustrations.  The character and actions of a leader matter and either contribute to employee disengagement and disillusionment or create conditions that enable followers to be their best selves in pursuit of individual and collective meaning and significance.  As a leader, you’re either a “pre-Christmas Eve-visit Scrooge” or a “Christmas morning Scrooge.”  What matters is how you see your leadership and – more importantly, how your followers see it.

We have a great example of bad leadership in an early interchange between Scrooge and his clerk, Bob Cratchit:

“You’ll want all day tomorrow, I suppose?” said Scrooge.

“If quite convenient, sir.”

“It’s not convenient,” said Scrooge, “and it’s not fair.  If I was to stop half a crown for it, you’d think yourself ill-used, I’ll be bound?”

The clerk smiled faintly.

“And yet,” said Scrooge, “you don’t think me ill-used when I pay a day’s wages for no work.”

The clerk observed that it was only once a year.

“A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!” said Scrooge, buttoning his greatcoat to the chin.  “But I suppose you must have the whole day.  Be here all the earlier the next morning.”

The clerk promised that he would; and Scrooge walked out with a growl.

If you were Bob Cratchit, would you feel inspired?  Motivated?  Ready to come back after the holidays, enthusiastically committed to your work?  Probably not.  But how many of us have innocently (or purposefully) shown up the same way as Scrooge with the people we lead?  How many of us are more focused on the output of our work than the people who actually do the work? How many of our people view their work as drudgery and their jobs as prison sentences?

In his most recent book (2018), “The Meaning Revolution,” Fred Kofman expands on his 2007 masterpiece, “Conscious Business.”  In both works, he describes the three-dimensional world of business as the “It,” the “We,” and the “I.”

  • The “It” is the impersonal dimension that focuses on the task, the systems and processes, the efficient allocation of resources and accountabilities. It concerns the organization’s ability to have its members work rationally toward its goals.  This is the “outer game” of creating the outputs of your organization.  Scrooge’s life was spent focused wholly in this domain.
  • The “We” is the interpersonal dimension that focuses on the relationships between the individuals, their interactions, the quality of their connections, and the kind of community they create. It concerns the organization’s ability to have its members work collaboratively towards its goals.  This is the “inter-relational game” of building a culture and coordinating action, while generating commitment through building relationships that establishes trust.  Scrooge had no relationships in his life and was blind to what he was missing and what they could mean until he’s visited by three “ghosts” on Christmas Eve.
  • The “I” is the personal dimension that focuses on the individual’s values, beliefs, thoughts, feelings, aspirations, well-being, sense of meaning and happiness. It concerns the organization’s ability to have its members commit enthusiastically to achieving its goals. This is the “inner game” of becoming increasingly self-aware and self-authoring the purpose and story of your life. Scrooge was stuck in the ego-centric stage of life where he thought everything was about him and the pursuit of his own agenda, with no regard for others.

Kofman writes, “I believe that one of the biggest detractors of employee engagement is that leaders see their organizations in only the impersonal dimension.  “It” is all about increasing sales, reducing costs, gaining market share, and growing shareholder value.  In this dimension, the leadership’s chief concern is for efficiency, effectiveness, and efficacy [the ability to produce a desired result or intended result]… A successful It-dimensional leader will establish clear goals, strategies, and roles and provide access to the knowledge and resources people need to get their jobs done… It-dimension results are necessary, but they are not sufficient to engage people because human organizations transcend this dimension.” (pp. 46-47)

Scrooge saw life through an “It” lens.  The human concerns of his clerk and the general welfare of the people around him were not even on his radar until the visitations of the three spirits.  When the ghost of his long-dead partner, Jacob Marley, visits Scrooge, he warns him of a terrible afterlife if he continues to ignore others. Clueless to the warning and still focused on the “It,” Scrooge remarks, “But you were always a good man of business, Jacob.”

 “Business!” cried the ghost, wringing its hands again.  “Mankind was my business.  The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business.  The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

Kofman makes the point that “If an employee feels cared for and respected, and believes that the organization reflects his or her personal values, then engagement and loyalty follow.  And when people feel engaged and loyal, they don’t leave…” (p.50)

The leader’s articulation of a bigger purpose that inspires and motivates people to willingly use their discretionary power – the ability to generate commitment based on a common understanding of the meaning of why we’re doing what we’re doing – is the key to organizational and leadership success.  This can only take place through a relationship established between human beings that inspires trust.

Scrooge is met by three spirits that evening – the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.  His opportunity to look at himself in a mirror that each spirit held up showed him what he was cognitively blind to – what he had missed in his past life as a result of the choices he had made; what opportunities he was currently missing to make significant contributions to the lives and happiness of other as a result of his current choices; and what was likely to happen if he stayed on this course.  He didn’t know what he didn’t know.  By engaging in self-reflection with some powerful coaches, he began to see his life and his work differently.

After a long journey Christmas Eve, Spirit-by-Spirit,  Scrooge wakes up Christmas morning, a transformed man.  He sees his world and the people around him differently.  His aspirations change from “It” to “We.” He shakes off his old life and sets out on another path.  We have a limitless ability to change, with infinite possibilities in front of us.  If we’re willing to look in the mirror, suspend our defensiveness, and embrace new learning, we can become better leaders and our organizations will thank us for that.

Scrooge was better than his word.  He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father.  He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.  Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms.  His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.

 He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.  May that be truly said of us, and all of us!  And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!

Best wishes for a New Year filled with hope and infinite possibilities.

(Note: All quotes from the book, “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, New York, Hodden and Stoughton, 1911.)

© Geoff Davis, 12/28/18


3 thoughts on “Employee Engagement (Bah! Humbug!)

  1. And just in case the reader needs an example of positive leadership, Dickens includes his generous entrepreneur character Fezziwig.

    “Hilli-ho!” cried old Fezziwig, skipping down from the high desk, with wonderful agility. “Clear away, my lads, and let’s have lots of room here! Hilli-ho, Dick! Chirrup, Ebenezer!”

  2. linda.myers525@gmail.com

    We saw “A Christmas Carol” at the McCarter Theatre, Princeton University campus on two occasions. The show was fantastic and very much like a Broadway production. I got more from the story watching it live than I ever did from the movie.

    Amazing article, as usual.

    Best regards, Linda Myers

    Sent from my iPhone


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