I had the chance to have a dinner in the dark few weeks ago. We arrived in an old waterhouse transformed into a restaurant, no light could penetrate the room. The principle is to eat a normal meal with “entrée, plat, dessert” without knowing what we are about to eat. All the meal takes place in total darkness. You cannot see your hands in front of your face.

The owner of the restaurant explained that this experience will change the way we look at our food and more precisely its taste. It also gave me a good insight on organizational life. Let me develop my thoughts. In the dark, the only information you have about the food you eat are its smell, consistency and taste. Your eyes are useless. Here are the most stunning revelations I got from this dinner.

Break mental models to develop innovation:

Because of the temporal blindness you start to act weirdly. You become totally aware of what is happening around you. You think that the waiter is next to you when you feel a fresh breeze or when the floor starts to vibrates. But in fact, you have no idea… You make comments on anything you feel. “Oh, there is a plate in front of me and it is warm!”
In organizational life, they are many interactions that seem simple and normal but are you really paying attention to them? We get used to our surroundings, rituals, habits and so on. We call those mental models. The blindness makes us aware of the existence of those mental models which guide us in our daily life.
Blindness allows us to perceive what could be improved in an organization. This permits to innovate and solve issues that are not visible as they are integrated into the mental models we have.

Your first memory influence future reactions when reinforced:

Are you eating lamb or pork? Well, after few exchanges with your neighbors you are not really sure. You are even more confused. Are you having the same meal?

The role of our eyes in our approach to food is phenomenal. Once, we tried carrots for the first time. We registered its taste, consistency, and color and were able to determine if we liked it or not. In the dark, some participants liked carrots when they swore they hated them since they are seven years old. Their eyes were not able to alarm them of the presence of carrots in the dish. What does that mean? The first time we eat something we register all information about it. Then, when we have it again the “souvenir” of the first time comes back to our mind and we taste the carrots that we ate the first time in our life.

Translated to organizational management the first experience impacts the way we perceive future experiences. It is useful to understand this bias when it comes to customers and employees retention. You want the first experience to be the best one and the second one to reinforce it so that even if people taste may change they will keep coming back.

This dinner in the dark opened my eyes to a world that was invisible to me before and I hope that you enjoyed it too.

Employee engagement is the combination of several things. As mentioned in an earlier post engaged employees feel safe, available and have a sense of meaningfulness. The manager’s role is to foster those feelings by behaving in certain ways.

I decided to make a list of behaviors that foster employee engagement as well as behaviors that hinder it. Some points may seem obvious to you which is very good for your employees. You may also discover something new that you would like to implement in your team or organization.

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Some situations can lead to behaviors that belong to the “don’ts” list. No one is perfect and can make mistakes but it is vital for organizations to avoid repetition of such behaviors. It is important to understand what emotions or events triggered those behaviors and to try to prevent them. There are different levels of prevention: organization level, department/team level and individual level. In my opinion, organizations should try to foster employee engagement by encouraging positive behaviors.

Unfortunately, very few efforts are made to emphasize the importance of human emotions and psychology in schools. People are taught how to create a strategy, resolve a case and so on but they are not taught ways to better deal with each other. Organizations suffer from this lack of awareness and they can do much better by considering the emotional and psychological involvement of their employees. People don’t dismiss their emotions when they work, they feel them.
There are various tools out there to evaluate employee engagement. The one I prefer is called Gallup Q12[1] Instrument which was designed to assess employees’ “perception of work characteristics or conditions” (Harter, & all, 2010, p 381).  It is made of 12 questions that assess engagement from engaged, not-engaged to actively disengage.  Each question relates to a particular aspect that managers can improve. This is the reason why I prefer this tool over many others. When analyzing employees engagement results organizations are able to determine which aspects have to be improved. For example, if employees score low on “know what is expected” the organization have to clarify roles and duties.

Each question is a hint and gives managers concrete insight on the action they should take. Here is a table of suggested strategies to improve the aspects covered by each question. It is important to consider those strategies as very generic. Each organization has to adapt the strategy to its culture and resources.

Suggested strategy
0.      “ Overall satisfaction
(accumulation of the following strategies)
1.      Know what is expected
Define roles and duties
2.      Material and equipment
Provide adequate material and equipment to perform  role and duties
3.      Do what I do best
Determine employee capacity and utilize it
4.      Recognition / praise
Develop recognition and praise
5.      Cares about me
Encourage managers to demonstrate caring to employees in the limit of the organization culture
6.      Encourages development
Encourage managers to encourage employees development
7.      Opinion counts
Encourage managers to actively listen to employees
8.      Mission  / purpose
Define organization mission and purpose to all employees
9.      Committed to quality
Encourage managers to foster quality improvement / develop quality standards
10.  Best friend
Encourage positive relationship between employees. / foster social connection
11.  Progress
Encourage managers to talk about employees progress in their work
12.  Learn and grow
Allow employees to learn and grow in their work

This type of assessment can be done yearly or bi-yearly depending on the pace of the organization evolution. This tool is a good reminder of the importance of employees to top managers and helps implement concrete change.

For more information:

Gallup (2013) The relationship between engagement at work And organizational outcomes 2012 Q12® item-level meta-analysis, Gallup, Inc. retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/strategicconsulting/126806/Q12-Meta-Analysis.aspx
Harter, Schmidt, Asplund, Killham, & Agrawal,(2010) Causal Impact of Employee Work Perceptions on the Bottom Line of Organizations. Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Psychological Science

[1] Gallup® and Q12® are trademarks of Gallup, Inc. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

In the article Psychological conditions of personal engagement and disengagement at work (1990) Kahn describes employee engagement as the combination of three conditions: psychological meaningfulness, psychological safety, and psychological availability. This article is the basis of the reflection on employee engagement. It is important to understand those principles in order to continue any discussion about employee engagement.

The psychological meaningfulness relates to employees’ need to feel valued about their work by others and by themselves. The creation of clear goals, with adequate level of challenge juxtaposed with creativity and autonomy help developed a feeling of meaningfulness.

The psychological safety relates to the relationship of the employee with his coworker and superiors. The employee has to feel supported by his coworker and superior in his everyday work. The dynamic of groups, the management style and the organizational norms have to be “predictable, consistent and nonthreatening” (Kahn 1990).

The psychological availability relates to the availability of emotional and psychological energies to perform the work. Furthermore, the feeling of security and confidence “in own abilities and status, self-consciousness and ambivalence about fit with social system”. The outside life also can impact psychological availability. Employee with high psychological availability will not be distracted in their work.

Finally, engaged employee feel safe, available and have a sense of meaningfulness You may still wonder why you should care about Employee engagement? Here are some reasons: 

  • Engaged employees go for the extra mile when needed while non-engaged employees stop working as soon as their time is done.
  • Engaged employees care about their organization and do their best to fulfill their requirements and sometimes surprise you.
  • Engaged people are productive. 
It is important to note that employee engagement is a ideal state that is worth pursuing. All jobs and peoples are not made or design for engagement. The pursuit of an ideal allows to improve current conditions. In this sense Employee Engagement is a good concept. It forces to wonder and reflect on the impact of leadership, employee relationships and emotions on an organization productivity. 

Employee engagement can be measured, this will be the subject of a future post. Until then, have a good week. 

The question of leadership has been studied again and again. The research community tried to determine what aspect of a person makes him a leader. It really depends on what you call a leader. In my opinion, a leader is a person who has goal in mind, an ideal, a perfect state that he wants to achieve. The leader will have the energy to persuade others that his vision is worth it. A leader is like the locomotive of a train that moves forward while building the rails for the Wagons behind him. The rails are the support of the leader’s vision. They represent his ideas through a mission statement, values, culture and so one. The Leader has connection with particular person that will transfer the message to others; they can be called messengers. Those messengers become leader themselves as they convey the leader’s vision. The image bellow illustrates well my idea.

What are the universal characteristics of a good leader?

The Cross-Cultural Leadership Studies: GLOBE showed that a good leader has four basic universally accepted personality aspects: integrity, charisma, team-orientation, and excellence orientation. A bad leader in opposition will lack at least one of those characteristic. A leader could have all personality aspects expect integrity. Followers will know they cannot count on their leader to take fair decisions.
There are as many leaders as they are people on earth. We all are at some extent a leader for someone. The only difference between people is the impact of their leadership on the world around them.
Do you think that the personality aspects describe in the study GLOBE can be trained, learned or are innate.

Is there something within us that make us good leaders or our life experience transformed us to become a leader? I would guess that our leadership is a mix between learned behaviors and innate states.