Friday, January 11, 2013

Workforce Engagement and Motivational Secrets

I'd like to introduce Mark Herbert to my blog. I met Mark through his social media contributions in 2011. Mark shares useful business insights on Twitter and his blog gained from more than 30 years of experience as a human resources executive, author, and management consultant in a variety of organizational settings ranging from entrepreneurial to Fortune 100. Currently, Mark is a Principal for New Paradigms, a management consulting firm in Arizona that helps companies embrace change to engage their employees. As 2013 begins, I thought it would be a great idea to discuss workforce engagement with Mark. His comments may assist you in accomplishing one of your New Year's resolutions: to create a more engaged workforce.

DEBBIE LASKEY: How do you define workforce engagement?
MARK HERBERT: I define workforce engagement as essentially alignment. People are able to see a direct connection between their individual goals and aspirations and those of the organization. There is an environment based on shared values, trust, and mutual respect so that a synergistic environment occurs. People commit rather than comply.

DL: What are the three key elements that a leadership team can do to create and maintain a positive corporate culture?
MH: I think once you have established clear value propositions of what you want the organization to accomplish, the three key elements I stress are congruency, trust, and respect.

Congruency comes from values alignment while trust operates at multiple levels.

Many times, we over-rely on institutional trust or trust that comes from authority or policy. Real trust is more intimate and visceral. When I believe you value me as a person and will keep my interests in mind and be fair and objective, I invest much more.

Respect means I respect your personhood. I value you as a whole person not just the skills and attributes you rent to me. As a result, I provide you with clear expectations, constructive feedback,  and equitable rewards. I am not codependent with you. I treat you like an adult and expect you to act like one.

DL: What are the best ways to motivate employees?
MH: This may sound silly, but you can’t motivate another person on a sustained basis. The key is creating an environment where people motivate themselves. They see alignment with their personal and professional goals and that of the organization. They feel trusted and respected. They feel valued. People tend to file lawsuits and other activities like that because they feel invalidated or disrespected. If you're careful about hiring and selecting people who share your values and you behave in a manner that is consistent with your stated values, you don’t usually run into huge issues.

People seek clarity. They want to know how they are doing and how to build a bridge to their own goals. When you violate their trust boundaries or treat them disrespectfully you get problems. The other is that there is no single best culture, but bringing someone into your culture who doesn’t share the values or tolerating behavior that is inconsistent with your values causes dissension, agitation, and distrust.

DL: If an employee wants to make suggestions but doesn’t believe anyone listens, what do you recommend he/she do (other than change jobs)?
MH: Whenever I give someone feedback, I generally ask for permission or respond to a request. I try to use neutral or objective language. I also ask them what the best way to provide them with information is. Some people are visual, others are thinkers/processors, and people have differing levels of their ability to manage change. I also recognize that trust is earned over time. Covey said, “First seek to understand, and then seek to be understood." We operate on three levels intellectual (I think), emotional (I feel), and visceral (I am).

In many cases when we present suggestions or ideas, we take into account only the intellectual. Studies show that our emotions and visceral reactions outweigh our intellectual responses 85% of the time. Some of it is timing. We present our suggestions at a time and place that an individual or organization is not “ready” to hear it, or in a medium they are not comfortable with. I spent six years in an organization trying to facilitate change. The first 4 and a half I got almost nowhere.

DL: If there is a huge conflict between departments within a business, how do you recommend resolving the conflict?
MH: Sometimes, department heads don’t know or don’t care, but I have found there is a third reason that is much more common: they don’t have the skill set or tools to resolve the issue. My approach is usually to start with creating recognition of the issue and attempting to create an upside for identifying and addressing the root causes - not the presenting issue. I look for common benefits to all parties. I also don’t make any assumptions about the motives behind the behavior unless I have quantified them. I usually ask for the input of the other party first and try to create a mutual understanding and benefit. I also try to build on what we agree on - rather than on what we disagree on. Because there is rarely a single way to address an issue, I try not to get overly invested in my solution. 

In many cases, I find conflicts arise out of fear and uncertainty or lack of information. By starting from an objective place and always striving to maintain a respectful perspective, I am usually able to get at least a willingness to have a dialogue. The most successful conflict resolutions are always win-win rather than win-lose. When I create a clear upside for all parties, there is more buy in. When I recommend change "with people" rather than "to people," employees get a chance to participate in crafting the solution. 

Everyone can agree with this scenario: Implementing a solution that has my fingerprints on it is much more rewarding than a solution that is imposed on me.

Mark's Blog:

Mark on Twitter:

Image Credit: Thanks to Ted Goff for use of his cartoon with this post. Check out Ted's work at


  1. This comment was made by David Shedd:

    Excellent post and interview. Mark's insight into employee engagement is dead on. As a senior executive, I strive to remember much of this advice and insight on a daily basis to ensure that I have an engaged, aligned winning team.

    David Shedd's blog:

  2. This was a very interesting read and extremely informative! Having an "engaged workforce" is a difficult thing to accomplish. I have just started my own business and currently employ fifteen employees. I am trying to teach and motivate them as best I can. With this new business has come A LOT of research to make sure I am doing things as effectively and as accurately as possibly. This post really reminded me of a book I just read by author Bill Sims Jr., “Green Beans and Ice Cream ( The author is well known for designing behavior-based recognition and reward programs for companies such as Coca-Cola, McDonalds, and Disney. I think that he and Mark Herbert are out there promoting the same ideals and practices for the work place! There are not many management books like this out there… The book stresses that direct positive reinforcement with your staff helps to boost morale in the workplace and makes them feel like they’re apart of something meaningful, not just another boring job. Besides showing how/why positive reinforcement is so good, this book also devotes time to discussing other methods of motivation that are not very effective. Motivational means such as employee of the month recognition, employee pizza parties, taking employees out for lunch, etc., are not as effective as they first seem. The problem with many of these traditional motivators is that they either broaden the reward too much and include people who do not deserve it or they unintentionally pit employees against each other and foster resentment. The thing we need the most, is the thing we often receive the least—positive reinforcement and feedback from those around us. This is true on a leadership level, with family, friends and even with your spouse. Hope you will give it a read and thank you for sharing your tips with us!


Thank you for your comment!