Surfacing Employee Engagement 1

Riding high

Years ago I belonged to a very bureaucratic organization that had multiple “business units” performing many of the same tasks on a global level. I was a member of five of these units and made some observations about how each performed. All had the exact same mission and vision statements. All had the exact same set of rules and guidelines. All were equally resourced. Yet, of the five, only one exceeded everyone’s expectation and had the highest level of engagement of any of them.

The USS San Francisco SSN 711 was a 688 class nuclear submarine and I still model it today when I work with organizations. Leadership was a key to preparing the framework for engagement but only as something that allowed engagement to occur. This was not an easy life by any means and the technical bureaucracy could be maddening. Deployments were frequent and often arduous and the unexpected nature of the assignments added to the complexity. What made this boat different form the other four was the steady and consistent encouragement from leadership for all hands to be as engaged as they wanted to be. That engagement led to opportunities and rewards that were both real and meaningful.

For some, NAVY was an acronym for “Never Again Volunteer Yourself”. I felt that sharply on my first two submarines and it showed in the lackluster performance and achievements of the boats and their crews. Don’t get me wrong. Both boats had storied histories and had achieved many things in their earlier years. The thing that seemed to be lacking during my tours on them was the leadership and sense of ownership. I rarely felt inspired to do much more than the minimum in many cases and while there were isolated pockets of excellence, it was not the norm.

To be fair… even on the San Francisco there were some guys on board who only engaged as much as they were required. But a larger share of the crew did more and contributed more than what seemed to have been in place on other similar units. I have kept track of that particular crew for over thirty years and most went on to have amazing careers in both the Navy and the civilian world. We had a large group go on to become commissioned officers and a significant number of us enjoyed full careers. Leadership must lay the foundations for engagement, but it is the people who are in that system that have to find the inner drive and determination to succeed.  This symbiotic relationship was a key driver to our success on the 711 boat.

If organizations really want to capture the benefits of having an engaged workforce, the leaders must be passionate about creating a culture where engagement is valued and rewarded in a meaningful way. Without that passion, mandated engagement is nothing more than mandatory fun that was often the case on many Navy submarines. Mandatory fun was always short lived, mocked by the crew, and rarely ever gained any real results.

Mister Mac

Searching for the Holy Grail: LEASIGCICCISM 3




Spanning the Globe

For over seventeen years, I have been involved with lean initiatives that seem to cover the globe. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a good ride. I wasn’t sure what I would be doing when I left the Navy but the roles I have played in helping the universal search for the Holy Grail have convinced me that too many people are engaged in this search without having a clue why they are doing it.

Many (if not all) of the top companies in the world have sought after ways to implement game changing ways to alter their corporate DNA. They all seem to be seeking a way that will catapult them beyond their competitors. Some will tell you they are doing it for “insert standard vision statement here that reflects corporate harmony with the universe”. I have seen some fairly lofty statements about being a good neighbor to the brotherhood of man (or fellowship of persons in this day and age of special interest groups). But in the end game, it’s the bottom line which ultimately must be enhanced if the truth were to be admitted.

The real victim of this movement has been the alphabet

That poor collection of letters has been beaten, sliced, shredded, pushed around and blended in ways Webster never even imagined. LEASIGCICCISM knows no bounds when it comes to hijacking letters in an endless array of “best practices” that show one system rocks more than the others. “My PDCA will beat your DMAIC every day of the week and 6 times on Sunday”. Sure, but a strong emphasis on FI coupled with AC and AM will drive your KPIs down to the Tier one level which ought to improve your roll up and PS process. Add a lot of VM (or is that VF) and your SMT will be hitting on all cylinders (right after their mandatory VSM meeting where the TL and GL will discuss OEE and FTT for the day).


You want structure? You need look no further than LEASIGCICCISM

Pillars upon foundations surrounded by columns and sturdy roofs provide a sanctuary where this religion can grow and prosper. Elements and principles abound in no particular order to fill the empty spaces. If you get bored with houses, you can entertain yourself with pyramids and circles. No shape has been left languishing when it comes to the implementation of LEASIGCICCISM. Even when you want to combine elements that seem to be at odds with each other, building the right structural representation helps you to defy logical assumptions. After all, they are all just rooms in a giant hotel of creationism.

The real question is, does it work?

There have been some seemingly cataclysmic failures in the past ten years of giants in the movement. Even the mighty Toyota that claims a degree of ownership to the modern version of lean has seen its share of trouble. Other companies have spent millions of dollars on programs (maybe even more) and have not seen the kind of sustained improvements that they sought. Some dip their toes in the magical waters of LEASIGCICCISM and only come away with wet feet. There is a common thread in each failure.


You can almost predict the sequence of events. Leadership is introduced in one way or another to the need for LEASIGCICCISM. It will be a game changer for their company. Others are doing it and seeing spectacular results (say the uninformed and undereducated people who see personal rewards in the journey ahead). With a giant splash and a hundred thousand bright posters, the ship is launched. The CEO is at the helm and everyone (even the radical skeptics) applauds the beginning of the brave new adventure.

Consultants are hired, road maps are created based on the best practices stolen from others who appear to be successful, and people are trained on a massive scale. Meetings are held, every aspect is carefully regulated (even to the point where the stapler now rests in a “box” of lined yellow tape on the CEO’s desk). Nothing has been left to chance and everyone gets brought into the movement.

Then, about six months into the program/initiative/undertaking some young boy or girl in accounting notices that the expected inflow of dollars does not appear. In fact, with all the extra donuts and coffee for the increase in brainstorming meetings, the company seems to be losing money. Productivity is down because of all the line stoppages. Problems are surfaced that reveal we actually have been avoiding making capital investments for years and now the people are empowered to request that we fix them they discover that there is no money to do so. Over at the Board Meeting, investors are worried that all this change will affect their previously solid investments. You can only imagine the phone calls the CEO starts to receive.

Panic and retreat – the LEASIGICCISM Wheel

At first, the company tries its best to put a good face on everything. But soon, budgets are sliced, travel is restricted, donuts are banned and KPI becomes a deadly combination of letters for everyone. Gone is the silly talk about letting the change become anchored in the culture and in its place the specter of failure rises from the ashes of burning posters. Empty chairs appear in boardrooms and meeting rooms all across the company. The name of the program is added to the laundry list of previous programs that have become fodder for second shift supervisors who were gleefully waiting for this to fail too.

The wheel

Are we doomed forever?

Will we never find the grail?

I don’t think we are doomed and I do believe its possible to get closer to the grail. I think in some ways we will continue to fail if we continue to allow ourselves to see implementations as programs rather than actual commitments. A commitment is when you are fully engaged with an honest appraisal of what you are about to engage in. That commitment must be reaffirmed every single day in good times as well as bad. Everyone must be on the same page and aligned to the understanding of what we are doing and why.

Common knowledge seems to indicate that it takes many years for a change to anchor itself. The best I have ever seen is five to seven years. Maybe that’s too optimistic though. I have been married for thirty three years and I know we still have to put a lot into our relationship to keep it on solid ground. Frankly, it’s a lifelong commitment with no assurance of success. But we are aligned and we do have a better than average chance of making it. Our budget does get tested from time to time but that doesn’t mean we stop trying to work through the hard times.

I am glad we keep trying to improve

I hope that companies and organizations will always seek better ways to do what they do, Success means survival not only for the company but for the communities and families that rely on them. I just hope that those same companies can find that the only way to gain from LEASIGCICCISM is to get behind the letters and discover the heart of what they mean. Then, and only then, can real change begin.


Mister Mac