Engagement. Commitment. Morale. Satisfaction. Meaning. Happiness.

A lot of terms get kicked around in the human resources field and the so-called “employee engagement” industry to describe the worker attitudes they are trying to attain. Which of these terms is the right objective has lately become a debate.

“The idea of trying to make people happy at work is terrible,” Gallup CEO Jim Clifton told Fast Company last fall. “Measuring workers’ satisfaction or happiness levels is just not enough to retain star performers and build a successful business,” he wrote on his company’s website. Businesses need their employees “engaged,” he argues.

Pick any two of the terms above, and it’s possible to find a consultant who is against one and in favor of the other, although the main debate has centered on “engagement” versus “happiness.” The arguments will continue fruitlessly until there is, first, better agreement on the meanings of the terms and, second, a better appreciation of the bargain employees make with their employers. (read more…)

Sadly, late last month we learned of the sudden death of Ed Gilligan, president of American Express. Gilligan spent his entire business career at American Express and was considered the likely successor to CEO Ken Chenault.

Also last month, David Goldberg, CEO of SurveyMonkey and husband of Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg, died unexpectedly when he fell while exercising on a treadmill in Mexico.

These tragedies are unquestionably and, thankfully, infrequent. Nevertheless, they are a reality and remind us that planning for casualty is a necessity both for families as well as the businesses and organizations we all inhabit.

Planning can take many forms, but within the context of businesses, it is succession planning that should take center stage. Who is next in line for a role? Jack Welch, the former chairman and CEO of General Electric, was a proponent of succession planning, and GE is often looked upon as the standard by which succession planning should be practiced. (read more…)

SmartPulse — our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership — tracks feedback from more than 190,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our e-newsletter.

How do you invest your time and energy in your team members?

  • I spread it around evenly so it’s fair: 38.53%
  • I invest more heavily in low performers: 15.58%
  • I invest more heavily in high performers: 45.89%

Change Your View of Time Allocation. Low performers are being shortchanged. Your high performers might not want so much of your time. After all, they’re pretty self sufficient and your “investment” could be seen as “micromanaging” or a lack of trust. You’d be much better off investing your limited “leadership capital” (your time and energy) where it will yield a higher return in terms of improved performance. When you understand the relationship between your investments and team member results and learn to look at it differently, your allocation of time should shift significantly. (read more…)

What would happen if you trusted your team members enough to give them the freedom to take risks and voice ideas openly?

Some of the ideas you receive will sound crazy. Some will flop. But others will be just what your organization needs to solve an important challenge.

One of the most remarkable examples of what can happen when group members are given autonomy and encouraged to voice their ideas occurred during WWII, as recounted by Stephen Ambrose in his book “Citizen Soldiers.”

A thorny issue

In June of 1944, after American soldiers landed on the beaches of Normandy on D‐Day and moved about 10 miles inland, they approached the Normandy countryside the French refer to as the Bocage. This part of France consisted of plots of land that farmers separated with hedgerows rather than fences. The hedgerows were made of two to three feet of packed soil at their base and topped off with several feet of brush and vines. (read more…)

In the midst of our intense discussion, Dom, a vice president at a financial management firm, told me, “I don’t need great rapport, I just want Karl to show respect by doing what I ask.”

Dom wanted to prepare this smart professional for a more senior role and was very frustrated by repeated failed attempts to help Karl increase his business development abilities. He tried pointing out to Karl where his approach was lacking, giving guidance on better ways to create partnerships and support annual planning with clients. But over time, there was no real improvement. Dom attributed the lack of success to Karl having a real attitude problem. When I asked Dom whether Karl felt comfortable with him, he responded, “What difference does that make?”

The key to unlocking Dom’s challenge lies in unwinding the contention that great rapport with employees is not needed. Having employees comply with directives only takes them so far, and certainly lacks the engagement and developmental factors. (read more…)