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By David Harder on January, 9, 2018

The Democratic Solution to Engagement

One of the fundamental reasons so many well-intentioned employee engagement initiatives fail is rooted in how we treat the organizational elite. The majority of learning and development dollars are directed towards executive leadership and high potentials, while everyone else gets little or nothing. Rinse & Repeat. True, measurable and sustainable engagement places equal value, responsibility, and importance on everyone. When a CEO or business owner commits to a fully engaged culture, they become willing to ask everyone to deal with the very sources of the great disengagement in work today.


  • Inadequate Skills or an Unwillingness to Change
  • Inadequate Skills or an Unwillingness to Connect with Others
  • A Disconnection with One’s True Mission, Vision & Purpose


These skill deficits cannot be resolved more leadership development. Clearly, the numbers around these issues are simply not changing. According to Gallup’s most recent global survey, 87% of the world’s workers are, to varying degrees, disengaged. The New York Times published a national survey where 48% of working Americans described themselves as “underemployed.” Take a moment to consider that half of our population is not keeping up with change. In 1970, the great futurist Alvin Toffler predicted that advancing technology would introduce waves upon waves of change, all too the point where most of us would be living in a perpetual state of future shock.


My outlook on our ability to change began to shift in 1990. My company Inspired Work launched a two-day immersive program that leads people to transform their entire relationship towards work. Most of our participants made vast life changes such as launching a new business, launching new careers, or going back to their existing work with a new outlook. Over the years, organizations asked us to embed the philosophy from that first curriculum into customized leadership and executive development programs. But, there was a concern that if we gave employees the original program, the one that leads people to define the lives they want to lead, many would leave.


A few years ago, The University of Southern California reached out for a meeting. They had heard of our leadership programs at other universities and media, apparel, and manufacturing organizations. I remember stepping into a conference room overlooking the school as the chief talent officer walked in with her team.


She opened the meeting with a statement, “We don’t want another leadership program where the executives and deans are sent to a retreat center while everyone else is left behind.”


I responded, “So you want everyone to become a leader?”




“In that case, may I propose that you are actually talking about across-the-board employee engagement.”


“You can do that?”


Here is what we have learned.


Self-engagement can only happen if we give people the skills to engage. Missing even one critical life skill will influence choices that lead to mediocrity in the work that we choose. When we expand disengagement from an individual to a team, everyone is influenced to let go of mediocrity. The two-days they have spent disclosing their truth provides such transparency that team members tend to pull each other out of mediocrity. If we break the chain with a disengaged worker and not intervene, the entire chain of engagement, to varying degrees breaks.


Engagement, as well as culture, must be led by the CEO or business owner.


Engagement, when treated as an expense, will always be expendable.


When one team wakes up, the rest want in.


Is the effort worth it?


Time and time again, we find that category leaders reach that success through culture and talent strategy. But, when an organization commits to building engaged employees they are actually contributing to the entire world. Engaged workers will be more successful and happy. As role models, engaged parents will pass engagement on to their children. The ability to connect with others isn’t simply being able to look a customer in the eye. Connectivity gives us the ability to build new lives, to become active learners, to become more compassionate. When one person in an organization learns how to build a support system, everyone else benefits. When living in one’s unique mission, vision and purpose become the norm, the world becomes a better place.


People do not want to be disengaged.


The very nature of the human spirit is to grow.


Engagement is the highest form of living.


Brought to you by David Harder, President – Inspired Work, Inc.


(C) Copyright, 2018, Inspired Work, Inc. – (All Rights Reserved)


To discuss your workplace or your career with David Harder, schedule fifteen-minutes, Here.