Transforming an organization into a culture of high employee engagement is challenging enough, but leaders have to face the reality that certain entrenched naysayers may have to leave in order for the effort to be successful.

In my first major management job I learned an important lesson about change. That lesson was that some people have no interest in change, and will do everything in their power to stop it.  I learned that deeply entrenched naysayers need to either genuinely get on board or leave the organization in order to make way for positive changes.

One guy who worked for me, I’ll call him Jack, was a real downer on ideas his teammates had for making things better. He had a tremendously negative impact on his team because every time someone put out an idea he would immediately shoot it down. For some reason Jack set the tone for the team and it was not a pleasant tone. He happened to be physically bigger than the others, more experienced, and more educated.

As leaders we all run across naysayers – people who pretty much have a negative response to everything. But over the years I have learned to sort “challengers” into two categories: Barkers and Biters.

Barkers are people who care about good work and want to make a real contribution to the success of the organization, however they are frustrated when the organization resists making common sense changes.  Barkers are some of your best people who, when they see change that makes sense, often quickly embrace it. They are the people that when you persuade them to join a team to fix a problem make huge contributions and do what it takes to make sure the problem is really fixed – and fixed right.

In the end, barkers are huge supporters of effective employee engagement efforts.  They know that employees will become more engaged when common sense changes are implemented.  So their barking has always been about the absence of common sense. Once their frustration is removed they put their energy into fixing the very problems that have long driven them (and others) crazy.

On the other hand, biters are a different lot. They are like the unsociable dog who is just itching for a fight. Their anger is barely below the surface, however it is anger not frustration. They are mad at the world and it has nothing to do with work.  It has everything to do with their ”stuff.” They have an ax to grind and it is an ax that never seems to get sharpened enough to stop the biting.

I remember coaching my employee, Jack — before I finally faced the reality that he was a biter, not a barker — saying to him, “You are a tidal wave of cold water on good ideas.” When I said that, I was nearing my conclusion that the change we were trying to make couldn’t happen with Jack on the team. Jack needed to go and it was my job to make that so. And I did.

When people resist change, it’s critical we differentiate the barkers from the biters. Barkers become your best change agents, but biters need to be let out.

What are you doing about your biters?

Why is it that some organizations seem to have all the luck? Take Apple for example. No matter what happens they just seem to keep hitting home runs.

Is it genius? Is it luck? Is it hard work?

The answer is “yes” – to every question. Performance improvement is about improving every aspect of the business every day.

In my local mall the Sony store is right across from the Apple store. If you go in on a Saturday there will be 50-100 people or more jammed in the Apple store with a couple of dozen people serving their needs. Across the aisle three or four Sony employees wait on maybe two customers – in the whole store, despite the fact that Sony makes exceptionally cool products, too.

But a long time ago Apple figured out that the biggest challenge of owning a computer is getting it to do what you want it to do.

If you own a PC you have to scramble to find someone who will sit down with you and solve your problem. That usually means you have to take your computer somewhere or pay someone to come to your home to help you. At work there is a whole support team to help people solve their problems.

At Apple there’s a whole crew waiting to help you with your iPhone, your iPad and your Mac. And you’re happy to pay the fee that greases this service engine because the service is great.

Besides, at the Apple store you establish relationships, and those relationships give you a taste of what Apple believes in.

Sony versus Apple. Who’s winning that battle?

In the end, success in business is less about luck and more about the details. It’s about making the little thing work because in the end the little thing is the big thing.

Work is a part of being human. It’s easy to think that we work simply to earn a living. But work is much more. Work is one of the ways we make a difference and help make someone else’s life a little better.

Work provides us with the important opportunity to use our gifts. It’s a place we can shine and be respected and accomplish something that matters. That sense of accomplishment puts joy in our hearts and a kick in our step.

We work because that is what humans have always done. Stories of children from wealthy families who never have to work struggle to find meaning in life and often instead find it in drugs, alcohol, sex, and selfishness.

All of us, especially leaders, easily forget the meaning that work has to others. It’s much easier to understand the meaning it has to us personally. We rather easily know if we find our work satisfying and if it holds meaning.

Sadly, in most workplaces, people are not afforded the latitude and respect humans need and deserve. Too often people are simply seen as tools to get something done. Too often we use old ways of thinking about people to shove them into some narrow little slot that seriously limits their value.

As leaders we have no greater responsibility than to create a place where people can express their gifts – a place where people can make someone else’s life a little bit better.

As a leader it is easy to think that you do this. But unless you are regularly amazed by what your people are doing to make your business successful, than you are not creating those opportunities your people deserve.

If you remember that we work because we want to put our talent to work helping others, then as a leader creating opportunities to make a difference should be your primary focus.

It is easy to take for granted the many things that make our world work. And, it is easy in these bumpy economic times to complain about the world and nation we live in.

Joseph M. Bernard, Jr.

1928 to 2012

Last Monday I was with my father, Joe Bernard, when he died at the age of 84. He was a man of extraordinary generosity. My father ran Bernard’s Garage, the family business, in downtown Milwaukie, Oregon for many years having followed in his father’s footsteps.

But the business was simply a platform for helping others.

My father gave his time, energy, passion and resources to everything he believed in. He served as mayor, chaired Milwaukie Providence Foundation, and served on the boards of the Benedictine Sisters of Mt. Angel, LaSalle Catholic Prep High School – and many, many other organizations over the years. He was president of his national trade association, the Automotive Service Association, and was active in his church and the Republican Party. Through his work as a Scoutmaster and at his business he met and mentored many young men who kept in touch with him over the years.

Dad even ran a friend’s business for a couple of months as the friend recovered from a heart attack. And in his usual style, he refused to accept any pay for helping out. After his retirement he filled in full time running the North Clackamas Chamber of Commerce as they looked for a new director. Again, he refused pay.

If the phone rang and it was Joe Bernard calling, I am sure there were those who knew he was going to ask for money for his favorite charity. He asked without hesitation because he never raised money for an organization he had not supported financially himself.

Why was my father so generous? Why did he give so much back to this world?

The answer is simple: that’s just what he thought was right.

He didn’t think for a second about what he did. He just did what was right because that is what a person should do.

My father’s life is a testimony to generosity in an era with a pervasive “me-first” mindset. As we look at our fumbling economy and how governments around the world are struggling to deal with it, I know what my father would do and did do. Something.

That’s what inspires me to want to help. I can’t just standby and watch. My father never did that.

If we all do a part to give back, there is no challenge too big.

Leaders – and managers for that matter — need to have a heart. If it is your job to guide human beings to be their very best, you need to look at your underlying assumptions about people.

In the age of Mass Production it was easy to see people as simply extensions of the machinery; what we couldn’t automate we hired “hands” to do. Seeing people as a means of getting the work done was a mechanistic way of thinking in a mechanistic era.

One of the consequences of this way of thinking was the birth of unions. Employers who took advantage of their people forced the people to fend for themselves and  protect their rights.

Leading any organization is an awesome responsibility – and I mean HUGE responsibility. Not only do we as leaders have accountability to ensure our complex organization efficiently delivers what customers need, but we have the moral responsibility to create a workplace where humans can thrive – can be fully human.

In the age of Mass Customization – far more than during the hay days of Mass Production – we need our people to operate without fear. How can an employee customize to meet the needs of a demanding customer if that employee is afraid to make choices and decisions?

I have boy/girl 5-year-old twins and they watch a puppet program where the host regularly does “heart checks” when there’s conflict, selfishness or an unforgiving spirit. In the heart check she tries to help the offending puppet assess its motivations. It’s cute but more importantly it helps my kids learn to assess their own motivations when things are not going well.

Here are five questions to test how engaged your heart is with your employees:

  1. What do I really believe about the people who work for me?
  2. What do I want for them and what do they want for themselves?
  3. How can I best serve them in the context of our business?
  4. Do they feel safe in my organization to be fully human?
  5. Do I genuinely appreciate and acknowledge their unique talents?

Over the years it is too easy to get cynical about people. After all, we humans are a messy lot. We are emotional, passionate, quirky and, at times, irrational. But that is all part of being human and all part of what we as leaders have to appreciate.

While it is tempting to try to simplify the reality of humans – which is why a mechanistic view is so appealing – in the end embracing  human nature is far more caring and far better for business.

When did you have your last “heart check” about the employees you manage?



For too long we have believed culture can’t be changed. But that’s because we have misunderstood the mechanisms that shape it.

While many people take credit for this piece of wisdom, management sage Dr. Peter Drucker is the person most commonly thought to have first uttered the phrase, “Culture eats strategy for lunch.”

Its popularity has been earned by its simple clarity and truth.

Until we understand the relationship between culture and strategy, every strategy is at risk. It’s critical to test strategy against culture, but even more critical is the challenge of creating a highly agile culture. According to Wikipedia, “Organizational culture is the collective behavior of people that are part of an organization…formed by the organization values, visions, norms, working language, systems, and symbols, it includes beliefs and habits. It is also the pattern of such collective behaviors and assumptions that are taught to new organizational members as a way of perceiving, and even thinking and feeling.”

A simple but dramatic example of this conflict: an organization with a long history of cut-throat bottom-line competitiveness that attempts to initiative a corporate social responsibility program, will probably see the effort fail. The program is completely at odds with how the business has long operated. Like a virus in the human body, the organizational white cells will gather around the change and kill it.

While understanding the implications of culture on strategy is critical, the elephant in the room for most leaders is how to change culture. I love the acronym for what shapes organizational culture: STAR…

  • Stories – by telling certain tales of what happened in the past (whether the events were positive or negative) the organization reveals  what it considers important
  • Taboos – the spoken or unspoken rules and norms of behavior reveals what is sacred or forbidden
  • Artifacts – the symbols from the past that people point to reveals what is valued or given special meaning
  • Rituals – the long-standing routines and practices reveals what is respected and treasured How does one change culture?

It is not that mysterious. I have seen success over and over again when significant culture change begins with changing the management system.

In Business at the Speed of Now I demonstrate how to create a “now” organization that thrives in today’s Mass Customization driven economy. The NOW Management System shapes the culture by shaping an organization’s stories, taboos, artifacts, and rituals. A shift in the management system is a major change in rituals (especially the Quarterly Target Reviews) and becomes the forum for creating new stories about the culture, altering the taboos and creating new artifacts.

A culture that engages its people and maximizes their authority to improve the customer experience, drive out waste and leverage revenue opportunities will enable every aspect of strategy.

Whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, culture is the key to good competing.


Wouldn’t it be a dream if every employee could add $13,000 to the bottom line of your business each and every year? No need to dream because research shows that’s exactly what happens when an employee shifts from being disengaged to engaged.

Every employee has ideas for taking waste out of their routine work. Some frontline workers see simple things that can be done to improve the customer experience and others have easy-to-implement ideas that can grow revenue.

In Business at the Speed of Now I demonstrate the economics of small ideas. A simple example is that if an employee has an idea, and that idea removes a small amount of waste from a repetitive process, it doesn’t take much of an idea to save $1,000 annually. So, using simple math, if you have 100 employees and each saves $1,000 by implementing one equivalent improvement idea each, your business adds $100,000 to its bottom line.

Now, keeping the same math in mind, if each of your 100 employees implements 10 ideas annually and each saves $1,000 then your business will enjoy $1 million more on the bottom line every year.  This is how the economics of micro ingenuity pays off.

This may seem like a wild dream, but not when you realize that Toyota’s employees on average have been implementing 70 ideas annually for more than 30 years, according to Toyota expert and author Norm Bodek. At the same time General Motors implemented one idea per employee every seven years. Yes, you read that right. And this fact reveals why Toyota has grown at a much faster rate than GM, which was once the most powerful company in the world.

Toyota is a NOW company, General Motors lives in the THEN world.

Micro ingenuity is a powerful reality, and in my experience is the one true sustainable competitive advantage a company can build. But how does Toyota do it?

Next week I’ll share how Toyota focuses employee ideas on the practical reality of their daily work – the work employees can and should control.

Enthusiastically Kathy takes her idea to improve customer response time to her boss, Gabriel. Gabe is a good guy and he’s so glad he found Kathy to fill a vital position in customer service. She’s doing exactly what he had hoped she would do–bring innovative ideas to him, which he hopes will get Gabe’s boss off his back about the poor customer service satisfaction scores of the past six months.

But there’s a problem with Kathy’s idea.

To implement the change Gabe needs the cooperation of production. That requires he take the idea to his boss, who then has to work with the vice president of production. But Gabe’s boss and the VP of production don’t get along.

Dead end.

Kathy’s idea is dead on arrival and is headed straight to the idea pit. Plus, Kathy’s level of engagement is going down due to the mixed messages she is getting about bringing innovative ideas to the department.

This situation illustrates one of the common reasons good ideas die young.

What causes great ideas to be tossed into the idea pit? The top five reasons are:

  1. Poor internal working relationships/organizational politics
  2. Differing or conflicting objectives
  3. Managers who are just too busy to take time
  4. Employees who don’t know how to develop and sell an idea
  5. The absence of data to validate the idea or the problem it solves

A fraction of employees ideas ever get implemented primarily because those ideas have to go up and down the chain of command and across the organization. And unless ideas are presented with data that validate they are big enough and how the economics justify management’s time, they get discarded because of the simple reality that there are bigger fish to fry. That’s why in a LinkedIn poll we conducted 80 percent of managers said that less than 10 percent of employees’ ideas ever get implemented. Sad.

I often ask managers this question: “Is the key thing a manager can do to engage employees is to listen to their ideas and increase the number that get implemented?”

The consensus of the room is always yes.

However, in reality I don’t believe this happens. Management is already the primary bottleneck to the implementation of ideas. There is no way they can find the time to process all of the ideas employees have.

To create a high engagement organization employees must be able to implement their ideas without the direct involvement of management. I know this is provocative, but it is possible. I’ve seen it happen and what a difference it makes!

For employees to be able to take action management has a lot of work to do to enable them. Employees need to understand where the business is going, what they are accountable for, and how they are expected to solve problems.

We’re wasting a lot of creativity and passion with our out-of-date THEN management thinking, as I describe in detail in Business at the Speed of Now. In the end analysis, it won’t take enthusiastic Kathy long to learn Gabe can’t help get her great ideas implemented.

After she sees a few ideas tossed in the idea pit, she’ll stop sharing her ideas. What a waste!

What do you think causes ideas to get tossed in the idea pit?

Since you are reading this you are probably a leader or manager and you take that responsibility seriously. So I believe you will care about the impact that management waste has on our planet.

Our global economy grows when more and more people consume more and more goods. So with the markets of China and India opening up it’s hard not to be optimistic. But can our planet support this kind of consumption?

The opening talk for TED 2012 challenges us to believe that our consuming ways are not sustainable — sustainable from the Earth’s perspective.

It’s a must watch for every leader.

The opening talk for Ted 2012 by Paul Gilding

When we think of planet preservation we think of the air, the water and the land. But we don’t think about the many common forms of waste that occur in our workplaces — and this waste not only costs our business, it wastes the Earth’s resources. Management causes waste through its outdated practices:

  1. Broken processes
  2. Self-serving bosses
  3. Stupid policies
  4. Ridiculous decision-making practices
  5. Unengaging workplaces

These forms of waste results in excessive electricity, paper, time, materials, and human energy. All of this waste negatively impacts our costs, our customers’ experience, our revenue growth, and our planet.

When I wrote Business at the Speed of Now, I had not really considered the impact of organizational waste on the planet. But it IS relevant. Waste is waste.

As leaders we have to do everything we can to eliminate every form of waste.


In the old days being boss was like being king of your own little kingdom. It was your job to make decisions and the people who worked for you were there to do what you said. That was then.

In the old days decisions moved up through the hierarchy and change was slow in coming. Customers lived with the slowness of decisions because they had no choice. That, too, was then.

The Age of Mass Production created more wealth than any other economic system in the history of mankind.

Today customers want what they want and the want it now. And thanks to the Internet we live in a world where they can get what they want now. That has given rise to a new economic era, the Age of Mass Customization. This is now.

The shift from then to now changes all the rules — first in the marketplace, but ultimately in the workplace. Today economic success increasingly depends on market agility, and that market agility means employees at all levels need to make real-time decisions, decisions that determine the customer experience, drive revenue, and determine operating costs.

In the then world, decisions were centralized; in the now world decisions are decentralized. That shift completely redefines the role of management — driving a shift from making decisions to enabling others to make decisions.

For employees to make the “right” decisions, decisions that optimize the balance between the interests of customers and company, they need a rich understanding of the company’s vision, values and goals. It also requires access in the now to facts so they can understand the implications of decisions in business terms.

In our then world, life was simpler as it was clear the boss made the decisions. Today, in a Mass Customization world, the need for real-time decision making adds complexity but it also demands that employees be engaged.