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?


With the access we as customers have today to a plethora of options, we place enormous value on an organization’s ability and willingness to say “yes” to our unique needs. Not only do we want to hear that magic word, but we want to hear it NOW!

Call us spoiled, but we want what we want and we have learned we can increasingly get it thanks to the incredible options we find on the Internet.

During the time I was writing Business at the Speed of Now I had a conversation with some colleagues during which the term “YESability” was coined. I was explaining how critical it is in these highly competitive times that employees have the authority to say yes to opportunities, yes to solving problems, and yes to how best to move the organization closer to its goals.

While I know some people find made-up words annoying, I use YESability because it poses two questions every leader needs to explore: How yes-able are my people? Can they take action when they need to or do they need to seek permission?

If employees have to go to their supervisor or manager to get permission to do anything out of the ordinary, you have a problem. A competitive problem that will directly impact your customers’ experience. Why do I say that? Because seeking permission takes time. And in a real-time NOW economy that extra time is just enough for the customer to give up and move on to a more responsive competitor.

But the concept of YESability goes well beyond the conspicuously important real-time customer opportunity. It impacts the daily opportunities employees see to solve a problem, trim a cost, or improve a process.

It is human nature to improve things. We do it in every aspect of life.

But in traditionally managed organizations decisions happen through the chain of command. That fact of life slows down every decision and dramatically reduces the volume of decisions that can be made.

When only a handful of people have YESability, namely management, only a handful of problems get solved, only a handful of costs get cut, only a handful of ideas get implemented. It’s simple math and customers bear the brunt of this model.

Enabling people to say yes requires that management do its job BEFORE an opportunity knocks. Management needs to shift from making the decisions to enabling the decisions, which fundamentally redefines the work of management.

The job of management in our modern economy is to make sure every employee has the business knowledge, problem solving skills, and authority to say yes to customers — and to be able to say it now — when yes is the right answer (which is most of the time).

Can your employees say yes?



In the world of management, employee engagement is the Holy Grail. Extensive research shows a compelling positive correlation between the level of engagement and customer satisfaction, product quality and profitability. In fact, organizations in the top quartile of employee engagement out earn their competitive peers by 22-28 percent.

In my last blog I wrote about attempts at workforce engagement through exhortation (words, talks, campaigns, encouragement, and rewards). The fatal flaw in that approach is that enthusiasm doesn’t solve underlying problems, and believing that if we just “pump” people up we’ll get sustainable improvement is naive.

A very popular and common approach to engagement is performance management, often the modern-day equivalent of management by objective. It’s underlying assumption is that if management organizes the work, and everyone is accountable for his or her part, the organization will achieve extraordinary results. Underneath this approach is a belief that it is all about individual accountability – and if we write it down and hold people to their piece of the puzzle, the business is bound to succeed. And sometimes they do succeed although it is usually only with small incremental improvements that do not move the needle forward enough.

Performance management isn’t a bad notion, but it has some fundamental flaws. First of all it holds people accountable for things they usually only have some control over. Also, in the absence of relevant concrete measures it often has many “measures” that are based on opinion rather than fact. Second, a performance management goal measured only by a task due date, and does not include a measure for the quality of the completed task because it is viewed as too subjective, is a very weak goal.

Third, if employees are not solving problems using data-driven root cause analysis, no amount of performance management mechanics will improve the customer experience or achieve financial goals.
And the reality is if performance management is used as a hammer, then everyone ends up scrambling to meet their targets even if doing so has an unintended negative consequence to the team or the organization. In the real world things change and sometimes walking away from certain objectives becomes clearly the right thing to do. But changing plans can have a consequence during that dreaded annual performance review.

Performance management can easily lead to an every-man/woman for himself/herself environment. That annual review must go well.

There are exceptions to every rule, but most performance management systems have the hollow ring of an empty metal barrel.

Dr. W. Edwards Deming, one of the most influential management thinkers of the past century, called performance reviews one of the “7 Deadly Sins” of western management. He said that the system people work within and its impact on co-worker and customer interactions determines 90 to 95 percent of performance – not the individual.

Deming and others (me included) believe that performance management does far more to engender individualism, self-protection and fear than it does to serve the need every organization has for innovation.

Learn more by reading Business at the Speed of Now.

It is hard to comprehend that with all the incredible effort to more effectively engage employees over the past 25 years, according to Gallup data, we as leaders have failed miserably. The numbers today are hovering around 30 percent engaged, 50 percent disengaged and 20 percent disengaged. And if anything engagement has slightly declined over the years regardless of all the efforts to creating higher performing organizations.

As a result, it seems easy to assume that these numbers reflect the authentic nature of humans in the workplace, but two facts dispute that assumption.

FACT ONE: There are some organizations that achieve significantly higher levels of engagement, and according to Gallup, and they enjoy statistically greater profitability, higher customer satisfaction and better quality products and services.

FACT TWO: In my experience, by utilizing the NOW Management System as described in Business at the Speed of Now, an organization can significantly improve employee engagement in as few as 18 months.

Among the sincere efforts to engage employees are such powerful methods as lean, Kaizen, and Six Sigma. Sure they can effectively fix broken processes, but they don’t change the way of thinking in a systemic way. Yet, these efforts, treated as programs, rarely survive long term unless by sheer force of will.

Insincere efforts such as communications campaigns and suggestion boxes are truly cosmetic, and are nothing more than hope that if we wish for change hard enough it will happen.

You can lather on makeup to try and improve things – and it may work for a while – but real engagement demands a different system of management. It requires rethinking HOW we run the organization. And, it requires managers do a lot of work reengineering their management process.

A charming children’s book titled “Children Make Terrible Pets” tells the story of a young bear who came upon a small lost boy in the forest and wanted to take him home as a pet. His mother cautioned the bear warning that children do not make good pets.

The whole notion made me laugh because it reminded me about the reality that people by their nature are independent, curious, questioning, passionate, emotional, opinionated and frequently irritable. To conclude the opposite, that human beings are basically rational and logical, defies what we experience in each other and in ourselves. And to believe that it is human nature to sit by quietly and comply with whatever we are told to do is to misunderstand the very nature of being human.

But when we look at the workplace and our underlying management model it is highly dependent upon people doing exactly as they are told – being compliant. Even in this post-Mass Production Age employees are largely still seen as cogs in the great machine of enterprise. The enterprise relies heavily on these complicated, messy and often troublesome humans to mechanically and reliably repeat its processes delivering its goods and services.

The problem is that people are terrible machines. Rather than being able to rely on them to just do as they are told, it is their nature to question, to challenge, and to improve whatever it is they do. This is not to say people are not reliable, the problem is they just don’t enjoy being compliant for compliance’s sake. Machines do a much better job at being compliant because they are designed to only do what they do.

To get people to comply we have to disengage their human nature. We have to use something to keep them focused and doing what we want them to do. Unfortunately, the drug of choice for controlling people is fear. Fear of losing their job, fear of not fitting in, fear of not being good enough, fear of the boss, or even simply the fear of being called out in front of your peers.

Now I know fear is not a polite word and the vast majority of managers would likely deny they use fear to keep their people on the straight and narrow. But in the real world of messy, creative, thinking and feeling human beings, fear is the silent killer of human spirit and thus human innovation.

After all, without fear, people are terrible machines. So, with a little fear, most people out of necessity will begrudgingly leave their humanness at home, come to work, and try their best to simply do what they are told to do.

It’s not an issue we like to talk about, yet fear is the dominant force in play in the vast majority of workplaces. Fear to say what you really think. Fear to make a decision others may disagree with. The fear to challenge management’s assumptions. The fear to try something out of the norm.

Who wants to be embarrassed? Who wants to be criticized? Who wants to suffer the consequences of a less-than-perfect decision? Who wants to be labeled a troublemaker?

Fear paralyzes action, kills innovation, and crushes the human spirit. In the end, fear causes people to keep their heads down and their mouths shut. Fear causes quiet conformance, stealing pride and the opportunity to make a difference.

Fear is the root cause for disengagement, and research by Gallup and others show that more than two-thirds of our workers do only what they are told to do and often less.

Fear has a price tag: $13,000 per employee. Research shows that engaged employees deliver this amount every year — through their actions in improving customer experience, growing revenue and reducing waste — cold, hard cash to the bottom line.

Three conclusions about fear you can take to the bank:

  • Fear is devastatingly expensive
  • Fear is an unintended consequence
  • Fear destroys the passion in work

That said, why do we have fear in the workplace? Why do we choose to use fear?

Fear is the natural consequence of the underlying system of management a leader chooses to run their business. In my book, Business at the Speed of Now, I explore this thoroughly, proving that the only way to rid an organization of fear is to redesign how the business sets goals, measures and evaluates performance, makes decisions, and solves problems. Until a leader puts in a system that makes performance shortfalls a call to action (rather than the play the blame game), and moves innovation to the people who do the work, fear will rule.

No more clear, broad and strategic opportunity exists to boost our economic performance as enterprises, and as a nation, than to tackle the ultimate human performance nemesis, fear.


December 1, 2011- All of us at Mass Ingenuity are excited for Ed and his new direction. After several years of marketing and sales of the NOW Management System, Ed will be moving into new opportunities, greater leadership roles, and continuing with his sales efforts.  Stay tuned as Ed starts to roll out his plans! We know they will be exciting.

Many of you have worked with Ed and know how wonderfully excited he is over our NOW Management System. His excitement and energy have propelled Mass Ingenuity forward and delighted many customers and strategic partners. All of us have benefited from Ed’s vision for how the system has transformed so many organizations.

I am especially excited to see Ed going after new and expanded leadership roles. His ability to build teams and stimulate engagement are much needed. Ed always told me that “achieving growth through an outcomes driven approach to management” is one of his greatest passions. It will be exciting to see Ed apply this type of management and leadership in his new venture.

One question many will have is, “will Ed still be involved with Mass Ingenuity?”  Without question the answer is yes.  Ed and I have talked about this at length and we will always have a strategic relationship.

Expect to see us supporting each other’s businesses as we move forward. If you have questions don’t hesitate to call or email me.

 On behalf of the entire Mass Ingenuity team, “we will miss you Ed!”


Aaron Howard | President & CEO | MASS INGENUITY® 

I rarely talk to anyone who doesn’t believe as I do that America is in decline. I don’t know about you but I not only dislike hearing this, I refuse to accept it.

The evidence is overwhelming. Our economy is very sluggish, and our gross national product gains are microscopic compared with China and India.

But I think it’s time we quit accepting our demise as fact. We need to wake up, look in the mirror, shave off the stubble, hit the treadmill and get back in the game.

While I am not in denial, I think much of our political leadership is in denial. Or, they dare not say a discouraging word for fear of repercussions. So I am not sure which is suffering the steeper decline, our economic leadership or our political leadership.

The cause of our economic slippage is far from obvious to most people. I don’t claim to be the Wizard of Oz, but as a “systems thinker” the curtain is not blocking my view of why we are failing. It seems abundantly obvious.

Over 100 years ago, our nation mastered the age of mass production, implementing the most sophisticated scientific management the world has ever known.  We developed and perfected management, accounting, engineering, production, and marketing sciences. Our factories drove costs down while also driving quality up of the world’s leading goods.  We tuned our system into the world’s most powerful delivery mechanism and created a global economic powerhouse that remains the envy of the world.

But along the way something got lost and one huge opportunity was missed. Seth Godin talks about how our mass-production centric way of doing business used people as mere extensions of machines. Workers were expected to be compliant and merely do the highly repetitive tasks, which no machine could do. So instead of leveraging our much touted Yankee ingenuity, we made matters worse by developing an education system that created a compliant, factory-ready workforce.

That is when the decline began.

We now have some 100 years of management momentum behind us with little-to-no understanding of the real creative power of humanity. The huge missed opportunity was that while we could have been perfecting how to leverage the ingenuity of every human being who is a part of our organizations, instead we perfected the science of mass production rooted in a man-as-machine mind set.

Does this strike you as odd from the land of the free and the home of the brave? It does me.

The truth is we have failed to tap into the vast majority of the creative talent and passion our organizations have to offer. Human beings want to be productive. They want to be creative. They want to make a difference. Yet, I believe, 90 percent of the available ingenuity goes untapped. And, for what its worth, that makes me sad.

Our founding fathers’ dream of liberty somewhere was totally lost – at least when it comes to our worklife.

To recover our leadership in the economic world, we have to redefine management.  It begins there and it ends there. If we do this correctly, we can once again hold our heads high.

Next week: Management Redefined: The Path to Economic Leadership


77 days from now Business at the Speed of Now will be in all fine bookstores and available as an ebook. You can preorder it today on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and

While the logic of Mass Production enabled the affordability of many products, the television gave birth to an exciting new window into the world for the masses. Only if you lived in Berlin or Leipzig in 1936 and knew someone who owned one of the earliest televisions were you able to watch the first televised and infamous Berlin Olympic Games.  Not until the 1950s were Americans no longer reliant on the newspaper’s still photos and the radio’s ability to transmit voice to see their president — television was commonplace. The human desire to peak into the private lives of others — a harbinger of our love of social media – made televisions shows from Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver on to today’s Dancing With the Stars and Survivor.

The affordability of television was made possible by mass production management techniques, perfecting the products and driving down cost and up quality.  Television more than anything, created a platform for common human experience as we all thrilled on Sunday night over The Beatles appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show and trembled together watching the World Trade Center Towers collapse on live television in 2001. Whether as Trekkies, ESPN couch potatoes or reality TV addicts (American’s spend 1/3 of their free time watching television and 67 percent of that is on reality shows), we hunger for something missing in our boring lives and hope to somehow experience it vicariously watching others.

Reality television is life at the speed of now, watching people face the daunting challenges of everything from losing a 200 pounds to trying to get along in a house or on an island with a bunch of strange and often odd people.

The phenomenal adoption rate of social media should surprise no one, when you think a bit about our love for the intimate details of some else’s life!

Today nearly half of Americans are members of some on-line social network and 30 percent of these users access some social tool several times a day.

We are social creatures, and the revolution that is coming, is when these tools become commonplace INSIDE our organizations. Today many executives see social media as rather strange and a dangerous waste of time and energy, but once they begin to see how to harness their power inside the organization, social media will become the power tool of great leaders in the decade ahead.

(to comment on this post, please click on the headline — your comments are welcome!)

We want to welcome Jean Baumann to the Mass Ingenuity Team! Here’s how Jean describes herself:

“I help leaders, teams, and organizations articulate their strategic direction, build leadership capabilities, and implement change initiatives to accelerate business performance.  As an organizational development specialist, I assist others to achieve better results easier and faster by attending to both the people and process sides of managing change and improving organizational effectiveness.  Myspecialty is designing and delivering consulting services within the context of an organization’s mission, vision, and goals to address their complex needs, such as large-scale process improvement initiatives and leadership development programs.

In 1994, I founded a successful consulting firm and worked with organizations across the world after serving for several years as the market strategist at a Fortune 500 corporation for their $300M public sector division.  I have an MBA from Creighton University in Omaha, NE, a Master’s in Applied Behavioral Sciences from the Leadership Institute of Seattle, and certificates in communications, process improvement, and sustainability.

I have lived in the Pacific Northwest since 1988 when I fell in love with its yearlong natural beauty.  I am a ballroom dancer, and enjoy social dancing just as much as competing in a floor-length, bead-speckled gown.”