A core part of being human is the passion to serve. Through my conversations with many people over many years it’s easy to see that for most human beings nothing is more fundamental than the desire to serve others.

People who chose to work in government are no different. Yet, as citizens we are often critical of government workers and the word “bureaucrat” has become a negative word. It stands for red tape and poor service.

Do you see the disconnect though?

People go to work in government to serve citizens, but something gets in the way. Something prevents them from providing the great service they very much want to provide.

My work and my beliefs center around the fact that we all live and work in systems.  A system is a collection of processes that all lead to some sort of outcome. Most systems are the result of a collective set of actions, policies and decisions made over a long period of time. My experience is that over time certain systems unintentionally make it more difficult, not less, to achieve the outcomes we want. Then it becomes easy to lose sight of the outcome we desire.

For those who work in government today the simple reality is they are often not able to do what they want or what citizens need. They do what the system requires of them. This is not different than any private company – the rules people work in are the rules the organization has adopted.

But the reality is that if the system does not allow people to do the right thing to achieve the desired outcomes, then the system needs to be improved or possibly redesigned. Unintended results come from systems that are not designed but are really, in blunt terms, an accident. This unintended system is the result of so many laws and regulations having accumulated over the years and the system has become extremely complex and convoluted. When you hear such things as education reform, those are code words for a systems redesign.

If you work inside an accidental system you understand what I mean.

The solution is to step back and intentionally design the system, design the system with one thing in mind: the outcomes you want. Yes, certain laws and regulations need to exist to protect against undesired outcomes.  However, balance needs to be restored to the system so that employees’ good intentions can be better realized.

When you talk to your friend or neighbor who works for a government agency, you’ll find they are just as passionate about service as you are. They truly do care.

So, redesigning government’s systems makes all the sense in the world.

Leadership is not for the faint of heart. It demands that we part from the pack in order to define a new future by redefining the present.

We are in the midst of the most fundamental economic shift in a century. For 100 years our economy was driven by the realities of Mass Production. The Mass Production way of thinking created more wealth for more people than any system in the history of man. And it permeated EVERY part of our society from the office to the factory to the classroom.

We have certainly been blessed, however our challenges are far greater now and as leaders we face new macro trends.

Just as the Agricultural Age ended around the turn of the previous century and was replaced by Mass Production, we now see that Mass Customization drives our economy enabled by instant access to everything courtesy of the Internet.

Mass Production was THEN; Mass Customization is NOW.

THEN leaders are those who live in the past believing that hierarchy, command and control, functionalization and centralized decision making are still relevant concepts and viable models. NOW leaders understand that the economic shift is so huge that is has flipped pretty much every traditional rule of good management.

Today decisions are made and customer problems can be solved at the speed of light. Leaders that understand this see that their role has shifted from making decisions and solving problems, to enabling others to do this work. They also understand that for their people to make decisions in real-time that are aligned with business goals, employees have to truly understand where the business is going and what part they play in its success.

NOW leaders are a new breed of cat – or perhaps it is better if I say they are the best of the old breed. This is because they are leaders who are smart enough to see and embrace the shift from THEN to NOW, and recognize that the shift redefines the very role they must play.

In our Mass Customization world engaging employees is not merely a good idea, it is a survival requirement. Research shows that high-engagement companies enjoy a 19% increase in operating income, a 13% increase in net income, and 27% increase in earnings per share versus low-engagement companies (Peter Crush, “Employee Engagement ROI: Rules of Engagement”).

As a nation our futile attempt to engage employees, the people who determine our success in a NOW economy, is nothing short of sad. The Gallup Organization shows a slow but steady decline in employee engagement over the past 30 years. In the typical organization, leaders have managed to engage only 25% of employees.

Last year at this time I was finishing up Business at the Speed of Now (which was published in December). I believed The Great Recession was not going to go away easily because it is not what it appears to be. It is not about bad loan practices, it is about a global economic shift of seismic proportions driven by customer’s desire for Mass Customization. And my hope remains that my book will help leaders find the courage to part from the Mass Production pack and cross the chasm into the new world of Mass Customization.

On one hand I see THEN leaders spinning trying to find a way out of their own private recession; we still see business failures and layoffs in the headlines every day. On the other hand, I work with NOW leaders who see their organizations prosper even in this rugged economy.  This prosperity is in no small part because they see the shift and have embraced it as opportunity.

Are you a THEN leader or a NOW leader?

In 1987 when Japan’s hot breath was being felt on the back of the neck of U.S. automakers, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Its intent was to inspire U.S. organizations to do what Japanese companies had been doing since the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers founded the Deming Prize in 1950.  The Deming Prize had inspired Japanese companies to test themselves against a rigorous set of best-practice management standards.

I’ll skip the detailed history lesson and cut to the chase.

“We have a problem Houston!” The problem is that most U.S. organizations suffer from the 7 Deadly Sins of Management, which I elaborate on in detail in Business at the Speed of Now (pages 28-38). The 7 Deadly Sins of Management are:

  1. Lack of clear direction
  2. No line of sight
  3. Unclear accountability
  4. Inconsistent language
  5. Poor issue transparency
  6. Insufficient resources
  7. Inadequate tools/skills

Leadership is about vision, setting tone, inspiring people and working from a deeply held set of values. If you want to read the best blogger I know on leadership read Dan Rockwell’s Leadership Freak.

But the work of management is to prioritize and organize work, set up measures, connect people, eliminate fear, communicate progress, and make sure the right resources are in the right place at the right time.  I am sorry to say the work of management is tedious and detailed work. And because of that a lot of us are guilty of not wanting to do that work. Heh, life is short and who wants to spend it working in the weeds.

However, by avoiding the detailed work of management, the 7 Deadly Sins of Management propagate in our organizations. But the 7 Deadly Sins of Management come at a heavy price because it causes our people  to disengage.

There are several reasons our people can’t engage.  They can’t engage because they don’t understand where the business is going. They can’t engage because they don’t see their part. They can’t engage because they don’t know what they are accountable for and they don’t understand the language of the business. To top it off  our employees suffer from the fear of making problems visible, inadequate resources and tools, and weak training.

It’s a wonder our people even show up to work at all!

Of course I am being dramatic. But what I am saying here is more commonly true than not. Our people don’t engage and can’t engage because management is not doing its complete job.

Management’s job in this Mass Customization world is to enable people to act on every opportunity every time in order to meet customer needs. For that to be possible, we have to eliminate the sins that prevent our people from being engaged.

Let’s sin no more.



Employee engagement is the Holy Grail because when it improves so does the customer experience, productivity and revenue. Also when it moves up, costs, absenteeism, turnover, theft, accidents, and defects go down. In the search to drive up employee engagement there have been many alluring paths to explore. Over the years most organizations have jumped at dozens of programs to boost the degree to which people, their most valuable asset, take initiative and go the extra mile to make improvements.

However, not only has employee engagement NOT improved in the past 25 years, it has actually declined according to research by Gallup. Today in the typical company less than 30 percent of employees do anything more than the minimum required.

Our hunger to engage people creates an unrelenting appetite for anything and everything that might help. We hope the Balanced Scorecard will transform engagement. Maybe if we just emulate the Good to Great companies we can pull it off. Or if we can get past the Five Dysfunctions of a Team or if we all just practice The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People our employees would finally be more fully engaged. Then there is the promise that lean, six sigma, Kaizen, the whole world of process improvement, certainly must be the path to true engagement. Right?

Unfortunately, programs and tools like these do NOT transform employee engagement. Every one of the great books I mentioned and the very powerful world of process improvement all support engaging employees. Yet, supporting employee engagement does not create transformation.

Take lean as an example. You can engage employees in a project to take the waste out of a given process. But projects of this nature are almost always special sanctuaries where the over-riding norms of the organization are temporarily set aside. What that means is the improvement effort is a special event during which employees actually have a voice and are highly engaged.

For these reasons, there is no doubt that lean is a good thing. But the problem is we hope that if we just keep repeating these projects we will transform the underlying behaviors, expectations and routines of the organization in such a way that results in a highly engaged workforce. It’s like remodeling a 1,200 square foot track home one room at a time and hoping when you are done you have a 8,000 square foot mansion.

Repeating a good practice, no matter how much we hope it does, can’t transform an organization. As Einstein put it, “In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.”

In reality, employee engagement is driven by the underlying system of management, the logic that organizes and runs the business. That logic is often unseen and unconscious, and it is that logic that creates organizational culture and behaviors.

Learn about our exciting results by reading Business at the Speed of Now.

If one day a truck showed up at your business full of valuable materials given to you by an anonymous donor – and it was exactly the stuff you needed to take the company to the next level – you would be elated. A gift from heaven, you might think.

Ironically, a truck full of valuable materials actually has been parked out back waiting to be discovered for a long, long time. This truck contains the single greatest untapped asset available to you and your business.

That truck is filled with your employees’ ideas, their concerns, thoughts, passions and values. It’s locked up and no one has looked inside for a long, long time.

I used to hear it said all the time, “our people are our most valuable asset.” It’s funny how rarely that is heard these days. After all the botched efforts to engage our people we have pretty much determined it is either impossible to do or it is pure naive idealism.  And so our human gifts go largely untapped, underutilized, and – I hate to say it – unappreciated.

With this said, I want to explain why this situation exists and why it matters.

Most organizations have a huge amount of waste. It ranges from as low of 15 percent of operating costs to as high as 50 percent. It’s all those things that happen every day that add no value, yet, for some reason, we do them anyway. And, someone somewhere in your organization knows just what to do to get rid of that waste. But they don’t do a thing about it.  Why is that?

A truck full of passion

It starts with the fact that Gallup tells us 67 percent of our employees aren’t engaged. They show up and do what they are told, nothing more and often less. They know where the waste is, and they hate it because it squanders their time and robs them of the pride and satisfaction in a job well done. They don’t engage because they can’t; the way the business is managed does not allow them to make the change that eliminates the dreaded waste.

As leaders of organizations the vast majority of us truly believe in our people – in our hearts. But in our heads it doesn’t work as advertised. People seem to be so complex and a lot of the time their thinking seems half-baked and their actions nonsensical. We see living proof that the promise of employees seems to fall far short of our heartfelt expectations.

Employees disappoint us NOT because they lack the talent, passion and innovation we all think they have.  The reality is the way we run our businesses actually prevents the fulfillment of the great promise of human innovation. What’s broken is not the people, it’s our management model and its inability to engage employees.


People thrive in a system designed to give them the data they need to make smart decisions.  People thrive in a system where they understand the organization’s direction so they can take action that supports that direction.   People thrive when the dominant motive is to do what is right, not to do what is safe. People thrive when they don’t walk in fear.


Open up that truck out back and take a look inside. The management model needed to release the passion and innovation of your people is waiting there for you.



For so long we have worshipped at the feet of the BIG idea. Like a shiny penny, it draws our attention away from other things. In the age of Mass Customization—when customers want what they want it’s the ability to do the little things that makes the difference.

The same is true inside our organizations. Take out your calculator for a second and run a couple of numbers. If you have 100 employees, and today each implements 10 ideas a year that save $2.00 a day. So, $20 worth of improvements (or so it seems), how much does that save your business?

The sad part is most businesses are lucky to get 10 ideas implemented per employee. Run one more number for me. Multiply the number you had a second ago—the savings on those $2 ideas—multiple it by 10. If you had a system of management capable of implementing 100 $2 ideas per employee, how much would you save?

The new BIG idea is the small idea.

How to Get Rid of Fear as the Dominant Management Force?

The following article was written by John Bernard, Chairman and CEO of Mass Ingenuity. John is writing a book called Managing in the NOW that focuses on how to create a competitive advantage during the next business revolution. The Social Ecosystem is a critical part of making things happen, both NOW and in the future. That’s why we are all working closely with John Moore as he guides the evolving Social Ecosystem. I’ve worked with John for 8 years and he has a lot to say about management, leadership and the NOW System of Management. Here’s what John recently said about fear. We’d love to hear your thoughts too!

One of the nasty little realities of organizational life is that fear plays a predominant if not dominant role in controlling behavior. While it is tempting to say that fear is the natural order of things organizational, the reality is we pay a huge price by using it in terms of creativity and agility. Fear freezes our people’s creativity and engagement.

Deeply seated in our beliefs about the need for fear is a belief about the nature of human beings, a set of beliefs that are politically incorrect to mention. But if we are going to tackle fear, we need to get at why we use it, how we use it and what options do we have if we choose to move away from it.

The use of fear as the dominant force for guiding behavior is based on this belief: if our employees don’t fear job loss or some form of punishment, they will not do what we expect of them.

In more descriptive detail it looks like this:

  • If we don’t punish people for being late they will be late
  • If we don’t monitor their break time they will take advantage of us
  • If we let them take personal phone calls they will talk on the phone all day
  • If we let them surf the web they’ll spend the day on Facebook
  • If we don’t monitor their work they’ll do sloppy work
  • If we don’t stay on top of them they won’t get much done
  • If we let them talk to co-workers they’ll socialize all day long

To summarize, if we really believe fear is necessary to have a productive workforce, than we must believe that human beings are basically lazy, irresponsible creatures. Human nature is such that we can’t treat our employees like responsible adults, because they act like children.

You are probably bristling at this description and wanting to assure me that you are more enlightened than this. And the reality is you probably are.

I am not making this point as strongly as I am to try and put leaders down, I am saying it so painfully plainly because I think we need to reexamine how we lead and manage people.

Fear means we believe the people who work for us are not responsible adults, and yet evidence to the contrary is everywhere you look. I have met machinists who are scoutmasters, meter readers who are elders of their churches, pressmen who serve as county commissioners and letter carriers who are talented and prolific poets.

I am not saying there are not lazy people, because they are—but they represent a very small minority of our workforce. But the average every day worker in our organizations is anything but lazy. Follow them home and learn about their lives and you’ll find they’re great parents, reliable and generous neighbors, creative problem solvers and productive citizens.

If all this is true, then why do we use fear to drive behavior in our organizations? And why do even some of the best organizations still have a lot of fear in them?

Fear is a natural state in a world of hierarchy, in part because the people over us in our organization have one big, frightening stick: they can fire us and throw our lives into economic turmoil. So one driver of fear is our dependence upon our organizations for a paycheck that results in things we need: food, clothing, shelter, education, etc. This fear will always be there to some degree or another because we all worry about making ends meet.

But the other source of fear, the source we can address, is the fear created by how we run our organizations. Fear is driven by doubt. Doubt causes us to hesitate. When I don’t understand how things work I am at constant risk of stepping on an unsuspected landmine. That being the case, I keep my head down and don’t question things that don’t seem to make sense and I certainly would not make creative suggestions. I just do my job.

Fear based in doubt and confusion can be eliminated—or at the very least significantly reduced. And to be competitive, it’s essential we do everything we can to drive it out.

To eliminate fear, I suggest you make the following things VERY clear to everyone who works for you:

  1. Where the organization is going (it’s vision, goals, strategies)
  2. What you are counting on them to do (count means, measures that are clear)
  3. How to effectively solve problems they see (pick a common problem solving method and teach it to everyone)

We can never fully eliminate fear because it is part of the human condition, but we can defrost a huge portion of the fear freezer. That’s one of management’s most important jobs.

We pay a heavy price in terms of creativity and agility with fear, but we don’t have to if we remove the core doubts our people have about the organization and their role in it.

It may strike you as odd that the one resource we all talk about as being our most valued is the one we seem least able to use effectively–our people. Long called the most valuable asset, our workforce remains shockingly disengaged, according to research by The Gallup Organization. Why when asked do 69 percent of workers in this country categorize themselves as disengaged—which we could easily expand into disinterested and perhaps disheartened?  And of those disenfranchised workers, according to Gallup, what is even more unnerving is 29 percent go further and are actually categorized as “actively disengaged.” That means they cause trouble.

So, let me slow down a minute.

An engaged worker is an employee who takes initiative without being asked to help, initiative that helps advance the organization toward its goals. Sounds like a good thing, right? That’s an understatement! According to Gallup, organizations with high levels of engagement out-earn their competitive peers by as much as 30 percent.

So why are these engaged characters so rare? And, where do we get ‘em?

Is it just human nature for people to go to work and not care about their organization’s success, or is there something else going on? If you believe, as do I, that it IS human nature to want to make a difference, to want to be part of something bigger than we are, to be creative and clever and helpful, then you know blaming the people who work for us is pointing the finger in the wrong direction. Our people come to work excited by the possibilities and slowly but surely they disengage. We all know the optimism that fuels our energy in a new job; we think, “this could be the thing I have been looking for, a job where I can make a difference.”

Why do people disengage? Let me know what you think!

If you would like the full text of this article please drop me a note.

Beware the shiny object. The appeal of the bright new toy is impossible to resist.

Managers have longed searched for that one thing they need to do that will engage their people, transforming the business and creating the ultimate sustainable competitive advantage. We’ve all read the endless stream of books and through them dreamed of a better way. Who hasn’t tried process improvement, scorecards, lean, six sigma, teamwork, personality styles testing, change management and, of course, the power of the new twist on leadership? Well executed, all of these ideas contribute to better performance. With the plethora of information available, our successes in the world of management and leadership should be clear. Right? (more…)

Watch this video!  Excellent point indeed! Face to face relationships with customers, employees, strategic partners etc will always play a vital role. Social media can and does help with “connecting” and to some extend “engaging” with folks. It’s still just a tool in the arsenal, not the end game.

The Oldest Social Network