Leaders Energize and Engage the Workforce

Great Leadership: We can’t merely employ someone’s hands and tell them to leave their hearts, minds and spirits at home. Workplaces that provide meaning and purpose and are fun, engaging, and energizing will enjoy greater retention, higher productivity and lower turnover.

A. W. “Bill” Dahlberg, the former CEO of Southern Company believes in having fun. At company gatherings, he has impersonated soul singer James Brown….dressed as General George Patton… and arrived decked out as a fortune teller complete with crystal ball.

Employees at PeopleSoft, Inc. remember the day that CEO David Duffield danced the Macarena in front of 500 happy co-workers.

Over at Odetics, Inc., they’re still talking about the time the chief technology officer took over duty on the cafeteria cash register on St. Patrick’s Day…dressed as a leprechaun!

And then there’s John Briggs, director of production at Yahoo! In early 1997, Briggs promised salespeople that he would have the Web directory’s logo tattooed on his posterior when the stock passed $50 a share. To show he had kept his promise, he modeled the new tattoo in front of everyone in the company.

Finally, there’s something called “Bowling with Turkeys.” Hotel tradition calls for employees at the Hyatt Regency (Lexington, Kentucky) to wrap a 12-pound frozen turkey with electrical tape, then roll it 50 feet down the loading dock and try to turn over as many wine bottle “bowling pins” as possible. Winners get a pumpkin pie.


After a professional lifetime identifying what it takes to transform ordinary organizations into extraordinary organizations, I know work can be awfully boring unless someone at the top shakes everything up!

The leaders and organizations I just mentioned know it is important to engage, energize and involve people about their work. You need to lighten up and have some fun every now and then.

It isn’t hard to dress up as a leprechaun, sponsor a company contest, ask people for their ideas and maybe even throw a party. And the payoff for an energized work environment is enormous: improved retention and productivity and reduced turnover.

We can’t merely employ someone’s hands and tell them to leave their hearts, minds and spirits at home. Today’s workers are looking for many things in an employment relationship. They want a meaningful partnership with their workplaces. Workplaces that provide meaning and purpose and are fun, engaging, and energizing will enjoy greater retention, higher productivity and lower turnover.

Remember Abraham Maslow? His well-known hierarchy of needs theory said all people strive for self-actualization, which is the need for innovation and creativity. When people can reach this higher level on the job they gain greater personal fulfillment, which improves job satisfaction. Yes, you still have to pay well, but an organization can create an energized, “higher calling” environment will have higher retention and greater productivity.

Jobs and work environments using high-involvement activities provide people with autonomy, learning opportunities, meaning, purpose, and a way to grow and get ahead, not to mention a host of benefits to the company as well. High-involvement activities include, but are not limited to, the use of self-managing teams, information sharing, shared goal setting, suggestion programs, brainstorming sessions, Kaizen, idea campaigns and motivational meetings.

A survey conducted by Development Dimensions International (DDI), asked 232 organizations around the world including 81 from Hong Kong, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore and Indonesia to answer the question, “Do high-performance practices improve business performance and which practices have the greatest impact?”

The findings from the survey showed significant improvements in all areas.

Most noteworthy were the improvements in the areas of customer service and quality of the products and services. Furthermore, I would be so bold as to estimate that the biggest changes were not measured directly, but more implicitly. Although the survey did not measure the improvement of attitudes, retention rates, and feelings of the workforce, I’m sure they improved as well. As Abraham Maslow indicated in his theory of motivation, the more ability and freedom people have to use their thinking ability the more satisfaction they receive on the job, and the higher they move up the pyramid of needs. People do not respond favorably to overly restrictive work environments. High-involvement activities help people reach higher levels. These places engage and energize their workforce.

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