Here is a transcript of my interview with Zane Safrit. To read the original, click here.
David is a leading expert on employee engagement and strength based leadership. David founded and hosts the over 1700 members of the employee engagement community on Ning. He is a management consultant with over 25 years of experience. We talked our common passions: how to create employee engagement, increase it, and sustain it. We talked about its costs and its ROIand how it is the key differentiator for any business, large or small, serving any market.
Where are you and what are you working on?
I am in Winnipeg and working on our new e-book from the Employee Engagement Network. It is comprised of 240 one sentence perspectives on employee engagement that the members of the community shared. It will be out next week.
What has happened over the last 18 months with this community?
It has swelled from just myself wanting to learn more about social media whereas I designed a website to do that and all of a sudden the Ning platform came about and that does everything I need it to do. We now have 1685 people on our community.
In 2010, we are looking to expand and engage more. The secret glue of social networking that I don’t think a lot of people understand is to find meaningful contributions for people to make that aren’t too time consuming. The glue of an online community is to find ways and methods for people to make simple, yet significant contributions. Once you have made a contribution, you get more tied to the community.
It is a big community and I have personally welcomed everyone. You must look at it as though you are hosting a party. Meet and greet!
As a founder and community manager, I give you a great deal of credit to do some of the tougher work…what have you learned over the past 18 months about encouraging conversation, communication and collaboration?
There are many things going on there. It is about connections. I do send out a weekly newsletter and there are just a few things in there. I encourage people to come back, I suggest that they make contributions even once a week, I would like more people to connect with one another and visit other’s websites. I am hoping for authentic connections. Just little things make a difference… the smallest contribution can have the greatest impact.
What are your three tips for other online community managers to grow their community by eight to nine fold in 18 months?
1. Love what you do. I think you have to love what you do. I am passionate about employee engagement. I don’t do it to build the network; I do it because I am interested and love learning from people.
2. Act like a host. If you are willing to set up a network, you must act like a host. Welcome people and try to help people to link and be connected.
3. Keep it interesting. Make it visually appealing and keep it changing. Find things that are meaningful and engage.
What was your reasonable aspiration or hoped for goal in starting the Employee Engagement community?
1. One goal was to understand community and focus. The best way to learn about it was to do it.
2. I have the equivalent of a master’s degree in Employee Engagement by reading and following all of the things that people are offering. I am learning so much from the 1600 people that are there.
Have you achieved it? Have you learned about social media and online community?
Yes! I don’t taut myself as an expert but I do know how to do it. I don’t publically offer my services, but people have certainly approached me and I am happy to assist.
What has been the most surprising challenge in growing this community?
I guess I was a little overwhelmed by the amount of people who have joined the community. The majority of the group is in their 40’s and I am happy to see them involved in social media.
It is not just the young people. It is also about trying to find the time and grow the network. I want to shake up the consulting companies and make this an expansive movement.
I do have some pretty strong thoughts about employee engagement. It goes beyond the happy employee. Happiness is there, but it is not the only component. Organizations have to be economically viable for employees to be valuable. There was a Harvard Business Review snippet just yesterday that said that about 31% of leaders, managers and supervisors are financially illiterate and don’t understand the difference between a profit and loss statement and the balance sheet. Now that is a scary thought.
What did you learn as you overcame all of these numbers? For example, 40-50 people wanting to join your community – what did you learn in managing that process?
If you build it, they will come is not valid. There are lots of things you need to keep doing, authentically to keep that growing and vibrant.
The network teaches me as much as I offer something to it.
I see you as a one man giant portal to the employee engagement movement and community. What has been the biggest trend over the past 18 turbulent months in the arena of employee engagement?
It is a blessing and a curse all at once. Employee engagement has caught more attention all of the time…this is the blessing.
The curse is that there is a lot of fluff out there: the feel good, be happy stuff.
People are just taxed to the max lately and things need to be done by the entire corporation to recognize that the staff is “US”, not them.
Conduct more than bi-annual surveys. Do more. Engage them. Engagement needs to be more than once a year measure. It is a fluctuating thing that needs to be seen and worked on everyday. People need to step up and accept the lack of engagement-make it real and recognizable.
Employees are frequently not asked. Why do you think management tends to distance themselves as time goes on? What creates that trend?
Structurally the capacities are so narrow and so small. There is fear. Managers are afraid of looking at the numbers and how that will reflect on them. The failure for executives to recognize that fact that they are still employees. Even the CEO. It is not US vs THEM. They are in it together.
We are starting to transform organizations into companies. For me it, engagement, is not an added task. Employee engagement is a way of leading now.
What is driving this awakening about employee engagement?
It is fear. There is enough financial data out there to show the benefits of engagement but to be honest I see many organizations engaging in it primarily due to fear. They are worried that they will be left behind or forgotten.
What is needed to sustain Employee Engagement?
Community. Conversations. Caring, not in a soft sense, but it means caring for profit, customers, each other, the strategy, career development, happiness, and connections. These are strong variables that need to be integrated with one another.
Employee Engagement is leadership and management.
What is the potential for Employee Engagement?
The potential is for more different ways or robust powerful ways of working and connecting to our work. If you don’t engage at work, you may not engage outside of work. We need to realize and have celebration, an acknowledgement of contributions and what has been done.
So many people in the workplace are invisible and you are not going to be able to engage people if they are not recognized.
How do employees take ownership of their personal engagement?
If you don’t take ownership, no one else will do it for you. You engage for the benefit of the organization, but you also do it for yourself. That is one thing that I see that is deficient, from the CEO to the brand new hire. It is important to do it for yourself. We must create conditions of safety and respect for one another. We are moving in this direction.
Can you share with us a case study of a company who has created better engagement with their employees?
There are pockets more than companies. Sometimes I am called in by the President or CEO and they want a three hour program. I like to be called in and examine strategy and engage the employees, helping everyone see the benefits. It is not just a quick motivational speech or a happy feeling for a few hours.
What are three characteristics of companies who do promote EE?
The bigger you become, the more challenging it becomes.
I think companies are realizing it is more than being an organization, it is being a community. It is not just relying on command and control.
There is a level of authenticity.
Leaders and managers need to know it is something that will make a difference with them.
I am sure you have measured the ROI of EE. What are some metrics companies can use to see the results in encouraging genuine employee engagement?
I think there is enough data out there, but you can get so locked into your data that you lose the connection with your people and the things that matter. If you have your financial objectives for the year, then Employee Engagement is about achieving that.
You must include people on every level of the organization and keep them involved. It can be just 45 seconds of conversation to get the ball rolling and start the dialog. It blossoms from there. One conversation at a time! Bring things out in to the open – don’t keep anyone invisible.
What is the cost of creating invisible employees?
It is a terrible cost to the individual employee not to be seen or heard. If they are not seen, why would they be engaged? It needs to be authentic gratitude and leveraging your strengths in the service of others.
Yeah, I think Marcus has done a good job. His message is very sound: your strength is what engages you.
What is the Zinger Model for creating engage employees?
It has a few different components and is based upon the last two years of my work in this field.
It begins with what results are you trying to achieve.
Go back to your engagement to see if it is there.
Craft your strategy.
At the core of it is CARE: Connect, being Authentic, Recognition and Engage.
There is a focus on “other” and a focus on “self.”
When did you come up with the model and what are some of the results?
I think it was September. I think I would like it to become open source. I would like to create a simple survey and teaching elements and make it available to the public.
Being an avid reader, what are your three favorite books for the topic of engagement?
I am not if we should be reading just engagement books. I do tend to take sources from very different elements and take them to engagement.
What will be the trend in the Employee Engagement community we discuss in one year from now?
I think the network will be 3-4000 people by then. I am hoping the network will have transformed into a deeper community. Bringing coherence to the field as well as increased academia. I don’t want it to be a fancy buzzword with a short shelf life as a term for motivation in the workplace. I want it perceived as the way of working and leadership.
Three reasons our listeners should join the EE.
1. To make a contribution
2. To make a contribution
3. To make a contribution