The Engagement Is Off!!

September 28th, 2010

The curtains are closed, the black armbands are on and the funeral dirges are playing. It’s a time of great mourning in the Olson empire. Our grandson’s engagement is off….

No, no, he wasn’t planning on getting married—he’s only twelve and, even though his voice has changed, he’s still pre-pubescent for heaven’s sake. And there are no marriageable twelve year old girls available anyway—at least not in our neighbourhood.

It’s not a romantic interest that has gone awry. Much to the chagrin and dismay of his grandfather, it’s with hockey that the engagement has been broken. You see, after a stellar seven year career from tyke to pee wee, the boy has made a decision to hang up his skates. The decision wasn’t easy to make but, after careful thought and consideration, he concluded that hockey was not fun anymore and it was time to move on to other things. In so many words, he said he no longer felt connected with the game, the hockey association or the team to which he was assigned and, in the end, he didn’t want to commit time and energy to something that he no longer enjoyed.

So how does it come to this? What is it that makes work or play less fun; that causes people, regardless of age, to turn their backs on something that they’ve invested in for years and decide that they are no longer willing to commit their emotional, cognitive and physical energy to something? Minor hockey, I think, provides an organizational microcosm within which we can look for answers to these questions.

The process of losing interest and commitment is erosive. The decision to quit something is rarely made in haste. Generally speaking people soldier on, hoping that conditions will change for the better, until they are simply exhausted and feel that the only way they can regain their verve or mojo is to leave and go elsewhere—elsewhere being where conditions enhance rather than deplete their feelings of engagement.

What is engagement? Well, it is often described as the degree to which a person feels an intense personal connection with a team, organization or cause;  one characterized by a display of emotional, cognitive and physical behaviours that create personal and organizational success. The notion has considerable currency for organizational behaviour types like me and has been articulated most famously by the Gallup organization through the development of their twelve factor model. Lack of space precludes a discussion of all twelve factors but, suffice to say, that according to Gallup, each needs to be present in considerable measure if people are going to be highly engaged.

While not all of the Gallup factors are directly applicable to minor hockey and the slow erosion of my grandson’s interest in it, there are some that do make sense when put into a  context. In this missive I’ll deal with learning, growth and, to a lesser extent, the need to be regarded as a person. The next blog entry will continue the hockey theme and elaborate on how friends, relationships and leaders contribute to engagement. Hopefully the portability of the concepts and their applicability to your organization will be apparent.

Learning and growth are values fundamental to most, if not all, minor hockey programs.  They are also included in Gallup’s engagement factors. Essentially, the more opportunity one has to learn and grow the greater the sense of engagement. In minor hockey, great attention is given to these values during the “tim-bit” years. However, the focus on learning and development for all the kids involved begins to wane as the players get older, differences in skill become more apparent and political considerations begin to kick in. While the quality of coaching remains consistent for the elite kids, it is often less so for those who play at lower levels. The ultimate manifestation of this is the recruitment of coaches from outside the association to handle the elite bantam and pee wee teams while the development of the less skilled kids is left to parent volunteers who, while highly committed, often lack the ability, knowledge and resources needed to assess individual developmental needs, do gap analyses and prepare and execute individual developmental plans. Even if they did have the resources to do all of this, as with supervisors and managers in some organizations I’ve worked with, few have the inclination or ability to provide regular, timely and specific feedback to the players as their plans are operationalized. Are there organizational parallels here? I think so.

Player assessment, perhaps unwittingly, also may limit learning and growth. Approaches to player assessment in minor hockey are not dissimilar to those used for performance reviews in many organizations. In both cases they are usually designed to produce a number that satisfies a specific need (compensation in organizations, player rankings in minor hockey), rely on a single rather than multiple measures, have little or questionable construct validity, lack statistical integrity and robustness, fail to take rater bias into account, and provide little, if any, information to managers, supervisors and coaches relative to how individual performance might be enhanced or improved. Through their penchant for reducing everything to a number, those who design and execute these processes demonstrate, amongst other things, a limited understanding of the human need for individuals to be treated and cared for as people—another of the Gallup engagement factors.

How much learning and development actually occurs in minor hockey? One measure is the level to level player movement from year to year. In my grandson’s association approximately 10% of players actually experience real movement from level to level—questionable results to be sure. Perhaps the most serious indictment of learning and development efforts though, at least where my grandson played, is that the roster of this year’s elite pee wee team is exactly the same as that of the elite atom team two years ago. Organizations I’ve studied show similar patterns and these data, I would suggest, are not indicative of a strong, true commitment to learning and development

Challenge and the opportunity to learn, grow and achieve are essential to human motivation and behavioural consequences are inextricably linked to performance. When people, whether adults or kids, perceive that positive consequences for hard work are missing or available to only a few, their performance deteriorates, motivation wanes and engagement diminishes. Ignore this at your peril. Organizational leaders and minor hockey officials alike need to determine the extent to which their approaches to learning and development maximize individual and collective engagement. Managers and supervisors who ignore the importance of this will likely end up with employees who opt for “on the job retirement,” and simply play out the string,  counting the days until they can really retire.

In minor hockey the kids just might quit.

Over the years I’ve conducted scores of employee engagement/satisfaction studies and thousands of individual assessments. If you’d like to have a talk give me a call or drop me a note.

Dr. Tom

PS: For those of you who might attribute the foregoing as simply the maniacal ravings of a cranky old man unhappy about where his grandson was placed, you’re half right. I am a cranky old man—but in the process of becoming one I learned that things in my life that once seemed so critical and took up an inordinate amount of time and energy were actually much less important than they seemed at the time. For all of the attention focused on hockey, very few kids go on to really bigger and better things and parents, once they have some distance from the game and everything associated with it, wonder what they got so excited about. The true measure of a successful hockey program is not that a handful of kids went on to play at a high level but how many young men and women continue to play into their thirties, forties, fifties and even older. If a kid leaves the game but the game doesn’t leave the kid, then it can truly be said that the minor hockey program was a good one.

Finally check out this article about fun (or lack of same) at work!

Size Doesn’t Matter

August 31st, 2010

Here’s a picture for you—seventeen sweaty, liver-spotted old men trundling into a gang shower at 11:00 in the morning—just thinking about it and I’m reaching for the nausea meds! You could use that picture to make your kids behave—“eat your broccoli or I’ll show you the picture of the old men again!” Now that would have totally worked on me!

Well, in truth, twice a week during the winter this less than uplifting scene passes before my eyes  and I am, as matter of fact, often part of the action—the time honored, towel snapping ritual known as the post hockey shower.

Yes boys and girls, even at my advanced age, I still play hockey. “Geezer Hockey,” as my grandson calls it, brings us old guys together to skate, shoot, pass, talk about our various ailments and operations (sort of an organ recital if you like), and lie to each other about how good we once were and how good we would’ve been  if we had only chosen different parents!

My parents—they’re responsible for  my being vertically challenged, having a weak chin and a  waist that expands exponentially with each passing year! If only I had chosen better parents I would have been square jawed, taller, better looking and wired at birth for success—I would have all the natural gifts and talents needed to become a world class athlete, a top rated CEO, an incredible musician, an outstanding scholar, a financial genius or maybe, just maybe, Ed Stelmach! ( I’m only kidding abut that last one!)

But we don’t get to choose our parents. However, I  do know many people who wish it were so– folks who cling to the notion that if they only had better DNA, their genetically determined talent and targeted gifts would have guaranteed fame and riches and the world would be their oyster!

Well sorry folks, it just doesn’t work that way–the bad news is that we really don’t have any natural talents or gifts—they simply do not exist. We are not born with a natural gift or predisposition for a particular job or role.

The good news is that lack of natural talent or a genetic gift matters not at all. At the end of the day, research into greatness tells us that we can make ourselves great. The bad news is that it takes an enormous amount of experience and practice –experience and practice that can be both demanding and painful.

“Hmmmm” might say—“that describes my life perfectly—demanding and painful. Look,  I already work hard, have lots of experience and practice. So why am I not great?”

Well, according to the research, it’s the way we work and how we practice that makes the difference. The best people in any field; athletes, musicians, writers, investors, are those who engage in what is know as “deliberate practice”—practice aimed at achieving beyond current competence and is characterized by high levels of repetition, attention to feedback on results, and consistency—practicing the same amount every day, seven days a week. In the end, more deliberate practice equals better performance and tons of it brings great performance.

“Makes sense for athletes and others” you might say, “but how does this fit with day to day performance at work—mine and those with whom I work? I mean, what’s to practice—I come in and do my job—in fact I do it pretty well—so what’s the point?”

Well, from both operational/tactical and strategic perspectives, there are many elements of business that lend themselves to deliberate practice—think managing performance, negotiation, decision making, problem solving, making presentations, interpreting financial statements—the list is practically endless. Think about what you are already doing and then change the way you come at those things. Instead of working simply to get things done, set a goal to get better at each thing that you do. Anything that you do, from the most basic task to the most complex, is improvable.

So how do you make this happen for you or those with whom you work? Well, as the guy on television says, “That’s worth a talk.” If you’re interested, give me a call or drop me a note.

In the meantime, here are a couple of things to think about—Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, Calgary Flames forward Curtis Glencross was not good enough to play triple A hockey, and look what happened to Tiger when he stopped practicing (or maybe he was simply trying to get really good at something else!).

Speaking of golf, I think you might enjoy this.

Also, if you have a minute, check out my book Don’t Die With your Helmet On at

Have a great day–Dr Tom

Papa’s Got a Brand New Blog

August 11th, 2010

Ah—summertime and, aside from storms and floods of biblical proportions, windstorms that uproot trees, expensive repairs to scow that passes for the Olson pleasure craft,  the living is easy!

Even a bad summer is great I think—summer gives us time to slow down a bit, enjoy the company of good friends, drink the odd glass of wine, burn a steak or two and reflect on the big questions of life like “How does the HST really make things better?”

Summer also gives me pause to reflect on the past year and how to make the best of the year to come. Will I continue to work—of course! Work for me is just too much fun and, as an added bonus, I get paid! (I do have enough money to last the rest of my life—I just have to die next Tuesday). Also, as some of you know, my next book “Don’t Retire/Reinvent”, extols the virtues of repositioning and trying new things. So what new things am I going to do this year—well, aside from developing and delivering some new product s and services, I plan to be more creative in the ways I communicate with my clients, suppliers, contractors and friends. This blog is the first step in that effort. At the end of the day I hope this, along with a couple of other initiatives, will provide information on work, life and  relationships that informs, inspires, motivates and entertains while, at the same time, opens easy to use, effective communication channels that will help us to work together more effectively. This blog is really for those of you who read it—I would really appreciate feedback about what sorts of things will make reading it a valuable experience for you—don’t hesitate to jump in and offer your thoughts and opinions.

Because I’m somewhat technologically challenged and this is my first real attempt at blogging, there will definitely be the odd rough spot until I get it all sorted.  Please be gentle with me—in the fullness of time, I will get it right.

So this first effort will be pretty straightforward—I’d like to bring you up to date on the inner workings of the Olson Empire and provide links to a couple of articles that you might find interesting. Onward!

Last year was filled with interesting stuff.  I conducted four employee engagement surveys including one administered in two languages to people on four continents! The last two surveys recorded response rates of almost 93%, which was slightly above our usual 85% return rate.

I was also involved in a lot of 360° feedback activity. In addition to providing feedback to a number of executive, senior manager and employee groups, I administered approximately 130 multi-source assessments for the United Nations—that brought me into contact with thousands of people in countries all over the world!

On the training side, Decision Making and the Business of Critical Thinking, DISC, Situational Leadership, and some our other team development efforts kept us busy—one of the highlights was the delivery of Lost Dutchman’s Gold to a large group of employees from Credit Union Central in Saskatchewan—one of my oldest clients. I also developed and delivered a Progressive Discipline program for a large international oil interest.

My executive and management coaching activities continued apace and last year even included a foray into outplacement work—all enjoyable, rewarding stuff!

Finally, I cemented a partnership with Bob Lane and his consulting group in Regina—a former vice president at CUETS (Bank of America).  Bob is great guy who also happens to be incredibly skilled at organizational review.

What’s coming? More of the same along with a few new training wrinkles including a resurrection of my Manager as Coach program (which now includes the capability to run employee assessments) and two new programs: Some Of The Worst Things In My Life Never Happened!: The Road to Resilience and, in collaboration with Jim Francis of Wavemaker consulting, C-Suite, a team development experience for groups of any size.

And of course, my book “Don’t Die With Your Helmet On” continues to sell well!

If you’d like to know more about any of this please get in touch with me.

I enjoyed the article linked to below–it’s especially valuable for those times when you really need to avoid kicking the dog after a stressful day.

And from Marshall Goldsmith–one of my personal heroes– on who is your best career coach

Enjoy–and let me know what you think!

Dr. Tom