Reality-Based Engagement: Accountability, Not Engagement, Drives Results

Date: 06/08/2018

Time: 1528452000 - 1528455600 PST

For years, organizations have been investing time, money and energy into engaging employees based on the promise that engagement drives results. But many organizations report that despite their best efforts, engagement programs just haven’t delivered as expected. While engaging employees is critical, it turns out that engagement isn’t enough. Engagement without accountability creates entitlement and chaos. The organizations that cultivate a culture of personal accountability are truly winning. And, it’s when engagement and accountability meet that breakthrough results occur.

You’ll learn groundbreaking ways to listen to, reward and attract high accountability employees, the true drivers of business results.


  • Recognize three key flaws in how the traditional employee engagement survey process is designed and implemented. Learn how these flaws are the reason that many companies’ engagement efforts are not producing the desired results.
  • Measure personal accountability as the true driver of both employee engagement and company results.
  • Explain and apply the four factors that make up a personally accountable mindset.
  • Use specific tools to fix your employee engagement process by introducing a focus on the cultivation of accountability within your organization.
  • Evaluate engagement results in a profitable new way by eliminating entitlement and tuning into high accountable employee feedback.

Kelli Hinshaw is the Vice President of Strategic Development for Reality-Based Leadership, working alongside the global thought leader, Cy Wakeman.  Since first partnering with Cy in 2005, the Reality-Based Leadership philosophies of ditching the drama, restoring workplace sanity, and turning excuses into results became the game-changing foundation for which she built her love for developing people and leading teams. For more than ten years, and through various leadership roles in financial services and healthcare, Kelli earned her Reality-Based Leadership certification and used her extensive knowledge of these counterintuitive leadership practices to deliver amazing results from large scale change projects, leadership roles, and coaching individuals and teams to realize their full potential.

Kelli was awarded the Training Magazine Emerging Training Leader award for her demonstrated leadership in developing, facilitating and generating strong ROI from her training programs. She has been featured on,, Association for Talent Development ( and Becker’s Hospital Review. She earned her MBA and accepted an invitation to be Adjunct Management Faculty at the University of Nebraska – Omaha.

Full Transcription of “Reality-Based Engagement: Accountability, Not Engagement, Drives Results”

Jenifer: Good morning everyone. Welcome to this month’s edition, episode, issue, I’m never sure what to call it, of HR HotSpot. I’m Jenifer Lambert and I on behalf of all of us here at TERRA Staffing Group would like to welcome you and thank you for joining us this month. This is a monthly webcast series that we host for our friends, clients, colleagues. Really, I consider it to be our love letter to our friends who have the awesome task and responsibility of managing the people resources in their organizations, whether your title has HR in it or you just have the privilege of being in charge of managing people. We know what an awesome responsibility that is. And so it is our pleasure to bring this series to you to provide you with some tools, tools and training to help with that.

I’m so glad you’re here today and really glad today to introduce our speaker. We have for the past two years invited to our webcast series a fantastic speaker, author, trainer, thought leader named Cy Wakeman. And I know many of you who signed up for today’s webinar have heard her speak before and that’s part of the reason that you’re back. And today we have Kelli Thompson with us who is part of Cy’s organization. And she is going to bring some of the same clear thinking and great strategies around leadership that we have come to enjoy and appreciate when Cy presents to us just in a different voice but really great content. So, very excited to have Kelli here today.

Kelli is the Vice President of Strategic Development at Reality-Based Leadership. She holds over 15 years of senior leadership experience in financial services, healthcare, and technology organizations. And it’s actually with the healthcare technology organization that she first met Cy Wakeman. She’s the recipient of the “Training Magazine” Emerging Training Leader Award, and her thought leadership has been featured on a variety of different publications and media outlets. She holds an MBA at the University of Nebraska. And her bio it says, “When we’re presented with aggressive agendas and limited resources, even the best leaders and employees tend to step away from the call to greatness, citing their challenging circumstances the reasons they can’t succeed. The innovation, collaboration, and success we desire all of these are our natural state when the drama is gone.”

And that’s more about what she’s going to share with us today. Now just some housekeeping matters before I turn it over to Kelli, we are recording today’s session like we always do and we will be sending out a link to the recorded training after we wrap up later today. So you will be getting that in your email. Watch your email for that. You can feel free to share that with some of your colleagues that maybe couldn’t attend today. Or as I like to do when I hear great content, I like to listen to it again and again and maybe even one more time. We also are going to share with you at the end of the time today recertification information. We’ll get that to you. And there will be some time at the end. Kelli is leaving a little space at the end for some Q&A. So as a question comes up, feel free to just pop it into your GoToWebinar dialog box here. And we will moderate those questions at the end and get to as many of those as we can. So without further ado, it is my pleasure to introduce you to Kelli Thompson. Please welcome, Kelli.

Kelli: Thank you, everybody. And I actually have a task for all of us. Something fun. I always think it’s way more fun when we’re talking on a webinar and we can actually engage with one another. So I would love for you to go to the chat function of your GoToMeeting. And I’d love for you to answer a question. And that question is if you’re in an organization and you’ve either done an engagement survey or you’re thinking about doing an engagement survey, what is the purpose? Like why do you guys do engagement surveys? And maybe just in a couple of words, if you guys could pop in the chat and just let me know, what’s your goal? Why do you guys do engagement surveys? And I would love to hear your response. And I’ll give a couple minutes here while folks pop in their information, and organizers, Jess and Jenifer, I don’t know if everybody has access to the chat. I believe they do.

Jenifer: Yep, everybody has access to chat. So feel free to type away in that chat box.

Kelli: Type away. And I haven’t seen anything yet. But what some of the things that…and maybe I just can’t see the responses, maybe they’re going directly to you guys. But some of the things that I commonly hear are things like, “We want our employees to be happy,” or, “We want to get employee feedback. We do engagement surveys because we want to hear what employees are saying. We want to get a general sense of how they’re feeling. We want to get ideas for how we can make our business better.” And in fact, I was with an organization just yesterday and this was the question that I put out to everyone. And I asked them, “Why do you guys do engagement surveys?” And there was just a variety of answers that, “We want employees to be happy, we want them to feel good, we want them to be…” or, “We want to be the employer of choice. We want to, you know, hear what they have to say and implement and make improvements and do all that sort of fun stuff. And so that’s really why we do engagement surveys.”

And it was interesting because we had to pause for a second and I asked the group, “Is the purpose of engagement surveys, is the reason we started this whole thing to drive company results?” And we all kind of paused for a second and they said, “Yeah, like in the beginning when we first started engagement surveys, our goal was to make a better workplace or tap advice and feedback from our team so that we could drive business results.” And what I want us to all kind of, you know, believe here as we’re sitting here and talking about engagement, we’re not saying engagement is a bad thing here. So let’s not go the opposite direction and say, “Man, she was on here saying engagement is a bad thing.” That’s not what we’re saying.

What we’re saying is, is sometimes we’ve lost sight about the real reason why we started engagement surveys and some of the foundations in which they were built. And so let’s just talk about some of the flawed logic and just some of the things that have started to happen in the decades since we first started engagement survey. In fact, here’s a fun fact for you. Did you guys know that on average research has shown that organizations across the industry are spending nearly $1 billion on engagement surveys, engagement programs, and programs to try to keep people happy with the hope of delivering results?

So with that in mind here I want to show you a real life case study. So we were working with an organization several years ago and this organization was going through a company turnaround. Now, I’m sure you guys can all put yourselves in those shoes, you’ve all been part of an organization where you’re trying to turn something around, you’re trying to implement some changes, you’re trying to improve some processes. And that’s what this organization was doing. And as part of that process, they hired an employee engagement vendor and they went through the employee engagement survey process. And after year one, they got their benchmark data. And they were pretty excited about it because they knew where they could start to make some improvements.

So let’s fast forward then to year two. So year two comes along and their performance increased as an organization, and good news, the engagement also increased. I mean, this is good stuff. For any of us who’ve ever worked on an engagement committee, like we want to see those engagement numbers go up so that we know that the results of our efforts are actually making a difference. So was really excited and there was lots of celebration in HR, they thought the engagement was contributing. “This is amazing. All of our engagement planning is working. Good stuff. Performance up. Engagement up.” So they started to celebrate. But something really interesting started to happen in year three. And, you know, as this was happening, one of the things that they started to do in year two since they saw such great results was they started to really use this engagement planning with a lot of rigor, just as they were doing with all their other company processes.

They started to develop plans, they were holding teams accountable for those plans. They were, you know, not just calling up leaders to disseminate engagement plans, but they were also delegating these engagement plans, giving them to their employees and holding their employees accountable for delivering results of the engagement plans. And so then some interesting things happened on year three because they assumed that since engagement went up performance was going to go up. That it was all going to keep going up. And, oh, my goodness, it actually did not happen. What was crazy was engagement actually went down in year three but performance skyrocketed. And it was just this crazy realization that got this organization really scratching their heads to say, “I thought that if engagement would go up, then my results would also go up. Because aren’t these things like normally tied together? Doesn’t engagement typically drive results? Isn’t that the whole reason why we’re doing this thing?”

And so what they took a look at is what’s really driving results? Is it engagement? Or is it something else? Is it maybe something else that they were doing? Maybe it was more of the accountability work that was driving engagement. Now, again, as I said before, engagement isn’t bad. But lots of times I’ve talked with so many leaders and maybe those of you who are sitting on the phone today and you’re feeling the exact same way because your company results continue to increase. But your engagement is continuing to stay stagnant. And you’re like, “Oh, my goodness, like what gives? My performance is going up. But my leaders want to know why my engagement is staying flat.”

And so let’s just talk a little bit about a couple of things today. We’re going to first talk about accountability and how maybe, just maybe it’s accountability that drives results and not engagement. And maybe we need to measure engagement in just a little bit different of a way so that we can marry the two to get great results year after year. So let’s talk first a little bit about personal accountability. And, you know, one of the things that we find and I often ask this question every time I’m out training is I ask the question, “Help me define personal accountability.” And what people often come back with is things like ownership or if someone’s butts on the line, or who’s held accountable for that, “I’m going to do the things that I said I was going to do,” or, you know, “I have to own it. If I do it, I have to follow through with it.” And they really jumped to ownership.

And it’s interesting because personal accountability is one of the most talked about. Yet it’s one of the most misunderstood topics in leadership today. So I want to get us a good baseline understanding of accountability. And then we’ll talk about how it’s the anchor for engagement and give you guys some tools that you can walk away with. So to understand accountability, I always think it’s helpful to first understand its opposite. And a lot of times folks think that the opposite of personal accountability is not being accountable, but in fact, the opposite of personal accountability is learned helplessness. Now learned helplessness, you guys might know what this looks like if you’ve ever been around children.

I always say that learned helplessness is, you know, a child who knows how to make their own breakfast, make their own cereal, and tie their own shoes until grandma comes over and then all of a sudden, like your child is totally helpless, like shoes can’t be tied, breakfast can’t be made. “I don’t know how to do it.” It’s the belief that we have no impact over our circumstances. In fact, lots of times I think a great example is learned helplessness is when we think about the circus. Back in the day when the circus used to travel, you used to see these big, huge elephants, and they were tied by this tiny little rope. And you would wonder why isn’t that elephant just walk away? Well, from a very young age, that elephant had been, you know, tied to something when it wasn’t very strong. And even though the elephant grew and got stronger, it still had the belief that it couldn’t walk away because it still believed that the chain was stronger than him.

So learned helplessness. You guys know what this is. We oftentimes call it culture. It’s the reason, stories, and excuses of why we can’t do things around here. “You know what? Somebody tried that back in 1995 and they got in trouble. So we don’t do that here anymore.” That’s an example of learned helplessness. It’s the belief that we have no impact over our circumstances. And so that’s the opposite of personal accountability. And actually, Cy has done a lot of research about personal accountability. And she actually studied high performers to kind of get some insight into what personal accountability looks like. She brought high performers together and the high performers had taken, you know, some additional testing and she knew that there was happy high performers and unhappy high performers.

And she wanted to know the difference because she’s like, “How can somebody be such an awesome performer yet be so unhappy?” And so what she found was the only difference between the happy high performers and the unhappy high performers was the amount of personal accountability they took for their circumstances. Happy high performers knew that no matter what their circumstances were, they were always in control. They were in control of their own destiny. They knew that happiness was a choice no matter where they found themselves, happiness was a choice. And it’s interesting because happiness is oftentimes what we’re measuring in engagement, right? How happy are you? Happiness is a choice. Could engagement also be a choice?

And that was something we really wanted to dig into. Because what we knew was that happiness, personal accountability was actually a mindset that results happen because of my actions and not in spite of them. Like I can choose to be happy no matter what my role is, no matter if I have the tools and resources to do my job. I can choose to be happy even if I don’t have a best friend at work, even if I haven’t received recognition directly from my boss in the last week. In fact, accountable people believe that they choose their own destiny. Accountable people don’t fall victim to learned helplessness. They know that no matter their circumstances, they can always account for how they got there and find a different path out. So Cy said, “All right, tell me, if we’re going to try to train this thing, is there some factors or something…you know, or a way that you walk through life that can help us kind of condense this all?”

And I said, “In fact there is. There’s actually four factors.” And a lot of us jump to ownership, this thought that, you know, whose butt’s on the line or that I’m being held accountable for something or doing what I say that I’m going to do? But there’s actually something that comes first and that’s called commitment. So I like to think of a personal story as I kind of describe this and maybe many of you have been in the same situation as me, and there was several years ago when January 1st came along. And this was going to be the year that I was finally going to lose weight. In fact, about 8 to 9 years ago, I had about 50 pounds to lose and January 1st came along and I thought, “For sure this is the year. This is my year I’m going to finally lose these 50 pounds that I need to lose.”

So like many people, January 1st comes along and I thought, “I am going to hire a trainer. I’m going to pay this $199 fee. I’m going to hire a trainer and that trainer is going to hold me accountable. This is exactly the ownership that I need to get going.” And I tell you what, folks, for a whole two weeks, that trainer did a good job of holding me accountable. I went to the gym every morning because I said if I’m going to go to the gym, it’s gonna have to be in the morning because I have school at night and a child at home and, you know, other activities that I need to be involved in. And I followed my diet pretty good too, because for those of you who know, who’ve ever been on a weight loss journey you have to go to the gym and you have to eat healthy. Like Ben & Jerry’s did not make it on my diet plan.

But here is the problem. I live in Nebraska and it’s really cold in January and in fact it snows. And after about two weeks, oh, that ownership started to hurt because in the morning, I was too tired. Or maybe it snowed and my bed was so warm and it was so cold outside. And then you know what? You know, my diet started to fall through because my friends would want to go out on Thursday night and go out to the local event that was happening. And so I would blow my diet on Thursday. Well, then Friday would come along and of course, it was the Friday afternoon club and have a glass of wine or two and since I had blown it on Thursday and Friday, I might as well let it go all day on Saturday and couldn’t miss my Sunday dinner with my family with all the carbs and the spaghetti and the dessert, and all that stuff. And so I’ll just start again on Monday.

Well, I was dieting a solid Monday through Wednesday at this point, and I was doing pretty good dieting three days a week and I was probably going to the gym about three days a week. So when I got to ownership time, when I was stepping on the scale to weigh myself, I got pretty frustrated because I wasn’t losing any weight. And in fact, I was probably gaining a couple pounds. Ownership hurts. Why did ownership hurt? Because I wasn’t really committed. I was halfheartedly committing. I wanted the results but I wasn’t willing to do whatever it took to get results. And in fact, when obstacles got in my way, I wasn’t mentally resilient. I didn’t have the ability to stay the course in the face of obstacles and setbacks because I wasn’t first committed. And then when ownership time came, those consequences felt pretty darn bad. And I probably wasn’t really learning anything because I was beating myself up for all the things I hadn’t done.

So what happened? A few years later, I was standing in a Target dressing room. I joke with my clients, it’s my Target dressing room moment that’s how I got committed. The biggest size didn’t fit and instantly I got committed. I was like, “Oh, my goodness, I don’t want to keep down this path. I am now willing to do whatever it takes to get results.” And I immediately got resilient, and resilience is different than persistence. Resilience is looking up and out for resources and using best practices and talking to other people who had achieved this goal and getting ideas for how I could burst through the obstacles.

And then when ownership time came, it was a place to learn. It was like, “How did I do this week? Did I eat too many snacks and miss too many gym visits? Or did I stay on track? Did I stay consistent?” And that was the fuel, the continuous learning that I needed to switch my approach and keep renewing my commitment that I made to myself. What in the world does this have to do with work? So here’s how we bring it back as leaders. How many times have we explained a goal to our teams or communicated an outcome, communicated a new process or told people what we were going to be doing and we assumed they were committed but in fact they weren’t? We jumped to ownership. We went back a couple of weeks later only to find that nobody had done anything. Nobody had taken a new process and switched their approach or done the things that we thought they were going to do.

So all too often we assume commitment and we jump to ownership, but there’s a prerequisite to ownership and that is first commitment. We have to ask folks what they’re willing to do. And that can come from through just a couple of simple questions. What are you committing to? What do you need to change in your approach? Given that we got the results of our engagement survey feedback, what are you willing to do to create the environment that you’re hoping for? What task can you take on? What project can I count on you to lead? And what obstacles might get in your way? Who can you talk to to help you keep resilient throughout this process?

And so by asking first for commitments…you know, in fact, many of you have been on an airplane and you guys know that when you sit in the exit row, they ask you, “Are you willing and able to assist in the event of an emergency?” There’s a reason why they do that. We actually have to say yes because the sign shows that when we verbally say yes, we’re actually more likely to assist in the event of an emergency. So ask for commitment, instead of jumping to ownership and trying to hold people accountable, we can’t hold someone accountable who isn’t first committed. So start with first with commitment because this is the key. This is the anchor. Engagement without accountability creates entitlement.

Have you guys noticed, I want you guys to think for yourselves for just a minute, have you guys noticed in your organizations…and I can’t see the chat right now. But we can probably talk about it at the end, maybe you guys have noticed that there’s just a lot of entitlement that’s happening in organizations right now? People believe that circumstances have to be perfect before they’re going to give the gift of their work. If only they had ping-pong tables or nap pods or, you know, Coke and Pepsi in the break room. If only we had perfect work from home arrangements, a better dress code, or all of these things, then we could give the gift of our work.

So it bears repeating that engagement without accountability creates entitlement. And that’s why we talk about developing and asking for commitment is so important in developing that anchor to accountability so that we can prevent some of that entitlement. So you might be thinking, “How in the world do we develop some accountability?” Because there are some counterintuitive things happening that I want to walk through. So when Cy was talking to these high accountables, you know, she said, “Tell me how you got that way.” And I said, you know, “Really, we got that way because we were frequently challenged.” In fact, it’s kind of a counterintuitive thought. A lot of us have grown up believing that, you know, if we challenge our people too much, then they’ll get disengaged. If I challenge my people too much, then they’ll leave the company. If I challenge my people too much then they’ll get frustrated and they’ll leave.

But what we know from the research and from our own feedback from the surveys that we’ve done is that high accountables, one of the ways that they’re rewarded is through great challenging work alongside other high accountables. So this probably isn’t going to come as a surprise to many of you. But in our engagement surveys, we actually have a filter that filters by accountability. And we ask folks, you know, “How do you prefer to be rewarded?” And when we look at that answer and we filter by accountability, I guess you guys can probably imagine how the results come out. Our high accountables say, “I like to be rewarded through growth and development of new and challenging projects, projects that align with my growth and development goals. And yeah, fair pay is important but I want to be paid fairly.”

Now on contrast, low accountables say, “I would really like some more money but please take some projects off my plate.” Now many of you might be giggling, because that’s probably you’re like, “Yes, I know my high accountables want more stuff and my folks lower in accountability they really just want a bonus, but to take some projects off their plate.” So let’s talk about I don’t want you to be afraid about challenging your folks, because challenging your folks is where we grow in the skills and the development. And that’s how we can continue to reward and retain high accountables. And they said, “You know what? When we were challenged, we were then allowed to experience the accountability of the challenge that we were given.”

And then feedback was kept pretty short. You know, it was just one sentence or less. Like, “One thing I noticed is…” and self-reflection is actually where we grew in accountability. We did the burden of the heavy lifting to go see where we needed to grow next. We kind of sourced our own feedback and, you know, did some discovery on our own of where we needed to grow. And then we had a sense making mentors, somebody that wouldn’t let us off the hook. Somebody that wouldn’t collude with us, somebody that we could go to that would say, “Hey, gosh, you know, that feedback could be true,” or, “What are a few ways in which that feedback could be true?”

So let me give you guys an example. You know, one of the things that I was looking for early in my career was I went to my leader. And I said, “You know, I would really love to get more exposure in front of senior management. I want to be able to build my presentation skills and just really learn how to better influence others.” And my leader said, “Great. I love it. I have the perfect challenge for you.” She’s like, “Every month, I have to go and present your business development numbers in front of senior leadership. I think that you should go next time and present the numbers. They’re your numbers. You’ve put together the information. Why don’t you go and present in front of senior leadership?” And I said, “Sounds great.”

And so I went and it did not go as I would’ve hoped. Now, it wasn’t a total failure. But let me just tell you, there were some moments of total pain when my leader was asking me questions about some of my financials and some of my numbers and I hadn’t done the correct amount of preparation to accurately account for how I arrived at my numbers. Now, do you think my leader swoop in and saved me, kind of put the pillow down and took over and answered the questions for me? Actually, she didn’t. And I don’t know who it was more painful for that day. I don’t know if it was more painful for me, for my leader, or for the CEO of the company who had to sit there and listen to this. But they allowed me to experience the accountability of my own preparation. Nobody came in and put the pillow down. Nobody came in and softened the blow. They allowed me to experience the accountability of my own preparation.

And then feedback didn’t always need to come from my leader. I got feedback in that moment of how well I prepared. All it took for her after the meeting on the elevator ride down was her to look at me and say, “How do you think that went?” I was probably about in tears. I’m like, “Oh, my goodness.” I’m like, “I can’t believe I didn’t know my numbers. I can’t believe that I didn’t prepare.” That fostered instance self-reflection. She’s like, “Well, who do you know that traditionally does well at presenting their numbers in front of senior leadership?” And immediately I could think of two people who always seem to know their numbers. And she said, “Why don’t you go to them? See what they do to prepare. How do they practice? How do they make sure that they know their financial information when they’re going to go and present that sort of information?”

So I did. I went and interviewed them. I got some really awesome helpful tips. I did the bulk of the heavy lifting. I did the self-reflection. She just asked me great questions. She also served in that sense of making mentor role by just not colluding with me and saying something like, “Oh, you did fine. It was okay. I’m sure it wasn’t that bad.” She said, “I noticed that too. I noticed you seemed uncomfortable when you were presenting your numbers.” And just said, “Who do you think you can go to for help?” So why do we give you guys this information? Why do we give you guys this challenge? All too often we actually create and reinforce some learned helplessness because we don’t like to challenge people, we’re afraid we’re going to lose their engagement. And when we see them in a little bit of pain that comes with growth, oftentimes, we step in, we put the pillow down, we soften the blow, or we take the assignment back so that we can remove the pain. But all it really does is keep people from growing in the precise place for where they need their next development opportunity. Okay?

We actually avoid developing accountability which creates more entitlement more and learned helplessness. So my challenge for you guys today is to challenge your people. High accountables love challenge, let them experience the accountability, keep feedback, short self-reflection long. It’s how you’re going to grow the accountability in your workforce that prevents entitlement and it will allow engagement, true engagement to truly do its thing that delivers amazing results.

So let’s keep going. How do we fix this whole engagement thing? And I think the first place to start is just to talk about some common assumptions that we’ve made when it comes to engagement surveys. Now again, we’re not saying engagement surveys are bad. In fact, they’re a great tool to hear from high accountables and get some great feedback. When engagement surveys were started, they were built on some assumptions.

So, you know, back in the day and you know when you research kind of when even when Gallup surveys and all that stuff started, they assumed that performance was well managed. They assumed that when we had strong performance, it was rewarded. And when we had poor performance, it was quickly managed out of the organization. Now I ask you, in your organizations is performance well managed? Are you guys quickly rewarding your high performers? And are you quickly moving poor performers out of the organization? When I ask that question of any of the companies that I work with, they kind of pause and they giggle for a second because they’re like, “Oh my goodness, no, like the poor performers like they’re still here.”

And so it’s over time created some design flaws in ongoing engagement surveys. And the first one is that all employee responses are equally credible. We’re treating all employee responses the same. The second one is that we believe that perfecting employee circumstances are going to drive engagement. And then the third one, one that was from this morning, engagement drives results.

So let’s take a look at this first one, and this design flaw one is that all employee responses are equally credible. Right now we survey everybody, we survey everybody in the organization, no matter their performance, no matter their accountability level, everybody gets a vote. So let’s take a deeper look at this. Are all employee responses equally credible? Is all employee feedback equally credible?

Now take this lightheartedly because it’s kind of a joke, but, you know, we actually don’t allow people with a recent felony to vote in public elections. And yet we’ll allow people who are in performance plans or in a state of low accountability to contribute to our employee feedback surveys and we give equal weight to the responses of a poor performer as a high performer. So is all employee feedback equally credible? And the answer is no, it’s not. And we probably don’t want the feedback to be treated as equally credible. And why is that? You know, it’s not that we don’t value people, we’re not saying that at all, it’s just whose feedback do we trust more? It exists on a spectrum. So do we consider the feedback from Debbie the driver, somebody who’s always achieving results, who’s always finding new ways of doing things, who’s always bursting through barriers and trying to find new ways of doing things?

You know, do we treat their feedback the same as we do as Vicki the victim. Somebody who is, you know, believing that their circumstances are the reasons that they can’t see results. That it’s their leader, or their lack of technology, or they can’t work through this system or these processes or there’s just too much change. Whose feedback are we trusting more? The key is, is we have to start differentiating between the feedback. We want to hear the feedback and put a little more to and a little more heavy weight into the feedback from Debbie the driver than we do for Vicki the victim. Now, you might be wondering why in the world will we start to differentiate between employees because I thought we were just to treat our employees the same? I’m not talking about fairness and value. I’m talking about feedback. In fact, we differentiate between employees all of the time.

We differentiate between their pay, we differentiate when we hire them, develop them, promote them, bonus them, train them, all that sort of stuff. So why wouldn’t we differentiate between the feedback we get in engagement surveys. In fact, all employee feedback is not equally credible, and so treating each employee opinion is a little bit irrational, right? When we actually sit down and think about it, don’t we want to tune into the feedback from our high accountables, a bit more than the feedback from those who are lower in accountability? Now we have some tools to do that that are built into our own survey process. But I’m also going to give you guys a tool at the end of the webinar today, that you can use to help you differentiate the feedback if you’ve already done a survey, and you’re looking to fine tune who you’re listening to in the feedback process.

So let’s talk about the second flaw. The second flaw is the belief that perfecting employee circumstances will drive engagement. And that’s a lot of what happens here. You know, we get feedback on our employee engagement surveys that if only we had better technology, if only we had a more flexible work environment, I had a best friend at work. I got recognition all of the time in a specific way, all the time that I needed. Then I’ll be happier. It’s kind of the whole if-then fallacy or when-then fallacy, “I’ll be happy when…” So I think to understand this, it’s kind of, you know, critical to talk a little bit about how human behavior works. And the example that I’m going to give is really just the human condition. We do this every single day. Cy and I joke that we teach this stuff and yet we still fail at it. So you guys are going to notice here in the middle that you guys are going to see some lines crossing.

This line going up is all the things that we’re being asked to do at work. Maybe it’s more sales, creating more products, getting in more customers, delivering more value, taking in customer calls, taking in more clients, all those things going up. This line going down is all of the available time, energy, and resources we have to do those things. It’s often our leadership saying, “Hey, we’re going to bring in more customers. We’re going to do more sales. We’re going to get more clients. Oh, and by the way, we’re not going to add to headcount. And we need to do a 10% reduction in expenses.” In the meeting, we nod our heads and we say, “Oh, yes, absolutely, I can do that. Working here is a gold star on my resume.” And then we walk out of the meeting and we start to personalize this request, this whole doing more with less.

It’s really just called capitalism but we start to personalize it and we start to fantasize about one thing and one thing only, and that is quitting. We fantasize that we’re going to go and on our drive home, we’re going to buy a lottery ticket and we’re going to win the $10 million lottery. And then we’re going to be on the HGTV show, that million dollar home buyer show that I can, you know, buy this amazing house and cars and I won’t ever have to go back to work and it’s going to be fantastic and I won’t have to do this crazy thing that my leader is asking me to do more with less. In fact, Gallup stats show that 68% to 71% of people quit their jobs every single day. The problem is, is these people keep coming back to work and collecting your paycheck. They’re actively disengaged.

Guys, all of us temporarily visit the quitting zone. We all do. We all fantasize about quitting, updating our resume, finding the job that’s perfect, all that sort of stuff. High accountables though can go home, drink a glass of wine, have some Ben & Jerry’s, watch their trash TV, whatever it is. They come back to work and they re-sign up. They get back on board. They reengage. However, not everybody gets engaged. Not everybody signs back up. They do this thing called BMW driving, right? When we step down it doesn’t feel very good. So our egos come out to rescue us. They say, “I got you girl. We’re going to go and find everybody else who thinks that this thing is just as crazy, just as nuts as you think it is. Doing more with less? They asked you to do that last year and you only got the cost of living increase. That’s just crazy. They shouldn’t make you do that again.”

So we BMW drive, bitching, moaning, whining. We bitch, moan, and whine to whoever will listen. We find other people to hop in the BMW with us. And we drive around the office complaining about how horrible this is, who thought of this, this is not the way I would do it. This is just crazy. Our BMWs, they start to run out of gas. And so what we do is we go to our leader in the hopes that they’ll change reality for us, that they’ll perfect circumstances for us. It usually sounds something like this, at least in my office, when I was leading a center like this. I get a knock at the door. And they’d say, “You got a minute?” And they’d let me know that they were there on behalf of the group. And the group was still kind of scared to come to me, but they’d all been talking. And this was a list of things that the team needed for them to get on board with the direction of the organization.

They needed better flex time. Better dress code, more flexible work environment. We want a ping-pong table in the back room. That seems to be kind of the cool thing that’s happening these days. We need better technology, we need more resources. I’ll do this if you change my title, or I’ll get on board if you don’t change my title, if we get a bonus, if we get a pay increase, whatever that list might be. Many leaders believe that if they perfect an employee’s circumstances, then we’ll get the gift of their work. And I often did that because I thought that perfecting circumstances that design flaw and engagement would get the results that I wanted, but actually did something very different. When I attempted to change their reality, perfect their circumstances, perfect their reality, all I did was keep them from growing as life and work gives us those growth opportunities in bite sized pieces.

Instead of them calling them up to greatness, I cuddled them. I allowed them exceptions which made it okay for them to step down and it gave them more fuel to quit BMW drive and come to my office yet again and again and again asking for exceptions, trying to get their reality changed, hoping for perfect circumstances. The only way out of this crazy making cycle is to change mindsets, to help them recognize that the circumstances of our jobs and our life aren’t the reasons why we can’t be successful. Our circumstances are the reality in which we must be successful. We always have extenuating circumstances and my job as a leader was to call them to greatness, help them understand that given those circumstances, we could succeed anyway.

And so, perfecting employee circumstances drives entitlement. They became entitled, believing that they could get all these things or have all of these perfect circumstances and that they could continually come to me and ask more, it drove entitlement and not engagement. And so that leads us to the third flaw, which is engagement drives results. And so I think that this flaw is really best illustrated with an old wives’ tale. And many of you have heard this old wives’ tale that storks bring babies. Now if I’m ruining this for anybody, I am so sorry to give you a dose of reality that storks do not bring babies. But there was an actual story back in Northern Europe and it was based on statistics. Many of you took a statistics class, and you talked about the difference between correlation and causation.

And so in Northern Europe based on statistics, they thought that storks brought babies because when the stork population would increase about 4%, the baby population would increase about 4%. Oh, my goodness, storks bring babies. Okay, we know today that that’s not true. That’s just silly. Many years later, they actually factored in a third phenomenon and that is the quality of the harvest. You see, storks are migratory birds. So when the quality of the harvest was good and there was an abundant harvest, migratory birds would come because they would thrive off of the good nutrition from the good harvest. So the good harvest would increase the stork population. Well, as many of you can imagine, when there’s a good harvest, a couple of things happen.

One, when there’s a good harvest, there’s a lot of celebratory activities and a lot of baby making activities. And when there’s a good harvest, there’s good maternal nutrition. And when there’s good maternal nutrition, the baby rate increases. So it wasn’t storks that brought babies. It was a good harvest that brought both storks and babies. In fact, it was the good harvest of accountability that drives both engagement and results. So it’s not engagement storks that drive results, babies, it’s the great harvest of accountability that drives both engagement and results. Accountability is that anchor that drives both of what we’re looking for. So engagement doesn’t drive results, personal accountability drives both engagement and results. So what do we do with all this stuff? What’s kind of the bottom line?

You know, so if treating all employee responses the same is irrational and if perfecting circumstances creates entitlement and personal accountability is the true driver of performance, then it’s time for a different approach to engagement. And so I want to leave you guys with some tools today, some tools you can actually use, something that you can go home and even use tonight with your own kids, okay, or tomorrow with your team. So step one, stop surveying the victims. Start to think about when you’re collecting information to help you make a decision, who are you going to? Are you serving everybody? Are you trying to take valuable time and energy to get everybody’s opinion? Or are you going to your high accountables, people who are actually delivering performance?

If your organization has an engagement survey and you have the benefit of, you know, using a company like ours to apply the filter, awesome. If you guys have an engagement survey vendor or even if you don’t use an engagement survey, start to really discern whose opinions you are listening to. And that will help you fix the right stuff. So what that means and I’m not telling you guys anything you don’t already know, you guys know that oftentimes the feedback that you get from your high accountables looks very different than the feedback you get from your low accountables. Oftentimes when we get the results in from our feedback surveys, high accountables say things like, “You know, if we could really just spend a few extra hundred dollars to upgrade to the latest platform of our software, it would improve our cycle time and our results would double.”

Low accountables often say things like, “If I could really get, you know, a better work from home policy and work from home four days a week, you know, that would really be awesome, then I would be happy at work.” Or, “If people would start recognizing me more around here, if I could get more jeans days or, you know, if leadership can really start to be more open, then I can give the gift of my work.” You guys know what this sounds like, you’ve read the open-ended comments. So you know about discerning between hearing the right feedback. A great way you guys can also do this is to action plan a little bit differently. Action planning differently oftentimes looks something like this.

Many times as a leader when we did our engagement survey planning, we would get the results of the employee engagement feedback. I would take the results of the feedback as the leader, and what would I do? I would put the burden of all of that feedback on myself. I would be busy making the action plans. I would be busy doing this thing. I’d be busy creating the programs and work really, really hard. I created all these perfect programs and my people would be engaged. But what would happen? You guys know what this looks like. Oftentimes, in fact, this is a real example that I’m going to be using today. So one of the pieces of feedback from one of the companies that I worked for, we had recently gone through a merger in our company.

And in the merger, we were combining office spaces with the company that we just merged with. And that company was way more fun than ours. Not only did they have a ping-pong table, but guys, they had a kegerator, no joke. They had a kegerator in the office. And we thought, well, we want a kegerator on our floor, too. So what did we do? We created a plan to create a workspace more fun, a ping-pong table, beanbags, all this cool stuff. And we got a kegerator. The employee poll survey came around about six months later to see how we were doing. Were people more engaged? No, they weren’t. You know what they were complaining about? We had the wrong type of beer in the kegerator. They were complaining about the fact that people weren’t using the kegerator at the right times. People were using it too early.

They were not complaining about all of these new circumstances like this whole new level that arose from all the desires that they wanted in the first place. We hadn’t driven for results. All we had done was trying to perfect people circumstances. And now they were complaining about the new circumstances that we created. So we can use a tool to action plan a little bit differently. So with your team, you guys can use this tool called engaged action planning. And when you guys get the results of your engagement survey, you can identify what the team would like to improve in their workplace by reviewing the survey results. That’s on sheet one, on sheet two, this is where you can call people up to participate in the own accountability of that plan. You don’t need to take the burden on yourself, you as the leader to perfect all those circumstances or as the HR person. Have the team identify the things that they’re willing to do to make those changes happen.

Let me give you an example of how this looks in real life. So one of the things that we were working on when I was in HR was people said, “We need more recognition around this company.” So we actually said, “You know what? I think that they could be on to something.” So on sheet one, develop a culture of recognition. In the past, we would have taken that on as an HR team and try to create all these recognition programs and places where you can recognize people online and earn tokens and win prizes and do all this heavy lifting. But we said, “You know what? This isn’t just on us. What are you willing to do to contribute to a culture of recognition?” That was on sheet two. People in a state of low accountability were like, “We have to do something. Wait for it, wait for my leader to give me a bonus, wait for my leader to recognize me.”

People in a state of high accountability recognize that they can co-create what they’re looking for. People in a state of high accountability recognize, “I can contribute to a culture of recognition but I need to do a better job of just telling people when they do a great job. I need to do a better job of just sending an email every Friday to somebody who’s really made my week. I can do a better job of just leaving a Post-It on someone’s desk or filling out a thank you card.” High accountables can find tens probably hundreds of reasons of ways in which they can contribute to the culture of work that they’re looking for. And that’s all we need to do as leaders is to call people up to share in the accountability of creating that environment. And then step three, as a leader or as an HR person, if I know that my team has skin in the game, if I know that they’re willing to contribute to that culture, I am happily able to contribute to resources to making those things happen.

That’s where the marriage of accountability and engagement comes in. When I know that my team is contributing to the results and I can hold them accountable because I know that they’re first committed to making it work, that’s where that happy marriage of engagement and accountability comes in. We can work together to set goals and develop action plans. I can do this by working with the willing. I work with folks who are committed and willing to do whatever it takes to get results. It’s that first step and commitment. I don’t work with the resistors. I don’t work with the folks who are loud. I just don’t put my energy there. I put my energy into folks that are willing to contribute to results, working hard to make it work and not on why it can’t.

Because really, at the end of the day, we have two choices. And a highly accountable person knows that I can choose to stay in joy, I can choose to stay to be happy, stay to be happy, despite my circumstances. Or I can also make the choice to leave if this organization isn’t a good fit for me. All too often, we try to win over the resistors. We try to cajole people into buy-in and cajole people into happiness and staying when really we just have two choices. We can stay in joy or we can go in peace. Either way we’re happy to help and make that happen with a lot of love. But we really just have two choices. And all too often, we try to run over the victims. Win over the folks in resistance, try to get people engaged when engagement and happiness is a choice.

So hopefully I’ve given you guys some tools today. If you guys want more, many of you who follow Cy know that we have tons of stuff. And it’s all available online for free. So follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, podcasts, you can join our network, and we’re going to send you free Reality-Based Leadership resources. There are so many different ways that you guys can learn more about this topic and find ways to ditch the drama and cultivate accountability in your workforce. Most importantly, guys, work with the willing, find those folks who are committed and willing to do whatever it takes. Tune in to their feedback. And we have tons of free resources to help you do that. So I’m going to turn it back over to the organizers now. And Jen and Jess, I wasn’t able to see the chat. Maybe you guys could see questions that came in and I’m happy to take any questions from the group that came in today.

Jenifer: Great. Thank you, Kelli. So yes, do feel free if you have a question that you would like to offer up to Kelli, go ahead and put it in the question box now and we’ll moderate those questions. I would also encourage you to do take advantage of the free resources. I first met Cy several years ago when I heard her keynote in a HR conference and started following and availing myself of some of those free resources. And it really has been a game changer. And now we’re actually engaging Cy’s organization, the organization that Kelli is also part of to do our employee engagement survey. So whether you choose to engage them at that level or you just take advantage of those free materials available, it’s very much worthwhile. I would also encourage you to take a look at their podcast. Podcasts are a great way to get some additional free training. So you can take a look at that.

So question for you, Kelli, are there things that we do unwittingly that create entitlement? I mean, how much of this are we as leaders responsible for?

Kelli: That is such a great question, and it’s a question that we get a lot. You know, how do we unintentionally create entitlement? You know, how do we just get, you know, stuck in all this stuff? And, you know, what we often say is that we have drama in our organization because we hire it, we enable it, or we are it. And lots of times we create this culture of entitlement by attempting to perfect people’s circumstances. Let me give you guys an example. I remember one time I was working in an organization and we were spread out across six states, and it was a banking organization. We were looking to consolidate everything in kind of the banking crisis of the late 2000s. And we were consolidating all of our processes. We were streamlining our organizational model, we were consolidating titles and pay and all that stuff that you HR people we…yes, that’s part of our daily job.

And we inadvertently created a little bit of entitlement when people started to come to us with their requests. So when they heard the news that’s what they were doing, very typically, they attempted to quit, you know, they would BMW drive and said, “Okay, so I’ll get on board with this if you don’t change my title. I want to keep my title. I’ve always been this title.” Or they would say, “I’ll get on board with this if you give me a bonus, or you don’t make me move my desk,” or, “I can stay on this team,” or, “I can keep working for that leader.”

And we would start to create entitlement by granting those requests. We felt bad. And so we would inadvertently deep into sympathy, which is apologizing and, you know, agreeing with them that their circumstances are the reasons that they can’t succeed. Instead of using empathy, which is saying, “Gosh, I recognize that we’re asking a lot of folks and we’re changing a lot of things and, you know, what are you going to do to succeed in spite of your circumstances?” So entitlement comes when we kind of dip in with a little too much sympathy, trying to perfect circumstances, making exceptions versus using empathy and a call to greatness, we just say, “Hey, given our challenging circumstances, what are you going to do to succeed in spite of the facts?”

Jenifer: Great. And this next one is maybe I think there’s a question in here, but it looks like more of a statement. You said to work with the willing, but the unwilling are so loud. I’m not sure what the question is there but do you have a thought?

Kelli: Amen. Yes. And you know, it’s interesting when an issue or an event happens, people will typically fall into one of three camps. Twenty percent are going to fall into vision. I mean, half the time, you guys know these people, they don’t even know what they’re signing up for. Like they raise their hand and you’re like, “Did you even know what I asked?” They don’t even care. They’re like, “I’m in.” Then you have 60% who fall into maintenance. They’re kind of your wait and seers. They haven’t really assigned meaning to this thing yet. They’re just going to wait and see where the love is going to go. And then you have your 20% in resistance.

They pine for simpler times. They believe the past was simpler. Your resistors also tend to be the loudest. I know that comes as no shock to you all. And oftentimes resistors tend to believe that they speak on behalf of the group. And they’re very loud. And they argue and they speak up in meetings. And so lots of times we spend our energy on the resistors. And then we bring more people into resistance because those folks in maintenance say, “Well, that’s where the lots go. And so that’s where I’m going to go too.” A better approach is to work with the willing, work with those in vision, and you can do this and quiet the resistors by using a technique we call activating the silent majority. Oftentimes, we have willing folks, we have folks who agree with the direction that we’re going, but we just don’t ask them to speak up.

We say, you know, instead of just allowing them to be silent, just going to them before the meeting or just, you know, in our one-on-one saying, “Hey, can I count on you to speak up in the next meeting in advocacy of this direction of where we’re going?” “Hey, can I count on you that in the bathroom or at the water cooler when you hear a group of folks, you’re talking about all the reasons why this won’t work, are you willing to share one reason why it can work?” And lots of times when we activate that silent majority, we get those folks in vision and the upper half of maintenance working for us, it helps quiet the resistors, because it’s not all on us to keep the resistors quiet. It’s not our job to cajole them or get them on board, we have other people working for us that are speaking on behalf of the direction that we’re going. And then the resistors have a choice. They can get on board or they can choose to exit.

But an average manager will spend an extra 80 hours per year trying to win over someone in resistance, with only about a 3% chance that this person is going to kind of see the light. So my advice for you guys is to really assess where you’re spending your energy and spend it on the folks that are in vision that are doing what you need them to do and really just don’t put our time or energy towards those in resistance.

Jenifer: Can you say one more time what is that percentage of likelihood that you’re going to actually win that person over? Did you say 3%?

Kelli: It’s 3% guys, and sometimes that 3% only happens with like a life changing event that’s like happening outside of work, usually some sort of epiphany that has nothing to do with you.

Jenifer: So this belief system that we might have that we are going to radically change somebody at their core level is a falsehood?

Kelli: It is. Absolutely guys. In fact, reality is the best motivator. I don’t know if you guys have ever noticed, but at least in my life, I’ve never been successful at changing anybody. But what is successful at changing someone is allowing them a direct relationship with reality, finding all the ways in which I’m enabling their poor behavior and removing it. You know, the only way that I’ve ever actually been able to change something or someone is just to allow them to experience the natural consequences that come with not getting on board, or not trying something new, or not changing their approach.

Jenifer: That’s a great point. You’re right. It’s hard enough to change ourselves to your point about the attempts to lose 50 pounds. I know you have done. So congratulations onto yourself. That’s a hard enough task, let alone changing other people.

So thank you so much, Kelli, for what you’ve been able to share with us today, great insight, great information. We enjoy bringing you topics like this that are, you know, really challenged with the assumptions that are out there that I don’t like the idea of giving up on people. And I don’t hear Kelli saying anything of that nature, but really giving them tools to make their own choices about whether they’re going to engage and what they’re going to get on board with, and then what you need to do as a leader to get your business results. So thank you so much, Kelli.

We have a couple last slides to share with you before we wrap up today. I know many of you are looking for recertification credits for your SHRM certification. So here are the details on that. I mentioned we will be sending you an email later today with a link to the recording of today’s live presentation along with these slides. And so you will have this information in those slides.

And then our next slide just introduces you to our next event coming up in July. And we’re going to go from a leadership topic to something that is much more tactical, very much appropriate for leaders to be thinking about, but much more granular in terms of nuts and bolts of that employment transaction, benefits. This is actually probably fits in very nicely about creating a culture of rewards. But we’re looking at what’s trending in 2018.

We have Mariana from Parker, Smith & Feek who is going to share from her bird’s eye perspective what are the trends in employee benefits? What are employers doing to react to the current environment, employee expectations as to what’s happening in the general ecosystem around employee benefits? So sign up today for that. The registration link is open and active. And we look forward to seeing you all back here next month.

Make it a great day, everybody.


Kelli Hinshaw

Reality-Based Leadership