(part 2 of a 2 part series – read part 1)

When leaders are strictly following policies, procedures, rules and regulations, they will not be productive.

There are situations like safety where strict compliance is important, but less so for customer service, manufacturing or similar kinds of activities.

In fact, most work slowdowns are anchored in people following things overly precisely and carefully.

A manager’s inadvertent negative or critical comment that is meant to be seen as feedback, might be unintentionally perceived as punishment by the employee. This may simply lead them to withdraw and become less engaged.


Many situations can lead to people becoming disengaged, and the above is but a partial list of some of the more general factors.

It’s a long list, for sure, but we can get at those issues if we choose to do so.

Many supervisors are not really skilled at motivating these average performers, as they may not focus on this performance improvement opportunity, and choose to do nothing.

After all, these are good employees and they do get things done without a lot of supervision. So, they tend not to act: Why rock the boat or wake up sleeping dogs?

So a common result is that the individual becomes more and more disengaged over time until they reach an acceptable level of performance for themselves, one that they will justify and become congruent with.

That “new hire fire” simply burns down. They eventually become comfortable with the status quo.

Leaders Addressing Disengagement

So, why address disengagement? Because it is one of the best things you can do for yourself, your workplace, and for your team. It can help create many more positive outcomes for everyone involved.

Many are completely aware that they are under-performing, feeling as if they are giving a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. And they have reasons and justifications for any attitudes that impact the choices they make.

Attitudes tend to align with behavior. But the impact they can make on overall success is significant, simply because they have the capability and because they represent half of the workplace!

They also exert peer-support pressures on others, simply by improving their level of performance.

How do You Motivate People?

Re-engage them.

Understand that this will take time and effort. You cannot do this to them, but you can do it with them. Change and improvement take time, but the capability is there. And, “Trust is the residue of promises fulfilled.” (Frank Navran)

I frame the solution in the simple context of Dis-Un-Engagement. And I will talk about the overall approach as Engagimentation, which equals engagement plus implementation. The key is to do things differently.


Identify the past and present things that are currently disengaging people, and use facilitation and teamwork to identify those factors and issues that can be changed, added or reduced that will help to eliminate or minimize these performance issues and change the culture.

Actually, this is really straightforward and accomplished by:

  • Removing the perceived (common) or actual (sometimes) things that are disengaging people and teams, you serve the purpose of re-engaging and re-energizing them
  • Facilitating, you generate active involvement. You lead and engage
  • Creating a new sense of vision and mission about the future
  • Using teams to solve problems, you build the teamwork support, energy and resources needed to supply the peer pressure to improve and sustain

Extrinsic Incentives

Many organizations try to control people’s behaviors extrinsically, a highly difficult process fraught with all sorts of potential negative side effects.

Money works, but there is a continuous need to increase its amounts to get the same results over time, and you will get a lot of competitive responses between people that have negative side effects and interfere with teamwork.

Plus, extrinsic incentives will only motivate the top performers in most situations.

We will get performance by being more direct and aggressive. But it will be compliance-focused, and not exceptional. And, do not turn your back, since various kinds of retribution and sabotage are common.

People Want to Succeed

We simply have to help them come back in and re-engage.

A lot of disengagement is due to the fact that people feel they have no voice and no one is listening.

Show this simple cartoon and ask people what they see:

square wheels

Most people would agree that the illustration represents how things really work in their organization because they know of a lot of things thump and bump as they work to get things done.

The issue is they do not often perceive that anyone really cares, and they will meet their personal goals if they just keep doing what they are doing.

Related:  Leaders Making a Difference: Frank Carney

Using the above cartoon, ask people for general ideas and themes, and then ask them to generate some square wheels and then some round wheels.

This exercise does a lot in regards to generating peer support and perspective on what needs to be improved. That camaraderie of focus can do a lot to improve overall workplace morale.

Generating Good Ideas

Because they offer up their ideas about issues and opportunities in a group process, most things do get out on the table for consideration and discussion.

The key is to generate ideas that help them focus on improvement.

A similar and congruent approach is to use a Visioning Process, one that jumps right to the potential for improvement. You might show them a theme like this:

Leadership Skills Statement

Then simply ask them for what they accomplished that generated such a great result. Asking is the critical behavior…

  • Engaged employees outperform average employees by 20% (The Corporate Executive Board, 2004)
  • 59% of engaged employees say that their job brings out their most creative ideas
  • 3% of dis-engaged employees report their job brings out their most creative ideas (Gallup, 2012)

Good ideas will be generated, many of which can be implemented with a little focus and teamwork.

It is a proven fact that this kind of approach is one of the best strategies there is for helping groups co operate and to improve motivation.

The Engagimentation Process

Not everyone is a good problem solver, and some are actually pretty poor at it.

The top performers generally are more skilled at managing roadblocks and at identifying approaches that simply work better to solve problems.

Plus, in general, those appointed to management positions have some better experiences with certain situations.

Not every disengaging factor is equally difficult to manage, nor does each have the same kind of cultural impediments.

Some disengaging factors may be quite difficult to deal with and require energy and skills.

Dealing with these will often require manager intervention and even escalation. They are often major issues like personnel policies or company practices.

Other problems often require analysis and support and have team-based solutions. Motivated teams can be quite effective at doing all kinds of engaging activities by bringing people and resources together for solid efforts.

There are disengaging factors that may not be solvable, but often a work-around or temporary solution may resolve the de motivational aspects of these kinds of issues.

Again, we are talking about doing things to better engage and involve people in the workplace to improve their performance and productivity. Actions and follow up can have an impact.

At the same time, some of these disengaging factors are perceived more real than they are, and thus may require little or no effort to improve.

Workplace Improvements

The power lies in involvement and collaboration.

Help participants generate ownership and clarify issues and opportunities. Delegate as much power as possible to the teams and team leaders. Build trust by following through on your promises and commitments. Lead them forward on their ideas.

At the same time, you are working to implement workplace improvements, you must look to the performance management system itself to identify ways to provide timely, supportive feedback about that performance.

If you do not change the measurement and feedback systems in some way, it is likely that the existing program will not support any improvements.

Start by asking them about the issues and help them to define what they want to do differently.


Imagine a workplace where the welfare of each person is built on an environment of mutual trust and respect and where positive, creative energies engage everyone in a shared purpose.

Imagine a place where both people and ideas are valued, and where all do their best and collaborate to contribute.

Then, you can start to get some of their ideas about what needs to be changed and improved.

Create a more attractive vision of the future and generate some peer support for closing the gap between what they see and what they want.

This is Part 2 of a 2 part series. Read Part 1

How Can You Improve Engagement?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Dr. Scott Simmerman
Scott is a keynote speaker, conference speaker, workshop and seminar leader, and professional facilitator. He has facilitated his highly actionable team building events in over 30 countries.