345: The Simple Solution to Disengagement with Dr. Bob Nelson

By September 14, 2018Podcasts



Dr. Bob Nelson says: "Every employee's got a $50,000 idea if you can find a way to get it out."

Dr. Bob Nelson reveals the drivers behind disengagement–and what to do about them.


You’ll Learn:

  1. Just how critical recognition is
  2. Key reasons managers don’t give more encouragement
  3. Five ways to reward employees at low or no cost

About Bob

Dr. Bob Nelson is a leading advocate for employee recognition and engagement worldwide and the only person who has done a PhD dissertation related to the topic. He has consulted for 80 percent of the Fortune 500 as well as presented on six continents.  He has sold 5 million books, including 1001 Ways to Reward Employees of which 1001 Ways to ENGAGE Employees is his latest. Dr. Bob has been featured extensively in the national and international media including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, CBS 60 Minutes, MSNBC, ABC, PBS and NPR about how best to motivate today’s employees.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Dr. Bob Nelson Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Dr. Bob, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Dr. Bob Nelson
Pete, thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into this chat in many ways, maybe 1,001 ways or reasons why I’m excited. First, not to be too self-serving, but I’m so curious, you have quite a sentence in your bio: 80% of the Fortune 500 has been one of your consulting clients. Wow. What’s the secret behind this?

Dr. Bob Nelson
Yeah. Have good services, good outreach and keep at it. I’ve been doing this 25 years. Along the way people see what you’re up to and they say, “We need help with that,” or “We want your message to go to all our leaders,” or some version of that.

It’s a lot of fun. I really love it, to be able to help someone, a company that maybe can’t see the forest for the trees and they’re in the middle of it and they’re being hammered by different vendors and they’re not sure – they lose their focus and I can help them get their bearings and go through the sea of choices and end up with really what they’re after.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Not to turn this into a marketing podcast, but tell me about the consistent outreach part.

Dr. Bob Nelson
Oh, I think anyone knows that you have to keep at it for – regardless of how successful your business or your book or whatever you’re doing. I’m constantly promoting. Every time you speak, you’re promoting. Every time you’re consulting, you’re promoting. If you lose sight of that, then you’re going to hit a dry spot.

You hear about people, they’ve got a big consulting project for AT&T for three years and then that runs out and they’ve got no business. You’ve got to be constantly putting out lines. I believe that.

Another thing I believe that as a small business owner, I’ve got kind of a cottage industry in employee motivation and engagement, but within that there’s different strategies that you have to – you can’t just do one thing. You’ve got to be doing different things. I’m not sure – any given year I’ll do five or six major strategies. I’m not sure which ones will hit better, but two or three of them will and it will be – it will keep me busy and provide adequate funding.

I’m a believer in you’ve got to be promoting and you’ve got to be trying different things. You’ve got to be innovating because the market changes, tools change, technology changes. Now we have a whole new generation coming up, so they may not know the things that could help that – from people before them, from research that’s come before them. There’s a lot of – it doesn’t stay static. That’s makes it go a little bit exciting.

Pete Mockaitis
That is exciting. What I appreciate about that, and thanks for going there, is for our listeners who are not small business owners or marketing professionals, I was kind of inspired by what you said there in terms of you try five or six things a year, two or three of them hit. In other words, the minority or less than 50% by a slight margin. That’s just sort of encouraging in terms of trying stuff. Even super rock stars might miss more often than they hit.

Dr. Bob Nelson
Yeah. You talk to anyone that’s had success and there’s a certain element of luck in there, but as Mark Twain said, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

I think that for any artist, for a record producer, a song producer, a book producer, you take your bestselling product – or for any company, if any – I was just talking with Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40. They’ve got a fantastic product. It’s a 500 million dollar company. They’re in 300 countries.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s all of them just about. That is more than is represented in the UN I believe. Impressive.

Dr. Bob Nelson
Okay. Yeah, yeah, yeah. You’re right on that, but there’s – that was a – but they’re all over the globe. They – talking to them, they’re not resting on their laurels. They constantly, “What are we going to do new this year? What are we going to do-“ They’re using their tax refund to do more on social media.

It’s just you’re constantly refocusing. You’re constantly trying to maximize because we all have limited time, limited resources, limited marketing budgets, so what’s the best position. Because no matter what you do, you’ve got to be doing a little bit of experimenting all the time to test the waters for the next idea.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh cool. Thank you. Now I want to dig in a little bit. Your company is Nelson Motivation. You’ve got a book called 1,001 Ways to Engage Employees.

Dr. Bob Nelson

Pete Mockaitis
That is a lot of ways.

Dr. Bob Nelson
It is.

Pete Mockaitis
What’s kind of the main idea behind the book?

Dr. Bob Nelson
The main idea of 1,001 Ways to Engage Employees is the fact that we’re in a time where we need people engaged more than ever before, yet it’s at an all-time low. Since the field has come around in the last 20 years, essentially started by Gallup and their longitudinal research came up with what was called the Q12, 12, a dozen key variables that differentiate high performing companies from their average competitors.

Wow, great idea. They’re excellent at measuring engagement. This is the state of the field now that we have a good bead on it. We don’t have enough of it. We need more of it. It’s currently costing our country, our economy 420 billion dollars a year. Wow, bring it on. Although they’re good at measuring, they’re not so good at impacting it, at creating greater engagement.

I kind of looked at that and said, well, I don’t know much, but I know if 20 years into it we have the same number of engaged employees as 20 years ago, the same number of disengaged and actively disengaged employees, give or take one percent, then whatever we’re trying to do isn’t doing it.

I’m trying to bring a practical hands-on approach saying stop measuring and start doing it. Start focusing on the behaviors that gets you the results. This book is about-

Pete Mockaitis
…. Sorry, go ahead.

Dr. Bob Nelson
This book is about doing that. I took the research-based top ten variables, factors, if you will, that most impact employee engagement and systematically with each one of them I show the reader what it looks like through examples and practices currently being done by successful companies.

It’s just a book of practical positive wisdom that can help move the needle for your organization, whether you manage one person, a group, or have responsibility for the whole organization, you can start heading in the right direction where you can get better and better to have a more highly engaged workforce.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love to dig into first the data piece for a moment. I – we talked about engagement a few times on the show. I’ve received more than 100 pitches from PR folk pointing to the crisis of low engagement.

Dr. Bob Nelson
There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
And how so-and-so would be a great person to talk to. You made it in though. You passed the gauntlet. But what you point out, which is kind of interesting from a historical context perspective, is you say, “Hold up now. Gallup’s been tracking this thing for 20 years and it’s been just about the same for all 20 years.”

Dr. Bob Nelson

Pete Mockaitis
So this is not a new crisis that we are thinking about. It’s just sort of like the state of work for two decades.

Dr. Bob Nelson
Yeah. Well, it’s a little bit the emperor’s not wearing clothes. It’s sort of like, if you want to measure it again this year and compare it to last year and look at each other and say, “Well, it really hasn’t changed that much,” and flip the page and look at the next variable, then do it for the next ten years.

But if you really want to change what’s going on in your organization, where you start to impact the behaviors of your leaders that impact how employees feel about working there, you’ll start getting different results, a different buzz, a different excitement that will be contagious.

Let’s go down that path and do that. Do that for a year or two and then measure. You won’t need to measure. You’re be able to feel the difference of what’s happening.

My book is intent on trying to make that connection. Less talk, less measurement, more here’s what is working now for people trying to make it happen. Here’s the results they got. You can probably do this one too. Give it a try. Not every idea in the book is going to work for you, but if that one doesn’t, flip the page, here’s another one.

The book just came out and I just saw someone yesterday, a head of HR for a large high-tech Fortune 500 company. She just got the book. It was like five days ago. I saw her copy. It had dozens of Post-Its, and tabs, and paper clipped, and folded ears. I’m going, “Yes.”

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Dr. Bob Nelson
Yes. She’s in it. That’s – I write books that are meant to be used.

You can – I have managers that say, “Hey, I took your book I passed it around to my workgroup. I had people initial ideas they like in the margin. It doesn’t mean I have to do any of them, but if I want to do something to thank them, to engage them, to tap into their ideas – wow, here’s something that they checked themselves. I can make the connection a little bit easier.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, that is handy. Kind of outsource a little bit of that decision making. Get that flowing.

Dr. Bob Nelson
Well, the best management is what you do with people, not what you do to them. I’m trying to share the techniques that you can be doing, not as a force people, not to surprise or trick them to working harder, but to say, “Hey, how would it feel around here if we – who feels we need to have more recognition?” If everyone says, “Oh no, we’re fine,” then forget about it, but I haven’t seen that happen yet.

Actually, if you’ve got any credibility with them, someone’s going to raise their hand and say, “Well, boss, I’ve just had it up to here with you telling me how good I am.” That’s not going to happen.

You’re going to find out about, “You’re quick to find mistakes. You’re kind of, truth be known, a little bit of a micromanager. You actually – through your behaviors you show that you don’t trust us. That’s why you get us very defensive trying to minimize our commitment, so we’re not the person that you find fault with.”

We’re spending more time KYA and protecting ourselves and emails to show that wasn’t our decision and stuff like that instead of tapping into improving processes and serving the clients and ideas for saving money.

It’s all around us. Which way – where do you want people focused? Well, if you want to lead the charge, you’ve got to start getting in front of them and catching them doing things right that are in line with the goals of your group, and the organization. That will naturally bring out more of that behavior.

The greatest management principle in the world is you get what you reward, what you thank someone for, what you inspect, what you acknowledge, what you incentivize-

Pete Mockaitis

Dr. Bob Nelson
Which is the best way of telling them on the front end what you’ll do for them on the back end if you get the results you wanted. You do any form of that, you’re going to get more of that behavior. Not just from that person, but from other people that saw you do it or heard about it.

As you systematically send the message, “This is the type of thing that gets noticed around here. This is the type of thing that we’re talking about. The excitement about how Tony achieved the goals that we were after or the core value so important our company’s success.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s a great lay of the land there. I’m curious in your example there, you sort of spoke from the vantage point of sort of an individual employee sort of sharing with manager, “Hey, here’s actually what’s up and what’s going awry.”

I’d love to get your take to speak to that person first. If we’re talking about an individual contributor, who’s feeling disengaged at work right now, what do you think that one individual should do when they find themselves surrounded by a vibe that is not so engaging?

Dr. Bob Nelson
Yes. Well, that’s a great question. It’s very on point because the forward for my book is done by Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, who’s the – considered the number one coach in the world. What he wrote about was who owns engagement.

It was fantastic because the way we have it – and again, going back to Gallup, if you ask people, “Are you getting enough recognition? Do you – are we giving you the skills you need? Do you have adequate authority? Are we doing the right things?” It’s very, very easy to say, “Mm, yeah, not really. Why don’t you work on that?”

You do some things. You come back. “Eh, it’s a little better, but work on it more. I’d like more money too.” They’re off the hook. Engagement needs to be owned by every employee.

If you’re not getting the recognition you feel you deserve, bring that up to your boss. Have a discussion in your group. Bring an idea for how we can start sharing praises to start our staff meeting.

I worked with ESPN and they had a manager that said, “Whenever we start a staff meeting we always start the same way. We start with listing, as a group, five things that are going well. Usually it’s pretty easy, but sometimes it’s not. We’re kind of struggling on some stuff. We still don’t skip that step until we name five things as a group because that’s our touchstone. That’s our homeroom that allows us to take on the next challenge.”

Or I worked last fall with NASA Johnson Space Systems in Houston, which is ranked the number one best place to work in federal government, by the way. Didn’t surprise me in the least because you could feel it walking into the place. You could see it on the walls, how people talked to each other. You could feel a culture that’s positive and people are engaged.

One of the things that they do that I loved is that whenever they have a manger meeting, here’s 20 managers and they always save, as is their custom, 10 minutes at the end of the meeting to go around the room and ask everyone to share something they’ve done to recognize someone on their team since we last have been together. Wow, ten minutes. They said you could just feel the energy and pride of the group rise.

They said they noticed something else that their leaders will take notes on each other’s ideas. “That’s a great one, Tony. I’m going to try that.” They’re constantly becoming better and better. They’re becoming – they’re a self-learning organization on the concepts that made them great to begin with. I love it. I love it.

There’s so many organizations that are kind of stuck in the mud and the problem is somewhere else’s and not theirs and everyone is pointing fingers at each other. It’s more of a blame game. You’ve got to get out of that – you’ve got to get out of that hole and start looking at the power of positive consequences and how to systematically bring them to bear in whatever you’re trying to achieve.

I’m talking a lot about what actually turns out to be, from the research, the number one variable that most impacts engaged employees: recognition. 56% of what causes engagement comes from people feeling valued, praised, thanked from their manager, from those they work with, from upper management, privately, publically, in writing, in emails, whatever.

It’s a constant. It’s a constant. It’s not something once at the end of the year at the Christmas party. It’s not, “Hey, I’ll praise you when I start seeing something worthy of it. Just assume that you’re doing a good job unless you do otherwise because I’m going to be all over you when you make a mistake.” That’s the natural tendency by management.

In fact, I worked with Ken Blanchard, who wrote The One-Minute Manager, for ten years. He used to say the leading style of management in America is – he called it ‘leave alone, zap.” We leave people. We don’t give them great direction or tools or support, but we let them have it when they make a mistake. We zap them and then we keep going back. We hardly ever use the tools that most drive, most pull the performance and those are the positive consequences, which are all around us every day.

I like opening people’s eyes to that. In my original 1,001 Ways book, 1,001 Ways to Reward Employees, I just had this epiphany that said this is the most proven principle of management. It’s easy to do the best forms of it. They have no cost.

I actually did my doctoral dissertation on a simple question: why don’t managers do this? I did a three-year study to try to … common sense notion, but common sense isn’t often common practice. As Voltaire said in the 17th century, so is the case today that the things that sound like common sense –

A lot of times I’ll talk to a group and I’ll say “The things I’m going to share with you, I know you can do. I’m not here to see – I already know that. That’s a given. I’m here to say, ‘Will you do them? How will you hold yourself accountable as an individual, as a member of the team, as an organization to this standard?’”

Now I worked with Disney organization for 15 years. To work there, they had a standard for leadership. They didn’t care how you were managed where you came from, what you bring with you in your own suitcase. “Yeah, yeah, that’s nice. Here’s how we manage here. If you want to be a manger, you’ve got to do these things.” Then they hire for it. They train for it. Then they evaluate leaders for it.

If someone doesn’t do it, they’ll call them out and say, “Hey, maybe you thought we were kidding about this or we’re just going through the motions, but we’re serious. You need to do these things. You need to be a visionary. You need to be supportive. You need to be a cheerleader. You need to be a career developer. Your job as a leader is to help other people be successful.”

Peter Drucker, my professor, defined the role of management as getting the work done through others, not doing – being a super worker and doing it yourself, not running yourself ragged, not chewing people out until they do it right, but getting the work done through them, which means helping them, which means showing them, which means encouraging them, counseling them, whatever it takes.

If we’re really stuck and we’re up against it, I’m going to take off my jacket and roll up my sleeves and dig in with you. We’re in this together. It’s wherever people are at, showing them what it looks like to get in the game.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. There’s so much I want to dig into there.

Dr. Bob Nelson
I know, you can ask me one question, I’ll talk for an hour.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Let’s-

Dr. Bob Nelson
I’ll try to keep it short.

Pete Mockaitis
I want to talk about – so recognition is the biggie.

Dr. Bob Nelson
Yes. ….

Pete Mockaitis
You spent three years studying why don’t managers do it. I want to hit that on from two angles. One, in fact why don’t managers do it? And two, again, if you are that individual contributor and you’re not getting it, how can you have that conversation? What’s sort of like the best practice or script or means of asking for it well so you don’t seem like, “Oh my gosh, what a whiney, needy, whatever person,” so to avoid that kind of reaction.

Dr. Bob Nelson
Okay. Well the 20-second survey on my three-year study is why managers don’t do it. Number one, they weren’t sure how to do it well. Number two they really didn’t believe it was that important as the research indicates. Number three, they didn’t feel they had time. Who has time to do things they don’t believe are important to begin with?

They didn’t feel anyone did it for them, so when they start getting it, they’ll start giving it. They’re afraid of leaving people out. They didn’t feel the organization supported it. The list kind of goes on, a whole list of really excuses where, “It’s not my job; it’s HR’s job or the CEO’s job or corporate’s, any of them but me.” That’s – there’s a lot of people, that can’t. No.

For those leaders that use recognition, there’s just one thing going on and that is to a person, the common denominator, they internalize the importance of doing recognition. They felt that as a leader of a group that they’re in charge of the motivational environment for the people that work for them, not the CEO, not HR, not corporate, but them. It’s their baby. They believe that they have to impact that.

Their beliefs they started – our behaviors follow our beliefs. Their beliefs are not “This is a waste of time. I’ve got better things to do.” They go, “This is the most important thing I need to do.” To be a leader, you are a person that is inspiring others. Everything else is mechanical. Anyone can do that. Not everyone could be a leader.

They believe that to the point where it impacted their behavior. They actively looked for opportunities to recognize people when they did a good job. Not just be nice, but contingent. When they did a good job, displayed the proper behavior, the core values, got the results, finished the project, whatever it is.

They’re constantly in their day scanning for that, when they’re reading, when they’re talking to people, when they’re in meetings, when they’re in the hallway.

Then when they hear or see something about a good job that was done, they act on that thought. They don’t make a mental note, “Oh Jerry did it again. He’s one of my best people.” They actually say something to Jerry or bring it up at the meeting or jot him a note or an email. They do something to connect back with the person that did the performance.

There you go. That’s the long and short of it. They try to do that every day. Not every person every day, but every day someone. That becomes part of their behavior – they’re behavioral repertoire, I like to say, of how they manage. They’re constantly on the lookout and acting to make the connection.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. I like that notion that hey, every day there’s going to be some act of recognition. Your other book 1,501 Ways to Reward Employees, you’ve got many in mind. Can you share what have you found to be some of the most powerful and simple means of doing that, such as maybe the biggest bang for your buck recognition practices?

Dr. Bob Nelson
Sure, yes. Well, let me tell you and you’re going to love this because the most powerful forms of recognition and engagement for that matter, tend to be the things that have little or no cost.

When someone says, “We don’t have the money to motivate people here,” they’re assuming we’ve got to pay them more, we’ve got to throw a big party. Last year it was a buffet, so this year it’s got to be sit-down. They’re chasing this dream. Whatever they’re doing, they’re spending more and more money. Years of service awards. They’ll start doing stuff around people’s birthdays.

It’s like, no, that’s not where it’s at at all. Where it’s at is behavior. You’ve got to show people that they’re important to you through your actions and the things you say and do.

Number one on the list is a simple thank you, a simple praise. Be a leader that is quick to catch someone doing something right and to call them out for it in a positive way, one-on-one in front of others even when they’re not around, knowing that word will get back to them, etcetera.

Jot a note, send an email, text them on their cell phone, do a company announcement, call their mother and tell them what a great job their kid’s doing and thanks for bringing them up right. I know managers that have done that.

Let me tell you, there’s a lot of stuff like that “Oh, that sounds silly.” It’s not silly to the mother that got that call. The next conversation she had with her son or daughter, it wasn’t silly to him either. It made their month. It’s like, wow, what a cool thing to do. It’s not hard to tap into it. That whole recognition is a starting point.

Of course you can spend money. If you’re doing something, you can do something more. You can – a simple gift. I work with a company called Snappy Gifts that has just wonderful, unique products all under 20 bucks. You can’t get one and not be delighted by it because it’s just fun and it’s a celebration. On up to point programs and gift cards. A lot of companies do trips for top salespeople. That type of stuff.

There’s no lack of places where you can spend the money, but again, there isn’t – I haven’t found the correlation between the amount of money that is spent and the amount of motivation and engagement that’s going on.

My advice is to start the foundation be the behaviors that are most critical and then you can layer on other stuff as someone really goes above and beyond. That’s number one.

The other things that are truly engaging, again, all no cost, ask people for their ideas and opinions. If they’ve got a good one, give them permission to pursue it. It’s called autonomy. Give them the resources to make it. See if you can help them do it. See if anyone else wants to help them do it.

Having two-way communication is a big one, talked about in the book extensively. If you’re making a decision, involve the people that work for you in that decision, especially those that are going to be impacted by it.

Again, feels like common sense, but a lot of managers, “Oh, I’m the person in charge. I’m the decision maker here.” Yeah, yeah, yeah. Even say that, “You’ve got to make the final decision. That’s your responsibility. But you know what would be a better decision, if you get impact from your team. That’s why you wanted to ask”

In that simple action of doing it, you’re showing trust and respect. You’re being open. Wow, that’s the type of person everyone wants to work for, that is walking the talk of treating them as a partner on the team, not as a replaceable body.

If someone makes a mistake, already said the natural tendency is for people to jump all over them, embarrass them in front of their peers, prove that you’re the smartest person in the room. Bravo, bravo. They’re getting their resume ready because they can’t take it anymore.

But try this instead. The next time someone makes a mistake, take a breath, take a step back and say, “I don’t think I would have done the same thing, but what did you learn from that? That could be the best training we had for you all year. I’m glad you made that mistake.” Wow.

That manager through his actions is saying there’s something more important going on than something that happened in the last ten minutes or the last day. We have a long-term relationship. You’re important to me. I’m important to you and I hope that’s going to be true for years to come. I’m not going to dump all over you here because you did something wrong. I make mistakes too. Everyone does.

In fact, if you’re not making enough mistakes, you’re not pushing the fold enough. You’re not – it’s a little bit too safe. You’ve got to stretch. You’ve got to try things new. You’ve got to experiment. You’ve got to do something you’ve never done before.

Sometimes that idea can come from the newest person on the team, the person that isn’t biased by all the policies we have and how we’ve been doing it for years and “I’m just wondering, why don’t we try this?” Well, you take that person, new person, any person and you say, “Well, Sally, let me tell you why we don’t do that. We tried it two years ago. It didn’t work. It won’t work now.” “Oh, okay, I’m sorry. Sorry for – it won’t happen again.”

Pete Mockaitis
Don’t you worry. I won’t speak after sharing the ideas.

Dr. Bob Nelson
Right. We’re done. Now she’s going to check her brains at the door. How about saying, “Well Sally, that’s an interesting idea. Why don’t you check into that and see what you come up with?” What did that cost you?

Now because who’s got more energy for an idea than the person who came up with it to begin with. Now Sally may come at it differently than the last person that tried it two years ago. She might do an internet search. She might check with a dozen friends at other companies, “How do you guys handle this?” Who knows what she’s going to do? But she might come back and from her energy and her research do something that does work.

I was working with Johnsonville Food, the maker of great brats up in Wisconsin. They’re CEO, Ralph Stayer, told me that he had his admin once say, “Mr. Stayer” this was back a few years ago. She said, “We have such a great products. I’ve always wondered why we don’t market those more online.”

He said, his inclination to say, “Well, Betty, that’s why upper management is paid the big money. We make those decisions,” but he didn’t say that. He caught himself and said, “Betty, check into that. See what you come up with.”

Fast-forward 18 months later, now Betty, formerly an admin, is now running a new division on online sales, one and a half million dollar product line and growing much larger since then because she had the wherewithal and the support to make it happen.

Every company has that possibility. Every employee, I go so far as to say, every employee’s got a 50,000 dollar idea if you can find a way to get it out. It’s not by shutting them down. It’s not by saying, “Well, that’s not – that’s only a 10 dollar idea. We’re looking for the 50,000 dollar idea.”

Well to get that one or the five million dollar idea, you’ve got to develop a process, which means you’ve got to look for any ideas and acknowledge people for submitting those even if it’s not one we’re going to do or can do. But “I like the way you think. I’m looking for more from you.” Game on because they’re going to come up with them.

Let’s help them. Let’s help everyone on this. Someone in accounting, do a bag lunch next Tuesday, talk about cost-benefit analysis. Whoever wants to learn more about sizing up their ideas, come to the cafeteria. We’re doing a brown bag lunch. Give them the support and tools along the way.

I worked at a company in Connecticut, Boardroom Inc. They have five of the six largest newsletters in the country. They do these large books, hardcover books. They do a thing called ‘I power,’ where they ask every employee, every employee, to turn in two ideas every week.

Well, I talked to …. “Could you do that with your employees, your team, your …?” “Well, of course you can.” “How about next week? Can you do it again?” “Yeah, maybe.” “How about the week after that?” Well, how many ideas can someone have?

This company’s been doing this for 17 years. They ask every employee to turn in two new ideas every week about how can we be better, how can we improve process, how we can save money, how we can delight the customer, how we can get new business. It’s all around us every day. Allow people to grab on and run with it. That’s just one example.

I was there. They got a recent idea they got from the one guy, a shipping clerk, hourly paid employee, one of his two ideas one week was that he said, “Next time, this book we got, this big book that we ship, next time we get it printed by the printer, if we can trim the page size,” he calculated a 16th of an inch, “you’ll fall under the next postal rate. I think we’ll save some money in shipping.”

The CEO said well they looked at. He’s right. They cut up a book and he’s right. They made that one simple change, in the first year alone they saved a half million dollars in shipping costs because of that idea. Their chairman-

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. The 13 ounce threshold, I know it well. It makes a world of difference.

Dr. Bob Nelson
There you go. There you go. The CEO, Marty Edelston, he told me, he said, “Bob, I’ve worked in direct mail for 27 years. I didn’t even know there was a fourth-class postal rate.” But to the kid that’s looking at the chart day in and day out, he knew it. If we could tap into what he sees and what ideas he has, that’s the power.

Doing that simple thing. These are simple concepts, but doing it well. They had a couple false starts and they kept at it. They were able to increase their revenues fivefold in three years just by tapping into the power of ideas from their own employees. There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. Thank you. Tell me, Bob, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Dr. Bob Nelson
Lay it on me.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. How about a favorite quote?

Dr. Bob Nelson
Favorite quote. One of my favorite – I’ve got a lot of favorite quotes. One of them is from Bill Hewlett, cofounder of Hewlett Packer, he said “Men and women want to do a good job, a creative job and if they provided the right environment, they will do so.”

I love that quote because just in one sentence it says where we’ve come from, where we are, where we’re headed today. For the longest time managing in our country was basically telling people what to do. My way or the highway. I’m the person in charge. You take orders; I give them. We don’t need any creative thinking here. We don’t need your – that doesn’t work today.

Today we need everyone in the game because things are changing, environments are changing, competition is changing. Your competitors now might be from Thailand or from a different state. You’ve got to be on the game, which means everyone on it. That’s a keeper.

I want to go back to the other question. I think you’ve asked me twice and I haven’t answered. That is what can an individual employee do if these things – if they’re in a place where these things aren’t happening. My advice on that is to bring it up to your immediate manager and to make the case for it. Even if it’s like recognition that might sound like “I want my own horn tooted.”

I’ve had people tell me that they’ve talked to their boss said, “We’re doing a lot. I love working here. I love working for you. I’d be able to do it better and do more for you if you could tell me when I especially did something well because then I’ll know what to do more of and then – yeah, I could do that boss,” and start doing that. Sure enough, her performance rose accordingly.

It’s – tell them we’re in it together. You can be the employee that shares this with your boss or with the team. Say “I heard this interview, I read this book. It sounded like something that could resonate with us. Could we try some of these things?”

That’s how you get in the game and have the – all work – that same … in Ralph Stayer. He had a quote. He said basically all we’ve got is conversations. Let’s start to impact those conversations. Let’s start having different conversations and not ones where we’re complaining and griping about management and politicking.

Let’s talk about things that are working, and things that we’re excited to be a part of, and what’s in store for us for the future, and how much fun we’re going to have getting there. That all becomes very contagious.

If you’re working in a place where it’s very cynical and it’s negative and everyone’s kind of dragging into work and waiting for Friday and fortunately the commute isn’t too bad, you can shake it up. Anyone can shake it up. I’ve worked with companies that one person, not the CEO, grabbing hold, was able to change a culture.

True story. I was speaking in Seattle to 800 people. Five weeks later I was back and I look at the crowd I go – this woman in the first row I go, “You look really familiar.” She goes, “Yeah, yeah. I heard you speak five weeks ago. I wanted to come back and tell you what happened.” I was like, “Well, what happened?” She goes, “Well-“ she described what she did and it was fun because I said, “Well, what did you-“

She said, “I started using the stuff you talked about. I started doing more recognition with my group.” Oh, she said, “I left with seven pages of notes and one intention. I said I’m not going back and asking permission. I’m going back and doing this.” That’s what she did. She did it in her workgroup.

I go, “Well, like what? What did you do?” She said, “Well, we’re in downtown Seattle. We did a picnic up on the roof. That was kind of fun to celebrate something. We did a barter for meeting space for the company on the next block that had a limo company that didn’t have any meeting space. We let them use our meeting space and they gave us free limo rides that we give people for different things.”

Just on and on and on. Just went for it. As a result, she said a noticeable difference in her group: energized, fun, excited, to the point where other managers are saying, “Hey, what are you doing over there. You people are-“ “Well, hey, come to the next meeting. We’re not trying to hide anything. We’re making stuff happen.”

Literally, this one leader made it happen first in her group and then in her facility and then the company tapped into it. She helped to make it happen across the country to all their facilities. 18 months later, from the first time she heard me speak, they entered the list of best places to work in America, number 23, Perkins Coie, a law firm. It was really through the efforts of one person.

People say, “Well you can change a culture. It takes eight years. It’s got to start at the top,” and this and that. Well, it can do that, but you can also have – one person can change a culture, one determined, focused person.

I have examples – I use examples in my books where that’s done from the bottom, from the middle, from – there’s a lot of ways to get there. That’s kind of the fun of it too. You can create your own journey to being excellent.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Dr. Bob Nelson
I’ve been very influenced by, well, some people I’ve mentioned. Marshall Goldsmith wrote What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There. Brilliant book. Ken Blanchard, The One-Minute Manager. Peter Drucker, Concept of the Corporation. He’s – and on and on.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. If folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Dr. Bob Nelson
I’ve got a website. That’s probably a good place to start. www.DrBobNelson.com. Go figure, right? That’s DrBobNelson.com.

You can find out – I’ve got a lot of resources and articles posted for free. I’ve got all my books there at discounted prices. I’ve got information about all of my presentations, consulting, etcetera, etcetera, and my contact information, so you can call me, you can send me an email. I try to help everyone that comes my way, if it’s just answering a question or if it’s doing something further.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Thank you. Do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Dr. Bob Nelson
Yeah, I would say, again, as an employee if you want to be awesome, start – do some things different. Start asking your boss what you can do to help them. I probably have managed 30 – 35 employees in my career. I only remember one doing that. It was a breath of fresh air to say –

And something else she was good at too because I would come in and I would be all excited about stuff I’d need to have done and “Katie, can you do this?” She would listen and she goes, “Bob, I’d be delighted to do that. Let me show you what I’m working on now. You let me know which you prefer to have me do.” Then she would – I kind of, “Hm, okay.” Then she’d show me. Every time I’d say, “Oh, keep doing what you’re doing. This can wait until tomorrow or next week,” because she was on it.

That was – basically I’m making the point that whoever your manager is, they’re trainable. You can be the person that trains them. If it’s not working for you, start trying to do something different, starting with talking to that person and give them some input for how they can help you be more effective. More times than not, I think you’ll see a positive response to that.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. Well, Dr. Bob, thank you so much for taking this time and sharing the goods.

Dr. Bob Nelson
It goes so quick, doesn’t it?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. I hope that there’s lot of engagement and rewarding going on for you and your employees and clients and everybody.

Dr. Bob Nelson
Yeah, well anytime you want me back, I’d be glad to continue the conversation in all its different forms.

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