I’m sorry to report that a combination of personal and professional obligations put me in the position of having to suspend publication of these Musings until further notice.

As was the case with a similar cessation of hostilities last September, it seems best to have these final(ish?) words be brief.



         Musings suspended.

         Hope it’s just temporary.

         Do your best to cope.




In “Ghostbusters” the apocalypse arrives like this:

Dr. Peter Venkman: This city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.

Mayor: What do you mean, "biblical"?

Dr. Ray Stantz: What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath of God type stuff.

Venkman: Exactly.

Stanz: Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling!

Dr. Egon Spengler: Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes...

Winston Zeddemore: The dead rising from the grave!

Venkman: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!

In publishing, the apocalypse would have arrived with the choice of my book, Otherwise Engaged, as “The #1 Leadership Book of 2015!” by The Book Review Company, a UK-based enterprise.  Fortunately for all of us, though, my book did not win.  Instead, "The #1 Leadership of 2015!" is Wired for Authenticity by Henna Inam.  You can go here to find out more about Henna's excellent book.  

The selection process went something like this.  The Book Review Company identified an initial list of 20 books--one of which, oddly enough, was Otherwise Engaged--which were then put to a vote of the general public.  The top five vote-getters made it through as finalists; surprisingly, Otherwise Engaged made this cut, too.  (Lucky for me that Donald Trump’s latest—Lincoln, the 2nd Most Terrific Republican of All Time, Was Right:  You CAN Fool All Of the People Some of the Time!—wasn’t published last year.)  The five finalists were then reviewed by a 10-person expert panel, which then submitted their rank-orderings to The Book Review Company.

Henna Inam's book justifiably won.  Mine, justifiably, did not.  And dogs and cats continue to live separately.




Those of you who read these posts regularly--both of you--know that I generally publish each week's Worst Idea on Fridays.  So why this post today?  Because the selection of the "Top Leadership Book of 2015" by The Book Review Company was to have been announced yesterday.  My book, Otherwise Engaged, is one of the five finalists.  My plan, therefore, was to have written about whether or not my book had been selected as #1.  To that end, I had prepared two versions of the planned post and was ready to drop the appropriate one into this space today.  However, it's now mid-morning on the 16th, no decision has been announced, so I moved this (half) week's Worst Idea up in the queue.  In theory, I'll use Friday's post to announce the results of the book competition.  Or not.


An article  appearing on reports on a just-released study indicating that HR professionals, managers, and rank-and-file employees “have very different opinions about workplace culture, who drives it, what’s important to creating a great one, and what can destroy workplace culture.”

Since the degree of Employee Engagement (EE) is a byproduct of workplace culture, I found the following excerpt to be especially relevant to our ongoing conversation about EE:

When asked who at their organization most defines the workplace culture, HR professionals, managers, and employees each felt they were most important: 

       About one-third of HR professionals said that the head of HR defines the culture, while only 10 percent of managers and three percent of employees agreed. 

       Twenty-six percent of managers said their executive team defines the culture, while only 11 percent of HR professionals and nine percent of employees felt the same. 

       Finally, 29 percent of employees said it is the employees who define workplace culture, with only nine percent of HR professionals and 13 percent of managers agreeing. Interestingly, a full 40 percent of Millennial employees feel that employees define the culture – an indication of an evolving view of workplace culture where employees feel they have more power. 

       Troublingly, 28 percent of employees feel that no one defines the workplace culture, whereas only five percent of HR professionals and seven percent of managers feel this way. 

Frankly, I’d have been surprised if different categories of people were not shown to have different opinions on this matter.  What makes this item worthy of Worst Idea honors is the adverb—“Troublingly”—that begins the fourth bullet. 

It’s pretty clear from the context that we are supposed to be “troubled” that some people feel that “no one defines the workplace culture.”   What troubles me about that fourth bullet is how few people share that feeling.

Workplace culture is a complex brew of many individual ingredients, each of which is complex in its own right.  Saying that one group or another defines the culture makes a major category error.  (While the oboe section can certainly affect the orchestra’s performance, it doesn’t define it.)

Let’s end on a more positive note.  I find it heartening that the category with the highest percentage—by a large margin—saying that no one defines the culture was “employees,” thereby demonstrating the residual common sense and humility of people who have not spent too much time in the rarefied atmosphere that exists at higher levels of the hierarchy or in the fever swamps of HR.  (If I used smiley faces, I would include one here.  But I don’t so I won’t.)




This week’s Worst Idea reprises a familiar Musings theme: approaching Employee Engagement (EE) as though you were making up a list before heading off to the supermarket.  It’s from an article (“Nine Tips For Improving Employee Engagement and Performance”) appearing on SYS.COM MEDIA.  Those nine tips are:

  • Population Health Management: A New Business Model for a Healthier Workforce
  • Workplace Violence and Terrorism: Best Practices for a New Reality
  • Stories of Urban Transformation: The Rise of 18-Hour Work/Live Communities
  • Big Data in the Workplace: Can It Enhance Employee Productivity and Quality of Life?
  • Reaching Every Employee in an Organization: Engagement Through Recognition
  • Smart Energy Management: A Win for the Environment, People and Business
  • Humanizing the Workplace: Using Design Principles to Inspire Workplace Thinking
  • Gender-Balanced Teams Linked to Better Business Performance: A Sodexo Study
  • Creating The Lab of the Future: A Shift Toward Greater Agility, Flexibility and Efficiency

The problem isn’t so much the individual items on this bulleted list. (Although truth be told, at least three or four of them would seem to have a tenuous connection at best with EE.) It’s the compulsion to want to break things down that way, since working one’s way down such nice, tidy lists can give one the illusion of progress when all you're really doing is scratching your OCD itch.

The reason that any such progress is illusory is that EE, properly understood, is a matter of institutional soulcraft, not project management.  Is soulcraft the more difficult of the two?  Without a doubt.  Would most people prefer to deal with the hard, tangible steps involved in project management than with such “soft stuff”?  You bet.  

But—not to put too fine a point on things—too bad.  Cope.  It might not be one’s preference.  It is, however, part of the job description of a real leader.



Say what you will about Donald Trump, but when you’re writing about leadership-related matters, he is the proverbial gift that keeps on giving.

His generosity continued during last Thursday’s Republican debate, when Fox News’ Bret Baier challenged Trump about his statement that he would go so far as to target the families of terrorists.

BAIER: (T)he military will refuse because they’ve been trained to turn down and refuse illegal orders. So what would you do, as commander-in-chief, if the U.S. military refused to carry out those orders?

TRUMP: They won’t refuse. They’re not going to refuse me. Believe me.

A few moments later, Baier pressed the point.

BAIER: But targeting terrorists’ families? 

TRUMP: And -- and -- and -- I’m a leader. I’m a leader. I’ve always been a leader. I’ve never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they’re going to do it. That’s what leadership is all about.

My intent here is not to drag us into a political debate, especially a debate about debates.  But I do want to focus on those last two sentences of Trump’s reply:

“If I say do it, they’re going to do it.  That’s what leadership is all about.”

The level of ignorance is breathtaking.  The defining characteristic of leadership is the existence of followers, not the ability to wield power over subordinates.  So it’s not just that what Trump said is wrong.  It’s that it’s exactly wrong. 

As odd a segue as this may seem, it actually shines a bright, sharp light on the core reason that Employee Engagement (EE) efforts come up short of expectations as often as they do.  It’s because too many organizational leaders think their job is to get people—or, worse, to require people—to do what they say:  “You will become more engaged.”  Granted, any leader possessing minimal qualifications for the job would never exhibit their Trumpian tendencies by saying it quite that directly.  But it is the subtext of a lot of what gets said.

At one point in my career, I did some executive coaching for a Fortune 200 company.  One of the executives with whom I worked was a recently retired US Navy Admiral named Bill who was making the transition from a military to a business environment. 

Bill is a very smart and capable guy.  He is also—no small point—a very good guy, exhibiting none of the tendencies manifested in the kind of uninformed bloviation belched out by Donald Trump in the quotes above.  (An aside that is also an homage to Dave Barry:  “Uninformed Bloviation” would be a great name for a rock band.) 

Bill was concerned that he wasn’t more effective at getting the kind of results out of his team that he desired, which led us to this exchange.

Bill:  I tell people to do things, and I’m very clear about what it is that I want them to do.  But it just doesn’t happen.  And even if it happens, it doesn’t happen as fast as it ought to. 

Me:  And you’re frustrated?

Bill:  Yes, it’s very frustrating.

Me:  I understand.  But you’ve got to remember that you’re in a different world now.  When the people under you don’t do what you want them to do, you can’t have them thrown into Federal prison any more.

For two or three seconds—a very long two or three seconds—Bill showed no reaction.  Then he gave a big laugh and said:  “Excellent point by you!”

When it comes to EE, the leader’s job is not to assert:  “You will be engaged!”  It’s not to put into place the strategies and tactics that will cause people to make the calculation that it’s in their best interests to go along “or else," which is just a softer, more indirect way of saying the same thing.  The leader’s job is to create an environment within which people will more naturally become engaged.  Note the verb: “become,” not “acquiesce” or “comply” or “throw their arms up in surrender.”  And note whose action that verb describes:  the people’s, not the putative leader’s.

Another recent quote from Trump provides further amplification.  It’s from the speech he made following the Super Tuesday primaries.  He was referring to the Speaker of the House (i.e., the Constitutionally mandated officer at the head of one half of a co-equal branch of government) when he said:

"I'm going to get along great with Congress. Paul Ryan, I don't know him well, but I'm sure I'm going to get along great with him.  And if I don't, he's going to have to pay a big price."

Trump calls it leadership.  I call it the compensatory mewings of a very insecure man.  (Another aside:  "Compensatory Mewings" would also be a great name for a rock band.)

Too many organizational leaders exhibit similar tendencies when it comes to facing up to the real challenges inherent in achieving higher levels of Employee Engagement, although not to the bloviatingly ignorant levels described above.

I’ll close by putting things in terms that even Donald Trump might understand:  It’s not about who has big hands.  It’s about who is secure and self-assured enough to be unafraid to manifest a big heart.



This week’s worst Employee Engagement (EE) idea comes from employee benefits, a UK-based website, under the headline:  “EXCLUSIVE: Royal Bank of Scotland engages staff with its sustainability goals”.

Before diving in, let me be as clear as I can be about something.  What follows is a discussion of my concerns about what RBS is doing as an EE strategy.  I am not taking issue with RBS’ efforts at getting its employees to be more involved “with its sustainability and energy-efficiency goals as part of its corporate social responsibility (CSR) policy.” 

The article begins by saying that:

“(RBS’) environmental target framework focuses on one initiative each month to boost employee engagement with different environmental aims. Throughout February 2016 it is focusing on energy consumption through a campaign called ‘Turn it off’.”

A few lines further down, we read this: 

“RBS has communicated the campaign to employees, starting at board-level, via posters and stickers placed on electrical equipment in as many of the bank’s 2,500 buildings as possible. This includes creating an end-of-day checklist to ensure equipment is switched off.”

And we learn about one more EE-based tactic the company is employing to further its CSR goals:

“RBS has also partnered with eco-cup organisation Keep Cups to give all employees who have signed up to take part in its CSR policy a refillable and sustainable cup to keep and re-use.”

Now who could possibly take issue with such seemingly sensible and public-spirited steps?  Let’s start with a definition:  What is EE, properly understood?  And by “properly understood” I mean the kind of Employee Engagement referred to in all of the studies showing a strong correlation with better business results.  That kind of EE can be defined as “the extent to which people are moved to invest extra energy and effort on the tasks at hand.”  In other words, EE, properly understood, is a psychological state in which a person exists, not a list of things that a person does. 

As I’ve written before, if the word “engage” is used as a transitive verb—a verb that takes an object—it’s a sign that EE ain’t properly understood.  However virtuous the RBS’ leadership’s objectives might be, their tendency to try to “engage” their employees is misguided at best and arrogant at worst, i.e., it arrogates to them power that they simply do not have.  If you are my boss, you can’t “engage” me.  What you can do, and ought to be trying to do, is to create an environment in which I will be more likely to fully engage.  Note: I’m the one doing the engaging, not you.  That is a critical distinction--make that the critical distinction--to bear in mind if you really want to make progress when it comes to EE.

If, when handed their Keep Cups, RBS employees are genuinely thinking, “I feel deeply about sustainability and I’m excited to do my part by re-using this cup,” then they may well feel a higher level of engagement in the company's sustainability program.  But the employees’ deep feelings about sustainability preceded the gesture, they weren’t caused by it.

I suspect, though, that a non-trivial percentage of employees might be thinking something more along these lines: “Of course I’ll take a cup.  I’d have to be a moron not to.  This came from the Board of Directors!”  And if that’s the case, what you’ve got is compliance borne of self-preservation, not engagement.  To the extent that people feel pressure and/or resentment at feeling compelled to do something that they might not, in fact, have particularly deep feelings about, their engagement levels could even go down.

Engagement, properly understood, exists in a different dimension from such instrumental/mechanical strategies and tactics, one that’s orthogonal from the more quotidian aspects of organizational life.

I realize that’s a mouthful, conceptually speaking.  So in an attempt to clarify things a bit, let me borrow an analogy I recently ran across (the source of which I’m afraid I cannot find):  Asking “Will stickers and posters get people to engage?” is like asking “Is this line longer than this boulder is heavy?”  If that second formulation made your brain hurt, you’re beginning to sense the difference between posters-and-stickers engagement and Employee Engagement, properly understood.



ADMIRATION, n. Our polite recognition of another's resemblance to ourselves.

                                                                 Ambrose Bierce:  The Devil’s Dictionary

Most of these Musings are devoted to inveighing against bad and, sadly, all too common ideas about Employee Engagement (EE), with each Friday’s entry featuring the worst EE idea of that week.  That’s as it should be, since I firmly believe that the most important step leaders can take if they want to drive EE levels up is to stop doing the things that cause employees to dis-engage.

Occasionally, though, something about EE gets said or written that is actually good.  Maybe even quite good.  Maybe even excellent.

Such is the 2/28/16 piece (“Have a heart attack”) written by Jeffrey Tobin and published on  Given Ambrose Bierce’s definition of “admiration” at the top of this page, I can say without equivocation that I deeply admire what Tobin had to say.

Here’s how his column begins:

I just took an online quiz to find out if I love my wife. I really did. Thankfully, the results came back with a “100% On Fire!” Wouldn’t you know it … I love my wife! This survey confirmed it!  Imagine how relieved I was to see the quality of our relationship quantifiably displayed right there on my computer screen. I should take this test every six months or so: If the numbers ever start to fall off, I’ll see the trend and plan accordingly.

It’s silly to think that a test — even a good one — could prove whether or not I love my wife. That’s just plain dumb.

Exactly so.  Tobin goes on to cite Gallup’s findings regarding EE since the turn of the millennium, results that consistently show EE levels stagnating at around 30%—this despite the untold hours and dollars spent measuring, analyzing, consulting, training, reading books and articles, and all the rest.  Then comes what is referred to in (pretentious) journalistic circles as “the nut graf”:

I’ll bet you can name every truly engaged employee you’ve ever met. You can feel it. It’s palpable. And it’s not a number. It’s a relationship. But surveys can’t tell us much about relationship. They are subjective, not objective.

After a bit more detail about Gallup’s findings, Tobin concludes with this:

I believe that a needed revolution in employee engagement will be centered in the arena of love, not objective actions. Most won’t like this kind of talk. But then, this kind of talk is suited only for the strong.

The strong of heart.

The Devil’s Dictionary does not include a definition of “hate,” but if it did, it would probably be something like...

HATE, n. One’s anger at seeing others who are as good as—if not better than—oneself.

So not only do I admire Tobin, but I think I may also hate him, since he has distilled into 500 words what I’ve spent the past 30 years writing about and teaching when it comes to understanding the true challenge at hand when it comes to EE.

Well done, Tobin.  You b*****d.







As you can see from the headline, there were two very strong candidates for this week’s honor. After agonizing over my decision for quite a while, I hit upon the solution.  While either choice is worthy of Worst Idea honors on its own, together they are even Worst-er, and as bad as that combination might be, at least it's got that synergy going for it.


This week’s first Worst Idea comes from an article (“Employee Engagement Ideas:  Your Guide For 2016”) appearing on  To its credit, the article is nothing if not straightforward.  It promises ideas about Employee Engagement (EE), and it delivers.  More specifically, it offers 20 EE ideas that are “simple, inexpensive, and shouldn’t require major approvals to get going (think bottoms up more than top down). Most importantly, they’ll get your people engaged and strengthen your company’s culture and performance.”  Those 20 EE ideas are:

1.     Make trust a top priority

2.     Have an off-site retreat

3.     Provide healthy food

4.     Eat a meal together

5.     Give maternity/paternity leave

6.     Make sure people use their vacation time

7.     Clearly communicate company goals

8.     Make everyone the CEO of something

9.     Allow for flexible schedules

10. Celebrate achievements

11. Put your people first

12. Provide the best tools

13. Prioritize personal goals

14. Do a survey

15. Be open to new ways of doing things

16. Make lots of connections

17. Make ethics a priority

18. Value respect and decency

19. Karma matters

20. Bring in outside help

But as extensive as it might be, I have a number of issues with this list.

  • It makes puzzling distinctions:  Trust should be made “a top priority” but ethics merely “a priority.”  Why?
  • It's tone-deaf: Instead of "mak(ing) everyone the CEO of something,” why not just hand out participation ribbons and be done with it?
  • Its taxonomy is muddled:  Seems to me that “Value respect and decency” and “Eat a meal together” are very different things, both in degree and in kind.  It’s a bit like equating “Winning an Olympic Gold Medal in the Decathlon” with “Doing a Push-Up.”

But the biggest issue I have with this list is that it’s just that—a list.  Any given item on it might be ok as far as it goes, but the 20 items don’t really cohere into an integrated whole.  The list’s creation would appear to have been informed by a well-known strategy requiring—How shall I put this?—a limbered up throwing arm and a wall.


It can be found on—“On Employee Engagement: Life’s a Bucket”.  Some excerpts:

  • “Each person has an invisible bucket. It is being constantly filled or emptied, depending on what others say or do to us, and vice versa. A full bucket makes you feel great. An empty bucket makes you feel awful.”
  •  “Praise and recognition help fill buckets. Negativity drains buckets.  A global study of 4,000 employees revealed that praise and recognition tend to increase individual productivity and engagement. Employees with full buckets have higher retention rates, have better safety and attendance records, and receive more customer commendations.”
  • “Our buckets get filled with positive emotions, and drained by negative emotions. Nine out of 10 people say that they are more productive around positive people. Unfortunately, millions of working people grew up in a negative culture.”
  • “At the workplace, it is important to help ensure that employees have more positive emotions than negative ones. In a typical waking day, an average employee can have as many as 20,000 personal interactions. To help ensure a full bucket, positive interactions must outnumber negative interactions ten to one. Negative emotions lead to serious problems. Stress, anger, and hostility have damaging results on the mind and body.”
  • “A study of 839 Mayo Clinic patients over a 30-year period revealed a correlation between optimism or positive attitude and lower risk of early death. Another study of 180 Catholic nuns showed that nuns with positive emotions lived significantly longer than those with negative emotions.”
  • “Be generous. Life’s too short. You can’t bring your wealth to the grave. If you give to others, you fill up their buckets, and yours.”

As with Worst Idea #1, I don’t find much to quarrel with about any one those excerpts.  And #2 is an improvement on #1 in that it does, indeed, have an integrating thread: the bucket.  But there’s a difference between a metaphorical integrating thread and making the same (and, frankly, pretty self-evident) point over and over and over.  By about the fourth bulleted excerpt, weren’t you thinking: “Enough already!  I get it!!" (Although I did find the bit about the nuns kind of interesting.  I’d like to see the cross-tabs between the nuns’ life expectancies and the positivity/negativity ratings of their various Sisters Superior.)

If I hadn’t already told you the source of those excerpts, you would probably have thought they had come from a book with a title something like: Chicken Soup For the Poor Souls Whose Annual Goals Include the Words “Increase Employee Engagement”.


Way back up in the first paragraph of this post, I said that the combination of these two Worst Ideas was synergistic.  How?  Simple.  You can use the bucket from Worst Idea #2 to carry the 20 ideas from Worst Idea #1 over to that wall as you limber up your throwing arm.



Inside Insight Into Donald Trump’s Leadership Style When it Comes to “The People Stuff”

What follows is a work of fiction/parody/satire. Except for the parts explicitly labeled as being true, I made it all up.  OK?  Is that clear?  I bring this to your attention for several reasons.  First, I don’t want to mislead you.  Second, I don’t want to add any more fuel to the fires of an already incendiary Presidential campaign season.  But mostly it’s because I don’t want to run afoul of the litigious nature of the current Republican front-runner—although if he were to hit me with a lawsuit, I’m sure it would be prepared by great lawyers and be a terrific, world-class lawsuit.  Now that we've gotten the legal inoculation out of the way, on to today's post. 



In response to demands that she release transcripts of the big-bucks speeches she has made to investment bankers, insurance companies, and the military/pantsuit complex, Hillary Clinton has said that she would do so if and when other Presidential candidates did the same.

Surprisingly, the first candidate to take Clinton up on this challenge was Donald Trump, who has just released the transcript of the keynote speech he delivered at a recent meeting of the ABC—the Awesome Billionaires Club—accompanied by this Tweet:  “Am releasing this even tho I dont like 2 B submissive 2 least not usually if you get my drift...heh heh heh.”

Another surprise was the theme of Trump’s ABC keynote.  “The politicians say that I’ve been running a ‘non-traditional’ campaign,” he began, “so rather than disappoint those losers, I’ll make this a non-traditional talk, too.  I’m not gonna talk about the usual things I talk about when it comes to running a fabulous, world-class business...things like market share and profitability and ROI and market capitalization—although if I did it would make all of those South American drug lords green—my favorite color—with envy.  You know the guys I’m talking about—the ones who are flooding our southern borders every day with hundreds of drug mules several of whom may not also be rapists.  Instead, I’m gonna talk about, you know, the people stuff.”

The title of Trump’s presentation was “You Aren’t Leading If Nobody’s Following: The People-Side of Running A Remarkably Fabulous, World-Class Business That Employs Tens of Thousands of Them,” and it touched on several of the current hot topics in the field of human resource management.


The first such topic he covered was equality of opportunity.  “I think it’s wrong to treat people differently just because of, say, the family they might have come from, or their social station, or whether or not they might have inherited $200 million from their old man,” Trump said.  “You’ve got to give everyone a chance.  That’s the way I’ve lived my life, it’s the way I’ve run my business—which, by the way, is superbly fabulous and world-class—and that’s the unbelievably fabulous, world-class attitude that I’ll bring to the White House.”

A bit of Googling reveals that The Donald does indeed walk the talk. 

[The following paragraph is actually true.]  There is this from a September 2015 issue of “Rolling Stone” when the topic under discussion had turned to his daughter, Ivanka: Yeah, she’s really something, and what a beauty, that one. If I weren’t happily married and, ya know, her father . . . ” 

And then there are these touching observations [also true] made during an NBC “Dateline” interview with Stone Phillips about his potential relationship with Princess Diana shortly after her tragic death:

“I would have loved to have had a shot to date her,” said Trump.

“Do you think you would have had a shot?” asked Phillips.

“I think so, yeah,” The Donald responded. “I always have a shot.”


“Every Monday morning we have a New Employee Orientation session for all of that week’s hires who have joined the other tens of thousands of terrific people I employ in my spectacularly fabulous, world-class company,” Trump told the ABC audience.  “If I’m in town, I meet with them in person.  If I’m away, I talk to them via video conference.  But I always make time to do this, because I’m a people person.”

He went on to describe the gist of the message he delivers during these orientation sessions.  “I tell them that they wouldn’t have been hired if we didn’t value the depth and breadth of the capabilities that they bring and the life-experiences that they’ve had...that we want to hear their ideas and their opinions, however different or unconventional they may be.”

He then added an important caveat.  “Let me make one thing clear, though.  Yes, you need to be open to diverse ideas and opinions yadda yadda yadda, but there also has to be some business rigor to all of this people stuff.  So I’ve had my analysts and actuaries—and they’re outrageously fabulous, world-class analysts and actuaries—develop an algorithm and a mathematical constant that we require everyone to use in the decision-making process.  We call it ‘The K Factor,’ and it corrects any errors or misjudgments they might have made when making those decisions.”

A PowerPoint slide depicted this simple formula:

           When faced with a decision...

                        THE CORRECT ANSWER = K × YOUR ANSWER



“I know this might look simplistic,” he added, “but believe me, it works.  It’s what’s helped me build my business, which, by the way, is phenomenally fabulous and world-class.”


Trump then told his audience that he had “saved the best for last, since I’m now gonna say a few words about the most important part of the people stuff—employee engagement.  Wait, what’s that?”

[The notes accompanying the transcript indicate that he then pointed to the podium at which he was standing.]

“I’m getting some flashing red lights here,” he said.  “Apparently they’re telling me that my time is up.  Yeah right.  Like I could care less about these lights. I didn’t take this sort of thing from Megyn Kelly of Fox—and I do mean ‘fox,' if you get my drift, heh heh heh—you think I’m gonna take it here?”

“I’ve already told you how I always make time to meet with new hires every Monday morning, and if that’s not employee engagement I don’t know what is.  But beyond that, whenever we’re dealing with an important matter about which there is disagreement, I take the same approach.  We engage.  We get everyone in a room, and we talk and we discuss and we negotiate—always remembering The K-Factor—until we have a deal.  That’s how I do it on the job, and that’s how I’ll do it with ISIS and Harry Reid and the Pope and the next little old lady whose disgusting, ramshackle property stands between me and my ability to build something else that is mind-blowingly fabulous and world-class and—Hey!  I’m among friends here, right?—vulgar as all hell!"

“So that’s what I have to say to you this morning,” he concluded.  “But before I go, I’d like to call your attention to the fact that during this talk I’ve been practicing what I’ve been preaching.  I’ve given you all equal opportunity to consider the value of my recommendations.  I respect the fact that in this audience is a broadly diverse collection of technical expertise and life experience.  And I’ve engaged directly with you to share my thoughts and opinions based on my life’s experience.

“You can take ‘em or leave ‘em.  But I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t tell it like it is.  So if you decide to leave ‘em, then—hey—I guess you’re a loser.”

According to the transcript notes, Trump then gave a perfunctory nod and turned to walk off the stage to a standing ovation.  The event chairperson approached Trump from stage-left with his right arm extended, at which point Trump held up both of his hands at shoulder level, palms facing the chairperson, and shook his head no, since, as is well known, Donald Trump does not like to shake people’s hands. 

After all, there are some things that just shouldn’t be expected of even the people-est of people people.




This week’s Worst Idea comes from an article appearing in and headlined:  “Can cyber focus, employee emphasis fix DHS?”  Based on the content of this article, the answer would appear to be no.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not suggesting that a higher level of Employee Engagement (EE) at the Department of Homeland Security wouldn’t be a good thing.  And, Lord knows, if there’s one part of the government in which we should hope to have every employee deeply invested in their work, it’s DHS.  The problem with the article, though, is that it really doesn’t have much of anything to do with EE, at least not in any substantive sense. 

Here are its first two paragraphs:

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said he would deliver a better DHS by 2017, highlighting a slate of improvement initiatives in a Feb. 11 speech on the state of the agency.

The secretary emphasized efforts to improve employee engagement—a recent thorn in the side of DHS—and continuing to build on the department’s cybersecurity posture as top goals before a new administration takes office in 2017.

Which certainly sounds sensible enough.  The troubles begin with the next sentence:

“Though our people do extraordinary work, I know we must improve the manner in which the department conducts business,” (Johnson) said.

So the argument would appear to be: 1) We need to improve as a department; 2) EE has been a problem in the past, so we need to do better at that; 3) Let’s give a nod to our people, who do “extraordinary work"; 4) We must get better at how we conduct business.


To be fair, a bit further down in the article Johnson is quoted as saying that “(i)t takes time to turn a 22-component workforce, of 240,000 people, in a different direction... And though the overall results last year were disappointing, we still see signs of improvement. Employee satisfaction improved in a number of components, including at DHS headquarters.”

The implication is that employee engagement is a synonym for employee satisfaction, which is bad enough.  But even if we set that aside, when it comes to specifics, pretty much all that’s discussed are thing like “the latest Einstein system,” which is credited with blocking 700,000 potential cyberattacks in 2015, and something called “the Unity of Effort program, which aims to centralize information and resource sharing across the department’s massive multi-agency framework,” and which, since it 2014 launch, “has been able to streamline many of (DHS’) operations.”

Again, it’s not that blocking hundreds of thousands of cyberattacks and making operations more nimble and efficient are bad things.  That’s obvious.  What’s less obvious, though, is the insidiousness of what can be thought of as Gresham’s Law as Applied to Employee Engagement:  Bad usage of the term EE drives out good usage.

I’m guessing that a conversation something like the following could well have taken place in the run-up to the publication of this article.


Higher-Up: “It’s critical that DHS be more effective in its operations in 2016 and beyond.”

Subordinate 1 “Absolutely correct, chief!”

Subordinate 2:  “Ditto, chief.  But I’ve been reading a lot about this Employee Engagement stuff.  So we need to make sure that we cover that in whatever we’re quoted as saying.”

Higher-Up:  “Excellent catch!"

Subordinate 1:  “I couldn’t agree more!”

Subordinate 2“I’ll get right on it!”

Higher-Up:  “Excellent meeting!”

Subordinates 1 & 2:  “Right you are, chief!  As always!!”


You don’t achieve Employee Engagement by simply slathering the words onto your operating plan and then checking the EE box.  It would appear, alas, that that’s what DHS has done. 

Given that department’s mission, I hope I’m wrong about that.  Boy, do I hope I’m wrong about that.