From an email sent by a regular Musings reader (reproduced here with permission). JG


I thought I’d pass along something that’s worked well for me in recent years.

I do this every year, two weeks after the annual performance reviews have been completed.  (That whole review process has so much baggage attached to it that I don’t want this to be tangled up in it.)  I sit down with each of my reports and ask them:  “What go you the most jazzed over the past year?  What did you work on that had you eager to get to work the next day?  That had the time flying by while you were working on it?”

The first year I tried this, it was a little awkward.  Some employees weren’t able to come up with something on the spot so I told them to think it over and come back to me in the morning with what they’ve come up with.  The next day they might say, “It was the thus-and-such project.”  I then apply the 5-Whys, just like I learned back in my TQM days: “Why did that make you so jazzed?”  “Why?”  “Why?” Etc.

I’ve learned more about what’s really important to people at work through this process than anything I’ve ever tried in the past.  Once you start digging into the “Whys” people start to open up.  I learn things about them and they learn things about themselves.

Once we’ve exhausted the “jazzed” discussion, I ask the question from the other end:  “What did you work on the past year that had you the least jazzed?  The most de-energized?”  This also gives me insight into what makes my people tick. 

I try to use what I’ve learned throughout the year, when it comes to assigning work and shaping those assignments.  Three or four times during the year, I revisit the “jazzed” discussion with each of my people:  “How are things going this year?  What’s got you jazzed?”

Not only has this helped me, but it also forces each individual to be more mindful of what really matters about his or her work.  It becomes a real win-win, and I thought your readers might find it to be interesting.

Keep up the good work,

Alan __________  , Palo Alto, CA

PS.  The word “engagement” is never uttered during these discussions.  I think that matters.