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An Impending Corporate Epidemic
by Jackie & Kevin Freiberg

"Isn't it a shame that when we get up in the morning our minds work furiously-until we come to work." -- Robert Frost

As we've seen in the previous chapters, organizations infused with aliveness are on fire-they're performing at their very best, they're at the top of their game, and their customers and workers are the winners. Sadly, life, passion, engagement, commitment-what we're calling ALIVENESS-at work is waning. Study after study-by organizations from Gallup to Walker Information to Hudson Institute-shows that the majority of employees are not engaged, or committed to their work or to their companies.

Bottom line, we are in the midst of a corporate epidemic. Companies are full of far too many DEAD PEOPLE WORKING!

Let us build you a business case. Recently, the partnership of Walker Information and Hudson Institute surveyed more than 9,700 full and part-time employees around the world. The results? Only 34 percent-about one-third-of the surveyed workers were fully committed to their companies. These are the people that every organization depends on to get its best work done. However, 8 percent were committed to their jobs yet likely to leave for greener pastures, and 31 percent-another third or so-of surveyed workers felt trapped in their jobs. Were they giving their all to their companies? Not even! They were too busy complaining about their jobs or daydreaming about how great it would be to get new ones.

How about the last third-are things any better? Not by a long shot. The remaining employees-27 percent to be exact-are what the survey labels "high risk" (doesn't sound very good, does it?). Not only are these employees not committed to their employers (why should they be, after all, they only rely on them for their paycheck, their benefits, and one-third of their waking hours!), but they are making definite plans to leave their organizations as soon as they can land another job-and they are actively looking for another job! In fact, if you took a peek in their desk, you'd probably find a copy of Sunday's classified ads with some likely jobs circled.

Okay. You might think that we're going overboard here, that there are a few underperformers in every organization-and, sure, you know that your own organization has its share-but that the Walker/Hudson survey must have gotten it wrong. How could there possibly be so many dead people working in business today? We thought the same thing.

Until we found other surveys that confirmed Walker/Hudson's results.

No less a trusted source than the Gallup Organization-which keeps tabs on more than 3.8 million workers in some 321 companies and 105 countries around the world-took a look at their own mountain of data and the results were as startling as they were disconcerting. According to Gallup's most recent survey of American companies (reported June 10, 2004), only 29 percent of workers-less than one-third-are engaged in their jobs, that is, they work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. The greatest number of workers, 54 percent, are NOT engaged in their jobs-they are the dead people working, putting time but not energy or passion into their work. But if you think that's bad, it gets worse. Fully 17 percent of American workers-almost one in five-are ACTIVELY disengaged. These bad apples aren't just unhappy at work, they are busy acting out their unhappiness in a variety of creative ways, and in the process undermining what their engaged coworkers have accomplished. They're not just dead-like the zombies in Night of the Living Dead, they're taking everyone they touch to the grave with them.

In his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team author Patrick Lencioni cites the words of a friend of his-the founder of a company that grew to a billion dollars in annual revenue-explaining the power of a fully engaged workforce. Said Lencioni's friend, "If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time." The fact is, when you've got an engaged and passionate workforce, with everyone pulling together instead of going their own separate ways, then your company will have a competitive advantage that will put it head and shoulders ahead of the pack.

Okay, sure, that would be nice to have every single employee working on the same page, but is this really such a big deal? If there are so many dead people working and the American economy has not yet collapsed because of their collective deadweight, aren't we doing okay? Can't we just continue with the status quo?

Sure, we could do that. But there are a few problems with that particular approach.

One, in today's business-at-the-speed-of-light economy, if you simply maintain the status quo, you're falling behind-and FAST! If your competition isn't satisfied with the status quo (and you had better assume that they aren't!), then they're going to leave you in the dust. And once you figure out just how far behind your organization is, then it's already too late-you'll never be able to catch up.

Two, competition is no longer local, it's global. For every domestic competitor out there that you know about, there are probably 10 or 15 out in the world that you don't know about, but who are getting ready to eat your lunch. They don't have to pay the high overhead costs you have to pay; they don't have to pay the salaries and benefits and taxes that you have to pay; they don't have to worry about things like family friendly workplaces and flexible work schedules and fully staffed workout centers.

Three, who wants to contribute to a workplace where people are dehumanized and dying? We were made to live big, rich, full lives-including our lives at work. It's incredibly difficult, if not impossible to foster the kind of creativity and innovation that leads to world-class products and services if people aren't fully alive at work.

Four, all leaders must awaken those who are hiding, tucked away, sleepwalking through work and life. Do not ignore them! You cannot afford to do nothing! Ernest Becker, in his famous title, The Denial of Death, discovered it isn't death that people fear it's dying without a sense of having made a difference-without having left a mark. Leaders have to shake people up, wake'm up and invite them to reflect more, and leave a mark before it's too late. Richard Leider in his book, The Power of Purpose, asked hundreds of people over the age of 95 what they'd do differently. People said, they'd risk more, reflect more and engage in things that live beyond them, Becker discovered it too they'd be more purposeful in leaving a legacy. As leaders we can not let our people get to that point in life not having left a mark!

You cannot afford to do nothing!

It's time to lead dead people working back to life! Your organization needs your help-it's time for you to step up to the plate and to lean into your legacy.

15 Prescriptions for Achieving More Life at Work

When sick, hurting or just not feeling normal you head to the doctor in hope for a cure. Sometimes you're sent home with an aspirin, but other times you'll get a prescription, the so-called cure. The prescription is meant to assist and speed-up the restoration process. While the medicine may not taste very good, and while it may even cause some unwanted temporary side effects, it is in the long run, good for you. The results, hopefully, a healthier, better feeling, back to normal, and more fully alive you.

Similarly, there is a cure to leading dead people working back to life. The cure involves a series of prescriptions that create three major conditions represented by the symbol S-cubed which stands for:
  • Strong, gusty leadership (mining the best in you)
  • Strong, robust culture (mining the best in your organization)
  • Strong, self-confident people (mining the best in your people)
Applied in a consistent, tenacious, and involved way, these three conditions establish the foundation for leading DEAD PEOPLE WORKING back to life.

Gutsy Leadership
Author Jim Collins discovered that executives in good-to-great companies were all cut from the same cloth. He called these leaders "level 5 leaders"-modest and willful, humble and fearless. He also discovered that there was an absence of level 5-leadership in companies that did not experience the good-to-great transition. We call level 5-leadership, GUTSY leadership, and we wholeheartedly believe that nothing short of Gusty leadership is worthy of the title "leadership." Gutsy leaders readily exude-they live and breathe-ALL four of these qualities:
  • SERVANTS: they are self-effacing servants to their team and their company; they are rich in character
  • ACCOMPLISHED: they are competent, calculated and capable in experience and knowledge
  • PURPOSEFUL: they are dedicated to getting results and making things happen
  • ESTEEMED: they are liked and respected by those they serve and lead
7 Strong, Gutsy Leadership Prescriptions
  • Prescription #1: Lift Up Your Values-gutsy leaders live their values out loud in everything everyday.
  • Prescription #2: Lift Up Your People-gutsy leaders always put their people first.
  • Prescription #3: Lift Up Your Heroes-gutsy leaders honor, affirm and reward their people like crazy.
  • Prescription #4: Lift Up Your Stories-gutsy leaders are corporate shaman, they tell stories that create boundaries and set expectations.
  • Prescription #5: Lift Up Your Time-gusty leaders spend time with their people and ask the right questions.
  • Prescription #6: Lift Up Your Money-gusty leaders know that how you spend your money matters.
  • Prescription #7: Lift Up Your Faith-gusty leaders don not micromanage, they surround themselves with competent people and then get out of the way.

Robust Culture
Although culture has become the business buzz of the decade, it is NOT a program and it is NOT a ten-step formula that can be DONE to an organization. Culture is more than just fancy slogans and logo-ware. Culture is more than just expensive artwork, extravagant perks, or ergonomically correct office accommodations. Culture is PEOPLE; specifically how people in and through relationships live desired values out-loud in thousands of subtle ways each and everyday.

And a strong, robust culture is purposeful and intentional-it doesn't just happen accidentally. A robust culture is healthy and hardy in constitution. It is built, constructed, inspired and created to be sturdy, durable and hard wearing even in the midst of animosity, tribulation, tough times, and intense competition. A robust culture refuses to make concessions it is steadfast and rooted in legacy, mission, vision, values, convictions and practices. Bottom line, a robust culture inspires a working environment where people are FULLY ALIVE at work and creating remarkable results!

5 Strong, Robust Culture Prescriptions
  • Prescription #8: Shape Your Values-promote and protect your values like crazy.
  • Prescription #9: Shape Your Stories-how, what, why, and when you communicate matters.
  • Prescription #10: Shape Your Celebrations-what, why and how you celebrate matters.
  • Prescription #11: Shape Your Space-company artifacts matter, environment matters, color matters, clothing matters.
  • Prescription #12: Shape Your Lingo-words, language and titles matter.

Strong, Self-Confident People
Gutsy leaders know it is critical to hang on tight to great talent. Talented people are tough to find and if you have them you must be serve them well. Talented people want to feel more marketable! Talented people want to stretch, grow and develop! Talented people want to make a difference! Talented people want to have a sense of fulfillment at the end of a day! Talented people want and need to be FULLY ALIVE at work! How? Gusty leaders know that the more confident people become the more passion and aliveness they will bring to work. Self-confidence is built on a powerful mixture of competence (wisdom, knowledge, skills, experience), significance (work that is meaningful, memorable and makes a contribution), adventure (the ability to take risks and survive), resilience (the ability to bounce back from disappointment and defeat) and the deep-seated understanding that people believe in you (an unwavering commitment from others to find the best in you and draw it out). Bottom line, self-confident employees are more FULLY ALIVE at work.

5 Strong, Self-Confident People Prescriptions
  • Prescription #13: Stretch Their Minds (grow their capacity to make a difference)
  • Prescription #14: Strengthen Their Projects (engage them in work that matters)
  • Prescription #15: Expand Their Comfort Zone (make it safe to risk more and fail faster)
  • Prescription #16: Raise their Resilience (teach them to think optimistically and overcome adversity)
  • Prescription #17: Discover Their Greatness (identify untapped talents and awaken their dreams)
Find lots of stories about people alive in their work by reading Drs. Kevin and Jackie Freibergs' bestseller NUTS! Southwest Airlines' Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success and their latest release, GUTS! Companies that Blow the Doors Off Business-as- Usual.

Copyright Jackie & Kevin Freiberg. All Rights Reserved.

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