5 Principles of Engagement That Will Transform Your Business

Snowblowers in Miami

It’s All About Engagement

We’ve all seen it. Questionable decisions, made in a corporate office, are rolled out. No one questions the corporate mandate. Sure, some may grumble or may complain about the stupidity of something, but little is done. No one is listening anyway, especially to the employees who are just told to hit their numbers.


“Engagement is being totally present.” -Steven D. Goldstein


Steven Goldstein was an executive at Sears when he visited a store in Florida. His question Why Are There Snowblowers in Miami?, is now the title of his book and is a wakeup call to leaders. Engaging with employees and customers in the right way will help organizations make better decisions.

Steve has held executive positions with leading global brands including American Express (Chairman & CEO of American Express Bank), Sears (President of Sears Credit), Citigroup and others. He also has advised numerous CEOs on how to improve performance.


“Leaders connect by interacting authentically with employees, not by dictating to them.” -Steven D. Goldstein


How a Snowblower Changed Everything

The story is such a compelling example that I have to ask you to start with it. Tell us about the title of the book and how it impacted your leadership thinking.

Twenty years ago, while I was President of the Sears Credit Card business, I happened to be in Miami in February to make a speech. As I always did, I visited the local store – to have a look around, talk to employees and see what we could do for them to help improve sales. When I walked into the lawn and garden department, my eyes were immediately drawn to four shiny red snowblowers. I found a salesman and asked him, “Why are there snowblowers in Miami?”

On my flight back to Chicago, I started to think about all of the other “snowblower” stories I had come across in my career, and it struck me as a perfect metaphor for what is wrong in business. Since then, my experience in leading, advising and investing in companies convinced me that there had to be a way to attack this.


“Maintaining the status quo keeps you from achieving your full potential.” -Steven D. Goldstein


I tend to question everything.   If someone tells me, “That’s the way it’s always been done,” I will challenge that process. Because what I have found is that with many leaders, there is a gravitational bias towards the status quo. And while it’s not likely to get you into trouble, simply maintaining the status quo will keep you from achieving your full potential.

I began codifying the approaches, principles and practices I was using and realized it would be great if I could share this learning with other leaders so that they could improve the performance in their own organizations. So I began writing this book, and I thought this was the only title that made sense.

Most recently, I have been giving speeches about these principles and working with several leadership teams to teach them how to make this part of their daily diet. It is resonating extremely well.


“A company is only good as the people it keeps.” -Mary Kay Ash


Adopt an Outsider’s Perspective

How do leaders best adopt an outsider’s perspective — especially if they have been at an organization for many years?

For many leaders, this is not easy to do. If you are a consultant or a private equity investor, you look at a business as an enterprise consisting of assets that generate cash flow, which in turn generates attractive returns to shareholders. Through that aperture, you want to identify those areas where changes, improvement and new directions can be made to enhance value. You are consciously looking for those nuggets.

For many leaders, those nuggets are hiding in plain sight. Leaders must first accept that adopting an “outside in” perspective is critical to finding this gold. I’m currently Chairman of a private equity-owned company, and recently the leadership team was in a brainstorming session to explore new opportunities and approaches as well as to consider whether our existing business model needed changes. After discussing many good ideas, someone asked, “Will our PE owners be OK with this? I’m not sure they will.” My answer to him was, “They are looking to us to present them with a plan that makes sense, and if it does, they will say thank you.”

Like most things, leaders must accept the fact that their views are colored, even distorted, by their history with the company – and that this skewed perspective limits the possibilities they are able to see. They have to be willing to take the first step, as with any program that induces change. I tell leaders to take a long walk, forget everything they know about their business, come back into the building as if it were the first time and just start asking questions. While it may sound somewhat silly, it actually creates some discomfort; more importantly, it generates excitement about this exploration possibly leading them in new directions. I myself question everything: Why do we do it that way? What does that mean? What other options have you explored? Do you have the right players in each position? This “fresh eyes” approach is one of my five principles of engagement and is essential for generating any real, positive change.


“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” -Robert Louis Stevenson


Most connections don’t happen inside the boardroom. Why do so many leaders fail to connect with those who could fuel the company’s success?

How an Interim CEO Saves a Company in 9 Steps

Save A Company
This is a guest post by Richard Lindenmuth. Richard has been an Interim CEO in a number of industries. He has over 30 years general management experience in operations and is noted for his comprehensive execution skills. Lindenmuth is Chairman of the Association of Interim Executives. He is the author of The Outside the Box Executive.

I’ve led major corporate transformations and turnarounds for decades — taking ITT and 12,000 employees through deregulation into record profits; overhauling Styrotek, a California agricultural packaging company, in 3 months during a drought. That’s the job of an Interim CEO: to parachute in, rebuild a jumpy staff’s trust and engagement, and manage profound change. It takes a unique skill set, but as I wrote in my new book, The Outside the Box Executive, extreme leadership is really leadership, just the condensed version: there are lessons for everyone.


“Leading by proxy is not leading.” Richard Lindenmuth


Here are my 9 steps for saving a struggling company:


9 Steps for Saving a Struggling Company


1. Hit the ground leading.

Don’t ask permission to start making decisions and forming strategies: do it. The Board brought you in to do a job. And don’t dispatch a group of VPs to speak for you. Leading by proxy is not leading, particularly in today’s business culture, where transparency matters (for good reason).

2. Get out of your office.

To learn about a company’s daily operations, its staff (good and bad), and its problems and challenges, you have to get out there. Don’t hide behind your desk. Walk the halls and let everyone see you.

3. Talk less, listen more.

I recommend active listening, in which you repeat back what someone tells you, and continue that cycle until you reach common ground. It forges mutual respect, paving the way for the honest opinions and information you need for your own due diligence. While an Interim CEO draws from outside experience to set direction and strategy, listening creates the necessary knowledge base.

4. Do your own homework.

No CEO is an island.You’ll need a team of the best and brightest to rely on, but forge your own impressions and make your own judgment calls. That way, when someone’s not being entirely above board, you know it. That’s how I stopped a damaging game of politics at one firm: I knew the difference between reality and rumor.


“A floundering company is a dangerous behemoth.” Richard Lindenmuth


Close the 3 Life Gaps Causing Stress and Dissatisfaction

Close the gaps

3 Life Gaps


Hyrum W. Smith is the co-founder and former CEO of Franklin Covey. His latest book The 3 Gaps: Are You Making a Difference?, shows how to lead a fulfilling life by closing these gaps. The book is filled with stories of people who overcome challenges to live a life of purpose.


“Governing values are simply a description of one’s highest priorities.” -Hyrum Smith


I recently asked him about his latest work on achieving a meaningful and impactful life, a life in balance.


3 Life Gaps

The Beliefs Gap. The gap between the behaviors that meet our needs and those that do not.

The Values Gap. The gap between what we value and where we actually spend our time.

The Time Gap. The gap between what we plan to do and what we actually do.


You share four steps for monitoring and changing your beliefs. Is there one that most people struggle with?

Typically, the hardest thing for any of us to do is to admit that “the only problem in my life is me.” This is why the very first step is to admit that the problem lies with us. It is perhaps a sign of our times that we tend to externalize more today than ever before. We don’t look first to ourselves but tend to blame circumstances or the actions of others for our challenges. Getting past that first hurdle is the key to closing this gap.


“Any belief that drives behavior that does not meet your basic needs over time is an incorrect belief.” -Hyrum Smith


How and why do people often get off track with their stated values? 

One of the ways we miss the mark is by failing to realize the importance of identifying our key values. Life is filled with “have to do” events and “someone expects me to do” events and “once in a while I’d like to do something for myself” events. It takes a concerted effort to identify the values that should be our highest priorities and then to compare our activities to those values. We get off track because we don’t focus on these values. We assume that they will take care of themselves. They usually don’t.


“The only thing you have 100% control over is you.” -Hyrum Smith


Make the Magic 15 Minutes Work for You

The 4 Players in the Game of Employee Engagement

Employee Engagement
This is a guest post by Paul Keijzer, CEO and Managing Partner of Engage Consulting. His focus is on transforming top teams across Asia’s emerging markets. Paul provides an excellent summary of the roles of the critical players to create effective employee engagement.


Employee Engagement is Not Just for HR

There’s no questioning the fact that everyone’s involvement is crucial for employee engagement to be successful. Much of the past has been targeted at getting the HR department to successfully drive employee engagement and the subsequent results to the company’s bottom line. Now that the business world has more or less agreed that employee engagement across all levels triggers the greatest business results, let’s take a look at the roles that everyone has to play to make employee engagement a success – and I guarantee you, it’s not just the HR department.


1. The Employee

No matter where you work, the fact is that unless you, as an employee, want to be engaged, no amount of engagement programs and tools are going to increase your engagement levels. Employee engagement is a two-way street and employees must play their part. The key responsibilities of any employee for employee engagement are:

Make Yourself “Engageable”

Being engageable is a mindset which involves positivity, a can do attitude, avoiding office politics and a few more key characteristics. Put yourself in this mindset to get you the opportunities you want.

Understand What Drives and Frustrates You

If you know what drives and frustrates you, the company will be able to help engage you – provided that you share this information.

Pro-Actively Resolve Issues

Nobody is perfect and neither is any organization. If and when your boss makes a mistake regarding your engagement, inform them quickly and provide a solution.

“Unless you want to be engaged, no programs and tools will work.” -@Paul_Keijzer


2. The Line Manager

People don’t leave companies, they leave managers. Take it one step further and it becomes, “People aren’t engaged by companies, it’s their line managers who do the engaging.” Some steps that line managers can take are:

Removing Barriers

Managers must remove barriers which can stop an employee from reaching their desired goal. Meeting weekly to discuss hurdles and accomplishments is a great way to do this.

Encourage Efforts and Reward Results

Rewards set standards for colleagues and promote healthy competition. Of course, every effort and result shouldn’t be rewarded equally; that would defy the purpose.

Identify What Drives Your Team

If employees are expected to share their drives and frustrations, line managers better be providing a listening channel.

“Companies do not engage people, line managers do.” -@Paul_Keijzer

3. The CEO

You may wonder how someone who’s supposed to be looking at the overall success of the organization can affect how people work on a daily basis. This is how any CEO can positively impact employee engagement:

Leadership Lessons From the Unusual Story of Market Basket

We Are Market Basket

An Uplifting Corporate Story

We often read stories about corporate greed, about slimy executives, about profits at the expense of people. These stories grab headlines because they hit a nerve and fuel anger. I have never read a story quite like We Are Market Basket: The Story of the Unlikely Grassroots Movement That Saved a Beloved Business where employees and customers joined together to demand the return of a fired CEO.

The story may be unique, but it offers powerful lessons and insight into the changing nature of how we view corporations and what we expect as employees.

I recently spoke with the authors, Daniel Korschun and Grant Welker, about this story.


Loyalty is Demonstrated Every Day

This story has so many powerful lessons. One of those is about loyalty. What does the We Are Market Basket teach us about loyalty?

Arthur T. and much of the senior management team have been extraordinarily successful at engendering loyalty. But loyalty at this company tends to be viewed as a two-way street. Employees – they call themselves associates – we speak with tell us that they feel loyal to the company and top management because they feel a loyalty to them from that top management. So what we see at Market Basket is people who are reaffirming their commitment to each other over time. The result is these very strong bonds we see. The lesson for managers is that you can’t expect loyalty without making a sacrifice yourself. You’re not going to gain loyalty just by changing the pay or the job responsibilities; it’s something that has to be demonstrated every day.


“You can’t expect loyalty without making a sacrifice yourself.”


A Respect for Others

Why did Arthur T. inspire such passion and loyalty?

Arthur T. is beloved as the CEO largely because he gives all associates, customers, and vendors respect. He says explicitly that no one person is special at the company, and from what we’ve seen he walks the walk.

But it’s also important to point out his place in the protest. Bringing back Arthur T. was the central demand of protesters, but in our view, they were fighting to save the company’s culture. Reinstating Arthur T. became the critical step in making sure that this New England institution continued to serve those who have known it for years, and sometimes for generations.

Market Basket 

A Lesson for Boards and Corporate Leaders

What does the Market Basket experience teach boards of directors?

Most business schools today teach that the fiduciary responsibility of directors is to look after the interests of shareholders. However, this idea is simply not supported by the corporate code in Massachusetts and many other states. The code states explicitly that the board is to be a steward of the corporation, which includes customers, employees, shareholders, and others. We need to hold our boards to this higher standard.

Leadership lesson: A corporation’s duties extend beyond shareholders to the broader community.


A Commitment to the Community