Employee Engagement – Underrated and Neglected

I have worked for many companies over the years, and I have seen what a difference engagement makes in the attitude and output of the employees. So why do so many corporations ignore it or treat it like an unimportant factor? In most cases, the leaders of the company have clouded judgment. Here are five misconceptions about engagement that need to be addressed.

1. Engagement is expensive. – Yes, it costs a lot to offer employees a performance bonus. Heck, it costs a lot to offer employees bagels and coffee. But what does it cost to replace a valued employee who leaves because they are disengaged and disheartened? A friend of mine worked at a company that took away the coffee, then the microwave, and finally they removed the bottled water. This was a multi-billion dollar corporation that could afford coffee for its employees. Short-sightedness on the part of some well-meaning bean counter caused the employees to feel undervalued, and they began quitting in droves, despite the job being a union job with benefits. How much did that coffee really cost?

2. Engagement is not a Key Performance Indicator – well why on earth not? The leaders of a company should measure engagement through a company-wide survey and see where they are at – baseline. They should re-measure every year to see if it went up or down. And they should see what their performance in other areas looks like, and whether or not it correlates with the rise or fall in engagement. Correlation is not causation, but there will be a connection – a very strong one – which points to engagement as a key indicator of future performance.

3. My employees are all disengaged, there’s no way to turn this around. – Really? If you run a shop that expects overtime, how much will it cost to order pizza for the people who stay late to get a job done? How about paying overtime to hourly employees and comp time to salaried employees? When you get an employee who wants to make things better, listen and don’t send them packing. There’s a million things you can do to increase engagement. It is true that it is much easier to discourage employees and cause them to disengage. Guess what? That means you are going to have to work harder to turn things around. Don’t you want your employees to work harder? Are you immune from this requirement?

4. I did an engagement survey, and everyone gave positive feedback. – Great! Were they assured their responses would remain anonymous? Did the questions give them an opportunity to voice their dissatisfaction if they had any? Have people been punished for giving negative feedback in the past? Was everyone given an equal voice, or were some voices weighted more than others? These are some questions to ask before resting on your engagement laurels.

5. Engagement has nothing to do with me. Are you an hourly employee who has no interest in staying at the company you work for now? Then engagement may not really matter to you. Do you love your company and want to make it better? Are you a manager with employees reporting to you? Are you a Director, VP, CXO? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then engagement is extremely important to your work life. Disengagement kills companies faster than bankrupt clients. Disengagement means that the sales force can’t really sell a good product, because they know that the people who make it don’t really care if it comes out good or bad. Disengagement makes the workplace toxic. Disengagement makes it impossible to find new hires to replace the excellent employees who jumped ship. You’d better believe it has a lot to do with you!

Get involved. Ask for the results of your last engagement survey. If the people with the results aren’t willing to share them, you know there’s work to be done.

Gen-X as a minority status

If you were born in the US between 1962 and 1980, you are part of the smallest US generation alive, Generation X. Because we are small, a mere 42 million, we live in the shadows of both the Baby Boomers (72 million) and the Millenials (80 million).

Gen-X’ers watch a lot of advertisements for old people now, or advertisements for young folks in their late teens to early 30’s. We don’t see a lot of programming directed towards us, because we have less buying power. I don’t think there is a channel with programming aimed at us – we just get lumped in with old people or young people. I’m either watching ads for Viagra and Depends or Cheetos and Mountain Dew; nothing really just for my generation. My generation requires Depends only after they drink more than one can of Mountain Dew with Cheetos and Viagra.

Gen-X’ers often get passed by for promotions, because the baby boomers are late to retire, and the jobs we need are now getting filled by the younger, consdierably more tech-savvy millennials, who cost less and deliver more. We have all the skills, but we have been working and getting cost-of-living increases for a long time, waiting for a coveted position in middle management. The hiring managers prefer to give it to someone with fewer years in the workplace and a corresponding lower living wage.

Our generation remembers the rotary dial phone and the 1200 baud modem. We remember having to pay extra for touch tone service. We had to learn to adapt to technology when it suddenly took over our lives. I remember when a drive-up teller was not an ATM – it featured a pneumatic tube that sucked up your checks and delivered them to the human teller manning the window. The fact that I take a picture of my check using my phone, and then magically deposit it into my account seems nothing short of miraculous to me now. Millennials gripe and complain that their phone made them take the picture twice. Boomers “don’t trust the system” so many of them still go into the bank and wait in line. I had teachers who wouldn’t accept computer printouts for typewritten assignments. We had to adjust; it didn’t come naturally. The Boomers and Greatest Generation didn’t make it easy for us with ridiculous requirements like typewriters-only.

I remember how you waited in line for hours to see a movie because there wasn’t an option to steal it and watch it before it was released. Certain franchises, like Star Wars, were promised never to be released on Video Tape, and you could only watch them during their limited three month engagement in theaters. Once a movie was gone, if you didn’t have 600 dollars for a VCR, and 80 dollars to buy the movie, you had a limited chance of being able to see it again. My town had a “repertory theater” that played cult movies and other popular second run films. They had a live performance of the Rocky Horror Picture Show every Saturday night at midnight. It was a golden age for cinematic entertainment, and movie watching was a group experience. It was not something you did on your phone.

Louis CK is a Gen-X’er – perhaps the quintessential Gen-X’er. His comedy is all about this alienation we feel as the “wee generation” that came after the Me Generation. He looks exactly like I feel – disheveled and resigned to a difficult life paying for the excesses of the baby boomers through Social Security and banking bailouts. He is even more cynical than I am, which says a lot. His show is one of the few shows out there that is aimed at my demographic. But the advertisers seem confused – we still get a lot of Cialis, Funeral Insurance and Do the Dew.

There must be advantages to being in a smaller demographic, but I can’t think of them right now. If you can think of some advantages to being a Gen-X’er, please comment. I find it hard to be the last generation that remembers typewriters and carbon paper.

Is Tin Can more like Tivo or the Emperor’s New Clothes?

The Tin Can API (also called Experience API or xAPI) is a new e-learning interface that is modeled after the data points gathered by social networks like Facebook or LinkedIn. It’s a big buzzword in the online learning community. But I can’t figure out how it is applied practically. I don’t see how it’s going to help me get people certified in the online corporate university that I administer. I keep reading about it, trying to imagine how it will help me. And until I see it in action, I think I will remain skeptical.

That’s what happened with me and Tivo years ago. I asked, “why would anyone want to watch TV later? They’ve missed the show!” I couldn’t see the benefit until I had my first binge of Professional Bull Riding on a good friend’s Tivo device. Then it suddenly became a technology without which I could scarcely survive.

The developers of Tin Can have given numerous examples of how Tin Can is different and better than prior e-learning standards like SCORM. SCORM allows me to import a course from one learning system into another. It’s like magic. The quizzes and all the videos play perfectly on the new platform.

Tin Can, on the other hand, does away with packaging up courses. It instead sees “experience” as the real teacher, and so encourages employees to report their learning activity via apps an d other software. The apps export subject, verb, noun statements like “I ate macaroni salad.” The employee can scan the barcode of an excellent book like 5150 and it will record a statement into the Learning Record Store (LRS) as “I read 5150.” And if they take a course in the traditional learning environment (the Learning Management System or LMS) then that gets recorded as well. “I passed the quiz on Macaroni Salad with a score of 75%.” The problem with the book scanning example is that it would be possible to scan a bunch of barcodes of books you never read. The quiz is what already gets recorded in a more Excel-friendly format. I hardly want to generate learning success rate graphs using subject noun verb statements.

The notion the new xAPI is trying to put forth is that learning is ubiquitous and therefore should be captured at every turn. I have an app I use that is analogous to this type of interface. It’s called “Rescue Time.” It tracks my activity on my work computer and reports back to me on how productive I have been. It decides if the websites I visit are productive or unproductive, and whether the software I use is related to Design, Finance, Marketing or some other discipline. I find that on most days I am around 95% productive and I work about 6.5 hours on the computer during an 8 hour work day. This is a cool app.

I think the Tin Can API is trying to do the same thing for organizations – track its employees, their learning experiences on and off the worksite, and whether or not the learning they do correlates with real world results. But how we get there from where it is now is a complete mystery to me. I would love to see an example of a corporation that has adopted the xAPI and has put it to effective use. I still find the ability to move a course around using SCORM a lot more practical than attempting to track when an employee has a brilliant insight on Yammer. But I won’t be the first to say that the Emperor is nude. I think we just need to see what his magic suit can do before we decide whether it is of a fine quality.

Some learning about earning

I keep getting mad at this advertisement for an online retail outlet that “pays you to shop.” They proclaim that when you buy things, you “earn” money through rebates. One testimonial says “I earned 400 dollars so far shopping on [this site].”

News flash. You spent thousands to ‘earn’ a few hundred. That is not earning. In business, it would be considered a loss. If you spent a thousand dollars to run your company and earned one hundred dollars, you would not be in business for very long.

Let’s call this “earning” what it really is – a discount. You spend one thousand and receive 100 dollars cash back. You’ve saved 100 dollars off the price. You didn’t earn 100 dollars. You paid 900 dollars instead of a thousand.

If you spend more than you make, it is not earning. Period. Net revenue is negative, so it is not earning. It is a loss.

You have simply engaged in crass consumerism and are now pretending that you’re getting paid to do it. One brand evangelist for the site says “Just shop for the things you would normally shop for, and get paid for doing it. Sounds like a good deal to me!”

I worry about the deterioration of human intelligence. Is it really that often that you go to a department store or other online retailer and buy “the things you would normally shop for?”

What would be cool is if you could find some way to get paid to sit through annoying pop-up video advertisements or those forced 15-30 second commercials that interrupt internet video content. Like my grandfather used to say, “If I had a nickel for every time I had to [fill in annoying activity here], I would be a millionaire!”

Ten quick fixes for a home appraisal for about sixty dollars


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Our house appraised recently for a sum that was less than we had hoped.  Before having a second appraisal, we did the following ten things to improve the overall appearance of the house.  No appraiser will agree with me, but the proof is in the pudding – our second appraisal came in 20,000.00 higher than the previous one.   Here are ten quick things you can do to improve your house before an appraisal:
1. Clear the cobwebs – Get out your telescoping duster or a long handled broom and remove all cobwebs, inside and out. Cost – $0.00
2. Mow and edge your lawn.  We paid a guy to do this for $40.00 and it was worth every penny.
3. Use the magic eraser to get rid of smudge marks.  Mr. Clean has a product called the Magic Eraser – when damp, you can use it to remove smudge marks from doors, light switches, and other high-traffic areas that tend to get smudged.  Cost $3.99.
4. Sweep all outdoor and indoor surfaces.  If you have a cement patio, or other outdoor floor, treat it as you would the inside, and sweep it until you can eat off of it. Cost $0.00
5. Plant some annuals at the front entrance way – we didn’t even have time to plant, so we just bought some $1.88 six-packs of marigolds and placed them strategically near the front door.  It looked very impressive.  Cost $5.64
6. Bake some chocolate chip cookies – this is an old realtor trick.  Don’t cook cabbage or bacon – make some cookies and your home will smell like a home.  Cost $2.99 with a loyalty card at local supermarket.
7. Remove hard water stains with vinegar – if you have glass shower doors, put in some elbow grease with a brush and white vinegar.  It costs 99 cents at the 99 cent store, but the increase in home value is considerably more.  $0.99
8. Clean your stove top.  Cost $0.00 if you already have any type of all-purpose cleaner.
9. Weed your garden. This was included in the $40.00 above, but it can be free if you have time and a good back.
10. Put fresh flowers in vases.  Fresh flowers cost about $6.99 per bouquet at the grocery store.  We bought one and split it between several vases.  Cost $6.99

Total cost: $60.60 – only about 20 dollars if you mow and edge yourself.

ROI: 19,939.40 or about 33,000%


Fresh flowers in vases make a house look homey

Nigerian Scam Spam Furby Experiment – Success!

Do you remember the cute/terrifying creatures we created in the 1990’s and called them Furby? They mutter aloud in response to our words. Put two of them in the room, and they would jabber incessantly to one another.

Below is my first successful SPam Furby. I forwarded to one Nigerian scammer the scam letter of another. And now I have a response.  Mysterious and creepy.

On Apr 17, 2015, at 6:50 AM, Rosemary Bakari <missrosemarybbkary@gmail.com> wrote:

Thank you for your quick response to my mail, your willingess and ability to help me out of this is highly appreciated and i want to assure you that you will never regret.

I have explained to you in my last mail, the untimely death of my late father was masterminded by his business associates and relations due to his wealth.  But my major concern is your trustworthy and your ability to maintain your word throughout this transaction  as this is my liffe and future  my only hope to start a new life.

Before we proceed, i will like to have your detailed information like your telephone and fax numbers and contact address as to assure me that i am dealing with a human.

As soon as i received these information from you, i will procedd to you the full address contact of the bank where the money is been depossited for safety and security reasons.

Thanks and God bless as i wait for your urgent reply.


Miss Blenda Rosemary Bakari

Original Message —– From: Duncan MacLeod <duncanwrites@gmail.com> To: Miss Blenda Rosemary Bakari <jdiergh@yahoo.co.jp> Date: 2015/3/21, Sat 03:11 Subject: Re: Miss Blenda Rosemary Bakari

    Hello Dear
    How are you doing today i hope all is fine with you over there ?
    I am F Guido divorced with no kid. I am an American German Citizen and working with a Cargo Shipping Company USA. The nature of my job makes me travel usually once a week, so I try to travel as much as I can.
    I found you, I really like you and will want us to build a relationship, so I decided to write you this short mail to express how I feel about you.
    What is your full name?
    How old are you?
    Are you presently in a relationship or divorced?
    Have you ever love and been loved before?
    Honestly I really want to know much about you. Presently I am working in the ship. We take Cargo to Europe countries, Dubai and Japan. I can only communicate to you through email because; I am using the company computer inside the Ship.
    You can reach me through my e-mail for faster communication, I will let you know more about me as soon as I hear from you.
    Love always,
    F Guido
    Visit www.dunkablog.com 

Blenda will surely find a gentleman worthy of her independent spirit

I thought it was odd that she uses the same email address as Idris, but [shrug].

Hello Idris,

Please allow me to introduce you to the lovely, wise and independent Miss Blends Rosemary Bakari. I am certain she will be interested in your well-endowed bank account.

Visit www.dunkablog.com 

Begin forwarded message:

From: “Idris Ngari”<SENDER6666@earthlink.net>
Date: March 23, 2015 at 11:12:16 PM PDT
Subject: Please accept my apologies if this request does not meet your personal
Reply-To: <info_info1900@yahoo.co.jp>

Please accept my apologies if this request does not meet your personal ethics as it is not intended to cause you any embarrassment in whatever form. I got your contact email address from international domain directory and decided to contact you for this transaction that is based on trust and your outstanding. I need your urgent assistance in transferring the sum of ($58M) million to your account. The transfer is risk free on both sides hence you are going to follow my instruction till the fund is transferred to your account.
If you are interested in this deal, kindly send me your complete information, your full names and address, Your Private telephone and Fax numbers, Your Private email address, Your Age, Your Country, Marital Status, Your Occupation and Your Personal Mobile Number.
Having gone through a methodical search, I decided to contact you hoping that you will find this proposal interesting. Please on your confirmation of this message and indicating your interest, I will furnish you with more information also note that you will have 30% of the above mentioned while 70% will be for me.
Endeavour to let me know your decision.
Best regards,
Idris Ngari
Business Project

Native Gardens of Los Angeles – Cudahy Surprise

I went on the Theodore Payne garden tour this weekend.  The tour features a number of gardens all across Los Angeles with beautiful landscaping that incorporates a minimum of 60% native California plants.  Gardens ranged from dreadful to delightful, but none topped the garden I visited in Cudahy.

Where is Cudahy?  Right next to HP and South Gate.  Where is that?  Okay, that means you’re not Latino.  Almost nobody has heard of Cudahy, 1 square mile of Los Angeles that has its own teeny tiny school district.  It also boasts the lowest per capita income west of the Mississippi.  There is one school in Cudahy called the Elizabeth Learning Center.  The school is K-12 and has a whopping 98% graduation rate, which is higher than almost any other district in the nation.  The school is so astounding that it prompted a visit from Al Gore during his campaign.

Elizabeth Learning Center (ELC) has an AP Environmental Science class.  Teaching the class is George Nanoski, an LA Native with roots in Baja California, Poland and the Ukraine.  He has been teaching in Cudahy for several years now.  In 2006, he found out that the school was going to tear out a big concrete flag circle to make way for something ugly and uninspired.

George saw opportunity where few would see more than an eyesore.  The concrete bowl, approximately 30 feet in diameter, was filled with trash and weeds of the non-native variety, such as European mallow, clover dandelion and foxtail.  In honor of Earth Day, George put his students to work clearing the trash and yanking out all of the weeds.  George turned off the irrigation system to ensure that they wouldn’t return; and George’s class began their first experiment – the Coast/Chaparral garden.

George collects seeds on all of his trips to nature, and he had handfuls of Channel island plants and seeds to give each student, who threw them, much like a biblical mustard seed, to see which grew, which died, and which thrived.  The resulting garden includes a native Ash nearly 30 feet tall after 9 years, local mallow, pyrophilic manzanita, penstemon, and a gaggle of California coastal shrubs I had never heard of or even seen because they live on the Channel Islands and not the mainland.

To survive drought, many of these plants go through a dormancy period, and suddenly wake up when there has been a good amount of rain, like LA had in December and January.  The garden was wide awake, with some species competing for resources with others.  The Indian Paintbrush, a beautiful orange brushlike plant with green bristles, is a semi-parasite.  It requires other plants nearby to break down the food, so it can feed off of their roots.  It does however photosynthesize, so it isn’t considered a complete parasite.

When this garden was completed, the next was a desert habitat that was built after some grass had to be torn out to make way for a handicapped ramp.  George jumped on it, turned off the irrigation (a critical factor in Environmental Science learning gardens) and planted species native to all of the Californias, including Baja and Baja del Sur.  As George talks about the garden, you can see that glimmer of native plant geek in his eye.  He knows more about native plants than most of the people’s gardens I visited.  He probably knows more than some of the botanists at the Theodore Payne nursery, and he definitely knows more than any other nursery owner I have ever met.

George’s most recent experiment with his students is the “Vernal Pools.”  These are ponds that I remember from my childhood, that would warm up in Spring so you could swim, but they were only about 3 feet deep at their deepest point.  By the end of summer, the pond was dry and many of the plants appeared to have died, only to come raging back to life as the Autumn rains began to fall.  The class created three pools – shallow, deeper, and deepest.  The first two were dry, and the third was home to tadpoles and fairy shrimp – a close relative of the Sea Monkey.  These are species of freshwater beast that can survive in egg form for over 100 years until they are submerged in water, when they hatch and continue their cycle of life.  The whole cycle lasts a few weeks for many species, so they must be born, reach sexual maturity, and lay eggs before the water dries up.  According to George, there are only two vernal pools left in Los Angeles besides the pools he and his students created.  The rest have been paved and parked and landscaped out of existence.  George has one of the rarest vernal pool plants in existence, the elusive Otay Mesa Mint, growing on the edge of the deeper pool.

The visit to Elizabeth Learning Center made me cry.  My good friends know I’m a bit of a cry-baby anyway, but this was unexpected.  What I realized as George was showing me around the beautiful gardens he and his students had lovingly created from seed, there was a specter looming over them.  One was poverty.  The cycle of poverty had led some students to come to the school in June 2014 and destroy the gardens.  Some plants were the only ones left, and they are gone forever.  That made me cry.

But what also made me cry was George’s un-daunted determination to continue the work he is doing, because he knows that it is the right path for him.  As someone who has wandered down wrong paths lured by glittering toys and lurid vice, I envied George’s single-mindedness of purpose, and his determination to change the lives of these children whose only wealth may just be the education that they receive from him.

What made me cry the third time was when I asked how many visitors he had that day, and he changed the subject, remarking how “almost nobody knows where Cudahy is.”  I think we may have been a very small subset of the chi-chi garden set who chose to seek out the learning center and discover its vast treasure trove of California gold. How dare that crowd go to Santa Monica and Huntington Beach and skip the most important, most amazing, and most beautiful set of gardens in the whole Southland!  They will never get to see Otay Mesa Mint.


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