The NBA, the NFL and Employee Engagement

One of the reasons employee engagement is a broad topic is that what engages one person won’t engage another person. Let’s take a look at a couple of instances in the NBA and NFL where employee engagement efforts actually resulted in positive ROI.

Kevin Garnett (KG) of the Brooklyn Nets, formerly of the Boston Celtics and Minnesota Timberwolves, was engaged during his rookie season. KG was 19 years old when he was drafted by the Timberwolves in 1995. Kevin McHale (McHale) was the General Manager of the Timberwolves at the time. McHale knew adjusting to the NBA would be difficult for a 19 year old, so he took KG under his wing and treated him like a son.

Because KG was under 21 years old, when the Timberwolves were on road trips, he wasn’t able to do a lot of the things his teammates did. In an effort to make KG feel like he was part of the team, some of his teammates stayed in the hotel playing video games with him. When McHale caught wind of this he suggested the entire team stay in the hotel to make KG feel welcomed.

Before his rookie contract ended KG re-signed with the Timberwolves for six more years. He said one of the major reasons he re-signed with the Timberwolves was because of the concern they demonstrated for him.

Pete Carroll is the Executive Vice President of Football Operations and head coach of the Seattle Seahawks (Seahawks). Before Pete arrived in Seattle, he was the head football coach at The University of Southern California (USC) from 2000-2009.

Prior to becoming a college football coach, Pete coached in the NFL. Being a college coach changed Pete’s perspective of football players. In order to coach college students, you have to be concerned about the mental and emotional health of your players. Pete’s experience at USC has translated into a holistic approach towards professional football players. The holistic approach Pete has brought to the Seahawks not only applies to the players but the entire Seahawks organization.

In the NFL, demonstrating concern for the mental and emotional health of your employees is not business as usual. Having grown men that are over six feet tall and weigh over 300 pounds, do yoga, and mediate is very different. Having a holistic approach to professional football players is a paradigm shift for most owners/coaches in the NFL.

The players in Seattle willingly talk to the media and other players around the league about the good things that are going on with their team. They appreciate having a boss that cares about their mental and emotional health.

Kevin McHale was the General Manager with the Timberwolves and Pete Carroll is the Executive Vice President of Football Operations for Seattle. In both instances, upper management took the lead in creating a healthy work environment for their employees.

If you want to engage your employees, treat them like human beings. Demonstrate a genuine concern for the mental and emotional health of your employees. It has a proven ROI. Like KG and the Seahawks, your employees will stay longer and willingly recruit for you.

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3 + Reasons Why Employees Aren’t Loyal

In my next few posts, I’ll address the issue of employee loyalty: why employees aren’t loyal, what is employee engagement, and whether tracking employee engagement is useful.

Earlier this year, someone told me that a potential supervisor implied if they promoted this individual they expected this individual to stay with the company out of loyalty for promoting them. If this was 1983, I wouldn’t be surprised. But it’s not. In 2013, staying with a company out of obligation is a belief very few employees hold. Loyalty in the workplace today looks different from what it looked like 30 years ago. Companies are not as loyal to their employees as they were in 1983. In 2013, many companies are so loyal to the bottom line, they don’t have time to be loyal to their employees.

I’m not suggesting that supervisors think the worst of their employees. There are many employees that will stay with a company out of obligation, but that number is small. With everything that has happened in the world economy since 2008, employers shouldn’t expect many employees to be loyal. Times have changed, and each generation is less loyal than the one before it. Gen Xers are not the loyal employees that Baby Boomers were. I don’t think the notion of being loyal crosses the mind of Gen Yers.

During a government shutdown, government sequestration, mass layoffs, and Detroit,MI and Jefferson County, AL filing bankruptcy, who has time to be loyal? For years, employees have been forced to do more work with no increase in pay. With all of this going on, who is going to be loyal to their employer? When your livelihood is at stake, you’re not going to stay with a company just to be loyal.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with being loyal to a company. If your company treats you well, why not be loyal? On the other hand, being loyal out of a sense of obligation can be professional and — more importantly — financial suicide. Even if companies weren’t so self-absorbed, the world’s economic climate is such that it’s every man and woman for themselves.

In 2013, company loyalty does exist. But I wouldn’t suggest any supervisor to expect it. Finding loyal employees is difficult because there is so much dysfuntionality in today’s workplaces. It’s really as simple as this: if you want high employee retention, treat people right. Employees are loyal to companies when companies are loyal to employees. There’s no magic bullet for this, just plain ‘ole common sense.

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C-suite You Can’t Do Everything

From the outside looking in, the C-suite is a desirable place to work. However, the occupants of the C-suite have an enormous responsibility. Obtaining an office in the C-suite is a professional achievement that few accomplish. It takes years of hard work, dedication, and having laser focus. Once you’ve obtained an office in the C-suite, enjoy the fruits of your labor. Relish in the fact that your labor was not in vain.

But, now that you’re in the C-suite, it’s also time to get to work. One of the first things you should do is figure out which part of the organization you should focus on. Should you focus on internal issues, external issues, or both? There are many executives whose positions require them to focus on both — and there is nothing wrong with that. However, balancing the two can prove to be difficult.

Internal and external matters require different perspectives. Concerns regarding the public image of an organization (external) are totally different from improving a process in procurement (internal).

The laser focus you displayed before you arrived in the C-suite is the same focus you’ll need while in the C-suite. You cannot confuse internal issues with external issues and vice versa. If your focus is internal, then the only issues that are germane to you are internal. Likewise, if your focus is external, the only issues that are germane to you involve representing the organization and the like.

Sometimes internal and external issues overlap but for the most part they do not directly affect each other. Here are two instances where they do overlap. First, a cumbersome approval process in the marketing department can delay the rolling out of a new marketing campaign. Secondly, a negative racial perception of a company can increase the number of diversity classes it’s customer service representatives have to take.

In order to maintain laser focus, it is imperative that you hire someone who can take your place when you’re not there. Your ability to stay focused on internal or external issues depends on who’s supporting you. A position in the C-suite should be occupied by someone that is capable of handling the responsibilities that come with the position. For those of you that desire to be an occupant in the C-suite, be prepared to put in years of hard work, dedication, and laser focus.

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An Iron Fist or A Humanistic Approach

There are two ways to manage: like a dictator or like a human being. A supervisor can manage by the spirit of the law or the letter of the law. Most supervisors that manage using an iron fist are legalistic. I agree, there are times when a supervisor needs to stick to the letter of the law. However, sticking to the letter of the law should not be your day-to-day style of management.

Your management style will determine the effectiveness and productivity of your employees. Actually, there are seven management styles: autocratic, consultative, persuasive, democratic, chaotic, laissez-faire, and paternalistic. Certain styles lean towards a dictatorship and management styles others lean more towards a humanistic approach.

As I said in my post last week, don’t look at yourself as a babysitter for adults. This negative perspective of your position as a manager will lead you towards being a dictator. You will feel the need to gain/maintain control of your employees.

Managing like a dictator will only go so far. There are ways you can treat your employees like human beings and still run a tight ship. The two are not mutually exclusive. It will take some work, but this balance in your managerial style can be achieved. This list of different
management styles is an excellent way to achieve this balance.

Periodically, one of my supervisors would tell our team, “We’re all adults and I’m going to treat you like you’re an adult.” Even if your subordinates do childish things from time to time you should treat them as adults and evaluate them as adults.

Many people view a humanistic approach to management as being touchy-feely. Many managers are not dictators but don’t want to be considered as touchy-feely. It is possible to treat your employees like human beings and not be touchy-feely. Call it what you want, but most people would rather work in a peaceful environment as opposed to an oppressive environment.

The overall attitude in the workplace has shifted from 30 years ago. Today’s workplace calls for managers to be more understanding (e.g. humanistic). Managers understand that employees have to take time off to care for a sick child or an elderly parent. They also understand that more people are family-oriented and want a work-life balance. A humanistic approach to management does not have to be touchy-feely but it does have to be realistic. The difference between an iron fist and a humanistic approach is that employees will resent the former and appreciate the later.

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