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How To Maximize Employee Engagement In This New World (with Debra Corey from DebCo HR LTD)

In this episode, Tim is joined by Debra Corey, a highly experienced and award-winning HR leader, consultant, world-class speaker, and four-time bestselling author. Listen as they dive into the topic of employee engagement.

Interview Highlights

  • Debra has practiced HR for over 20 years in corporate roles. She has been an HR leader in both big and small global companies. [1:20]
  • Debra is also an author. The first book she wrote when she was in between jobs and she has just published her fourth book. [1:33]
  • When Debra first started out in the workplace, the “leader” part of jobs was maybe 5% or 10%. And now, leader is the title of your job, and it’s what you should be doing and really focusing on. [3:00]

As an HR leader, our role is to change how we develop our leaders.” — Debra Corey

  • Many HR people are spending a lot of time on developing the leadership traits of people and setting people up for success. [3:52]
  • Debra often goes into organizations and does employee engagement sessions with their management and leadership team. [5:11]

The only way to build a better world of work is to change our perspective.” — Debra Corey

  • Debra mentions her second book called Build It. The book is about challenging all the things that Debra has done in her entire career. [7:19]
  • We all need to challenge ourselves to make the world a better place to work, or it’s never going to change and be really brave. [8:01]
  • It can be difficult sometimes to challenge the status quo and to do things differently. But if we always stay focused on why we’re doing it and the end game and what we’re trying to achieve, it helps us do that. And it creates that focus, that drive, that energy, and that passion. [9:11]

You can go out and do the best things in the world, but if you do not have that trust, it’s never going to work.” — Debra Corey

  • An engaged employee is someone who understands the direction of the company. They know what the company is doing and they also understand where they fit in. [13:05]
  • An engaged employee goes out of the way to help the company to succeed. They’ve got that ownership, they’ve got that trust and they are the ones who are going to help your business to succeed. [13:27]
  • When Debra gets in front of audiences, she likes to do things a bit differently. And when she talks about engagement and disengagement, she oftens shares pictures of what a disengaged employee looks like. [17:30]
  • Debra shares a lovely story of her interview with Zappos for her second book. [18:22]

Every time we think about engaged versus disengaged, we think of them as words and numbers, but we need to think of them as real life examples.” — Debra Corey

  • Debra’s approach to everything when it comes to people is a diverse approach. [20:41]
  • In the past, they used to do surveys because they knew they had to do a survey. And, a lot of times in HR, they did surveys so they could enter awards. If you wanted to win an award, you had to do this one survey. And Debra believes we have to change our mindset. [24:15]

Being a leader is a privilege. Feedback and data is a privilege. My best ideas come from my people.” — Debra Corey

  • There’s something called “The 5 Whys”. Debra wrote about it in her first book, and it requires continuously carving away and digging. So if someone says, “I’m fine”, you don’t just leave it at that. You just keep picking and picking, in a constructive way, so that you can actually get past it. [26:23]
  • Debra learned over the years not to just look at a number in a black and white sense, and to look at a number in many different directions. So if you’ve got an engagement survey, is every team engaged in the same way? [30:24]
  • In Debra’s second book, Build It, she’s got a model called the “engagement bridge model”. In the model, there are 10 different elements, which are basically all the tools that we have to engage our people. Things like communications, values, recognition, pay, and benefits. [32:37]
  • Debra is a real advocate of not just following a 10-step process because each company is so different. You need to start with where your pain points are from a people perspective, and also from a business perspective. [33:16]
  • In this world that we’re in right now, one element of the engagement bridge that every company needs to do better than we’re doing it already is communications. And on the engagement bridge, there’s an element called “open and honest communications.” [35:52]

Meet Our Guest

Debra Corey is a highly experienced and award-winning HR leader, consultant, world-class speaker, and four-time best-selling author who has been named as one of the top 101 Global Employee Engagement Influencers and HR Most Influential Thinkers.

After 20+ years working for global companies such as Gap Inc, Merlin Entertainments and Reward Gateway, she now inspires and ‘pays it forward’ by helping others develop and deliver HR strategies in a rebellious way, pushing the boundaries and challenging the status quo to truly drive employee engagement.

debra corey headshot

I see being a leader as an honor, it’s an absolute privilege, but it also comes with a lot of responsibility and a lot of ownership.”
— Debra Corey

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Read the Transcript:

We’re trying out transcribing our podcasts using a software program. Please forgive any typos as the bot isn’t correct 100% of the time.

Debra Corey

A lot of times in HR, we did surveys so we could enter awards. That was why we did them. It was, you know, and if you wanted to win an award, you had to do this one survey. And I think we have to change our mindset. And it goes back to when I talked about, you know, being a leader is a privilege. Feedback and data is a privilege. My best ideas come from my people.

Tim Reitsma

Welcome to the People Managing People podcast. We’re on a mission to build a better world of work and to help you build happy and productive workplaces. I’m your host, Tim Reitsma. And today on the show, Debra Corey —highly experienced and award-winning HR leader, consultant, world-class speaker, and four-time bestselling author —and I talk about employee engagement. 

And guess what? It’s more than just a survey. How often do you gather feedback, listen to the feedback, and action the feedback? If all you do is gather, then this podcast is for you. So stay tuned.

 Welcome to the People Managing People podcast, Debra. It’s so good to have you here. And I’m excited for today’s topic about employee engagement. It’s something that has been on my mind for quite some time, as well as been part of my career for many years. And so we’re going to get into that, but before we do, tell us a little bit about yourself, what are you up to right now?

Debra Corey

So I well, first of all, thank you so much for inviting me. I’ve looked at and listened to some of your podcasts and I just love the depth and breadth of what you cover. And so I really feel honored to have the opportunity to have this conversation, to dig deep on employee engagement. 

And as far as what I’m up to I’ve moved into this new phase of my career. I’ve done HR for over 20 years in corporate roles. So I’ve been HR leaders in big global companies, small global companies. And I sort of fell into writing books. My first one I wrote just because I was in between jobs and I thought I’ll get that bucket list out. And I think I’ll just write a book and I did it and I loved it so much that I’ve just published my fourth book.

So to go back to your question about what I’m doing. I’m spending a lot of time sharing insights and tips and tools and stories from my latest book as well as all my other books and all my other stories. I’m a bit of a Pied Piper storyteller these days. 

Tim Reitsma

I love it. Yeah. And I know you came up with a book recently. Congrats again on your fourth book. And I haven’t picked it up yet. It’s on my reading list and I’m excited, to read it and also share out that resource in the show notes. 

And so if you are interested, you know, we’ll put all the links in the show notes and let everyone know how to get ahold of you in a bit but let’s get into it. 

I’ve got two kind of standard questions I like to ask people. And the first question is what does it mean to be a leader?

Debra Corey

Do you know for me, I see, I’m going to go back to the word that I used earlier when we were talking about you and me joining you today. I see being a leader as an honor, it’s an absolute privilege, but it also comes with a lot of responsibility and a lot of ownership.

And I think that what I’ve seen in the role of a leader change over the years is that it’s moved more towards that. When I first started out in the workplace, I think the leader part of your job was maybe 5% or 10%. And now leader is like, that’s the title of your job, that’s what you should be doing. And really focusing on that. So, I guess that’s how I would define it at a high level. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah. I love that. It’s less just in the weeds doing it, but it’s actually leading, leading the team. 

Debra Corey

Which is so obvious, isn’t it? It really is obvious. It is. Yes. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah. But we’re still, I mean, and I’m generalizing here, but, you know, we still miss the mark on that. It’s, oh, you’re a leader and you need to do this and you need to do this. So then it becomes, you know, a 10% piece of your role, and yeah, depending on the size of your organization. 

Maybe that’s a, maybe that’s what you need to be focused on but it truly is, you know, leading and guiding people and bringing the best out of people.

Debra Corey

Absolutely. And as an HR leader, I think, you know, our role is to change how we develop our leaders. And spend, you know, still spend time on the operational side of it, but then a lot of HR people are spending a lot of time on developing the leadership traits of people and setting people up for success. As opposed to, I know when I was a leader for the first time just being thrown into the deep end.

I remember I, I was working in the US and I moved to the UK. I was moved to the UK and I was made a leader for the first time. And so the combination of being a new leader leading in a different culture. Oh my goodness. The mistakes that I made over and over again, I made mistakes. But to me, that’s how you learn is by making these mistakes and I will never make them again.

Tim Reitsma

Yeah. I mean, it ties directly in, in my opinion, to employee engagement and, you know, as a leader and keeping our teams engaged in and yeah, HR is spending so much time training leaders, because it feels like we’re, we’ve, you know, just started figuring this out, you know, in the last, you know, in the last 5, 10 years is, oh yeah. You know, just because somebody is great at their job doesn’t mean that they’d be a great leader.

And yet they’re thrust into that place of a leadership without any formal training or any training whatsoever. And so lots of work to do there in that space. 

Debra Corey

Absolutely. I do I often go into organizations and I do employee engagement sessions with their management and leadership team. And I start the sessions out with some numbers and their numbers like there’s a 70% variance in employee engagement scores because of leaders. 

So myself in HR can come up with the best programs in the world. But you, as a leader, if you don’t own engagement, it’s never going to change. And then statistics like 75% of people, we all know this. 75% of people leave their boss as opposed to their company.

And that even just silly statistics, like I think there was one that was 50% or 55% of people would rather work for a robot or a stranger than their leader. So I try to hit them between the eyes at the very beginning and not to scare people. But I know for myself, when I was a leader at the beginning, I didn’t know that was part of my job description.

I didn’t know that was my responsibility. So once I do that, then I equipped them with the skills to be able to to make sure that those are positive numbers and not negative numbers. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah. That’s scary. My heart skipped a beat while I was thinking about, wow, 50% of people would rather work for a robot. That’s a, I’m thinking to my team and, you know, I might uh, uh, I might do some poking around and engagement here later on today. 

But it is scary, but it also, I think it fits really well into just, you know, a question that I’m really piqued my interest lately is — when you hear the phrase ‘build a better world of work’, you know, what comes to mind? What does this mean to you?

Debra Corey

Yeah. I mean, a lot of what I write about and a lot of what I talk about is really looking at the world in a different way, looking at the world of work in a different way. And you know, I’m sure after the last couple of years we’ve all been forced to look at it in a different way. So from my perspective, the only way to, to build a better world of work is to change our perspective.

So what are we looking at? What does the world look like? And then also step back and challenge ourselves on every aspect of what we do to support and care for our people. My second book that I wrote, funnily enough, is called Build It, so that similar theme of building the rebel playbook for employee engagement. 

And an entire book is about challenging all the things that I’ve done my entire career. It was quite funny cause I wrote it with my former CEO at my organization. So he’s more of a business person and entrepreneur and I’m you know, grew up as a traditional HR person. And we used to joke and say that when we finished a chapter, if Debra Corey, traditional HR person, didn’t feel a bit queasy and sick to my stomach because I was challenging my thinking so much. 

We had to go back and rewrite that chapter. And that’s what I think we all need to do. We need to not be queasy, but we all need to challenge ourselves to make the world a better place to work, or it’s never going to change, and be really brave.

At the end of my talks, I always end, so I start with those numbers and I always end with the concept of bravery, and why we need to be brave and how we need to be brave and really just, you know, put on that rebel cape and go for it. 

Tim Reitsma

I love that. Just that rebel cape it’s putting that on and it’s being brave.

We can’t challenge the norm without finding our voice and it takes it takes being brave. It’s scary. You know, we don’t necessarily want to challenge in a way that’s going to put us out of a job, but at the end of the day if things are not working in our organizations, whether it’s engaged in engagement data will tell us that.

But as leaders, if we don’t have a good grasp on how our teams are operating and how are they feeling? How are they doing? What’s going on in their lives? You know, we’ve got to challenge ourselves in that. We are in a different era of work. We know that. 

Debra Corey

Absolutely. And we need to remind ourselves why we’re doing it.

So, you know, as you said it’s, it can be difficult sometimes to challenge the status quo and to do things differently. But if we always stay focused on why we’re doing it and the end game and what we’re trying to achieve, it helps us do that. And it creates that focus and that drive and that energy, and that, that passion.

I also, I always show some silly little video of me doing the flying trapeze at the end. Also saying that if I can do a flying trapeze and I do the thing where you swing and you drop and you catch the person’s arms. And I’m like, if I can be brave enough to do that, you can be brave enough and go out there and you know, make some changes.

Tim Reitsma

Yeah. It’s, it goes hand in hand with organizational trust. If we have such a low sense of trust within our organizations, you know, being brave is scary. It’s even more scary, but that’s where we need to challenge ourselves, challenge our organizations, challenge our leaders. And there’s techniques and ways that we can challenge in a way that is, is thought-provoking versus why are you doing it this way?

Hey, I’m seeing that this isn’t working. Here’s some data to support it. Let’s you know, let’s unpack this. Let’s get curious about it. And so, so I love that. It’s it’s that bravery. It’s putting on that rebel cape. I love it. I want a rebel cape now. 

Debra Corey

I’ll put up a one in the mail to you. I love that you used the word trust because I think it all begins and ends with trust.

And I’ve seen that work and not work with leaders before. Because again, you can go out and do the best things in the world, but if you do not have that trust, it’s never going to work. I remember I worked at an organization and I’m, I went to this one of our manufacturing sites, and I stood on stage to tell them about this new benefit program, which was an amazing benefit program.

It was really good. They should have been very excited about it. But what I didn’t know is that there was a lack of trust with the leadership team at that particular manufacturing site. So pretty much as soon as I stood on-site on the stage and started telling them about that, this is a true story.

The back row stood up with chairs over their head and shook them at me and started yelling at me and tormenting me. You know, we don’t trust you. You’re just trying to force us to do something. So yeah, the first session didn’t go too well, but I learned my lesson. And the second session I went and I spoke to the people in the back row and built their trust just in five minutes so that when I’d get on stage, they wouldn’t torment me.

But yeah, that was a good lesson on the importance of trust. 

Tim Reitsma

Well it’s, and it ties hand in hand with engagement, right? It’s, even if, you know, we throw an engagement survey in and you know, I’ve seen this in organizations. It’s, oh, employee engagement is a survey. So we survey a couple of times a year and, oh, our results look great. 

But honestly, if people don’t trust the organization, are they actually going to be truthful in a survey? And it’s, oh, it’s an anonymous survey. Well, if there’s three people in a department and you have to select your department and they all rate one out of 10, you know, they’re not happy.

Well, is there that sense of trust? And so it does start there. And the big question is how do we build trust? And that’s a whole series on its own. And you know, maybe we’ll dive into that a little bit, but you know, on the topic of employee engagement, let’s define that, right? It’s more than a survey.

And so if you’re listening right now and you’re ready to do an employee engagement survey, and you’re excited, you know, employee engagement is more than that, in my opinion. But I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, Debra.

Debra Corey

Yeah. I mean, we’ll let, we’ll come back to surveys, but I’m going to answer your question about what employee engagement is. And we spend a lot of time thinking about that when we were writing this book that I mentioned to you, Build It.

And in the book, we defined an engaged employee in three ways. An engaged employee is someone who understands the direction of the company. So you’ve got that trust and you’ve got that relationship. They know what the company is doing. They also understand where they fit in, cause sometimes we’re really good at sharing, this is what the company’s mission and purposes. 

But then people like a jigsaw puzzle. They don’t know where they sit in. So that’s what an engaged employee is. And then the third part was that an engaged employee goes out of the way to help the company to succeed. And we don’t mean, you know, they put in hours and things like that, but from the first part, they know enough about what they need to do.

They’ve got that ownership, they’ve got that trust and they are the ones who are going to help your business to succeed. Now, after the last two years, I’ve actually added a fourth part of my definition. I went back to my co-author and I’m like, are you okay with this? And I added the fourth part, cause I think what we’ve all learned over the last couple of years, is an engaged employee genuinely believes that their company cares about them. 

Because I’ve seen people, I had this with my neighbor actually. Where they go from highly engaged to highly disengaged because they do not feel that their company cares about them. And we saw that during the pandemic over and over again. I saw more companies showing they care than not caring, but now what we’re seeing, you know, with a great resignation is that some people are like, okay, if you’re not going to care for me, I’m going somewhere where they will.

Tim Reitsma

It’s that genuine, yeah, that, that caring and it’s, right, it’s especially over the last couple of years if you get sick, is your company going to take care of you and your family? And an example from, for me is, you know, I live with and it’s no secret I live with Crohn’s disease. And a couple of years ago it came back out of remission you know, with vengeance. 

I ended up off work for quite a period of time. And I remember one day coming home from the hospital and my wife and my kids, and there were boxes on our front doorstep. What is this? We opened it up. And it was boxes of groceries from my company, my boss because he knew that we were going through a hard time and he wanted to not just take care of me, but also my wife and kids.

And there were so many snacks in there. My kids were just bouncing off the wall. It’s sugar and healthy chocolate. You name it, but do you think I was engaged after that? Absolutely. It drives that level of care. And, you some might be listening saying, wow, well there’s a cost to that. You know, it’s like, well, how much does it cost?

But you know what? The cost of disengagement outweighs the cost of sending somebody a care package. You know, I would say tenfold a hundredfold. I haven’t done the math on it, but would you agree on that? 

Debra Corey

Absolutely. And there’s a ripple effect of disengagement. So if you’re disengaged, you know, you’re going to tell three other people, they’re going to tell three other people.

So, absolutely. So compare your story with the story of my neighbor, which, and he was the reason why I added this fourth part of my definition. During the first lockdown, he became sick. And after the lockdown, his boss said to him that he needed to travel into London every day to work because you know, lockdown was over.

We need to come into work. And he said to his boss, you know, I really don’t feel comfortable doing that. I really haven’t been well, I’ve got four young kids at home. I really don’t want to put myself at risk. And his boss basically said, tough luck. This is the new world and you need to come into work.

So compare that to what happened with your amazing boss, who took the time to understand you and your family and to your point, doesn’t cost that much money to do something like that. Compared to the cost of replacing you. And it’s like a drop in the bucket as the expression goes. Yeah, absolutely.

Tim Reitsma

Yeah. Yeah. Oh, I’m sorry to hear about your neighbor. It’s, you know, somebody who might love the company, love the values, love the purpose, you know, feels that like to your three points, you know, they know how they’re contributing to go from that to, no, I, I don’t care how you’re feeling. This is what you gotta do.

What a way to kill engagement, like right away. Guess I can imagine somebody in that position would then, you know, brush up their resume, brush up their LinkedIn, say, you know, open to work or open to recruiters and away they go. 

Debra Corey

Absolutely. And they’ve just lost somebody who, before, you know, it was a very engaged employee and it’s interesting.

You can tell already that when I get in front of audiences, I like to do things a bit differently. And when I talk about engagement and disengagement, I am, I often share pictures of what a disengaged employee looks like. Cause we all go, oh, right, they’re disengaged. It doesn’t make a difference. 

And it’s pictures, like, have you ever seen the picture where you’ve got on a road, you’ve got the yellow line, but there’s a stick in the middle of the road and the person draws a line around it. It’s like if you’ve got a disengaged employee, it’s hard to describe without the picture. Sorry. If you’ve got a disengaged employee and they’re going to be so disengaged if they’re going to care so little that they’re not going to move out to stick out of the road. 

People are going to get flat tires as they drive by. People are going to get an accident. And I have lots of silly pictures like that just to show the impact that a disengaged employee could have and then flip it. There’s a lovely story.

When I interviewed Zappos for my second book I walked around the building and I was talking to the call center people and there’s one-call center person told me the most lovely story that to me shows what an engaged employee is. They got a call from someone who said that they needed to return six pairs of shoes and six dresses.

And the call center person was so engaged that they didn’t just leave it at there. They knew that their job was to support the customer. So they got into a conversation with them and as it turned out, the person’s Beyonce had canceled the wedding a week before the wedding. So they wanted to return the dresses and the shoes. And what the employee did is obviously they gave him the address of where to return it, but then they took it to that next level and they sent the person a spa voucher and wrote a handwritten note about, do something for yourself and feel better.

And what I love about that is can you imagine how many people heard that story and how many new customers they got just by that engaged employee. So again, every time we think about engaged versus disengaged, when we think of them as words and numbers, I think we need to think of them as real-life examples, like the lovely story that you share. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah. It’s moving past that survey. Right? It’s moving past that moment in time. And this is something, that has always struck me with an engagement survey. Is, you know, we’re, we’re surveying our teams, whether you’re 10 people, a thousand people on a certain day of the week, and we don’t know what’s going on in that person’s life.

We don’t know if they were walking in the pouring rain, forgot their umbrella, wet feet, sit down to do an engagement survey, and are just miserable. And it’s like, no, I’m not having a good day. I’m not engaged right now, nothing to do with the company. But they just want dry socks and warm feet and silly example.

But it’s because if we just take it at that one moment in time, it doesn’t, in my opinion, it doesn’t measure engagements. So how do we, how do we get to a place of not just measuring engagement, but actually doing something about it? 

And creating a culture like Zappos where, hey, take care of that customer. And I know there’s a lot done to go into that of just activating your values and your purpose and giving people that autonomy and that freedom.

But where do we start? How do we start?

Debra Corey

My approach to everything when it comes to people is a diverse approach. So not to rely on just one thing, because you’re right. I think doing that one survey once a year just doesn’t work. I think it’s a good check-in time. Because statistically, hopefully, it will, we’ll share something with you, but there has to be other ways that you’re going to get feedback.

And I always start with why, so why am I doing the survey? I’m trying to understand what are the opportunities, what are the concerns? What are the changes that I need to do? So, you know, I’m a big fan of just getting out there. You know, when I used to work at Gap, I used to go out and just fold clothes.

And just stand next to my sales associates and just get a feel for, you know, what they do. It’s like that undercover boss, except I wasn’t undercover. You know, I love doing focus group sessions with my people. I encourage my leaders to have those conversations with the people and get a pulse of what they’re doing.

And then as an organization, do post-surveys as well. I think that the biggest thing that we can do is actually do something with the information. And I think that’s a big mistake. You know, I was working with a company and they were sharing the data with me from their survey and it was nine months old.

They hadn’t even gone back to anybody yet to share it. And I thought the next time that you asked them to do a survey, they’re going to say, no. I wouldn’t. If you don’t even share the results with me little and do something, I’m not going to do anything with it. So I think it’s the, what you do and then the what you do to get the data and then what you do after you get the data and how you can make those changes. 

And, you know, it goes back to trust and honesty. If I get results from people that says, you know, talks about, well, you know, we all need 10% increases in this business. We can’t afford it. I don’t hide under the carpet.

I go out there and I explain, you know, in a trusting, in a grown-up relationship. This is why we can’t do it. And instead, let’s think about what we can do. 

Tim Reitsma

You hit the nail on the head, it’s doing something with the data. And, you know, you can survey, I know we’re kind of down the survey rabbit hole right now, survey once a year, once a month, once a week, if you don’t do anything with the data.

And I heard, I’ve heard that in organizations. In organization years ago, we’d survey quite often. And employees, our survey response rate used to be quite high and it started dropping. And so we started asking, well, you know, what’s keeping you from filling out? It’s like nothing ever gets done, like nobody actions my feedback.

And so we added a couple of questions to the survey of like, what could we be doing differently? What’s the immediate impact we could be offering? And out a 100-person company, man, the ideas were just great. It was, it was like, wow, we don’t have the bandwidth now to action all of this feedback.

And so we had to prioritize as a leadership team and really drive that impact. And a lot of it came down to, Hey, I don’t know if my leader knows what the heck they’re doing. And so maybe some leadership training and that’s what we had to do. Bring in some leadership training, but taking that tangible results feedback from people.

And you also mentioned something that’s really important is, so get out of our office or our virtual, you know, our virtual space and go talk to someone. Like, I love that idea of like, Hey, you’re going to go and full clothes at the Gap and talk to people. And so, you know, we’re in this hybrid world, we’re in this new world of work.

So how do we even do that? How do we ensure that we’re carving out that time to connect with our people?

Debra Corey

And so that I want to go back to what you were talking about. And I think it, it has to change with the mindset. I think in the past we used to do surveys because we knew we had to do a survey and, complete transparency, a lot of times in HR, we did surveys so we could enter awards. That was why we did them. It was, you know, if you wanted to win an award, you had to do this one survey. And I think we have to change our mindset. And it goes back to when I talked about, you know, being a leader is a privilege. Feedback and data is a privilege. My best ideas come from my people. 

So I absolutely value, I love, you know, when I get a survey back and I’ve got 50 pages of handwritten suggestions, I don’t roll my eyes and think, oh my goodness. I think, you know, happy holidays, happy birthday. This is like, this is the best gift in the world. So I think that we have to change our mindset, first of all, and see it as it’s a absolute positive and do that.

And then the second part of your question, sorry, I started rambling there. 

Tim Reitsma

No. I’d love that mindset change. And yet the data is a goldmine and it’s not as a burden of, oh man. Now, look what I’ve, look what I got myself into. And you know, just trying to think back to my question, I was fully engaged in what you were saying and it’s, you know, I think it’s even around, you know, how do we carve out time, you know, as a leader to drive that engagement?

We know we need to build trust, and I know we’re going to just scratch the surface of this, but if our teams, you know, if all we hear every day is, I’m good. I’m good. What could anything be better? Nope, we’re good. How do we break that? How do we actually get, get real, good, tangible data instead of I’m good?

Debra Corey

Yeah. And it’s interesting cause my husband is a, is a senior leader. So over the last two years with us working from home every day at lunch, we take a walk and we spend a lot of time talking about these types of things. And he said, that’s the problem he has with his team quite often. He has a bunch of engineers who work for him.

And you know, there’s something called the 5 Whys. I think I wrote about it in my first book, which is we just have to keep carving away and keep digging. So if someone says, I’m fine, you don’t just leave it at that. You’re fine, that’s great. Give me an example of what’s fine. And you just keep picking and, you know, in a constructive way so that you can actually get past it.

And the more you do that, and the more that the people realize that you’re not just asking that question because of survey asked you to do it. And that is part of the problem with some of these surveys is there’s, you know, some of them just, you have to rate what you are between one and five every day. And it just seems like a number.

So if you can show the human side of why you’re asking it, and then going back to what you said before, do something with it. So if someone says, I’m not fine, okay, let’s talk about it. What can I do to support you when it comes to that? But I do think it is going into the, it doesn’t have to be 5 Whys, but you know, more than, you know, scratch the surface with your questions.

Tim Reitsma

It’s yeah if we ask that closed question, how are you doing? Good. It’s, I don’t know if it’s a North American way or world way of, it’s just, it’s not even it’s kind of lost its meaning. And I remember once you know, we’re at church and somebody asked my wife how she’s doing. And oh, how are you doing?

And she said, well, Not that great. And the person was, oh, I’m not prepared for this. And so we had a great conversation, but you know, when we actually think about that question, how are you doing? Like, this is a real check-in. And there’s a, there’s a online platform, a great company called Checking In.

And it’s really something that I’ve even brought in with my team thinking of that rating scale is, you know, on, on a rating of 1 to 10, what’s your energy level? How are you doing and what’s one word to describe how you’re doing. And so one meaning you should probably be in bed or maybe see a doctor. Ten, meaning you’re bouncing off the walls.

Maybe you’ve had way too much coffee. You’re fired up. You’re ready to go. And know, it gets, it’s a little awkward at first. You know, we do this a couple of times a week in our huddles. And, but what I’ve noticed even over time is people and even myself, you start to build that trust and you start to go, okay, I’m not a 9. You know I’m a six today and I woke up with a terrible headache.

It’s like, okay, what are you doing to take care of yourself today? Versus, okay, I woke up and I’m a four and you know, I’ve just got low energy. And as a leader, we could say, well, I don’t care. Just perform. Or as a team, we could rally around that person and say, well, how can we support you today? 

Debra Corey

Absolutely. And I think that’s important because if you’re going to ask people questions and I always coach people on this when they’re doing surveys.

Yeah, after, you have to ask yourself why you’re asking you that question. So if you’re asking that question because you genuinely want to know what people’s energy level is like and how you can support them, but you need to think about what you’re going to do when you get that number and move and take it to the next level and go from there.

Tim Reitsma

Absolutely. You can’t just take it and then, we’ll leave it on the surface. You need to be able to do something with it. And I’ve recently brought that into a management meeting in our organization, a senior leader meeting. And somebody afterwards said, I really liked that. That actually made me pause and think, how am I actually doing?

And it was good to hear everyone’s numbers because now I know who to have a conversation with. And so again if whatever that question is, whether it’s an engagement survey or you’re a leader sitting down with your team what are you going to do with that data? That information? Is it just going to go in one ear and out the other? Then, don’t even bother.

If you don’t care, then don’t ask. It’s simple as that. If you’re not going to do anything with it, if it’s a, I think that’s probably the biggest lesson to learn is when you’re getting these inputs is doing something with it and making sure you’ve got the space to do something about it, as a leader. 

Debra Corey

And I also think that you know, I am a numbers person.

I love numbers, you know? I’m a, I did the reward function for most of my career. So comp and benefits and things like that. So I love numbers, but I’ve also learned over the years, not to just look at a number in a black and white sense and to look at a number in many different directions. So often what we do is we get that one number and we say, okay, that’s the trend, but then look at it in other ways.

So if you’ve got an engagement survey, is every team engaged in the same way? So, you I did a survey once when I was rolling out a new recognition program. And it looked on the surface that everyone was really engaged. But when I really dug deep, I realized that one of my countries, not one single person had gone on the platform and used it at all.

So it was really, you know, looking in multiple directions at the data to get away from the trends and see if there’s any other things that you need to notice from it. And I really encourage leaders to do that as well. Don’t just, don’t just go for the average of the mean. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah, don’t take the headline.

We’re such a, we’re a society, and again, this very big generalization, but we’re we love the headline, the caption. When we scroll through the news social media, it’s just the headline. Same with the, with our data. Just look it at it on the surface. It might tell us something we want to hear, but let’s dig it, dig into it.

Let’s look at the demographics, location. Is there something maybe in our DNI programs that we that we’re noticing that we need to shift or whatever that is. We got to look, we got to dig into the data. And that takes time and it takes a skillset. Or you can get a piece of software to try to do it for you, but if you can’t afford that, you know, the magic of formulas and being able to design that survey correctly.

So, you know, if somebody is listening to this today and, you know, whether they’re launching an engagement initiative or a survey or just looking to engage with their team where can somebody start? What’s the one thing somebody can do today to to drive that engagement? 

Debra Corey

You know, it really goes back to what we just said. I think the starting point is to listen and to understand. 

So, my second book, Build It, we’ve got a model called the engagement bridge model. And in the model, there’s 10 different elements, which are basically all the tools that we have to engage our people. Things like communications, things like values, things like recognition, pay, benefits.

And when people ask me, how, where do I begin in building my bridge, my engagement bridge? I tell them, you need to understand where the pain points. So for example, my last company and I did that whole exercise, I realized that actually recognition was where I needed to begin because when I talked to my people, they didn’t feel appreciated. 

So to me, that was where I began. So I’m a real advocate of not just following a 10-step process because each company is so, so different. I think you need to start with where your pain points are from a people perspective, but also a business perspective also. So, you know, if there’s a, if there’s a business challenge right now, you might need to go out and design a new incentive program or design a new performance management process.

So it’s really balancing the needs of both to make sure that you’re strategically developing your engagement programs heading in the right direction. 

Tim Reitsma

Thank you so much for that wisdom and insight and I know you know, I lead a small team and so I’ve got some great ideas on just even how to unpack, even with my team and drive that engagement and just to solicit. What’s working well, what’s not working well?

And come from that place of honesty, and, you know, when you were actually saying is just listen I’ve worked with leaders who, you know, if they heard, oh, you know, my team’s not feeling appreciated. The immediate reaction is, well, what do you mean? I give them lots of appreciation. And so as a leader, if that’s her initial reaction, just gut check that. Park that out the door and maybe say something like, tell me more. Like you said, Debra, the 5 Whys.

Why would they say that? Why are they thinking that? What’s coming up? And even if our reaction is, well, suck it up. I recognize everybody. Everyone should feel appreciated because I say thank you all the time. Well, just because you say thank you doesn’t mean people feel appreciated. So, so that’s that’s a real, tangible example.

Debra Corey

I think it’s taking off, you know, I talked about the rebel Cape. It’s almost like take the defensive Cape off and really just be open and don’t feel defensive about what anyone says, because at the end of the day, it’s their opinion. Right or wrong, it’s their opinion. I just had a conversation with someone and they were frustrated because none of their employees were filling out the 360 feedback and the like, I’m just going to send it out again.

I’m going to send it out for like the 8th time type thing. And it’s like, made me need to understand why they’re not filling it out? It goes back to what we said with the 5 Whys. I do sound like a broken record, but are they not filling out because they don’t trust it? 

Are they not filling out, cause actually do you know what they think you’re doing a great job, so they don’t feel they need to do it? But, you really understand that’s where they’re going. I was going to say one of the thing about the whole beginning because I said, you need to figure out for your company where to begin, but I am going to break my rule a little bit. Because I think in this world that we’re in right now, one element of the engagement bridge that every company needs to do better than we’re doing it already is communications.

And that’s there’s on the engagement bridge, there’s an element called open and honest communications. And that really, it’s what builds trust. It impacts every single thing you do. So if we don’t build in open and honest communications and how we interact with our people and how we share things with people good and bad then we’re never going to have engagement.

We’re never going to have trust. So I think that’s a common denominator in every company. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah, I think so. I think there’s, there’s a whole podcast just on that aspect of communication. And we could tell an hours of horror stories as well as good examples and it’s so, so important to increase communication.

Like you said, not just the good things, but also the things that aren’t going well. 

Debra Corey

Well, in the book we go. As I said, we try to hit people between the eyes. I think in the book, we said something like stop lying to your people. You know, things like, so Susie is leaving the company to spend time with her family.

I mean, seriously, we all know it’s a lie and people are going to come up with their own truth. So you might as well stop wasting people’s time and tell them the truth. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah. Yep. It’s telling the truth is this is sometimes scary and awkward, but just, yeah, stop lying about it. Just, you know, pull that bandaid off. Own it.

I think there’s that sense of ownership as well. It’s like, oh shoot. If we let, you know, a senior leader go and we just say, oh, went to go spend more time with their kids. No, we’re not owning it, right? We got to own it. 

Debra Corey

Yeah, and it’s a ripple effect because if you hear that, you know, we let a senior leader go, people, start thinking things.

I mean, the rumors I’ve heard in these situations, we’re going through a re-organization. Everyone’s losing their job. We’re closing down this office. And it’s like, no, it just didn’t work out with the person. You can do it in respectful way, you know, there’s situations where it’s happened to me before. It’s just not the right fit.

And do you know what? That’s fine. Wish them well, support them on the way out, engage with them even when they’re leaving. And it’s a much healthier situation. 

Tim Reitsma

Yeah. And it ties directly back to that employee engagement piece, because if we lack communication, we, again, big generalization we tend to fill in the gaps with our own narrative.

You see, you three people packing up their desk or even their virtual space, or they don’t show up to a team meeting anymore. You start filling in the gaps, you start going like what’s happening? And then by the end of the day or the end of the week, all of a sudden, you know, the sky is falling and you’re looking for new job, but you never, if we, again, it could be for a valid reason and a reason that’s going to help propel the organization forward and. 

Debra Corey

Yeah, I remember I was just going to tell you a silly story. I remember my, the CEO that I wrote the book with. We all had shared calendars at this organization and this one day he turned off, he hid his calendar from everyone. And everyone in the company, the rumors going around were amazing. And the only reason he did it is because people were just scheduling him.

They weren’t respecting his schedule and they were like scheduling on top of things and he thought I’m not turning my calendar off on until I, you know, communicate to people and explain to people not to do this. But it was just, I mean, it was just perfect example of how many people thought different things were going on.

Tim Reitsma

Yeah. Yeah. And then imagine you sent out an engagement survey, like, you know, three days after that. 

Debra Corey

Absolutely, absolutely.

Tim Reitsma

Oh, you know, it all ties together. 

Debra, thanks so much. You’ve mentioned your book and your books and also the pyramid. And we’re definitely going to include all the links in our show notes. So if you are interested in to get ahold of Debra please head to her website as well as connect with her on LinkedIn.

And any final thoughts any final pieces of wisdom to offer our audience? 

Debra Corey

Well, I was just going to mention, so my job title, which I completely came up with all my own is Chief ‘Pay it Forward’ Officer. So, you mentioned my website, there’s a part of my website called Free Resources. And it has resources like what we were talking about with the engagement bridge and it walks you through how to figure out where to begin. 

And then I’ve got another free thing on stories of how people were living their values during the pandemic. So by all means, I wrote them for everyone. So by all means, download them for free. I don’t even ask you for your email address because I’m that committed to sharing them with people.

Tim Reitsma

That’s great. And that’s at debcohr.com. So D E B C O H R .com. 

So head there, check out the resources. They’re phenomenal. 

Thank you so much, Debra for coming on and spending some time with us and sharing some great stories and great wisdom with our audience. And for those who are listening, we’d love to hear your feedback.

So, please head to peoplemanagingpeople.com and drop us a line. There’s a Contact Us button there. Also connect with me on LinkedIn and let us know what you think of the show as well and provide some feedback. You know, part of engagement is feedback and I need feedback and to know how we’re doing, and also a feedback on topics that you’d like to hear.

So again, Debra, thanks for joining us. 

Debra Corey

And you’ll do something with the feedback, right? 

Tim Reitsma

Absolutely. 

Yeah, we just don’t collect it in a Google sheet and let it collect dust is, we use that feedback to shape our publication and we thrive on that. So thanks for calling that out, Debra. I love it. 

Debra Corey

Thank you very much. 

Tim Reitsma

And thanks for joining us today.

All right. Take care. 

Debra Corey

Bye.