Tim Eisenhaur is the President & Co-founder of Axero Solutions, an intranet software company. Tim is changing the way organizations approach employee engagement starting with leadership and empowerment in his book Who The Hell Wants to Work For You: Mastering Employee Engagement. Tim has also been featured in Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur, CNBC, Today, and other leading publications.

Chuck: Good afternoon and morning Tim. Welcome to Chuck Chats.

Tim: Good morning! It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you.

Chuck: It’s great to chat with you today. Do you mind if we start with your book?

Tim: Sure thing.

Chuck: You wrote a book called “Who the hell wants to work for you?”

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First off, is that a rhetorical question or should people have an answer? 

Tim: I believe every manager or boss should be asking themselves this question everyday.

Chuck: So it’s safe to assume that it’s not so much about finding the people who do want to work for you but more about finding out what kind of boss/leader/supervisor/manager you are?

Tim: The book is about people at work. What turns them on and what turns them off.

But before you get into engaging employees, you have to turn the mirror on yourself. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves...

 

I believe every manager or boss should be asking themselves this question everyday. 

 

Chuck: What’s the step before this?

Tim: There is a misconception in the conversations going on about “employee engagement.”

Everyone wants ideas on how to do it. But none of them ever think that they are the problem. And none of them ever think about the contribution they are making to creating disengaged employees. 

All they see are these dismal statistics. Something like 70 or 80% of employees in the US are disengaged. And every year it seems like the stats get worse and worse.

So naturally, managers and bosses think that people are the problem.

But employee engagement is not what we think it is.

Engagement, like health, is when all your vital functions are in good working order. You can’t buy health on the internet, just like you can’t buy a turn-key employee engagement solution.

You have to find and fix the specific problem that’s causing your symptoms.

Your employees are disengaged because some of the fundamental principles of employee engagement are broken in your organization. And most of the principles of engagement require strong leadership.

So, first and foremost, the book is for business owners and executives.

 

Employee engagement is not what we think it is. 

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Chuck:
Let’s pause right here. Do you think employee engagement is a score or metric that companies should be tracking?

Tim: Please don’t. This is absurd. (See: here)

Chuck: And it’s an absurdity that is happening everywhere. I’m on your side on this.

Tim: I hear it all the time. “Tim, how do we measure employee engagement?” I wrote about it in the above link. But an absurd question deserves an absurd answer… here’s an excerpt from the article:

“Make your employees wear brain-scanning devices. These can be cleverly disguised as free headsets and Apple Watches. Collect data at random points throughout the day and plot it against scientifically validated standards for high, medium, and low engagement. As a bonus point, you can monitor your employees' whereabouts, time spent in the bathroom, and other engagement-related variables.”

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Chuck: Yep, that’s pretty absurd.

Tim: And when you get the number you’re looking for, what will you do with it?

Chuck: I’m sure leaders will brag about it. Or recruiters use it.

But when communicators tell me, “Oh we have 80% engagement” or whatever number, I can never believe it.

 

To me engagement is the ideal relationship between the company and the employees.

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Tim: And then at your next ‘all-hands’ meeting, you can say declare you have 80% engagement and get a standing ovation.

To me, engagement is the ideal relationship between the company and the employees.

Chuck: But even though I don’t believe in engagement as a number, when a communicator tells me “Oh, our engagement is bad, like 30%,” it signals that they are trying to solve a problem of some sort.

Tim: When things get too geeky and complicated, it’s time to go back to the basics.

Engagement problems usually start at the top with your higher-ups and your company culture, (which, unfortunately, are often a purely aspirational set of standards hammered out by HR or marketing.)


If our people can't trust us then what the hell are we doing? 

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Chuck:
So other than reading your book, since engagement starts at the top, what can an employee do to improve engagement?

Or is there anything they can do? Is it a personal thing?

Tim: A great question, Chuck, that begs another question: What is employee engagement?

Chuck: If you’re asking me, my simple answer is giving a shit.

If an employee cares about the company, the people, the customers, the product, then they’re engaged. If they don’t, they’re probably not.

But also some days we are engaged, some days we aren’t.

It’s not a static thing.

Tim: Giving a shit helps. But how do you get them there?

Chuck: Who’s asking who?!

Kidding!

That is why I suggested it could be a more “personal thing”.

I believe we all have different motivators and drivers that focus us in or keep us going.

Tim: Employee engagement is getting people to work for you, as though they were working for themselves, doing something that matters to them and brings them joy.

If I, as a manager, have complete trust in my employees—if I trust their intentions, their abilities, and their judgment—then I have done my job of engaging them.

To me, it’s the ideal relationship between the company and the employees.

 

Ultimately, engagement and motivation come from relationships between people. 

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Chuck:
And this starts to sound like empowerment.

Tim: Empowerment, yes! Giving your people the opportunity to do their best work.

It’s funny you use the word empowerment. I broke my book up into 3 sections:

  1. Empower the individual - How to select, train, and motivate people to do their best work.
    What are the personal traits that will make people successful in your business?

  2. Empower the relationship - This refers to the relationship between the boss and the employee.
    Do employees feel safe to discuss problems?
    Can the boss back off and let people do their work?
    Are these relationships authentic?
    What kind of boss are you? Do you micromanage? Do you make people visible? Do you help? Do you reward?

  3. Empower the culture - This is about how your company hangs together.
    What’s different about it? Is it disjointed? Is it completely connected?
    People talk about startup culture a lot: loose and friendly. But there is a lot of fakeness and a lack of integrity when it comes to stated company values and culture.
    We make this distinction in the “real” vs the “imaginary” company culture. And there’s a chapter in there about whether there’s a gap between the real and the imaginary.

Chuck: Companies are littered with blind spots. but they only discover them if they are honest with themselves.

And I think it’s funny you mention the imaginary company culture. I’ve often wondered with those companies who are cited for their culture and even give tours, if that’s just part of the product of the company.

I have an example actually...

Tim: I’d love to hear your example.

Chuck: We’ll leave the company’s name out of it, but let’s say rhymes with Yappos.

I went on a tour. Saw all of the fun stuff. All the decorations. All the celebrations. Then I saw a very boring building at the other end of the parking lot. I asked who worked there. They said it was accounting and finance. I asked if we could go and they said it wasn’t part of the tour.

That got me wondering, how much is real and how much is marketing/product?

Tim: Well, not every “best place to work” hits on those engagement principles I was talking about (and talk about in my book). And even those companies that are listed at the top today, could jump off the deep end tomorrow.

 

Employee engagement is getting people to work for you, as though they were working for themselves, doing something that matters to them and brings them joy. 

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Chuck: How do you feel about those “best places to work” lists?

Tim: There is a wealth of knowledge you can learn from them.

Chuck: In theory, wouldn’t everyone want their workplace to be a “best place to work” or is that part of the problem?

Tim: I guess that depends on who you are asking. There are many successful companies out there that treat their employees like shit. And there will be many more to come.

But I believe the future is held in the hands of companies that care enough about their employees to make some improvement, or make some effort.

Look at our Web 2.0 companies like Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn. They all make an effort and they have cult-like employees. But, they’re also the same companies in the news constantly for being evil. :)

But that goes back to my point: ultimately, engagement and motivation come from relationships between people.

Chuck: So as the president of Axero Solutions, what do you do to empower employees and lead engagement, since it starts at the top?

Tim: To answer this question, I have to explain what I do for a living.

I own a software company, Axero. We develop and market a social intranet platform, Communifire. We play in a pretty competitive market so we’re constantly figuring out how to make our product addictively good so our customers are successful.

We also have to make sure our employees love and own their jobs. Otherwise we lose on both counts. We offer unlimited vacation and our employees can work from wherever, whenever they want (we don't even have offices). Ultimately, engagement is built into everything we do, our priorities and practices built into our culture—and we’re always improving.

One thing I always stress with our employees is that they’re open and free to discuss and ask me anything. Building trust is at the top of our list, and it starts with me and our co-founder, Vivek.

If our people can’t trust us then what the hell are we doing?

 

But I believe the future is held in the hands of companies that care enough about their employees to make some improvement, or make some effort. 

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Chuck: I like that you talk about building trust. So many people just assume they have it. And then end up using it like a line of credit.

Tim: All the people management roads lead to trust. You have to give it to get it.

At a minimum, make it as clear as possible how you make decisions, and share in the decision making. Transparency is the most effective way of showing trust but it’s also controversial.

What does it mean to be transparent? How much is enough? It’s not intuitive to most companies, and it’s a difficult step.

Chuck: This is the last question, but I want to give you a different question than past guests have received. With emojis show your feelings about giving encouragement to a leader who wants to empower their employees.

Tim: 🤞Best of luck!