Chester On Point

An Employee Engagement Survey That Doesn’t Ask These 3 Questions is Worthless

Not long ago I worked with a mid-sized manufacturing plant in St. Louis that had a remarkable record of attracting and keeping in-demand workers. Although the company offered competitive wages, their formula for employee retention did not include offering above-market compensation, perks, and benefits.

When I asked Darrel, the plant manager, his secret for hanging on to his skilled machinists and technicians who were frequently courted by headhunters and other employers, he said “It’s simple, really. I know exactly what they want from their job. My job is to find a way to give it to them.”

Darrel then told me that for several years he had included a one-sided black and white photocopied sheet of paper inside the paycheck envelope for every employee. On that paper, employees were asked three questions:

  1. What do you like best about working here?Ideas for workplace
  2. What do you like least about working here?
  3. If you could make one change to your job, what would that be?

Next to the time clock where workers punched in/out was a slotted box bearing a sign that read –


With around 190 employees, Darrel said he received about two to three dozen responses in the box each week, the majority of which contained practical ideas he could actually implement.  Most of the surveys were submitted anonymously, but occasionally someone would want credit for their idea or ask Darrel for a convenient time to come to his office and work out a problem.

Darrel knew what was going on in his plant; the good, the bad, and the ugly. His low-tech method for keeping an omniscient ear-to-the-ground enabled him to extinguish minor problems before they grew into unmanageable infernos, and he was always implementing new ideas that were submitted for increasing efficiency and productivity.

Today there are a myriad of employee engagement surveys and online assessment tools available to help employers discover how their people feel about their jobs. While many of them ask intelligent and insightful questions that require time and deep introspection to answer, few can get to the heart of a culture with less friction than Darrel’s system.

ON POINT  –  I’ve made Darrel‘s three fundamental – but essential – questions an integral part of my On Fire Culture Workplace Assessment. It only takes a few minutes for employees to answer 35 multiple choice questions that reveal to an organization’s leaders which of the 7 cultural pillars are strong and which need attention, but it’s the responses to three simple open-ended questions that are the most illuminating.


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To Cut or Keep? A Leader’s Guide to Managing an Intermittent Employee

My new high-end coffee brewer drives me absolutely insane.

It brews the absolute perfect cup of java – hot nectar of the gods – about every third day. The other two result in either an average tasting cup of convenience store coffee or an evil black muck that you wouldn’t throw down your kitchen drain for fear it would eat through your pipes.

I don’t get it. I use the same beans and follow the same procedure every day, but the coffee that ends up in the pot is wildly inconsistent.

Is there any problem more perplexing than the one that is intermittent?

You know… bliss one minute; misery the next.

As a manager, that perplexity is multiplied exponentially when the intermittent problem isn’t a ‘thing’ but rather one of your employees. That worker who’s a rock star one day and a royal pain-in-your-neck the next.

And that can leave you scratching your head wondering if today is the day you should hand them a bonus check or a severance check.

Let’s examine the options for managing the on-again/off-again employee:

Intermittent Employee Guide.001

(to open this chart in a new window, click here.)

If the I.E. (intermittent employee) is a rock star most of the time and a pain to deal with only once-in-a-while, and they’re in a position that requires a hard-to-find skill set (e.g. fine copy editor, underwater welder, etc.) then it’s probably worth the occasional hassle they present to you to keep them on your payroll.

If the I.E. has a hard-to-find skill set and is a royal pain most of the time and a rock star just some of the time, getting a reasonable R.O.I from them is a high-risk gamble. While you may want to consider investing some time and resources in an attempt to repair their downside, the odds of rehabilitating a talented nut-job (i.e. Johnny Manziel) are stacked against you. Don’t be fooled into believing that you possess the magic wand that can permanently correct deeply engrained negative behaviors.

If the I.E. has a fairly common skill set (e.g. barista, limo driver) and is a rock star most of the time, then take the time and energy into trying to eliminate and/or reduce their unwanted behaviors and grow them in your organization.

It’s a ‘no-brainer’ if that I.E. has a common skill set that’s easy to replace and is a royal pain to deal with even a third of the time. You’ve got to cut ‘em loose immediately before they spread their virus throughout your culture.

ON POINT – Every employee can experience an off day now and then. But when a manager begins to notice an erratic and unpredictable pattern of unacceptable behavior that impedes performance and poisons the workplace atmosphere, it’s a signal to take quick and decisive action.

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When Millennials Cry “Don’t Judge Me” – Part II

In this follow-up to my previous “Don’t Judge Me” blog, we explained why millennials (and for that matter, people of any age) really do want to be judged… as long as they are being judged favorably. (No one is offended when they’re told how good they look, right?)

This post will take this topic deeper to provide some ideas and tactics to help you achieve improved compliance and consistency with the professionalism standards you desire throughout your workforce.


Biz Cas GWWhen dealing with employees that are relatively new to work – from their first part-time job to their first full-time opportunity, it’s vitally important to clarify your expectations for professionalism on the front end before hiring them. Don’t expect them to know what you mean when you say ‘appropriate attire’ or ‘look like a pro.’ That leaves the door wide open for them to put their own unique flair on those terms – – and their definitions will not be in alignment with yours.

When addressing something as important—as touchy—and as controversial as a dress code, don’t simply describe it verbally or expect them to read it in the company handbook.

Instead, show photographs of employees dressed and groomed exactly the way your policy dictates. Ask each candidate if they’d have any trouble adhering to these guidelines without any ‘personal modifications.’ Have them sign off on it to verify their understanding. This prevents any employee from playing the “Oops, I didn’t know…” card in the future. Clarity during the hiring and onboarding processes becomes the ounce of prevention that is worth the pound of cure.


Tell your new recruits how your dress code and your workplace conduct code came to be, how often it’s reviewed, and the process for amending any part of it. Some companies enlist the opinions of their people when establishing these guidelines to combat concerns that employees have no say in these important decisions. That may seem like overkill to you, but it will speak volumes to your employees and let them know that you take workplace appearance and professional behavior very seriously.

Whenever possible, include the context and reasoning for your expectations:

“Our patients and their families frequently comment on the neat and clean appearance of our hospital staff. They say that it makes us look as if we are one unified team working together to provide the best possible care for our patients, and that our staff’s appearance gives them confidence in the cleanliness of our hospital.”


“You know, when I’m out with the guys at a cage-fighting match, I get carried away and my language can get awfully colorful. But we’re trying hard to distance ourselves from that kind of mob scene and maintain a respectful, professional environment around here. It gives our brand a certain cache that separates us from our competitors. So please refrain from any words that you wouldn’t use around your grandmother’s table on Thanksgiving. Okay?”

There is a time to wear a coat and tie and a time to wear a t-shirt and flip flops. Even casual Friday’s have limits.

Every grade school kid knows that if they sign up for a part in a play, they are expected to dress and act the part or the role they are playing. Unfortunately, many grow into their teens and twenties without ever being informed that when they accept a job, they are expected to dress and act the part of the employee and wear the “costume” the way it appears in the script.

ON POINT – While these important distinctions should have been taught at home, it’s today’s managers who have been tasked with pointing out to their employees the clear line that exists between professional attire and conduct and matters of personal style and expression.


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When Millennials Cry “Don’t Judge Me!” They’re Secretly Hoping You Will

Pizza Expo 2.001Messages about individuality have hit today’s youth nonstop from all directions. They’re constantly reminded that they are perfect just the way they are, that they have to be their own brand, and to never surrender their personal identity.

No wonder your young workers arrive in the workplace thinking, “This is how I choose to look and the way I choose express myself. I shouldn’t have to change for the sake of a job. So hey, boss! Accept me for who and what I am!”

Even if they temporarily go along with the manager’s silly rules for, say, wearing a uniform, chances are, they will twist the logoed hat or turn it backward, sag the pants, and untuck their shirt. Anything to make them appear as if they’re leading your company’s stealth image revolt.

Their message: “I have to make this look uniquely mine or I’ll lose me and become you.”

As millions of Gen Y’s and Z’s seek ways to prove their uniqueness, they expect the world around them to look on with an approving eye. And when they fall short of that in anyone else’s eyes, their obnoxious mantra becomes “Don’t judge me.”

Tattoed girl screamingWhat they’re really saying, or silently shouting at the top of their lungs is, “Judge me favorably. Judge me to be a hip, cool, one-of-a-kind individual. And if you can’t judge me in a positive and accepting light, then dammit, don’t judge me at all!”

In reality, to be judged is exactly what they want from their manager, customers, and especially their peers. But they want the verdict to be 100% positive 100% of the time.

So while they are busy shaping their outer selves with piercings, stretched body gauging, tattoos, and outrageous clothing, they’re also promoting the idea that what really matters is what’s on the inside.

The inevitable train wreck occurs when these workers, whose collective psyche has been shaped by the pervasiveness of be your own brand messages, show up in all their non-conformity for a job where the manager asks them to dress a certain way, speak a certain way, and act a certain way.

Getting the emerging workforce to dress and act professionally is far easier, of course, when you hire professionals from the get-go. But ask the recruiter or hiring manager and they’ll tell you that the labor pool isn’t exactly chock-full of young traditional-minded conformists. To many employers, that pool may seem more like a swamp overrun with radicals determined to rewrite the company’s dress code, not to mentio
n their entire code of conduct.

Your discontent with the lack of professionalism among young workers may have you hiring more and more based on potential. You may have to rely on an online personality assessment to tell you when you’ve found someone who is moldable.

You may feel that if you get a good raw prospect who comes from a “good home” or a “good school” you can get her to model your dress code and then convince her to stop texting when she’s talking to a customer.

However you see it, this issue demands your attention.

ON POINT: In the follow-up post Don’t Judge Me: Part Two, I’ve addressed the solutions and tactics to the “Don’t Judge Me” syndrome and show you how to get better compliance with the professionalism – or the lack thereof – from your emerging workforce.



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Why Millennials Shouldn’t Mix Social Media with Politics

Two of my five adult children (millennials in their thirties) are avid users of Facebook, Instagram, and other social media. Even though I’m writing this advice to them, it’s intended for the masses.
Capitalism or Socialism concept

Hey guys – it’s your old man here with some “unsolicited advice.” If you read it without bias, it could really help you. If you don’t, it could hurt you. So indulge me, if you will.

Anyone who visits your Facebook page instantly knows your political views. While I am delighted that you are passionate about the future of this country, your views and opinions could be considered extreme and quite polarizing to many others who are on the complete opposite end of the political spectrum. And you’re probably keen to the fact that everything you post, share, or ‘like’ immediately goes into the great vault of public information in cyberspace where it will be available for anyone and everyone to see. Forever.

Here’s the thing. Actually, two things you need to consider:

1)  Your real friends (people whom you’ve truly spent time with and could recognize across a crowded room) already know your views; in fact, they very likely share those same opinions. That’s because a shared view of the world is often the basis for a friendship. These kinds of friends do not need further convincing; you’re like the minister who’s preaching to the choir.

There is, however, another and probably much larger group of people who will see these posts. In this group are those who may be a casual acquaintance of yours or of a friend; or a friend of a friend of a friend whom you’ve just happened to accept as your Facebook friend. The people in this group may, or may not share your views, and because they don’t know and trust you as a real friend, your posts have little or no influence on their views. Most likely, they’ve already unfollowed your feed.

But there’s even a bigger reason that you need to abandon your political rants, sharing, likes, etc. on Facebook and other social media:

2) Your next boss, or prospective client, or future angel investor in your startup is going to want to know who you are and what you stand for, and you need them much more than they need you. They are going to do their due diligence to determine if you are a person they want to align with. It’s entirely possible that that key individual sees the world quite differently than you and will thus eliminate you from any consideration based upon your views. I’d hate to see that happen.

ON POINT – This is not some imagined or fictional scenario. It happens all the time much more than you may think. I’m a witness to it.

The bottom line is your posts and ‘likes’ aren’t helping to advance your candidate – or your issue – one iota. Zippo. Nada. Unfortunately, broadcasting your political leanings could end up killing the opportunity of a lifetime for you. Is it worth it?

Oh, and by the way.  This advice applies to all millennials. Even those in their fifties.





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If Your Best Employee Wins Powerball Tonight, Will They Show up for Work Tomorrow?

$1.5 Billion is a whole lot of loot. An almost unfathomable amount.

It is, by far, the largest jackpot in the history of any Powerball or any type of lottery anywhere on the planet.

While it’s hard to imagine being the winner, try to imagine that the winner turns out to be the top performer on your payroll. Would they give you two weeks notice? Would you ever see them again?

Okay. Let’s scale it back by many multiples.

If they were to win just a paltry $10 million dollars in the lottery, how many of your employees would quit their job?

That’s one of the revealing questions Gallup asks in its annual Work and Education survey. The percentage of Americans saying they would indeed quit after receiving this windfall has ranged from 31 to 44 percent. That means that at any point in time at least a third of your workforce would walk away from their jobs if they didn’t need their paycheck.

There’s little doubt that a paycheck (compensation) has a significant impact on whether or not your people are engaged at work. But if you want more than engaged employees – if you want them to be on fire at work and perform for you like they would if they owned the company – they need more than a paycheck. In fact, they demand six additional factors that, combined with compensation, form the 7 pillars of a great workplace culture:

compensation – money, perks, benefits, and work/life balance

alignment – meaningful work at a company with values that mirror their own

growth – opportunities to learn new skills and advance in their careers

atmosphere – a workplace that provides a safe, upbeat, enjoyable experience

acknowledgement – feeling appreciated, rewarded, and sometimes even celebrated

autonomy – encouragement to think and act independently and make decisions

communication – being informed about relevant company issues and knowing the company is actively listening to their ideas and wants honest feedback

Great workplace cultures aren’t built on simply paying high salaries. Employees who are in-demand need more to perform at their best and to remain in their jobs.

ON POINT – To ensure that you attract and retain the best possible people in your organization requires that you continually improve your workplace culture across all 7 pillars. So what are you going to do today to make sure that if your best employee wins the lottery – or if they receive an offer for a higher paying job from your competitor – they will stay with you for the foreseeable future?

Remember, money matters, but it’s only 1/7th of the culture formula.

See the video trailer of why I wrote ‘On Fire At Work’ here.







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Coaching Quality Results in a Shortcut-Oriented World

In this new economy, time is the commodity that is the most prized. Seldom do you run into a colleague or associate who is looking for a way to fill some empty or idle time in their day.

Forced to do more with less, time-crunched leaders push their people to find the fast-n-easy solution when they encounter a problem such as an equipment breakdown or a customer service complaint. But the quick fix is seldom the right fix, and the Band-Aid approach to problem solving only lasts as long as the adhesive on the back.

When shortcut solutions become acceptable, employees are programmed to believe that speed trumps quality and cutting corners is the way to get on to the next thing. Even when luck plays its hand and the quick fix remedy is good enough, workers begin to exhibit a shortcut or ‘hack’ mentality. And that can prove hazardous to your organization.

Yes, speed matters. You don’t want the mechanic to take three weeks to complete a brake job on your car. But you don’t want him to finish it in three minutes, either. There’s a monumental difference between working efficiently and expeditiously and doing a rush job.

To establish a workplace culture where your people are driven to find the right solution in a timely manner, follow these three simple rules:

1. Be outcome driven. As Stephen Covey so brilliantly stated as the 2nd of his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Begin with the end in mind.”  Your people should know where speed fits in to your organization’s values and what the ultimate objective must be in their daily decision-making process. If you demand quality above all else, let them know that in most all situations, good enough is not good enough when better is possible.

2. Follow up. As you delegate, make sure you consistently circle back to see how problems were solved. Look for teachable moments in both the good and bad situations and rather than give the lesson, ask workers what they’ve discovered through the experience.

3. Reward the process. When your people go out of their way to find and apply creative problem solving techniques, draw attention to it and give appropriate recognition, regardless of whether it led to a successful result. Let your people know that you appreciate them investing themselves in finding the best solutions, for the challenges that your organization faces, not just the quickest or easiest.

In 1776, Lord Chesterfield famously quipped “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.”  That quote is as applicable today as it was back then, perhaps even more so. So if you’re tired of seeing the same old problems rear their ugly heads and you’re after sustainable results, coach long-term problem solving strategies.

ON POINT: Assign an ‘A’ thru ‘F’ grading scale to various projects to let your people know which tasks can be rushed and which need to be handled with great care. Whenever quality matters, clearly assign an ‘A’ to the project and remind your people that efficiency is important, but shortcuts are unacceptable.

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