Wouldn’t it be great to get some hands-on ideas on how to improve the engagement of your employees?

That’s exactly the goal of this blog, based on the book Alive at Work by Dan Cable.

It’s the new bible (as far as I’m concerned) if you want to move toward engaged employees and a more human-centric organization.

At the end of the blog, as a bonus, I share some powerpoint sheets that you can use in your own storyline, including measurable results of the interventions.

So you have all the ammunition you need to convince your fellow managers and board members.

NB. The page numbers refer to the pages of the e-book version.

Why Scientific Management No Longer Suffices


Let me take you on a little journey.

On a drizzling Monday morning in 1911, a 55-year-old engineer jumps out of his bed and yells: “Eureka!”. He just solved the complex puzzle that all organizations are struggling with:

How can I create excellent performance while my organization is growing so rapidly?

He knows that people are in essence very lazy and only motivated by money. So how can we get them to perform adequately?

By splitting all activities into small tasks, adding performance indicators, throwing in some serious control mechanisms and rewarding them based on that performance. “Trust no one, obedience to the max, Hallelujah!”

On a drizzling Monday morning in 2019, we find that most organizations are still using these basics of scientific management to run their organizations.

Which organization is not using KPIs for steering?

It was a pretty damn good idea to last > 100 years! Or was it?

The seeking system is the key


The context of organizations has changed dramatically over the last 100 years. The speed of innovation and technological change is huge.

In such a context, organizations need: creativity, proactiveness, learning, experimenting, gaming, agility, innovation, collaboration, decision making, meaning and purpose.

What was scientific management in essence trying to prevent? Exactly. The list mentioned above.

It was meant to deactivate our seeking system, which is the part of our brain that creates a natural impulse to explore, learn and extract meaning (see page 6).

It even releases dopamine when we follow its urges and get the chance to maximize it, creating a natural high. It’s how we as human beings are designed.

Because of the industrial revolution and scientific management, we have done the opposite, by creating organizations that are designed to suppress our seeking system.

They are designed to create fear by maximizing control. And “fear is the kryptonite of the seeking system”.

Learned helplessness makes it hard to act


In 2019, we are all empowered, we are all strong and capable of making our own choices.

So why are so many people in organizations simply accepting what’s happening? Why don’t they just leave?

It’s also biological (see page 27). When we start, we are all energized and motivated to make changes in our new role.

But after we have been told several times that there is no budget, that we should focus on our KPIs, we feel helpless. This has 3 serious consequences:

  1. It changes our emotional state (we grow resigned)
  2. It lowers our motivation (we stop trying)
  3. It changes our mindset (we think it’s the same in other organizations)

In other words, once you’re in a situation where your seeking system is deactivated, it’s pretty hard to step out of it.

The good news though, is that it’s really easy for you as the leaders of the organization, to reactivate the seeking systems in your own organization!

Yes, even in production environments (as Cable proves in his book), so don’t let anyone tell you this only works for the Apples and Googles of this world.

Re-activate the seeking system of your employees


The book is full of easy-to-implement examples that have shown great results in enhanced employee satisfaction, reduced churn of employees and increased customer satisfaction and sales.

1. Onboarding (page 44)

During the onboarding, start with the introduction as follows (best self-exercise).

Ask the question “When did you feel that we’re acting like you were born to act?”, either in a work or personal situation.

Take 5 minutes to think of the example and then share the stories one by one.

Result of the intervention: 11% increase in customer satisfaction and 32% reduction in churn of employees.

Rethink the goal of your onboarding. Don’t make it about sending a lot of information.

Be bold.

Just focus on these best self-exercises (there are more in the book), focus on complete engagement.

Then find another way for me to learn about the organization after the onboarding.

When I’m fully engaged, I learn a lot more and really internalize it, instead of just listening to the huge amount of information I receive during most onboarding sessions.

2. Relational best-self onboarding (page 50)

This was an experiment where I don’t share my own best-self story, but my family or previous colleagues have been asked to share what they feel is my best self. These results were even better.

Result of the intervention: +200% in creative problem-solving.

3. Servant leadership (page 87)

In essence, one question asked by you as a leader can make the difference.

If your goal is to create excellent customer experience, the one question you need to ask your employees every day, every week, every month consistently, is:

“How can I help you create even more excellent customer experiences?”.

And then act on their needs and facilitate where necessary.

Even in organizations where you start from a difficult situation of distrust, apathy and task-based steering, this works. What you’re doing with this question,  is activating their seeking system.

Of course this can take longer, depending on where your organization is coming from.

You have to be consistent, be sincere about it.

A feeling of trust is then created, they feel that you are really looking to support them to make the difference. And you’re off.

Result of the intervention: +54% customer satisfaction, -29% customer complaints, from worst to best in the industry concerning churn of employees.

4. Show the impact of their work (page 105)

There are also several examples to show people the effect of their work. Let them visit the customer who is using the product they have helped to build.

Let them solve a problem the customer is facing. You can also integrate this in the onboarding.

Result of the intervention: + 171% in fundraising after a short 5-minute interview to hear what the fund meant to the student receiving it (no tears, just sharing how it helped him).

I’ve added a practical exercise based on these insights as a starting point.

5. Analyze your Employee Journey

Delve deeply into the daily journey of your employees and ask them what information they are being asked to register in a system (CRM, Excel, anything).

Then ask them, what information has the sole purpose of control and what information is actually helping them to make a difference in their daily work.

Ask what information is adding value to them.

Ask them how much time it takes, to administer both the value adding and (in their eyes) non-value adding information.

Based on these insights, decide which information you really want to use.

There will probably be some information, that the employees do not feel as valuable, but which is still valuable from the organization perspective.

In that situation, you can explain to the employees WHY you need that information, in order that they understand, which makes all the difference.

Customize it and do this exercise for each department, since my journey as a customer service agent is not the same as my journey as a back-office employee.

An example in the contact center.

Many contact center agents are required to register the reason why the customer is calling.

But they have never been told why.

When we told the employees why (to improve the customer experience), and we started sharing the insights on a regular basis, the accuracy and willingness of registration increased dramatically.

Find the true drivers of employee engagement

Last but definitely not least, if you really want to created engaged employees, then be very careful with the hype that is going on right now.

In this blog I share what’s the risk of the hype and more importantly, how you can find the true, latent drivers of emotional engagement of your employees.


# BONUS Download ‘whitelabel’ powerpoint sheets (so you can add your own look and feel) I’ve created for you, to integrate into your own storyline, including the measurable results.

When you are passionate about creating a more human-centric organization, this book is a must read and will help you translate that passion into concrete next steps to start your journey to get there.


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