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Bob Kelleher interviewed by Swati Gangawane Gujar - 05th July 2018

Bob Kelleher is a best-selling author, keynote speaker, and consultant on employee engagement, leadership, and workforce trends. He is the author of the bestselling book, LOUDER THAN WORDS: 10 Practical Employee Engagement Steps That Drive Results, CREATIVESHIP, A Novel for Evolving Leaders, EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT for Dummies, and I-Engage, Your Personal Engagement RoadmapBob can be seen or heard on national media (most recently on CNBC, CBS, NBC News, Business Week, Forbes, and Fortune, and has presented to many of the world’s top companies. Bob is also the founder of The Employee Engagement Group, a global survey, products, assessment, and consulting firm.

Employee engagement guru Bob Kelleher spoke with the Bravo team about why employee engagement needs to be more holistic, giving actionable tips to keep employees engaged, and why it is important for organizations to create a process to remind managers to recognize employees as a ‘WHOLE’.

Q: Do you agree that we are moving a step further from the concept of employee engagement into something more comprehensive called employee experience? How does this unravel within organizations?

Bob Kelleher: Although the employee experience movement has merit, it tends to focus on the experience of the employee, not necessarily the holistic view I have of engagement, which is based on the employer – employee partnership.  Employee Engagement is the mutual commitment between the employer and employee where the employer is helping the employee reach his/her potential, while the employee is helping the business reach its business objectives. You can create a world class employee experience but find yourself losing market share, or not being a high performing business, or not building a culture in where the employee is helping improve the business experience.  The employee experience is merely a part of engagement.

“The annual performance appraisal is dying, and being replaced by monthly or quarterly employee check-ins. “

Q: Every employee has different needs. What do you think companies can do to address them? Can you give any actionable tip to leaders, managers, companies and HR staff to keep them engaged and motivated?

Bob Kelleher: Demonstrate that you care about the well-being of your employees.  Studies show that trust is the foundation of enterprise wide high engagement, and the number one way to build trust is to demonstrate empathy.  Also, I often call communication the cornerstone of engagement.  Studies show that employees don’t hear a message until they see it or hear it 13 times. Managers need to build in frequent touch points with their employees.  The annual performance appraisal is dying (thank goodness), and being replaced by monthly or quarterly employee check-ins.  A simple take-a-way:   Partner up with an employee to create a Venn diagram where the three circles are ‘What I Like to do?” , “What I’m good at?”; and “What needs to get done?” . The intersection of these circles is the sweet spot of engagement. Lots of overlap means higher engagement.  A little overlap will lead to disengagement.

“Disengagement in millennials is due to a disconnect between cultures established by traditionalists and baby boomer”

Q: A recent study showed that millennials remain for less than two years with an organization. Should we look at this as a problem or market evolution? What should organizations do differently to create more engaged workplaces for millennials?

Bob Kelleher: Millennials are the least engaged generation in the workplace at the present, and yes, tend to leave quicker.  This is primarily driven by a disconnect between cultures established by traditionalists and baby boomer, and a workforce which has quickly become dominated by millennials.  Things are changing however as more and more millennials are in managerial positions, and can more directly influence workplace cultures.  As for quitting every two years, this is also beginning to change as millennials enter the responsibility years of their lives with marriage, children, and home ownership.  I suspect this will mean job security will increasingly become important, and result in longer tenured millennials – in fact, the research is supporting this emerging trend.

“People are motivated to achieve, and money simply reinforces achievement.”

Q: You make a very striking statement when you say ‘People are not motivated by money’. Can you elaborate on ways and means of engaging and recognizing employees?

Bob Kelleher: People are motivated to achieve, and money simply reinforces achievement.  The more an employer can put in place achievement ‘reinforces’, including recognition, cool assignments, robust communication, and keeping employee ‘in the know’.  This coupled with managerial empathy towards the workforce, and eliminating unfairness within the firm (the perception of unfairness will cause disengagement)

“Recognition is free – so there is simply no excuse to not focus on it.”

Q: Here is another quote from your keynote video ‘Creativeship – Leadership is so yesterday’ which states ‘Culture demonstrates you care’. From your 25+ years’ experience of building award-winning engagement cultures, what role does employee recognition play in the creation of a great culture?

Bob Kelleher: Having built award winning cultures, recognition has always been a key component of a healthy culture.  And it is free – so there is simply no excuse to not focus on it.  I’m also convinced that recognition does not happen unless you create a process to remind managers and employees to recognize. This process should include a budget to recognition, and a way to measure and report on recognition.  You tend to get the behavior you measure and reinforce.  The good news?  A culture of recognition and celebrations leads to a replication of the activities that you’re recognizing and celebrating.

“What happens AFTER work often has as much to do with one’s engagement as what happens during work.”

Q: In your keynote video on ‘The ten steps of employee engagement’ you say ‘Engagement is about engaging the person, not just the employee’. Can you elaborate on what this could mean to organizations looking to create more engaged employees?

Bob Kelleher: My latest book, I-Engage, Your Personal Engagement Roadmappaints the roadmap on why and how managers need to engage the “Whole” person and not just the employee.  What we’ve learned in our research is what happens AFTER work often has as much to do with one’s engagement as what happens during work.  The empathetic manager is one who is able to better manage the employee of today, where technology has blurred the boundaries between work and life.

“There is a migration away from reward companies offering trophies and tangible rewards to companies with on-line and easy to distribute forms of recognition.”

Q: Do you think there are other important tech developments brewing in the HR space which aren’t being spoken about?

Bob Kelleher: I see performance appraisals being replaced by frequent employee touchpoints, made easier by the use of technology.  Simply technology solutions will stick more than complicated technology solutions.  We’re also seeing a migration away from reward companies offering trophies and tenure gifts like watches, and other tangible rewards, to recognition companies with on-line and easy to distribute forms of recognition.  You can include gamification platforms and ideas in this new trend.

Q: Artificial intelligence is big talking point in many industries. Chabot’s’ will be a norm in the HR industry too. You feel very strongly about empathy at workplaces. What kind of challenges can you foresee in terms of its widespread implementation and acceptance?

Bob Kelleher: I tend to trust employees, and expect that employee almost always do the right thing. You will always have the potential for employee abuse – I suggest you handle abuse on a one on one basis.

Q: For the few that might have never heard about you, how would you pitch yourself? How did your journey in HR culminate into founding ‘The Employee Engagement Group’?

Bob Kelleher: Over a 25 year career as CHRO, I became an architect at building engaged workforces.  After applying this blueprint for a global workforce, being invited to speak on it at global conferences, and repeatedly hearing, “You really need to write a book on this process”, I left corporate America in 2009 to write “Louder Than Words, 10 Practical Employee Engagement Steps That Drive Results!”   This led to the speaking business, 4 additional books, and the formation of The Employee Engagement Group (

Q: Another question on a slightly different note. What is the one piece of recognition/appreciation/compliment that you have received that has changed your life?

Bob Kelleher: I once worked for a global technical company which was owned by a private equity company.  After their first year owning us, my CEO brought me in his office to say he nominated me for their top leadership award, The Beasley Award, with one nomine per group operating company, and one ‘winner’ who would be honored at a big dinner at their headquarters in Texas.   Being in a staff function (CHRO) for a technology company which employed thousands of engineers and scientists, I was honored to be our firm’s only nominee.  Usually l our technical or operation leaders were the people who enjoyed firm wide recognition – not staff functions like HR.  This demonstrated to me that a non-engineer HR professional can be recognized and can influence a business in a way that gets noticed. To my amazement, I actually won the award, which I viewed as validation of my engagement work, and recognition of the HR function.   Coincidently, this award came with no money, just recognition of achievement.  There is a lesson here…..

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Pozitive” a Product Division of SpadeWorx is next step in taking forward our mission - “Employee Engagement To Drive Productivity & Innovation”. We have been privileged to work with lot of customers over the last decade and have learnt a lot when it comes to the increasing importance of Employee Engagement as organizations are getting on the digital transformation journey.

Increasing Employee Engagement requires a cultural transformation at many organizations and we believe reimagining recognition is a good start. For this purpose, SpadeWorx launched “Bravo – Workplace Recognition Reimagined

With our research, surveys ,participation in expos and conferences a very clear message has emerged which is voiced by thought leaders in HR space that Culture is the most important catalyst in a company for vibrant and positive work place which can bring increased productivity and efficiency.

Bravo is aimed at promoting desired cultural traits which is so very essential for strategy execution.