Editor’s Picks

Talent Development Is Key for Attracting the Best Employees, Says Dr. Brad Shuck

By Henry Kronk
December 19, 2017

Dr. Brad Shuck is an associate professor of Organizational Leadership and Learning at the University of Louisville. Earlier this year at the ATD Conference, he spoke on the role talent development plays in the employee value proposition–or what attracts great employees to work at your business.

Full Transcript:

It’s like yes, your blood pressure’s already going up thinking about all the emails you’re getting right? So I know I’m the barrier to that. I want us to think about principles that apply across a variety of domains in your life.

I want you to think about you as a leader. Regardless of what position you have in the company that you work for, regardless of whether you have people reporting to you, you might be a father or a mother or a husband or a partner or a spouse, a community leader. In some way you have influence, you have a voice. I said that earlier today. You have a voice, you have the power to use that voice. You’re a leader.

I want you to think about the practices and the principles that we’ve talked about today from the perspective of where are you in terms of your leadership journey? And second, you as a professional. Where’s your journey taking you? What’s the next stop for you? What are the things that you need to move yourself in a direction that’s going to allow you to spread your wings and get to the next place that you need to be going in your career?

And then lastly, the thing that I think we forget about all the time is what it means to be a human being, what it means to be a person. When I leave here today, I’m going to go home and be dad, right? And I can’t divorce that from who I am right here. That’s an important part of my life. Roger mentioned earlier today he has five grandkids. We get to hear about Roger’s grandkids all the time at the university and I love that. I love that we can bring that part of who we are into our work and that that’s a part of our identity. And so I’m going to encourage you to think about these principles today through these three lenses: as a leader, as a professional, and then as a person.

I want to thank you for coming and for staying today and giving me the time. It’s an honor to be here.

Everything that I’m going to talk with you about today is research-based. You can look everything that I’m going to talk about up. You can go to Google Scholar, type in “Brad Shuck” and then type in “engagement”, and everything that I’ve ever done is going to pop up and it’s going to be available to you. And if you need anything you don’t have access to, you let me know. I tell you that because I don’t think anybody is interested in my opinions. I think we’re interested in what does the evidence tell us? Where’s the research leading us? How do we begin to have different kinds of conversations around talent development? And how do we begin to rethink the idea of talent development?

Well let me introduce you to my daughter. So this is Maddy Grace. Yeah, now you can’t boo me because we have a pact. We talked about psychological safety earlier. Ladies and gentlemen, this is my psychological safety net right here, right? Yeah, see? She’s seven and she was in preschool a couple of years ago and I love to tell this story.

Normally, when we’re at home, I have the opportunity to work from home a couple of days a week. When the girls come home, my wife and my daughter come home from school, they both go to the same school, my wife’s a first grade teacher at Camden School in Oldham County. When the girls come home from school, we stop what we’re doing and we run to the door, okay? We run to the door and we hug each other and we just say, “Hey, I love you. How was school? What was going on? Tell me all about this.”

And so this one particular day, Maddy was really sad. I mean she’s a very happy person, as you can tell, right? She was very sad and she was dragging her backpack behind her. Normally, she’s very chipper and ready to go and ready to play and go outside, but this day she was really dragging her backpack behind her. She was kind of moping along and I could immediately sense something was wrong, the day was very different for her. So I got down on one knee and I said, “Hey, Maddy, what’s going on? You look sad. Are you okay?” And she said, “Daddy, it was a really hard day today.” And I was like, “You’re in preschool. It gets worse. How could it have been a bad day?” She says, “Well, my teacher told me I needed to color like a kindergartner. And I said, “What? Like a kindergartner? Show me what you mean.”

I wish I would’ve brought it today. I have it at home in my office frame. She pulls out this elephant that she had colored pink. Yeah, right? I was like, “Oh, girl. You hit the page. Yes! That’s awesome.” And I said, “What did your teacher mean by color like a kindergartner?” She said, “Well daddy, my teacher told me that elephants aren’t pink, they’re brown and gray and that I shouldn’t color elephants pink because elephants, they just don’t exist when they’re pink.” And I said, “Oh.” and I could immediately see what was happening here.

I get it. There’s need for rules and order and things like that, but we’ve talked all day about getting out of the box, right? My job as a university faculty member is to get people out of their box and sometimes I spend the entire semester getting people to think a little bit beyond their comfort zone. And at the ripe age of seven, my little girl was being told to get into a box. I love to use this as a metaphor for how we need to rethink some things.

How many times have you been told, in a conversation, in a meeting, out to lunch with some colleagues, “Get back in your box. We don’t do things like that here. We don’t have those kinds of conversations here. You can’t do that here. We don’t have enough budget for that here.” And our opening keynote today talked all about this. I call this the pink elephant. This is my pink elephant.

So if we want to rethink the way that talent development is done, when we want to understand how this is going to actually move us forward, we have to be willing to color some elephants pink. And it’s going to take some courage for some of us to do some of those things, right? To have those conversations, to be bold, to make steps in that direction, we’re going to have to do some of that.

So I’d like to frame this conversation from a perspective of what I call the employee value proposition. An employee value proposition is a really easy equation. It’s the answer to the question, “Why would a talented person choose to work here?” What is it that’s unique about where you work, from a talent development perspective, that attracts the kind of talent you need, and once they got there, why would they stay? What is it about your organization that actually keeps people engaged in their seats, and in the learning, and in the conversations, so that when you’re asking questions at a meeting people are raising their hands and they’re giving their absolute best ideas?

Here’s what we know from the research. I won’t show you a whole bunch of data today, I promise. I only have 252 slides, but this is the only one that I have with a data set. This is a scatter plot and this is what employee engagement looks like when you overlay talent development. See? Talent development drives employee engagement.

In fact, in our research it explains 33% of the variance in the outcome of engagement. What this essentially says is that when people work in an organization where they believe the talent development value proposition for them is positive … We’ve had conversations today around career development. We’ve had conversations today around how we can be better organized and how we can use different learning theories to engage our learners. When we have those kinds of things, we have more engaged employees. And I’m not giving you a correlational statistic, I’m giving you predictive analytic. It’s predictive of the outcome. That’s a compelling story when you think about it from a data standpoint.

A strong EVP will change everything for you in the same way that data changes the conversation and the nature of everything that we might do. And here’s a little more data to back that up.

This is what an EVP looks like in action. 93% of people who work at an organization who say that they believe their organization believes in them and has a talent development strategy that is positively linked with their career [inaudible 00:07:25], 93% of those people say that they go above and beyond. Who wouldn’t want that? 93%.

Beyond that, if turnover is an issue, 91% people who say that they work in an organization where their EVP is positive, their talent development strategy is aligned with their personal goals, there’s an individual match, 91% of those people are unlikely to leave the company. That’s a staggering statistic. And why would they go? When was the last time any of us have had that conversation with our direct leader about, “Where do you see your future here? Where are you? How can I help you? What can I do to support you?” Those are the kinds of conversations that I think people like us, the folks in this room, this family, we thirst for that. We thirst deeply for that.

We talked earlier also about creativity. We did not align our slides here but this storyline works out really well. 85% of people who say that they work in an organization where the EVP is positive, the employee value proposition is positive, 85% of those people say that they give their best ideas. And here’s the interesting thing about creativity: creativity is this really fragile place, right? Innovation happens in these really fragile moments in our life. And there’s these little subtle things that can shift us one way or shift us in the other. But when we believe that our leaders have our best interest in mind, when we believe that our organization has our best interest in mind and we see our future here and we’ve interviewed at the very last place that we believe we’re ever going to interview, we give our best ideas. We don’t hold back. We raise our hands in those meetings.

What I would tell you, though, is that most leaders start with what I call a practice-based strategy. And I hear this a lot. I hear, particularly from some of the students that we teach in class who are interested in taking practices from best-in-class organizations and we read about these things and we’ll take those practices and we’ll want to take them out of that organization and we want to put them in our organization, right? But that’s not what an EVP is.

An employee value proposition, particularly from a talent development standpoint, is not about what you’re doing well but it’s about what we’re doing well and how do we capitalize and leverage that particular strategy? In other words, we look to others to see what they’re doing and what’s working and we try to put those things in our organization. I call that the objectification of the practice.

Let me give you a couple of examples around employee engagement. Gosh, I’ve spent the past 15 years kind of dissecting the idea of employee engagement. I love to talk about it. I won’t bore you with a bunch of statistics and research papers around that but I love to think about why is it that people give more of themselves at work and why is it sometimes they push away from [inaudible 00:10:18]? And sometimes we’ve seen that, right? We’ve seen people who have been very engaged in a particular project and they’re giving everything that they’ve got, and then we have other people where we see actually physically push away from the table in a meeting where they’ve been shut down. And I’m interested in why does that happen at work?

One of the reasons that I think that happens in some organizations is that we objectify the idea of employee engagement. Let me give you a quick example. This is me in Barnes and Noble. This is the Barnes and Noble over off by the patty shops. You guys know what I’m talking about? Yeah.

My friend, Rodd Wagner, wrote this book called “Widgets”. Rodd used to work for Gallup. He wrote, if you’re familiar with “Strings” and “First Break All the Rules” and all that kind of stuff, Rodd was one of the chief scientists behind the research behind that. He wrote this book called “Widgets”, really great book. And so I had gone into the store that day to see if they had the book in stock because, when your friend writes a book, you go and you try to find it. Then, if they don’t have the book, you’re like, “Hey, why don’t you have [inaudible 00:11:18] book? You need to have a bunch of copies of this book in here. What’s wrong with you guys?” And so I was going to do that, and the manager was right there beside me and I pulled the book off the shelf and I took this selfie and I sent it to Rodd and I said, “Hey man, I found your book in Barnes and Noble. I’m so pumped to tell the manager about this great book.”

Literally sitting right next to it this one, “Employee Engagement for Dummies”. And so I’m like, “Well, Let me look at this book.” Does anybody have this book? No, don’t raise your hand. If you have this book, you don’t have to out yourself. The idea of “Employee Engagement for Dummies” is that it’s a bunch of top ten lists. Then, if you want to engage the employees, it’s not about pizza parties and Blue Jean Fridays. Those things are cool, right? I mean they’re very nice. My wife really loves to wear blue jeans on Fridays to school and she relishes that moment. It’s not about ice cream socials. These things are very nice.

You know what engagement’s about? It’s about this. It’s about how we treat you. It’s about my belief in, “Does the company have my best interest in mind? Are there talent development programs that are in place for me that help me get to the next level? Am I being recognized at a high potential? Do they care about my career? Is there a rewards and recognitions structure in place that’s individualized to me?” And these are conversations that are individual to every organization in the room.

But employee engagement is certainly not for dummies. If it was for dummies, it would be easy. But I’ve worked with some of the world’s largest companies in this area of engagement and I’m telling you right now it’s very difficult to do this. It’s hard to drive leader behavior. It’s hard to drive discretionary effort. It’s hard to create a culture of engagement. It’s certainly not for dummies.

I got this email a couple of weeks ago. This is one of my favorites. 8% of global employees are actively disengaged and intend to stay at their organization. And they go on to say, “To learn about workplace prisoners, you can read this white paper.” And it was the word “prisoners”. I don’t take any offense to the idea that there’s a bunch of people out there sometimes that … Look, I may have been one of those employees one time when I’m like, “Look, I’ve quit and stayed.” We call that warm chair attrition. You keep your chair warm but that’s about it. But the idea of prisoner is something that suggests that it’s something wrong with me. And I don’t particularly like to be thought of as a prisoner. I don’t think that’s a helpful thing.

I actually Tweeted back and forth with Anne Hewitt about this and I said, “This is not helpful language for people. You’re not helping anybody by suggesting that people are prisoners.” And then I asked them, I said, “If employees are prisoners in the workplace does that make HR the guards?” Are we the guards of the prisoners? How does this operate? What are the rules for engagement on this? I’m not sure how this actually works.

And so I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with anyone. The fundamental core belief that I have is that people who work in spaces, who can engage with their work, who have leaders who care about them and who they care about the organization in this reciprocal fashion, folks like that live fundamentally different lives. And because I believe that I believe that everyone can be engaged, I think that’s possible. And the reason I believe that is because to believe the opposite of that would be to suggest that there’s some people in the room that are just lost causes. And I’m not willing to accept that, I don’t have to accept that, right? I think everyone has the opportunity to be their best self when they work in a place where they have the right kind of environment. And that’s the mission of all the work that I do. But I certainly don’t think people are prisoners.

The last example I want to give you real quick is this idea of actively disengaged employees are known as vampires. This gentleman here, his name is Kevin Sheridan, and he’s a very nice man and I don’t mean to suggest or to vilify anything that he’s saying here. But I have talked to him about the language in suggesting that employees are vampires. First of all, that’s weird. This is a direct quote out of this YouTube video he’s got, “…because they suck the life-blood out of managers and the organization.” That’s an odd thing to say about people. I’m not sure, again, that that’s a very helpful thing. But I think this is objectifying the issue. It’s suggesting that there’s something wrong with something wrong with me and I need to be cut out of the organization, something has to be done with that. And then we retain all the unicorns and rainbows over here and then life is grand and happy, right? And it just doesn’t work like that, right? It just doesn’t work like that.

So the problem with that is this, that when we objectify something we no longer recognize its human element. And the thing about talent development and the thing that I love about this particular professional field is that it’s transformational. You have all seen this happen and you have stories. You have stories of individual people who you have seen make it when other people have counted them out and you didn’t. And when we objectify that, it’s now transactional. But I don’t think talent development is transactional, I believe it to be transformational.

But when we objectify something and we remove its human element it looks a little bit like this. Employees become objects to be used, they become objects to be controlled and objects to be manipulated. And I don’t know anyone who likes to be manipulated or to be [inaudible 00:16:54] objectified. I certainly don’t like that, it’s not fun for me at all.

So rather than think about that from a transactional perspective, this idea of give and take, I’d rather think about that from a transformation perspective. But we do have a little bit of a problem. And here’s the crux and the core of the issue. Our research suggests that the number of employees engaged after six months on the job is 40%. There’s a 60% drop-off between somebody’s day one on the job and their sixth month. So I wonder, is there anyone in recruitment? Does anybody do recruitment here? Just raise your hands super high. There’s one brave soul, God bless you. Yeah, there’s a [inaudible 00:17:40] extra bowl of ice cream for you in the back, all right? And put that straw in the [inaudible 00:17:43] sauce and do your thing. So I was suspecting that we have one of two issues. That either we have a recruitment problem or there’s a culture or experience problem.

So let’s just think about this from a recruitment standpoint for a minute. You probably work with recruiters at the organization that you work with. Have you ever heard recruiters say, “Gosh, I hope this person gets fired by the end of the day”? No. Have you ever heard, “Man, I hope this person loses their job by the end of the week”?

So I used to work for a company of mine, it’s a big cruise line company and it was a lot of fun to do that. And I was very excited about this job. This was going to be a great job, it was going to be a big party and I was going to be working in corporate human resources. And I was transitioning from FIU in academics over into the corporate side. I always wanted to see could I actually have any corporate merit. And so …

We have just a couple of [inaudible 00:18:40] about this idea of three principles that really drive the idea of the value proposition.

So the first one is that the strength of your talent development value proposition is that it’s cumulative. And here’s what I mean by it’s cumulative. It’s a gradual building up. And what I find in my own life is that so much of the outcome that I experience is grounded in the things that are easy to do and easy not to do. It’s very easy for me to wake up 10 minutes early and to spend some quiet time journaling or reading or just getting the house ready for my wife, making a cup of coffee for this morning. Since I got up at one o’clock in the morning when she got up I had coffee ready for her and she’s like, “Gosh, this is amazing.” It’s really easy to do that. But you know what’s easier? The snooze button. The snooze button is very easy to push. And so I don’t have to do that, it’s easier to make that other decision, right? It can work for us or it can work against us, it’s a cumulative building. It builds up but it’s actually very gradual.

Let me give you an example from my own life, if you don’t mind. So I like to eat sweets which is why I did stay away from the ice cream today. So I decided to make a healthy decision. Over the holidays I won’t eat sweets for the most part until Thanksgiving. And then Thanksgiving, like it’s on. It’s on all the way through mid-January. And I normally have a lot of restraint around food, except during the holiday times. And I’ll eat everything. So mid-January, early February, my wife came to and was like, “Hey! You’re going to have to go to the gym. Your pants are starting to be a little tight.” And I said, “All right, all right, all right.”

And so I said I would do these things, that I would go to the gym three times a week, I would eat less sweets and I would have smaller portions. So these are the three things that I had given to her, and these things are very easy to do, aren’t they? It’s very easy to go to the gym three times a week. It’s very easy to eat less sweets, I can get those out of my house. And I can eat smaller portions. It’s not a big deal, right?

I knew you guys wouldn’t believe me unless I showed you some pictures from real life. This is a bit of confession time, is that okay? When we share this moment together. This is going to stay in here, right?

Audience:                           Yeah.

Dr. Brad Shuck:                 All right. [inaudible 00:21:16] nobody else has seen these pictures. So this is a cinnamon role. This is at Café Lulu’s in San Antonio, you guys are going to Café Lulu’s? Yo, those cinnamon roles are legit. I wanted you to know they don’t spread the icing, they have a paintbrush and they dip it in and like, wla-lala-wlala. And it’s amazing. Some of you know my colleagues Matt Bertman and Kevin Rose. So we decided to go to Café Lulu’s together and try one of these three-pound cinnamon roles. But once we got there we were like, “Well, that’s probably not enough food.” So we ordered a … This is a chicken fried steak with a double order of french fries smothered in [inaudible 00:22:05]. Look, you all need to be proud of this picture. We didn’t eat for a week, right? Man, I mean look at that, that’s total carnage. It’s total carnage.

So I have an issue, I have a problem and I’m confessing that right here with you guys. So it’s easy to go to the gym, it’s easy to eat less sweets, it’s easy to have small portions. These are easy things to do. Now, let’s say that I did that for one week. I just did these things for one week at a time. Do you think that this would be possible? Is this what I would look like after one week? You’re laughing as if I don’t look like that and I’m not sure how to take that from you guys. So no, miracles would be involved with this. Crazy things would have to happen. There’s no way that I’m going to get from this to this in one week by … I’m going to move that because that’s kind of creeping me out, it’s kind of big.

To move from one week of doing smaller portion sizes to eating less sweets and then going to the gym just three times. I can work out as hard as I want. I can have the workout of my lifetime. And you maybe have seen me at the gym, I’m doing my thing and I’m moving. No matter how hard I work out at that one workout, it’s accumulative. It’s a slow build over time. It’s not about the one cinnamon roll that I eat, it’s about the 20 that I eat. It’s not about the one time that I ignore somebody’s opinion, it’s about the multiple times that that happens. It’s about the many times that I’m ignored an opinion and then I don’t raise my hand. It’s a cumulative build over time.

So here’s what I would tell you about that, is that from a talent development perspective culture is intentional, it’s never accidental. It’s something that we build forward, it’s something that we have to take specific action toward it. So I would challenge you to think about from a talent development perspective how are you putting in incremental practices that build every day towards the kind of culture that you want?

And I tell leaders all the time that you reap the value proposition that you sow. And if you sow seeds of negativity, if you sow seeds of anger, if you sow seeds of being in the box, you’re going to reap that. And the interesting thing about the law of harvesting is that we reap more than we sow. So if we plant an apple tree we don’t get one apple. How many apples do we get? We get a whole bunch, right? So we get a whole bunch of disgust and we get a whole bunch of anger. The reciprocal is also true. That when we sow seeds of joy and compassion and dignity and happiness, we reap that as well.

So we can’t get angry with ourselves when employees say, “I just don’t see my fit here. I don’t know why I don’t fit here.” We have to look back and see what’s the harvest that we planted and how did we begin to plant the seeds that we need to harvest later on? So leaders reap the employee value proposition they sow.

Proposition number two is that the talent development proposition is reciprocal. This idea is that reciprocity … Is anybody familiar with the theory of reciprocity? There’s like two psychology undergraduate majors in here, which is awesome. So the theory of reciprocity essentially says this, that human beings give and get in proportion to those things that we believe give and get to us. And this works in all domains of our life. It works when we’re at a restaurant and we’re tipping. And sometimes we feel like, “Man, we had a really great service, I’m really connecting with that person. We might leave a little bit more.” And when we feel somebody has gone outside and gone the extra mile for us we tend to reciprocate that back in direct proportion. And the idea of reciprocity is that it’s proportionate in intensity and it’s freely given, not an exchange.

And I’ve had some arguments with people in the literature who’ve suggested that things like talent development and employee engagement are grounded in the ideas of things like social exchange. And I disagree with that because exchange would suggest transaction. And remember, I said talent development is transformational. And I believe that at my core. If it’s transformational it cannot be exchanged. It must be freely given, because I believe you believe in me and I’m coming back to you with that same level of reciprocity.

Can I give an example really quickly? Let’s talk about going to dinner. I’m going to come off the stage, is that cool?

Audience:                           Yeah, cool.

Dr. Brad Shuck:                 Do you mind to help out here?

Speaker 4:                           Sure.

Dr. Brad Shuck:                 Yeah, can we give a round of applause, ladies and gentlemen? Yo, that’s what I’m talking about. I know we’ve like just met, is that cool?

Speaker 4:                           Yeah.

Dr. Brad Shuck:                 Let’s say that you invited me over to dinner to your house.

Speaker 4:                           Okay.

Dr. Brad Shuck:                 Can we all come?

Speaker 4:                           Yes.

Dr. Brad Shuck:                 Yeah, we’re all going to come, all right. We’re all going over to-

Speaker 4:                           Bring it in.

Dr. Brad Shuck:                 Tonight, right?

Speaker 4:                           Yes.

Dr. Brad Shuck:                 Yeah, yeah. So we’re coming over to your house and we’re getting ready and we walk in the door and you have prepared an amazing meal for us. It’s incredible. Do you like to drink wine?

Speaker 4:                           Yes.

Dr. Brad Shuck:                 You have a wine cellar too?

Speaker 4:                           Yes.

Dr. Brad Shuck:                 You went down to you wine cellar and you got the really great wine out and it’s all laid out in front of us. And you know some people are kind of stingy with their good stuff so they pour it for you? Not here, it’s just glasses all, you just pour all the wine you want …

And just before we leave, because you’re an amazing host, because I know you are-

Speaker 4:                           You know I am.

Dr. Brad Shuck:                 You have gift bags for us. You have ladies gift bags and you have gentlemen gift bags. That’s how coordinated you are. And my wife is with me, Angie is with me, and before we get to the car, what do you think she says to me about the dinner party?

Speaker 4:                           It was lovely.

Dr. Brad Shuck:                 It was lovely. And what should we do?

Speaker 4:                           We should have her over.

Dr. Brad Shuck:                 We should have her over for dinner. Listen, I think you’re super-duper, but I don’t know you and I don’t want you to come to my house. Because when you come to my house I have to clean it and I get vacuum shoulder. You know gentlemen we get vacuum shoulders, right? You know what I’m talking about. Yup, it’s a legit industry. It’s legit. So I get vacuum shoulder and I don’t want you to drink my good wine because it’s my good wine, it’s not your good wine. I saved it for a really long time. But what do I do? We have them over for dinner, right? That’s exactly right.

On a career development [inaudible 00:28:27] or a talent development perspective, this looks like sitting down next to somebody and saying, “Hey, how’s your career going? What’s happening here?” And just stopping in for lunch or stopping in for a cup of coffee or staying late to work with somebody on a project that’s really difficult. Have you ever stayed late to work with somebody on a project? I have done that a couple of times in my career, and to be honest with you, it’s kind of a magical experience. When you partner in by side of someone and you come alongside them and you’re doing it together, it’s pretty magical when that happens. And that’s where reciprocity comes to life.

But it also happens in the other way. When we don’t believe that someone has our best interest in mind when we don’t believe that there’s dignity on the table, when we don’t believe that there’s a fair conversation, when we don’t think that there’s, “My future’s not here.”  We push away from that. There is no dinner party. There’s no dinner party to have and so there’s no reciprocity to give. So that’s why I say it’s not an exchange, it’s freely given.

And this governs so much of our behavior. Human beings don’t involve themselves in things that we don’t see as meaningful. So I would tell you that your talent development proposition is built on the idea of reciprocity. And so I would encourage you to think about how does that principle fall in line with your talent development strategy? What are the kinds of things that are building forward for you, are growing forward for you? That feel sudden, “You were right, gosh, we’re so engaged. This is such an amazing” …

[inaudible 00:30:01] won the impact award, is that right? It takes a long time to build a culture like that, doesn’t it? But it’s not accidental. It’s intentional and it’s reciprocal. It’s not an exchange, it’s not transactional, it’s transformational. There’s dinner parties.

The third proposition is this, and I believe this at my core, that a strong talent development focused value proposition drives engagement. And I get asked this question all the time: why do people engage at work? There’s a really easy answer to this question, but it’s very difficult to put into practice. And here’s what I will tell you about engagement, that people engage when they believe their voice matters. When they see meaning in the work, when they believe their voice is safe, and when they believe they can.

We did a research project here in Jefferson County with Jefferson County public schools, and they were continued to be challenged with teacher turnover. They couldn’t understand why teachers in some of the media schools in our community had teacher shortages that were just incredibly difficult to manage. So they said, “Can you guys help us kind of get a grip on what’s going on here?” So we said, “Yeah, yeah, we’ve got it. Have you ever looked at this idea of teacher engagement?” They hadn’t so we put a study together for them. And here’s what teachers told us in our community.

Have you ever met a brand new first grade or elementary school teacher, like just out of college? What’s that person like?

Audience:                           They’re excited, enthusiastic.

Dr. Brad Shuck:                 They’re enthusiastic, they’re excited. They’re going to change the world. They literally believe, “I could be in the worst school with the worst kids with no walls and no textbooks, and I’m going to change the world and those kids are going to be amazing and they’re all going to go to college!” And they believe that, they’re absolutely on fire. And in our school system teachers are routinely put in violently on safe positions. Sometimes they are placed in schools that have fights or there’s guns and things like that, but teachers go anyway.

You know why teachers told us they leave the profession? It’s massively under-resourced. They didn’t hear that their voices matter. And so after year, after year, after year, after year of pushing the same ball up the same hill over and over and over and over and over again, the safest thing for them to do was begin to push away from the table. And they said, “Well I’m going to go some other place where I believe I can make an impact.” We all want to make that impact, right? We engage when voice matters, when our voice is safe, and when we believe we can. And I use the word believe very, very attentionally because engagement is not about rationalization, it’s not about what we think up here, it’s about what we feel right here. Our research would suggest that when people are emotionally engaged, that is the tipping point to [inaudible 00:32:56], that drives everything.

When I took my little girl to that Disney World when she was four years old, we were standing in line to see … it was the Frozen head. Are you guys familiar? You guys have kids, you know Frozen. You want to act it out real quick because you have seen it that many times? We’re in line to see Elsa and Anna and we’re moving through the line and it’s so hot outside and it’s like, “I want to be anywhere else but in this stupid line. But I’m with my girl and we’re going to have some fun.” And she walks in and she walks into this castle, and if you’ve been to this place in Disney World, it opens up and like there’s Elsa, right there. And for that moment she is transfixed and she believes that she’s in Arendelle and she believes that that is queen Elsa. And so she runs to her. And the reason, what she believes drives her action. What we believe drives our behavior. What we believe about our employees, what we believe about our talent development strategy, it drives everything about the outcomes that happen.

We reap what we sow, and we do that in reciprocal fashion, and it builds over time. What feels sudden, like wining an amazing award or being recognized as … Let’s take this chapter as a prime example.

I remember presenting to ATD, it was almost five or six years ago. And the stories are true, there were like six people in the room. And look at this, and this feels sudden, but it’s not. It’s been intentional build slowly over time. And I would need to ask why do you continue to come back? I have to believe that it’s because you see meaning and you see some value in this. I have to believe that you think there’s some reciprocity here for you. But what seems so sudden is actually cumulative. Why do you engage with this? Because you believe your voice matters.

So if I were you I would wonder what’s the evidence look like? I got to look at my watch. I teach at eight hours statistics class so I got to be really mindful of my time.

So if I were you I would wonder what’s the evidence for this? What does this actually look like in action? If you don’t mind, let me spend the last few minutes sharing a little bit of evidence for you and telling you a little bit about how these models bare themselves out in the workplace. Because I think this sounds very nice. Oh yeah, we have these great three principles, and bla bla bla, and we can put these in effect in our life and our life would be amazing. But I wonder what’s the evidence-based practice on this?

So this is a model that we’ve developed that’s been pretty popular and really helpful for us. We call this the Compassionate Leadership Model, and this is a model that we developed at the University of Louisville with a good friend of mine that many of you probably know, Maryanne Honeycutt-Elliott. And she is the inspiration behind this particular model. I wish she was here to hear this presentation. Maryanne is an amazing human being, she’s been a true inspiration for me.

You might remember that Louisville was named the most compassionate city in the world like three years ago, you guys remember that?

Audience:                           Yes.

Dr. Brad Shuck:                 Yeah? Have you driven on 265? That’s the question. Are you sure? Like I’m not so sure about that, right?

And so the mayor had some challenges with businesses when he went to them and said, “Listen, you need to be more compassionate organizations.” And businesses rightfully said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa! Compassion sounds really soft. You’re going to have to show me some numbers on that and then we’ll see what we can do about that.” So Maryanne did a lot of the hard work and maybe interviewed some of the people that are in this room for this research project. We interviewed 36 leaders in the Louisville metro area, and we interviewed those individuals for an hour or a hour and a half, and we transcribed and thematically coded those interviews. And these are the themes that we came up, this is what we went back to the mayor with.

We said compassionate leaders do these six things: they treat people with dignity, they’re authentic, they have presence and they’re present in the moment, they hold their team and they hold themselves accountable, they work from a place of empathy, and they have a sense of integrity. And we’ve written extensively and kind of deconstructed all of those interviews. And what struck us about that was that none of these were hard to do.

Treating people with dignity, as I mentioned before, is not a difficult thing to do. But it does cost you some time, it will cost you some thought. You do have to be intentional. Treating people with empathy, or being present in the moment, or holding teams accountable, those things are easy to do. They’re not hard.

But you know what else is easier? Sometimes avoiding people is easier. Sometimes working from a place of humiliation is easier because I get the immediate result that I want. Sometimes being dishonest is easier, it’s not the right thing, but it’s easier to do, right? University of Louisville has a challenge a little bit with that today. What I think is the difference here is that courage is the difference between those things.

So I was working at the US Army Cadet Command this past summer and I had a leader stand up. And they said, “I approach my soldiers from a place of humiliation and I smoke them.” Which means they put them through some physical exercise, make them really tired. And we had to have a real conversation about the role of humiliation and leadership. And I want you to know that humiliation doesn’t work very well. But dignity will, accountability will, and presence will.

And so what we did is we worked with an organization, and it was actually a financial institution here in the Kentuckiana area. And we sent out a survey around these competences. We developed what we called a compassionate leader index. And we asked them about things like intention to turnover, discretionary effort, and creative activity. And here’s what we found. That when leaders worked from a place of compassion that we could explain 14% of that employee basis level of employee engagement. 14%, that’s a fairly high number. Just by doing things that seem ordinary and everyday.

So if I was to tell you that listen, if you just treat people with dignity or you just come from a place of presence or authenticity that you can actually drive engagement, you would tell me that, “No, that’s too easy.” It’s so pedestrian that it actually gets missed.

It has a relationship with engagement, but also job satisfaction, discretionary effort, wellbeing, innovation and creativity, and has a negative relationship with intent to turnover.

We take this a little step further. This is what turnover looks like when we just promote a positive talent development value proposition. Turnover is really low. All the black dots that you up there are people who are thinking about going to another place to work. And as you can see, there aren’t very many of them but there are some. But with the great majority of people, what they tell us is that, “When I work with a leader who works from a place of dignity and accountability…” those are the two leader behaviors that drive the idea of intent to turnover, “…I stay. And why I wouldn’t?” We could just get that right. I mean if I could just get that right at home, right? If I could just get a little respect when I want to watch what I want to watch on TV at night or can I pick where we want to go out to eat, right? No, no, no, I don’t get that. But seriously, when we’re at an organization where we have dignity or there’s a sense of positive accountability across the organization, it changes everything for us.

And I mentioned earlier some research that we’ve used on health and how health can be promoted in organizations. When people work with a leader who suggests that they have things like career conversations and they think about them for promotion and progression and they have a silent talent development strategy in place, they report higher levels of health. That’s a staggering statistic for me. It’s hard for me to believe that there’s a linkage that we’re beginning to uncover between how people experience work and how people experience their long-term health.

But I only need to ask you about those kinds of leaders that you’ve worked with in the past that have been truly dysfunctional folks. I’m not going to talk about it today, but we’ve written an entire series of research around what we call sneaky leaders. And we used the analogy of a skunk, and that sometimes dysfunctional leaders can professionally skunk their employees and it takes some healing, it takes some time to get and to work through that. But I think the really good news about that is the opposite of that is also very true. That when people work in a place where they believe that leadership works from a place of dignity and empathy and accountability that they report higher levels of wellbeing. And they say things like, “I care about myself more. I’m able to be with my family more. I laugh and have fun.” I think those are really important things. I think it’s amazing that these kinds of people life fundamentally different lives all because of an experience of work that we get a chance to influence. And I think that’s the empowering message here.

We went on to look at this in terms of our research and looked at the idea of engaged employees. And this paper just came out, and performance improvement correlate just a couple of months ago. We actually linked this up with sleeping patterns and eating healthy and being well and drinking behavior. What we found was that people who worked in places where they believed the EVP was positive for them in the organization that they worked with, that they slept just fine. They didn’t lose any sleep, they went to bed just fine. They ate healthy and they actually drank less alcohol.

Which was an interesting thing, and that was unique to men. Men reported drinking more alcohol in an organization where they believe there was some high levels of dysfunction. And that makes sense to me because sometimes when I come home from work my wife will be like, “Yo, you need a drink. You’re going to have to take the heads off.”

Again, it’s not the one, it’s the cumulative effect that builds over time. And so the talent development strategy that you have in place that is all-encompassing of the experience at work drives these kinds of things. And I think this is a really important finding.

Just to drive the point home a little bit further, we also have the idea of dysfunction as I mentioned. And these are some of the outcomes that were found. It’s not surprising that people lost significant sleep their way, had trouble physical functioning, experienced manifested pain, were more likely to be clinically depressed. But they also reported behavior like stealing. And I mentioned the idea of reciprocity and I’m not suggesting that there’s a value judgment on the statement whatsoever, but I am explaining the behavior that the theory of reciprocity can help us understand why certain things at work happen.

So here’s the challenge for us.



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