You are on your deathbed (many years from now, don’t worry). You reflect back on your life and your career. Your conclusion? “I was engaged.”

No way. We hope to be engaged once in our life and that is when we want to get married. On your deathbed, you will most likely evaluate our life based on three things:

  1. Did you make an impact – leave the world better than you found it?
  2. Did you live courageously and constantly push yourself to grow or settle and become stagnant and have fear drive your decisions?
  3. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, did you have meaningful relationships that brought you joy?

These are the three sources of fulfillment in our careers and lives: relationships, impact, and growth (RIG). They are about living fully, not being engaged.

This is the final post in a three-part series on why employee engagement failed and what comes next. The first post outlined the five core reasons for the failure, the second explored the roots of the problem and this post proposes a new approach to defining success in the workforce.

Unlikely Inspiration – Junior High School

My 12-year-old daughter attends a small junior high school in Seattle. The school’s approach to learning reveals the future of work – if we are smart.

Rather than have goals defined by teachers or a test, the students set their own goals. They own them and their teachers and parents are there to support them in achieving them.

This teaches us the most important lesson in life and the one that will not only define our success at work but also our sense of fulfillment at the end of the line. It teaches us to own our lives and not be victims or fall into the trap of achieving someone else’s dreams.

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation

Most schools try to get students to fall into line and achieve goals set by teachers, school districts and administrators in Washington, D.C. It teaches them to embrace extrinsic motivations and not develop the ability to see and act on their intrinsic motivations. They work for the “A”, the standardized test score and for the illusion of what some future employer might want.

These students then arrive in the workforce without self-awareness about who they are and what really makes them tick. They assume that if they do what is asked of them by their manager they will be successful and happy. Not much later they realize that isn’t how the world works and that they have 45 more years of work in front of them. This leads to mid-life crises – 25 years too early.

The engagement survey then shows they aren’t engaged and HR tells the manager they have failed to engage their team. They are a bad manager.


Breaking the Cycle

We have to stop this cycle – cold. It begins with kids. We need to change how we talk to kids and approach education.

As parents, we need to build the capacity in our kids to reflect on their relationships, impact and growth on a regular basis. This should be a regular topic of family dinner conversations.

Our schools should be asking students to reflect on these three sources of fulfillment in our lives as well. Students should end each week taking stock of their relationships, impact, and growth and set goals for how THEY are going to work on improving them the next week.

By the time our kids graduate from high school, they need to able to:

  1. Be self-aware and take regular stock of their relationships, impact, and growth.
  2. Own the responsibility for improving them when they are not at the levels they want.
  3. Master the art of adapting and experiment with different ways of showing up that improve their relationships, impact, and growth.

Agile Career Development

Rather than send out engagement surveys and scolding our managers for not engaging their teams, we need to put the onus on everyone to own their own fulfillment – to RIG their jobs and lives.

The best model for this was designed by software developers back in 2001, agile. Wikipedia eloquently describes the agile approach: “It advocates adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery, and continuous improvement, and it encourages rapid and flexible response to change.”

1. Define Success

The first step is to define success. If we don’t know what we are trying to achieve, we never know if something is working. In this case, success is simple. It is RIG – making an impact, growing and having meaningful relationships.

2. Measure RIG

Then, just like with a software application being developed by a start-up, we need to put in place a system to capture the data on our success so we can track it over time. What is our weekly RIG score? How is it changing over time?

At Imperative, we built an application that asks us to measure these three sources of fulfillment each week. It then charts it over time like a stock portfolio. We can see trends in our own fulfillment.

3. Try Job Hacks

With this tracking in place, we each then need to try little experiments; we call them job hacks. They challenge us to do evolutionary development of our careers that constantly help us adapt to changes in our environment and become more skilled at approaching our work in a way that sets us up for success.

For example, if you are finding your relationships are not as meaningful as you like, try meeting with someone in person instead of shooting them an email. It is usually these small things that matter and that we need to initiate.