271: Rethinking Employee Engagement and Performance, With Jason Lauritsen

July 18, 2023

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Dr. Pelè: 

Hello happy people, welcome to the Profitable Happiness Podcast. Hello everyone, this is Dr Pelè with the Profitable Happiness Podcast, and today I am excited to be speaking with Jason Lauritsen, who works on transforming work and changing lives through the power of relationships. Now you might think, well, relationships, blah, blah, blah, blah. Yeah, I got really. No, you don't, because you're going to hear his definitions. You're going to understand that work itself is viewed as a relationship by employees, and leaders need to understand how great relationships work so that we can get the right work done. Jason, it is my honor. I'm just so excited to hear your points of view. How are you doing?

Jason Lauritsen: 

today. I am awesome. I'm better now, right. Your energy is infectious, so I am delighted to be with you.

Dr. Pelè: 

Same here Now. Jason, you are the author of an awesome book called Unlocking High Performance. This is how I found you. I've got this friend called Google and I like to ask him questions like hey, what's the best book on performance, for example? And guess who showed up? You. So I am so excited to hear your viewpoint. Let's get to the beginning of all this. If you were to describe for our listeners or viewers exactly what the challenge is you deal with in organizations that requires them to unlock high performance I mean, why is it locked in the first place? How would you review or answer that question?

Jason Lauritsen: 

Well, I think, huh, so let me, let me, let me do it this way, let me do it this way, and then I promise I'm going to start abstract and get less abstract. But I'm sort of a weirdo in the sense that I have come to understand or describe my work very similarly or like through a kind of metaphor of in the movie the Matrix. Like in the movie the Matrix and not everybody's seen that, but hopefully most people are familiar with this but the idea is, there's these, the machines have sort of captured the planet and turned humans into batteries essentially. But they know they have to keep people's brains, you know, you know, sort of stimulated in order to for the body to grow, stay alive. And so they created this thing called the Matrix. And we're all, all these humans are plugged into the Matrix and they think the Matrix is real. And so they exist in the Matrix. They don't resist the Matrix, they just go on being happy batteries for this. And then there's this group of rebels that are sort of finding the people that are starting to notice the glitches in the Matrix, and they invite them. You know, this guy, morpheus shows up with a red pill, blue pill, moment. He shows up and says I know you're asking questions and I can show you the truth. But you know, I can show you the door, but you got to walk through it and he presents you with this. You can take the red pill and everything changes. Go down the rabbit hole and you'll learn the truth. Or you can take the blue pill and go back. You'll never. You know, we never had this conversation and and what I? I guess the the core problem that I would say back to the Matrix is that the way that we sort of the, the legacy of management, the legacy of the way that organizations treat people and think about work, is very much a matrix that was created 130 years ago when work sort of first came into existence as we understand it modern work, modern management through industrial, the industrial revolution, industrialization, and at that point in time, management was created because humans were doing work that really machines should have been doing, but the machines hadn't been invented yet. So you needed this, this group of people who were going to get people, as Gary Hamill says, to behave like semi-programmable robots for long periods of time. And so that was the birth of management and all of management practice for the first several decades of existence, or about getting people to behave like machines and treating them like machines. So this is the Matrix. This is the Matrix that we, we exist in, and so, at its core, the problem is we live in an entirely different world today, where work is created through ingenuity and creativity and intellect and all of these different things that were of zero value at that point, and yet so many of the management processes, hr systems, the way we think about people, the way we think about work haven't shifted. Wow, and so there's this fundamental break there, and that's why you look at Gallup's numbers continues to be global engagement. Is what? 17 to 20% in the US, it's 30%, whatever it is, yeah, really low. So 30 years to for the past 30 years, right, since they've been measuring it, yeah, since they've been measuring it and so, and so that is at the heart of it. And so I guess to put a finer point on that is that I think there's a lot of organizations that are well intentions, that you know they're. They're trying to do their thing, they're trying to succeed, they're trying to serve their customers there. They have to hire all these people, they want to help these people to succeed in doing their work, but yet they're trapped inside of this damn matrix of bullshit. Yeah, that's that they can't break free from, and it's not working for employees, and they just can't figure it out. So so you have low engagement. Low engagement leads to low performance.

Dr. Pelè: 

All the other stuff.

Jason Lauritsen: 

The heart of the problem.

Dr. Pelè: 

And what a great way of painting a picture about that problem. I love your matrix analogy and I'll tell you one saying that I just love about this topic. There's a saying that goes you can't see the picture when you're in the frame. Right, you know, you can't tell you're in the matrix. So you're like this is normal, this is good, but but it's destroying your business If you're a leader, it's destroying your employee experience If you're an employee, and so on. So I think you really make a point here that you're someone who has stepped outside of the picture, outside of the matrix, and therefore you can see that challenge, and I just, I just love that as a sort of a placeholder way of describing where the world is. Jason, can you tell us how you stepped outside the picture? How did you become Jason Lawrence and the guy who can see this challenge from afar and is now ready to help us?

Jason Lauritsen: 

What's your story? Well, I'll tell you that the I actually have been. I've been thinking a lot about this lately and one of the things that, as I've been thinking about it, talking about it, I've come to realize is that I thought every time I kind of thought I had pinned down where it started from. I think it actually went back even farther than that and I've come to realize that I think it started. I think it started when I was in elementary school, to be honestly, or maybe maybe junior high, I guess. I distinctly remember this story and I've told the story. I've always loved this story. I always thought it was about integrity, and I think it is for sure, but it's also about work. It's my. It was about my dad. My dad was a cattle buyer and so we lived in Northwest Iowa, so rural Iowa, right Farm country. My dad, my dad, worked for a company that would buy the cattle from from you know the farmers or the ranchers that you know they, they raise them and then he buys them, sends them off and and then they turn them into all the products that we, that we consume from the stores and and so he part of that job was he'd go out and he had all these relationships. It was a relationship business and they did business on a handshake. So he'd go out, guys want to sell them, he'd get his quote price and he'd make the deal with a farmer, shake their hand, and then he'd call it in. And then they'd figure out the paperwork later. Right, but they made the deal on the handshake. Well, there was one day I there was one day that he had called in, got his price, he'd gone out, done a deal. He went back to call it in. He and his boss said no, we're not doing that deal because the price changed Since you called this morning. And my dad's like and my dad lost it. And he's like no, we, I made the deal. I shook, I shook his hand, that's the number you gave me. That deal is done. And his boss said no, we're not honoring that deal. You need to go tell him it's a different price. And my dad on that day it was a snowstorm, like an ice snowstorm in Iowa he called my mom and said I need you to get in the car and follow me. They drove 180 miles in this weather. So that my dad and his words I don't know why and like the colorful language, but you know people forgive me. He said. He said I was driving down there to tell him to take that car and stick it up his ass, like that was. That was what he said, but he was going to quit. By the time he got there his boss had gone home. Thankfully he quit, turned in his car and that was it. Because he's like my my word is not for sale. Like my, integrity is not for sale. And so and but I'm like and it is so, that's an awesome lesson, right. I got that lesson and as I think back on it now, I remember distinctly thinking man, this is, this is screwed up, like, this is like what is this? And then I listened to my mom she was a school teacher complaining about how she was treated and people complaining about it. And then I get my first jobs and they're all kind of jacked up and I'm treated in very weird ways, and so I think it was just a journey of being like what is wrong with? this yeah, and then fast forward through. I was a recruiter and you get to see all kind of dysfunction there. And then I think, finally I got into. I went into corporate HR, got into corporate HR leadership because I'm like I like there has to be a way to fix this, yeah. And so I went in and started doing the work and we did some really incredible things and I saw it happen. I saw it happen. I'm like you can do this, it doesn't have to be this way. And so there was that piece of it that kind of fueled me. And then I think what got me like what? Where, when I started to finally see the matrix right, when I could understand that it existed, was and so, like my HR time was like when, you know, like the Neo and the matrix, that can kind of see the glitches and starts to ask questions, yeah. But then I got to a tech company called Quantum Workplace. I worked for this is post my HR executive days and I was leading the best places to work team there and the best play. They have a employee survey technologies, the research engine behind a bunch of best places to work contest. So we gather like hundreds of thousands of employees surveys. We do all this analysis and at the end of each year we do these analysis to kind of see what the drivers were. You know what are the things are driving engagement and, and, and. There were these. At the end of each year we'd produce this list. Here's the things most highly correlated with employees. You know, engagement, satisfaction, whatever. And I began to notice that every year we did this there was the same things on there. And then I started looking at the reports that have been done before I got there and I started looking around and then all of a sudden, it's like the matrix appeared, that's like on every significant data set you can find about engagement, what engages employees, what gets them to be more committed and perform at a higher level and stick around. All these things are things like I need to feel valued and trusted and cared for and appreciated and accepted. And it like it hit me Like if you take those things and just wrote them down and looked at them and said to someone, what am I talking about there? They're going to say, well, you're probably describing a marriage or a relationship or some kind something right? They would say work doesn't sound like work, sounds like a relationship, and that's when it hit me work is a relationship and that's when. That's when it all appeared, that's how, for me, the liberation happened.

Dr. Pelè: 

I have to say the idea of the very simple sounding idea of work as a relationship is very profound. I mean, I share your history in that I was a human resources executive. I was vice president of HR at a healthcare institution and I saw firsthand that what leaders are thinking is not necessarily what employees are thinking. It's like we have, it's like we're like, these people are thinking about the world this way and it's diametrically opposed to how employees see the world. And how can you really do anything together if you can't see the world, the right matrix, if you're using your analogy, if you're in the wrong bubble, how do you know what to do together? So I wonder if maybe we could bring it down to a level of sort of you know nuts and bolts for anyone listening. You know you've written a great book. You know in your book called Unlocking High Performance, you have specific strategies. Maybe you could give us some real things that people, some nuggets people can take away. That would help them view work as a relationship and help their employees do the same thing.

Jason Lauritsen: 

Yeah, I think. Well, I mean, when you step back there's I'll give you my favorite, most practical tool that actually I'll give you, two I'll give you to. The first one is and this is something I stumbled into I started using myself and then I started teaching it to others. And have sense, you know, I've been talking about and teaching it. I taught right about in the book something I call the relationship test, and this is a very simple thing that people can use, managers can use when they're thinking about how they're going to show up with an employee. So if I have the way it works is if I'm a manager and I'm thinking I'm heading into an interaction with an employee, let's say maybe I have to. I have to give them some feedback and it's going to be some feedback that maybe they're not going to be really excited about hearing. What you do is. You take a moment, you step back and you consider, okay, how would I? You know, you probably have an instinct about how you would handle that, but you step back and you say, okay, what if? What if the person on the other side of this interaction was my best friend, right person in the world that I, somebody I really care about that. I would never want to harm their relationship, and who I know would tell me the truth, probably if I did, and you put that person on the other side and you just think through, if I had to do the same thing with that person, how would I do it? Would it change the approach that I'm about to use with this employee? And, and as I think about you know, and so I actually the easier way is to say, if I approached it the same way with that person as I'm about to approach it with the employee, how would that go right? If it would, if it would, you know, maintain or build the relationship. You're probably fine. If they would go like what's the matter with you and why are you treating me this way? Well, then it fails and you should find a different way to do it. So, really, really simple. So just put somebody, put somebody that you really care for on the other side, test it. Just. That's the easiest way to relationship. Test it super practical, takes 510 minutes, works in every situation. You know, if you're going to have a team meeting to talk about something that has some real gravity to it, just imagine, like, what if this was a family meeting, or what if it was a group of my friends? How would I set the context? How would I whatever relationship test? Yeah, that's number one. The second thing I would say is that that is profoundly important and this is and I would guess that you and I share this I would would have the same type of advice, but for years. When organizations or leaders ask me you know what? What can we do practically? What can we do to improve engagement, and without you know? The first question I would ask them is do you require managers to have regularly scheduled one on one conversations with their people? Because if the answer to that is no, then it's like you don't need to pay me anything else. Go do that. Your engagement will improve, because the reality is and I mean even poor quality time together is better than no time together. I mean, this is you know. I tell a story often about my daughter when she was seven years old. Never forget this she taught me one of the most important lessons of my life and of my business is I was working on. I think I was working on. I was gonna write something If I was when. Like you, remember when Fast Company had love as the killer app was kind of the headline all over the place. So I was thinking about love and the role of it, work, whatever. And so one day my daughter was walking through she was seven at the time and I'm like. I said hey. Bailey said how do you know if somebody loves you? And she looked at me for a minute. She thought she said number one, she goes. She said they give me lots of hugs and kisses, which is not HR approved advice. So that's scratch that Great for seven year olds and their dad, but not for anybody else. The second thing she said is the lesson I've never forgotten. She just said very simply, they spend time with me. So you know, what struck me was that time is the currency of relationships. And so, organizationally, this is really complicating, right? Because as we're super busy and things get busy, we squeeze for efficiency, everybody's trying to go faster, managers are very tempted to cut out that time and there's like I'm too busy to make, like I've got 10 direct reports. How am I supposed to spend time with each of them? And I guess my response is always at what cost are you not spending time with them? Because if you want to have a relationship with them, if you want them to be engaged, if you want them to perform that, one-on-one conversation is the most important thing you can do, and if you should have a way or a structure, an agenda, give them an agenda to use. But if even you don't have an agenda, just meet with people and ask them this question what is the most important thing we need to talk about today? That's it. You ask that question. Spend a half hour with the people on your team. Engagement will increase, loyalty will increase, you'll get better relationships, better returns. It is really simple, but you got to do the things that matter.

Dr. Pelè: 

Jason, I have to tell you that is a masterclass. I mean, you have literally given away the farm. I mean anyone you know. Sometimes you hear that million dollar idea and don't recognize it. This is one of them, and I'll tell you why, not to repeat what you've said, but just to show you how it so connects with me. And I think that this is gonna be similar for anyone listening. Number one the relationship test. That is so powerful for me because most of us look at the world through our own hidden biases, meaning we have our biases and we don't know that those biases are, you know, guiding what we see. That's the lens through which we see the world. But when you force yourself to take those glasses off and put that person or people in the context of if this was my best friend, as you say, or, you know, through different glasses, all of a sudden everything's different. You're like, yeah, I wouldn't have said that, would I? I wouldn't have done this to my best friend. You know, that's just. It's such a simple but powerful test. I love that. And then the second one is really personal to me, for anyone, any father you talked about your father, your daughter, for any father or mother, I suppose, who has left you know a relationship and you have an ex and you're divorced and therefore your child is no longer spending time with you. Anyone in that situation will tell you exactly what you just said, which is time. Time is the currency of relationships. I mean, I can't tell you look, I got goosebumps just thinking about it. It's so powerful. Thank you for sharing that. I mean, what are your thoughts on my? I'm sitting at a couch right now and you're my. You're just guiding me, my friend.

Jason Lauritsen: 

No, listen, that's another, that's an even. That's perhaps an even more, I think, salient or tangible way to even grab on to it, because anybody that's been through that knows and you really start to understand the value of time. It's time or when you lose I think about one of the things that just brought this into focus for me. In the last year had one of my best friends in the world had a disease very similar to ALS. We lost him in the end of last year and he and I, though and the thing is, as I reflected on our time together, like we were very intentional about seeing each other and to the point that, like just a week before he died, we had gotten together and sat and talked and caught up and like that we invested time and because of that, like I regret not having the time with him going forward, but I am so grateful that we invested that. That's where relationships happen and we missed that. Like we missed that. When we start to understand and kind of the headline for me is lead with relationship, when you start putting relationship first, you start understanding things like, if I just invest time in my people, so many other things, all this nonsense we get distracted by at work and we get around the axle about how do I, how do I give better feedback? It's like, well, if you had a better relationship with that person, the way you give the feedback wouldn't be as important, because you would have more trust and you would have that bond. And so relationship changes everything, and so that's at the heart of it.

Dr. Pelè: 

It truly is, and I wonder what your viewpoint is on the connection between these intangibles like engagement, like happiness, profitable happiness in my case, these intangibles that are really at the core of what employees, where they live, what they care about, versus what leaders care about, which is the bottom line results of an organization. Give me some sales results, all of that stuff. How do you bring those together? How do you bring profitable happiness? How do you unlock profitable happiness to create high performance?

Jason Lauritsen: 

Well, so I think there's a couple of things Like in the way that I think about all of this. I think happiness is always a really that's a loaded word for a lot of people, right? Especially when?

Dr. Pelè: 

you're talking about work.

Jason Lauritsen: 

And I have that time said I would love my employees to be happy, but there's times where it's a luxury, where they might not be happy all the time. But what I really really want is I want them to thrive. That's at the end of the day. I want them to be thriving at work, I want them to be thriving in their personal life, and thriving just means they're sort of maximizing on, they're sort of moving in the direction of the things that matter the most to them, right? And so the way that works for me is so, first off, the way I define engagement. Engagement's kind of at the heart of things. So this worked for me. The way I define engagement is the degree to which an employee is willing and able to perform up to their potential at work. So it's a willingness, which is their decision, a commitment, and the ability, which is they have the stuff they need to perform at the level they're capable of, or at least close to that potential at that given time. So that's the output that we're looking at. To me, that is that's the profitable. Happiness is, if we can get engagement, then we get this performance. But in order to get the willingness, there's three variables, and so this is how I teach engagement to leaders that I learned over the years, like engagement is this mystical thing? Leaders are like well, I know it's important, I don't really understand what it is. I'm like it's simple, three variables, and one of the variables until recently was hidden. People didn't realize it was there Three variables. The first one is satisfaction. So that's the degree to which my experience of work, how my experience of work, compares with my expectations. So that's what we measure in surveys and all that is like how does what's happening to me compared with what I expected or hoped would happen? Satisfaction. The second is drive, which is do I understand what we need to get done and am I motivated to do that? So that is drive. That's where a lot of our performance management stuff comes in, so a lot of work that happens there. The third variable, which is vital, is well-being, because well-being is essentially it's a performance capacity issue, and so the degree to which I am well affects what I even have to offer and well-being. That's true in any context. And so this is really. I call it the engagement equation. You could call it a performance equation for anything right Well-being times, satisfaction, times, drive equals performance outcomes, and so that's where all of this matters. And, inside of all of these things, the power of relationship and connection this is what makes it so powerful is that when you build relationship, when you have strong connection, it positively amplifies all of those variables. And, by the way, the important thing about this is I put this in a thing called the engagement equation is how I teach it. So it's well-being, times, satisfaction, times, drive equals engagement, and the important thing in that is that if any one of those three variables is diminished, it zeros out the whole equation. Yeah Right, so if my well-being is in the dumpster, it doesn't matter. If you have world-class engagement practices or you have the best performance management in the world, I show up to work and I've only got 10% to give you. You only get in 10%. That's if everything's perfect. But relationships and connection lifts all boats. It's like putting a little turbo charger on all three of those variables. That's how it ties together, at least in my mind.

Dr. Pelè: 

Not only in your mind. I'm sold. I'm literally like the choir you're preaching to. I love it. I'll tell you one thing, in fact, that I really like about what you just did here is you started by defining things a little bit better than what most of us understand. For example, you're very correct Most people don't understand what happiness is. They see it as this frivolous sort of hey, I feel good today, or we got ping pong tables in the foyer or something like that. And the truth is well, of course, that's called hedonic happiness. The truth is, we're talking about eudaimonic happiness, which is more closely related to engagement and focus and all the things you've described satisfaction, for example. So I think just defining things better and your engagement formula and definition, it helps people understand things. When you start, you take them back to definitions. I think that's so powerful. Jason. What are you excited about right now? What are you sharing with the world and how can people get a hold of you to be connected with this, with whatever you're sharing right now?

Jason Lauritsen: 

Well, I mean I think well, I'll tell you what's coming up that I'm excited about is so about, I don't know. Not too long ago, a month or two ago, I had this sort of as I am prone to do. I've seen things coming across my radar and I was seeing a lot of nonsense about the battles that are waging over return to office and hybrid work and remote work and what works and what doesn't, and seeing Elon Musk and all of his genius telling us that remote work is nonsense and all these silly things and it's like, and so I was getting irritated about it. And the media, of course, loves the clickbait, and so all the articles are kind of like clickbaity and they're very polarizing. And so I was like I know there's more to this story. I know there is, but I want to talk to some people. And so I threw out an invitation to the folks on my email list and asked them hey, has anybody else bothered by this? Would you like to have a conversation? I put an open call for just a 30-minute meeting and I had over 50 people book time in two days. Like all the times I had were gone, and I was like, ok, well, apparently people are feeling tension around this, and so I spent a month doing these conversations. Downside is I got nothing else done. The upside is I got a lot of really great information, and I'm going to be unpacking what I learned through that and, I think, trying to paint a more nuanced and accurate picture of what's actually happening and what we need to be doing if we want to really thrive. I think we're in the second inning of a nine inning ballgame when it comes to the evolution of work post-pandemic and post-disruption to work and so I'm excited about that. So that's what's coming over the next several months. If you want to be in on that, you can find me at my website, jasonlortzencom, as we do, as we have to do. If you visit my website, you're going to get assaulted by pop-ups and all kinds of ways. You can sign up for my newsletter. You can just email me, jason, at JasonLortzencom. You can hit me up as you did on LinkedIn. I'm very responsive there. If you can spell my last name, you can find me. If you can't, then I'm terrible at the job.

Dr. Pelè: 

It's got an E in it, Lorettson.

Jason Lauritsen: 

Yes, L-A-U-R-I-T-S-E-N.

Dr. Pelè: 

It's there, E-N. Yes, oh, my goodness, Jason, I have really enjoyed learning from you, talking about you and even experiencing this last thing you talked about, which is you taking the red pill, because you're opening up the willingness for people to understand maybe some truths that are you know. You're just helping people see the light. That's the matrix thing, even in what you're doing today. That's powerful. If people want to connect with you, LinkedIn is obviously the place that I'll share, but do you have any other places that you'd like people to go? Find you on social media? LinkedIn is the primary place where I like to connect with people, so go to.

Jason Lauritsen: 

LinkedIn. That's where I post the most. That's where you'll see the most of me.

Dr. Pelè: 

All right. Well, jason, thank you so much. I've learned so much and I really enjoy talking with you. It's been great to have you as a guest on Profitable Happiness. Thank you.

Jason Lauritsen: 

Thank you.

Dr. Pelè: 

Thanks for tuning in to the Profitable Happiness Podcast. For more episodes, visit DrPalletcom. And remember get happy first and success will follow.