284: The Engagement Blueprint, with Kon Apostolopoulos

October 24, 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 it is my pleasure for a second time to be speaking with someone I just love to learn from Han of Postilopolis. How are you doing today, han?

Kon Apostolopoulos: 

Dr Pelè, I am wonderful, I am in great company with you and I am so excited to be here with you together again.

Dr. Pelè: 

Oh, it's awesome. Now, Kon, you are an international author and speaker. You're an award-winning coach. You're an in-person and virtual facilitator of results and organizations. But you want to know what my favorite thing is that you do? You are a soccer coach. I just love the idea that you use teaching and coaching even with your soccer students, and it's the same methodologies that you use there that you've put into organizations. We want to learn more about that, but before we get started, tell us the problems that you address in organizations. What are the core challenges that you see over and over again?

Kon Apostolopoulos: 

Well, Dr. Pelè, thank you. That's a wonderful question, because the reason I founded my organization, my company Fresh Biz Solutions, was because when I work with my clients, I realize that they spend a lot of time, money, resources, brainpower developing these wonderful business plans. But what happens is, if they don't have the right people in the right place to make these plans become real, they're not worth the paper they're written on. So my job is to be able to come in and basically using my framework and 30 years of experience in the field, to be able to help them develop a pipeline of leaders that are ready and willing to be able to execute those plans, leaders that are fully engaged and committed to really make sure that the company can succeed. But they can also succeed within the company, and sometimes that looks like workshops, leadership development workshops, potentially, or skill development workshops. Sometimes that looks like one-on-one or group coaching with executives and emerging leaders. Sometimes it's tailored events that we have to put together to get people on the same page, to build camaraderie and team and ultimately it's all about making sure that we have a people plan and systems in place that support and manage the business plans and strategies. So every dollar that my clients spent are a dollar well spent and focused on the right things.

Dr. Pelè: 

Wow, and you have a book coming up which I mean the topic is just like. It's so important. You're calling this book the engagement blueprint and I hope we can talk more about that. But I just want to say why is it that engagement continues to be a problem year in, year out? We hear of Gallup's polls. They never change. Nobody's moving the needle. Why is this such a challenge, and what made you think of writing this book along those lines?

Kon Apostolopoulos: 

Well, coming out of the pandemic, coming out of one of the most global crises that we've faced as humanity in a long, long time, we all realized that the workplaces had changed in ways that we hadn't even figured out yet. Everybody was looking at these massive numbers, millions quitting their jobs and going off and trying to find different ways of finding themselves, looking at things that matter to the most the great resignation, as we called it. But what people weren't paying attention to was the fact that underneath that, there was an underlying gap, a problem with engagement. For the first time in a decade, engagement numbers actually reversed trend and they were fewer people engaged than the year before. But that in itself wasn't the biggest problem. The biggest problem was the disengaged people. The percentage of disengaged employees was growing steadily year over year, to the point where those same Gallup reports found that only one in five people across the globe were actually engaged. So think about this If you have five people that are rowing a boat, Dr. Pelè, and only one of them is actually paddling, three of them are just along for the scenery on the ride collecting a paycheck, and there is that one person at the back of the boat that's poking holes in it, trying to sink that boat actively. Think about what's happening to your business Now. When Gallup did the same reports and other companies followed and did some research, they found that in the United States alone last year the cost of lost productivity was $350 billion billion with a B and when you project that out on the global stage it becomes $7.8 trillion. That's lost productivity from the out-engagement gap that we're talking about. That's a problem.

Dr. Pelè: 

Yes, that is a huge challenge and we've talked about this before, but I would love for you to connect the dots for us on how you became the guide for the leaders who have to deal with this problem. What is your story? How did you become Khan?

Kon Apostolopoulos: 

Well. So to put it in context, so I realized that, as I was looking at this problem, the work that I've been doing with my clients over the last three decades have positioned me, in a way, to understand more and more about it. So I realized that I knew more about this than most people because I've been applying these skills and engaging my clients, workforce, people at the individual, at the leader level, at the executive level, throughout those years to make a difference. So I'll give you one specific example. I worked with a client that is a company, a large scale construction company, and it's one of four divisions, and with that group I've been working with them now for about a decade. And when we hit the great recession, the great resignation now and we had the problems even before then with the pandemic and everything else, and these people were trying to get back to a place of normalcy what they realized is that they weren't struggling the way their counterparts in the other regions or even their competitors in this market were. We didn't lose any of our A players. We lost some people, but they weren't our best and brightest from the group and our numbers, our performance numbers, continued to far exceed those of our competition, and what we realized is that the work that we had done had prepared us, had created a culture where commitment and performance were given freely and at high levels by the employees. They felt that their needs were being met. They didn't need to look elsewhere, they didn't need to go find themselves somewhere else, because everything that they were looking for was right there, and so that, to me, sparked the thought if I can make that work with a company of this size, if I can make it work with my little kids on the soccer field which is the same principles and we can create winning teams, we can create champions. What is that secret formula? So I did my research, I looked at the numbers, I looked at information from Gallup, from Harvard, from Deloitte, from McKenzie, from a lot of other trusted sources that we have, and what I found is it validated all of the findings that I had from the work that I've been doing and from that core, I discovered that there are four key drivers, four needs that people have that are human needs, not just employee needs, but they are human needs that, as leaders, we need to make sure that our environment, the workplace that we are creating, can meet those needs if we want our people to be committed and successful.

Dr. Pelè: 

You know it's interesting. If I put myself in the position of someone hearing this, I'm going to be like tell me those four drivers now, now I want to hear them. Because the truth is I so resonate with your path. You know I have something on my wall that says a leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way. What you're talking about is from personal experience. This is not theory. This is sure. You validated things and you did your literary research and you understand that there's a body of knowledge around this. But you've walked this walk and, given that, could you just give us a sense of how you solve these problems, as you describe it in your book and as your four step model describes it? How do you solve these problems?

Kon Apostolopoulos: 

Well, let's take a look at that. So let's start off with the four drivers themselves. What are those needs that people need to satisfy for them to be engaged? Well, the first need is the need to be valued. We all want to feel valued and appreciated in our workplace, in our lives in general. We all seek that. We all seek an environment where leaders can create that safe space where people can feel valued, where they can express their appreciation, where they can show respect to their team members, not just because of anything else, but because they are there, they are part of the team, and then extend that respect and that gratitude as each one of these people start performing at a higher level. And when you recognize those things, people make the connection and people realize that you know what? Hey, I'm appreciated here, because people that are appreciated will always give you more than what's expected. So that's one thing, one key driver that we have. The second one is we have very tribal creatures. We are creatures that want to belong, that want to be part of something. So connection is very, very important in work and when we feel like we're part of a team, when we are connected to our peers, we are connected to our leaders. We are connected to the goals that we share and I can feel that connection. I'm going to give more. I'm going to be able to offer myself because I'm supporting something bigger than me. I mean, I asked my clients and I asked friends. I said imagine that I just gave you a group photo, something that we had, from a weekend that we spent together. It's the first thing that you're going to do. You're going to look for yourself in that picture. You're going to see where do I fit into this picture? And so people want to know what's that connection between me and everybody else, or the bigger picture. And from that, once we make that connection evident to people and allow them to belong to our team, they will give us more. And then we take that to the third piece, which is people want to feel that they are making a difference and they're contributing in meaningful ways, that they can be productive. So the work, the effort that they're putting into things has a purpose, has a reason, just like we talked about with that picture that connection to the bigger, to the bigger piece and understanding how does my work contribute to the success of the team, to the success of the organization, how is it making a difference in our communities? And a lot of people think that being feeling productive, feeling like you're contributing, always is associated with money. That's not. There is an element there going back to the feeling value. For anybody that's worked with volunteers or you've been a volunteer, you can relate to the fact that when you're passionate about something, when you know that what you're doing is contributing in meaningful ways. You don't care about how much you're making, because that is such a powerful driver, as long as in our professional lives, for example, that we feel like we're being rewarded equitably for what we're doing. We seek more in order to give more. And then, finally, the fourth driver, dr Pelé, is the need that we all have to continue to learn and grow the feeling that we have that we are supported in our efforts, that we are mentored, that we are coached, that there is a path for us within the organization to have progression, to seek areas that we can go beyond where we are today. If we are stagnant, that's demoralizing. If we see no light, no future, how can you engage in a place and commit yourself long-term? But if you have a path that you can see yourself thriving and growing and learning and continuing to feel challenged, you want to be part of that. So those are the four drivers, the four needs that we have to meet the need to feel valued, the need to feel connected, the need to feel productive and the need to feel supported. When leaders can find ways, simple ways, strategies to be able to address that, then they have a winning formula to be able to engage their people, they can create and build a culture where people can feel committed and performance will rise to the top.

Dr. Pelè: 

You mentioned earlier. I think that in your book, as well as in your practice, you essentially provide tools and strategies for building a workplace culture that's thriving, that implements these four needs. You focus specifically on leaders because, as we all know, the fish stinks from the head down. So if you don't get it right at the leadership, you get it right anywhere else. Give us some examples of the tools and strategies. I know that you've talked about workshops and different things. Give us some examples of exactly how you implement these four drivers and organizations.

Kon Apostolopoulos: 

Let's take a look at that. So when we're building the leadership skills of the people that will make the changes to that environment. There are four areas that I focus on my framework, if you will, that matches up and ties so well with these four drivers. So those four areas are, for example, when I can build competence in my team and in the individuals, in my leaders, I can develop their skills, their knowledge, their abilities and then I partner that with coaching and mentoring. That helps enhance that commitment. I build competence, I build commitment. In other words, I show people how they can do the job and I work with them so they want to do the job. That in itself helps establish the value, because then they can go out and establish the value piece and I work with people on their commitment individually but then I work with them as a group on teamwork, on building connections, on building all of those things. I really meet that need of connection and of belonging together, feeling part of a bigger team. On the other side, we talked about the competence through those workshops but also with the people systems in place. Some people know that they're not just learning, but they're learning with a purpose to enhance their career, to enhance their productivity. That's how you meet that next need of productivity and contribution. And ultimately, when you pair up the systems and the teamwork element together, now you have people thriving in a transparent way, working together to achieve their goals of growth, of learning and success as an organization. So four areas, four pillars that I use in my framework match up so well with these four drivers that people need to be successful and engaged.

Dr. Pelè: 

I can't wait to read the book because already I'm like, wow, I can see the map here. I've got the mind map ready to go to implement these things. You have a saying that you love to use. You like to say that the grass is not greener. On the other side, the grass is greener where you water it. By the way, I love that. I asked you if you wrote that because you got a copy right, but you said you did not, so I'm like eh.

Kon Apostolopoulos: 

Yeah, and I'm not sure. I'm not sure where it came from. But I can't take credit for it, but I love using it, as I explained to people that that is ultimately the essence, the spirit of the work that I've been doing for 30 years and everything that I've put into this book. A lot of my clients struggle with that. They're looking and saying why can't I retain good people? Why am I struggling with that? Because that's the greatest fear that leaders, that business owners have, that employers have. They feel like they're investing, they're contributing to their people, but they don't feel like they're getting much back. They feel like their people are abandoning them for a couple of dollars more an hour or a bump in a salary or something else, and they're going down the street and they are worried, they are frustrated because they feel like they're committing but they don't get that same level of commitment back from their people. Now, in all fairness, those same people are not getting their needs met. So I will tell the same thing to the leaders that I would tell to the employees and to the team members. Understand this the grass isn't greener on the other side. The grass is greener where you water it. Take time to cultivate your garden, leaders. Take time to meet those engagement needs that your people have. Make sure they feel valued, make sure they feel connected, make sure they feel productive and make sure they feel supported and for individuals. Take the time to recognize what you can do with those four drivers and how you can find ways to get your needs met.

Dr. Pelè: 

Yeah, you know, in my world, in my analogy, in fact in my book, that I've just written what you're calling water it, meaning keep the grass green. I call build habits Because, if you think about it, any behavior can become a habit, whether it's a good behavior, good habits or bad behaviors. Bad habits and, as you say you got as a leader, you have to help your team or your organization focus on those good things and behaviors and culture that you want to grow in an organization. You know, I would love to know how you use your model and your methodologies and tools and strategies to tie toward the idea of employee happiness. And I'll tell you why. I know that your focus is on leaders. I mean, that's where you start. But ultimately you're building cultures which will involve employees, and I think you would agree with me that there's a classic problem there's leaders who want profit they want profitable organizations and employees who want engagement and happiness and well-being, and it's like can we get these two things to happen at the same time profitable happiness, right, how does your methodology help to promote happy employees and profitable businesses?

Kon Apostolopoulos: 

Well, very much the same way that you do with your work over the years and now with your book and your podcast and your messaging and all of the tools that you use that serve so many of us. Dr Pillai, you've demystified that concept. People think that profitable companies, happy employees or engaged employees are at two opposite ends of the spectrum, that they can't coexist. You and I both know that that is a myth that we can debunk. We can create the kind of environment where we can create not just the win-win for the employers and the employees, but also a win-win-win for the people that they serve, and be able to go above and beyond that. The way that we do that is simply by ensuring that people can see that their goals, their individual goals, can be met while supporting the organizational goals, that those two things don't have to be separate. When I look at it and I go like you do, we call it happiness a lot of times with employees, but I know that your work goes much deeper than just the superficial happiness, because I've seen situations where employees can be very happy in what they're doing and ignore the customer, ignore what the team is trying to do. They find happiness unto themselves and guess what? They kick off early although go and they'll watch things on their computer while they're at work time and do other things to make themselves happy. Look, guess what Deeper happiness comes from that connection that we talked about, about being able to know that you're making a difference and that the time that you dedicate is time well spent. When people realize that and align though themselves with those shared goals, that's when company's performance increases in all areas and that's how they become profitable. The same philosophy that you approach from your profitable happiness model is the same way that I approach it showing both sides that they can reach their goals without sacrificing, but rather working together and collaborating to find those common grounds.

Dr. Pelè: 

Let's say we have some skeptics listening to you and they go, wow, sounds good, but what are the common mistakes that I, as a leader, might make when trying to get my employees to be happy to be engaged? What are some common mistakes that they should watch out for so that, when they're implementing these things, they feel more confident?

Kon Apostolopoulos: 

Well, some simple examples. One of them, for example, is making decisions for the employees without asking them, trying to implement something that you don't even know if your people care about. I mean, how many times have you seen people companies promoting these kegs in the break room, or foosball tables in the hallway, or pizza parties? At some point, people get tired of that. You know what they're frat days and they're sorority days are over. They want something more meaningful than that. Or leaders that think that just because they did something once, that that's enough. Well, zigg Ziggler used to say that motivation, engagement, happiness these are things that are intrinsic and require effort beyond just once. It's like bathing One time is not enough. You got to do things more systematically and purposefully. They don't have a strategy. Often they don't tie their approach, their people planned, to their business plan. Those two things need to be aligned. These are just simple things that we can quickly resolve when we look at them and say, okay, you're spending the money anyway. Let's make sure that that dollar that you spend, that euro, that yen, whatever it is, is well spent and it's targeted on areas that are going to make a bigger impact on you.

Dr. Pelè: 

Wow, love that. Well, can I tell us about when this book is coming out and what other things you're doing to promote it? Do you have some things we need to get a copy of, and how can we get ahold of you online?

Kon Apostolopoulos: 

Wonderful questions, so thank you for that. Let's first of all talk about the book. So the Labor of Love, which is this book unlike my first book, which, you know, with Dr Eley, we wrote the Seven Keys to Navigating a Crisis In the start of the pandemic we wrote that in 45 days and published it. That was a record, wow. This time I've taken the long way around the long journey, and there's an African proverb that you are probably very familiar with that says if you want to go fast, go alone yes. If you want to go far, go together, yes. So, because I'm hoping that this message will travel well and far, I've decided to go together and I've been going along the way. I've been inviting people into the journey, sharing milestones along the way, sharing to a growing community of people that have come along for the ride, that are contributing and sharpening this thought leadership and challenging, like you have, my thoughts. How does this make sense? Why would it make sense? When can we apply it? Does it apply across the board? And having the opportunity to interview with people and asking experts in the field that are global leaders of global brands what's happening, how have they applied these principles. It's been a long journey, and it's been a journey that I've welcomed and I've learned so much from it. So the book is going to come out early 2024. So in the coming year late January, early February I'm hoping to have it out in print and you are going to be one of the first people that I'll be sending a copy to my friend. Yes, and getting it out to you, but in the meantime, I invite you and our listeners to become part of this growing community, this family, this connected group of thought leaders and shaping the message so we can all grow together and partake in this journey. So I'll provide a lot of that information. But where people can find me is, first and foremost, for those that are on LinkedIn. They can find me under coach con K O N. I spell it with a K instead of a C for obvious reasons, because it's hard to get people to trust you when you spell con with a C.

Dr. Pelè: 

Got it, coach K O N, there you go.

Kon Apostolopoulos: 

And then my website has a number of different resources for people Fresh biz, b I Z solutionscom. They can find me there. They can find more information and a gift for your audience right off the back Dr Pelle is, I will send. I will like to include a link to our engagement assessment where they can go in and answer some very simple questions and get a sense of where the strengths of their team right now, what areas which one of these drivers is strong within their team and perhaps where they might need to pay some extra attention to, so that'll get them started and get them thinking and start the process of truly creating an environment and building a culture of commitment and performance.

Dr. Pelè: 

Excellent and we'll have all of those links, including the, the assessment, the, the LinkedIn and, of course, fresh biz solutionscom and your book, all on this particular episode, con. I want to thank you so much for being a wonderful repeat guest. I can't wait to see your book. I can't wait to get the engagement blueprint in my hands. Thank you so much for being a guest on the profitable happiness podcast.

Kon Apostolopoulos: 

Thank you, my friend, thank you.

Dr. Pelè: 

Thanks for tuning in to the profitable happiness podcast. For more episodes, visit DrPellecom. And remember get happy first and success will follow.