I’m on a Boat!

Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw on board a boat in a still from the film 'Jaws'I attended a Lunch N’ Learn meeting yesterday sponsored by a local business group. There were about 15 people in attendance from both small businesses and large multi-state organizations. The topic, of interest to all as based on the discussion that ensued, was ‘Employee Engagement.’

Being immersed as I am in the world of HR I was curious to see how this topic was presented by a non-HR person and what conversations would pop up from this group of business owners, mid-level managers and organizational leaders.

Some, but not all, of those in attendance were familiar with the term if not the general concept of engagement. The speaker shared some of the Gallup results we’ve all become used to seeing and then explained it something like this:

“Imagine 10 people are on a rowboat adrift on the ocean. 5 of them are just doing their job and getting by (neither engaged nor disengaged), 3 people are actively working to manage the situation (engaged) and 2 are sitting back and doing nothing (actively disengaged).”

It was an easily understandable metaphor for the crowd to get.


…. it led the group down a dangerous path of what they would do were they in charge of that boat. The general consensus seemed to be that the 2 people doing nothing merely needed to be tossed overboard. Get rid of the dead weight. Feed them to the sharks. Consign them to Davy Jones’ Locker.

The problem, amid laughter, appeared to be solved.

But isn’t this, unfortunately, how leaders and managers sometimes think? “The problem is with the employees; not me!” “Slackers!” “We do so much for them; why won’t they work harder and care?”

And so managers and leaders and yes, HR professionals the world over, find it easier to wash their hands of the situation rather than dive deep and ask the questions like “What if it IS us?” “What sort of conditions exist that prevent people from working harder and caring?”

“Why are we adrift on the ocean in this f*#king boat in the first place?”


Last week we had the first-ever community-wide “Best Places to Work” luncheon; as with many of these ‘awards’ the emphasis when sharing the winners’ stories seemed to be on ping pong tournaments and foosball tables; jeans day and on-site flu shots. Company fishing tournaments with matching polo shirts. Hey… that’s the stuff that makes for fun reading. That also, sadly, leads some organizational leaders or HR practitioners to attempt to repair that leaking boat with a patch of silicone.

Of course, in the recap of the BPTW luncheon, it was pointed out that “when it comes right down to it, the real perks of any profession in the Capital Region are these: feeling valued in an organization, having confidence in the company’s leadership, feeling a sense of progress and knowing that your employer truly cares about their employees’ well-being.”

Hire right. Treat people right. Let them have a voice. Show them they are valued and that their contributions are important.

Although, I guess, those fishing skills from the company fishing tournament might come in handy when one is adrift on the ocean.


image from “Jaws” via Universal Pictures

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