Systematically Poisoning Employee Engagement

By Michelle Malay Carter on November 19, 2007 

Employee Engagement PoisonBefore we were aware of the existence of bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells, disease was thought to be a curse from God.? Sick people were told sickness was their fault and the resolution of the issue was up to them.? As such, the remedies of the day included repenting, praying, and making peace with the God through various sacrifices.

With our current understanding of the root cause of sickness, we now have macro-level systems in place for the prevention of disease and additional systems in place for the treatment of disease.

With 79% of employees disengaged at work, I offer that the catastrophic failure of today’s management and people systems are due to a complete lack of awareness?of?the?four root causes of most organizational pain which emanate from lack of understanding of work levels:

  1. People mismatched to their roles
  2. People mismatched to their managers
  3. Too many or too few roles within a reporting chain
  4. Misappropriated or lack of clear?accountability and authority.

What is going on today in the corporate world is akin to asking employees to be accountable for preventing disease when the organization refuses to install indoor plumbing or filter its contaminated well water.

Employees are working in polluted environments created by misinformed, piecemeal, dysfunctional people systems, and we keep blaming them for showing symptoms of illness.?

Empower yourself!? We tell them. ?Change your attitude!? Work smarter!? Go to training!? Be a team player!? Certainly, these strategies can’t hurt, but I daresay, they won’t help much either when an employee’s work?environment?ensures that each day will bring yet another dose of poison.

We Can Design Systems that Enable Productive Work and Effective?Leadership?
Designing organizational systems to exploit the benefits of work levels is a critical pathway to not only employee engagement but also strategy execution, embedding values, and driving accountability.? You get the total package because it’s a total system for organizational design, talent management, and managerial leadership.? It’s a macro level solution for a macro level issue.

I’m OK.? You’re OK.? Let’s fix the system.

Have you ever fallen victim to a polluted system?? Share your story.

Filed Under Accountability, Corporate Values, Employee Engagement, Executive Leadership, Organization Design, Requisite Organization, Talent Management


5 Responses to “Systematically Poisoning Employee Engagement”

  1. Jim Stroup on November 20th, 2007 3:03 pm


    This is an excellent way to express the problem – to make the point that is systemic, and that the symptoms are not the disease.

    I look forward to seeing how this discussion develops – thanks!

  2. Lucinda Morgan on November 28th, 2007 1:50 am


    The poison which I am experiencing emanates from the micromanagement experience which has successfully placed the vice president of my division in an executive role.

    With continued protestations that there is no micromanagement, the level of micromanagement exceeds any which I have experienced.

    What is valued is “no complaint” not efficient and thorough duty execution. While the executives in the corner hand out books on teams and teamwork, some managers respond with placing blame on individuals. Instead of considering the work load and resolving how to rectify the situation until another person is hired–we are short 1 person. It has become a pointed finger at the new person (me) and my supposed inadequacies.

    A prime example of the unchanged mentality of some managers was the comment to my VP that the items they ordered had not been received so “I guess someone gets fired for this.” Even in jest this comment is inconsistent with management philosophy. (This comment was from a younger manager.)

    The illness my division experiences is ?

    I like what I do. I like the company as a whole. I have yet to receive thorough training or any nurturing, positive or encouraging feedback on my job performance–only questioning on why I made human mistakes.

    So, perhaps it is I who should consider myself a failure and misfit and seek other employment….

    I compare this situation with a role I had with an inventory company. I became a team leader of the misfits. Some could count quickly, some worked regularly, some did not, some were new and needed encouragement. Since I count not be as productively as a team of auditors, I respected each team member. Because I was not obstinate with needing members for each inventory, they committed for each time–honestly. Because the new ones were not pressured to produce, but trained with patience, they progressed speedily.

    However, because management could see only dollar signs, they changed the team and the newer ones became unhappy and left the company while those with more experience became less and less available. Essentially, management shot themselves in the foot.

  3. Michelle Malay Carter on November 28th, 2007 8:08 am


    Sorry to hear about your situation. There is a likely a misfit here. When person feels micromanaged, s/he is usually at or above the problem solving capability of the manager. Rectifying the situation requires knowing whether the employee is capable above his/her role or whether the manager is capable below his/her role as each situation would require a different solution.

    Usually micromangement occurs when a manager is not capable of his/her role but is capable one level down, which is the level of the roles of the manager direct reports. So, what work does the manager do? Not his or hers, because she is not capable at that level. So that leaves the work of his/her direct reports to be done, and that’s the work that they do.

    Besides the micromanaging issue, another problem is that the work one level up that the manager is supposed to be doing is not getting done which creates even more havoc.

    In your situation, Lucinda, it would be the accountability of your manager-once-removed to remove your manager, not specifically for micromanaging, but for his/her not being capable at the level called for by his/her role.

    Unfortunately, in executive level roles which have deliverables two to five years in the future, it may take 18 months to two years before it becomes apparent that the person is not performing at the level of the role and will not be able to deliver. In the meantime, the entire unit below this executive will suffer.

    This is why understanding work levels as a basis for placing people correctly into roles that match their capability level is so important.

    Thanks for your comment. I wish you the best.



  4. elle on May 6th, 2010 9:16 pm

    I have been working for the past 20 years. The last 10 years, in another company. Looking back, my employer had never taken care of my career. I end up losing my core competency as a system analyst. I am now 40plus, so I don’t think quiting is an option and considering I have been doing ‘odd jobs’ for the last 10 years – I have no value in the market anymore. I had a good track record prior to joining this company – I have worked in a multinational oil and gas company. I apart from having an incompetent Human Resource department, the company has never taken me seriously. I always get remarks from my superiors and co-workers that I don’t have to work since my husband is alredy doing well. I work because I want to and because I like to work. Just because I have a bit more money than others doesn’t make me a lesser employer. I worked harder everyday to wake up earlier than others to come to work early and go back later than them. But my employer never take me seriously. I requested to be part of a project but my Manager refused and I always end up doing support work. I know I can do better than many of the other staff he engaged for the project. What is the best way to handle this and make them realise? I believe many of them are thinking that I come and go as I wish and not taking my work seriously. As it is the blame culture in this company is a major problem. The top blames the bottom, the bottom blames the top and everyone blames each other. So what is the best way to protect or defend myself in this situation?

  5. Michelle Malay Carter on May 9th, 2010 11:48 am

    Hi Elle,

    Thanks for stopping by. Manager’s not recognizing capability can be a problem without a model with which to do so and without more than one set of eyes accountable for watching each employee. Instituting these practices would be the systematic fix to your problem, which is my area of focus.

    From an individual standpoint, the best advice I can offer is a frank conversation with your manager about your desire for more complex work. Ask if it is available and if it is, how you can be considered for it. If your manager is not willing to give it to you, then at least you know where you stand, and you can decide if you want to stay and do less challenging work or if you want to look for opportunities elsewhere.

    Best wishes,