Engage Employees: Shift Your Mindset

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Engage Employees: Shift Your Mindset

This has been a question I continue to be asked:

“How do I engage disengaged employees?”

I lightly covered this topic in an earlier post — Part 3: Secret Life of a Sustainability Professional — all about training.

But, I have really been striving to give more concrete, practical steps that you can grab onto and use right away.  No confusion.

Shift Your Mindset

Step 1 is to change your mindset.

If you are telling yourself that employees are disengaged, divorced or disinterested in sustainability… you’ve already lost.

Even if there is some truth in it… THAT mindset provides you with no power, no creativity, and no freedom to create a new situation.

Work from a place of power.

Try this shortcut exercise.

Write down a list of all the reasons why employees are disengaged:

  • Too old, set in their ways
  • Too young, don’t get it
  • Don’t care, just want a paycheck
  • Lazy, not interested in doing the right thing

Now, imagine you had to stand up and present this list to those employees, explaining to them why things aren’t working.

How would they respond?

Write down all of their possible rebuttals:

  • We are experienced, and we’ve seen stuff like this before
  • We are full of new ideas, and haven’t been inspired
  • We care, and don’t see why this is important
  • We are efficient, and there are better ideas we’d rather work on

THIS is a list you can work with.

THIS kind of list can give you power, creativity, and freedom to create something new. 

Concrete Steps

Here is a strategy you can steal.

With the help of my VP and mentor, I was able to turn this simple approach into a list of initiatives with owners in every department of the company — marketing, operations, accounting, IT, real estate, construction, facilities, human resources.

Start asking to attend meetings.

All the time.

Go and say nothing.

Be prepared for questions like:

  • “What are you wanting to present?”
  • “What do you need from us?”
  • “Huh?  I don’t get it.  Why?”

And your answer should always be something like:

  • “I don’t have anything to present.  I just want to listen.  It’s for my own professional development.  I want to learn more about the company.  I think it will help me consider how my decisions impact other areas.”

Once you get the green light — do what you said.

Listen.  Take notes.  Ask questions if you don’t understand.

The things you REALLY want to listen for are:

  • Language they use to describe what they do
  • Goals they are trying to achieve
  • People responsible for achieving those goals
  • Ways that they measure success
  • Frustrations related to other areas of the company

Practical Results

Now you have a list of people to follow up with.

Lunches.  Coffees.  15 minutes meetings.  A quick email with a helpful or interesting resource.

Build relationships with people, and ASK them what initiatives they see necessary.

YOUR JOB is to position sustainability-related resources/ideas as solutions to THEIR most pressing problems — in an order of importance they would agree with.

Now… do that for every department you can.

And you’ve got a plan that will keep you busy for months… if not years.

This plan will build trust with others over time.

And after helping them successfully implement initiatives THEY came up with, they will be 10X more likely to help you with your initiatives when the time comes.


Does this feel like too much work?  What are your thoughts/questions?



Adam Hammes is the executive director of the Iowa Sustainable Business Forum, a consultant, author, and motivational speaker. He specializes in helping businesses and sustainability professionals with environmental and social performance.

Check out Adam's new book on Amazon, Audible and Kindle: Sustainable Business in Iowa.

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