The Shmedriks on Employee Engagement

I recently had the opportunity to meet the most unusual Shmedrik family. Brilliant, hardworking, gentle Schmo serves as patriarch; his wife, Zaftig, runs the household with warmth and love; twin boys, Dreck and Haimish, round out the clan with wit and charm to spare. The Shmedriks’ door is always open to friends and strangers alike, and their generosity is legendary. All who come in contact with this family are blessed.

But do you know what’s odd about the Shmedriks? Instead of relishing their reputation within the community; and instead of teaching others how to be similarly kind, smart, and generous; the Shmedriks swear to secrecy all of the  people they helpforbidding them from mentioning the Shmedrik name outside of the family home.

While writing my most recent book on the topic of employee engagement, I talked with hundreds of professionals and leaders to get an understanding of what works and what doesn’t work as related to getting employees to tune in and turn on. I heard great stories of “best practices” for employee engagement:

  • One leader in a financial firm told me a story about how building LOYALTY grows engagement, as he demonstrated by firing a client who mistreated one of his employees…
  • A manager in a large shipping company told me how her company provided LEARNING as a way to connect her and others to the values, mission, and goals of the organization…
  • An employee in the horticultural business shared with me how her company and her boss use effective POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT to bring out the best performance in its employees…

These leaders and employees are awesome; sadly, though, the Shmedriks run those companies. These organizations were offered the opportunity to have their companies bragged about and showcased in my book; all declined saying something like: “Based on counsel from our legal department…” It’s funny that companies would turn down free and positive press when any one of their internal employees with a Facebook or Twitter account or a blog can skewer their brand and reputation with impunity if they so wished.

Why would any company want to keep its positive values and its brand successes a TOP SECRET?

Compare that to Zappos, a company that likes to tell its story and even gives its employees a chance to speak up. Zappos’ values are readily communicated throughout the company and published each year through a Culture Book highlighting employees’ experiences. In the 2010 version, employee Frances M. states, “By being honest, positive, never shutting out change, accepting differences, and finally, ALWAYS thinking of our friends, we spread LOVE. That is what we’re all after, right? Finding a little bit of love in the world?” In fact, anyone can order a copy, which Zappos ships for free–without requiring a recipient blood sample or having their lawyers conduct a background check on the reader.

“It’s easy to be all lovey-dovey when you’re company is making money hand-over-fist!” you might say. But the Zappos engagement culture started well before they had the revenue to back it up. Tony Hsieh consistently demanded that they hire only people who they would want to hang out with after work, and he implemented a culture that fostered friendship and camaraderie in all settings. It’s no wonder that when the company struggled, employees were willing to cut their salaries and come up with solutions to help Zappos get over the next hurdles before true success awaited them. Some of those same employees are now in top leadership positions within the company.

So it didn’t surprise me after my partner at Spiritus Communications received a copy of the 2010 Culture Book from Zappos that she got an informal, personal email from someone at Zappos thanking her for the order and inviting her for a tour of their facilities next time she’s near Las Vegas.

The Shmedriks need to take a page from Hsieh! Let your engaged employees tell their stories!


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