How do we improve employee engagement and stop the culture drift?

October 27, 2022
40 min

Introducing Vibhas Ratanjee

Vibhas Ratanjee is a Senior Practice Expert and Executive Advisor at Gallup. Beginning in 2001, Vibhas has worked for Gallup for over 20 years. During this time, he has focused on organizational development, culture change, and engagement strategies utilizing strengths-based leadership.


Who owns employee engagement at organizations?

“Regardless of whether you’re in the headquarters or the regional office, how long you’ve been with the company, and so on, what we discovered is, a single individual, the manager explains about 70% of the variance on employee engagement.

Many organizations will make lofty claims about ownership of employee engagement such as everyone owning it or the managers, etc. But, as Vibhas points out, it’s usually relegated to a person in HR who puts out the survey. 

The reality is that engagement varies greatly across an organization with different managers garnering different levels of investment from their direct reports. 

The boss-to-coach shift

If leaders are really serious about engagement, then rather than telling HR, to go fix my engagement problem, you know, you have to start with equipping your managers to be better coaches, to help them provide better feedback, like more consistent feedback, more continuous development, feedback.

The command and control model is quickly becoming a dated construct. As hybrid work looks to be a permanent fixture across organizations, managers are having to adapt to a drifting culture. This includes adopting a coaching mindset and maximizing the moments they get face-to-face. 


For Vibhas, the focus should be on maximizing the moments when people do walk in. Collaboration and connection are big factors for people who want to return to the office. These factors contribute to what Vibhas calls the “workplace value proposition.” Further, Vibhas suggests that managers check in regularly and adjust their management style to each direct report. 

Coaching and engaging direct reports individually may seem like it would be a major time sink but having an impact doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Instead, the impact is all about being intentional with the time they do take. For instance, according to Vibhas an hour per quarter where the manager has a conversation with a direct report about the individual – not about their work – can have a fantastic impact on engagement, performance, and productivity. 

Focusing on strengths

So this strengths-based management style, that highly individualized management style. That’s what great managers do exceptionally well because the conversation is focused not on what I want you to do, but it’s how can I enable you to shine every day?


Working at Gallup, Vibhas is deeply familiar with the Clifton Strengths Assessment. The assessment, based on the paradigm of positive psychology, focuses on helping people understand their strengths so that they can maximize them. Vibhas believes this too should be utilized by managers to engage and inspire their teams. 

Empowering the manager 

Managers are almost at the same level of engagement, compared to individual contributors. And amongst those managers, the managers that are struggling the most are hybrid managers.

Direct reports aren’t the only ones needing empowerment – managers need support like all the rest. Currently, only 34% of managers are engaged with hybrid managers being especially low. 

Vibhas offers insight into why managers are so worn down: competing priorities coupled with an increasing workload. Instead of loading managers down with more responsibility, Vibhas emphasizes the need for leaders simplifies the lives of their managers. 


For instance, when adding a new responsibility for managers to handle, leadership should take something off their managers’ plates. With additional time and resources managers can be freed up to work on coaching their associates and form closer connections.

Advice for champions

Gallup research has shown that if you actually focus on strengths and engagement, there’s a massive impact on any imaginable business outcome. There’s an impact on turnover, profitability, productivity, customer metrics, and so on. So, leaders need to see the business case, like they would want to see the business case on any other rational investment they make, there is a business case for these emotional metrics as well.

We ended the discussion with advice for those who want to push for strengths-based engagement initiatives within their own organization. Vibhas offered two main points of advice: 1) make a business case and 2) culture before structure. 

For one, as noted above in the quote, engagement is easy to connect with business outcomes as it has been shown time and again to impact just about everything. Anyone beginning with an engagement initiative should begin here. 

For two, “Culture before structure,” Vibhas notes that without culture your structure is bound to fail. If you want to change structure first you need to go about building cultural resiliency. Don’t go straight into the program first seek to understand what your culture looks like now. Understand where you are, figure out what has to change, and get buy-in from managers so that they are active participants in the change. And, finally, find and shine a spotlight on those who exemplify the changes you’re seeking to make. 

Episode Transcript

Adam  00:03

Vibhas, welcome to the podcast.

Vibhas Ratanjee  00:05

Thank you, Adam. Thanks for inviting me.

Adam  00:08

Oh, of course. Well, I gotta say from the first time it was exposed to Gallup. There’s some real brilliance to take very complicated concepts and distill them down to powerful thoughts. And Gallup has this ability to communicate in a way that’s really powerful in and so do you. So for our audience, would you mind sharing? What is your position within Gallup? And how does that really inform your perspective?

Vibhas Ratanjee  00:34

Sure. So I’m a senior practice expert with Gallup, I’ve been with the company now 20 years and I’ve kind of lived and worked across four countries, while with the with gallops, I’ve had a lot of global exposure, a lot of my work is in the area of leadership development, and organizational development. So a lot of work around employee engagement, leadership, development, and succession management was all the things that I typically do with a lot of my clients. And then I also lead gallops efforts around leadership research. So a lot of work around understanding leadership competencies, and work around what it takes to be a successful leader.

Adam  01:11

The biggest challenge I’m going to have is to keep this conversation to 4045 minutes, because we could go on for hours, I have so many questions for you. But where I’d like to begin I do with every episode, let’s start at the CEO level. Yes, CEOs, all of them talk about the people matter, people are important. All of them talk about values, most talk about purpose. But ultimately, you know, what are they measure versus what they talk about? What are the goals that you hear leaders talk about, in terms of what they measure?

Vibhas Ratanjee  01:46

I think what many leaders care about an hour, I think give much attention to is very clear its growth. At the end of the day. There’s, of course, much attention on capital expenditure, cost savings, technology spends, and so on. But I would say that while you know profit margins and productivity in those indicators are critical, specifically, in this post pandemic, while we might be over emphasizing these, what are called lagging indicators, you know, what the leaders might not be focusing on so much of what we call leading indicators. So they’re things like employee engagement, or customer engagement, or what Gallup would say, are measures of employee thriving employee wellbeing. And I’d also say an emotional connection to culture. And of course, these are kind of intangible and difficult to measure. But we’ve we’ve seen that these measures really predict future success, future growth and revenue. And that’s what keeps most CEOs up at night, right. And again, no leader will say that they don’t care about employee well being or engagement, but kind of the results speak for themselves. So give you some numbers, as in the US, only about a third of employees are engaged at work. And that number has not materially changed for the last 10 years. In fact, after the pandemic, we are actually seeing a declining trend. So why don’t we make one point I see you’re John Clifton recently wrote a book called blind spot. And according to John, one of the most significant indicators that CEOs and leaders have failed to see is the global rise of unhappiness. So these numbers have shot up from something like around 24% in 2006, to almost 33%. In 2021. By the way, what I’m talking about is a representative poll of about 98% of the world’s population. So we’re talking about 5 million interviews. Now, as you look at that rise and rise in global unhappiness, it’s easy to blame the pandemic. But that increase in unhappiness predates the pandemic, and it’s not black swan events. The pandemic was not a black swan event. And these disruptive changes, we’re seeing that CEOs need to take notice and take attention on, like things like workplace changes, employee burnout, these are not black swan events. So I’d say CEOs need to be able to kind of keep their pulse on what truly matters more to the emotional economy. And those metrics are the ones that drive the national economy, everything like cost, profits and productivity and everything in between

Adam  04:02

so much they’re so lagging indicators, leading indicators, CEOs measure the lagging indicators, because it’s easier, it’s probably also how their jobs are measured. And there’s one study that shows that most CEOs are actually concerned about their own jobs, security. But you’re saying it’s time and it’s always been time. These issues have been present visa for 10 years that we haven’t made any progress in a positive direction. In fact, you’re saying a problem has been made worse as a result of the pandemic.

Vibhas Ratanjee  04:36

Yeah, and it’s also inaction. You know, I mean, a lot of companies do measure a lot. I mean, they have engagement surveys, their brand surveys, they’re, they’re looking at what their customers are saying and so on, but how much of that is being translated into into action and decisions? Are the decisions being governed by modern rational economics or decisions being driven by emotional economics and The upside that emotional economics represents

Adam  05:02

with you is a translating into action. And that will be my next question to you. I’ve been really challenged to think about who owns employee engagement at organizations. So I’ve talked to change management. I’ve talked to l&d operational leaders, innovation, HR, I go suite to suite and I asked myself, you know, who should own the employee engagement? Who should own this, this emotional connection to the organization? What do you think?

Vibhas Ratanjee  05:30

That’s a big question? And I think if you ask most organizations, they’ll say, Yes, it’s the leadership team, and everyone does. But but if you really look at the practical application here, it’s, it’s somebody in HR was kind of spearheading the survey, and it’s pretty event based programmatic approach to getting an engagement survey. But when you think about the indicator, I think some organizations think of employee engagement as kind of an overall measure, or metric of organizational health. And in cases I’ve seen, it’s kind of seen as an indicator of organizational culture. But at Gallup, we know that you probably have as many cultures as you have managers, right? Because there’s tremendous range and engagement. There’s tremendous variation. So we put this to the test and research we did, because he wanted to understand if you want to think about what who the owner is, let’s try to find out what, what drives this variation. And we looked at multiple factors, we looked at gender. But whether you’re the headquarters or in the regional office, how long you’ve been with the company, and so on, what we discovered is perhaps the single most at a significant discovery of workplace, a single individual, which is the manager explains about 70% of the variance on employee engagement. So the most significant decision a CEO can make our most significant decision leaders can make is whom you name as manager, and whom you don’t. That’s the other point. So. So if leaders are really serious about engagement, then rather than kind of disputing HR, to go fix my engagement problem, you know, you have to start with equipping your managers to be better coaches, to help them provide better feedback, like more consistent feedback, more continuous development, feedback, I think that’s important. So we can call this the boss to coach shift that is required, how you need to really make sure that managers are not acting like bosses. But more like coaches are providing feedback, inspiration and engagement on an ongoing basis, that actually makes a bigger difference than any programmatic once in a survey that

Adam  07:32

it makes sense. You know, you work with your manager, that’s the person you look for to evaluate your progress. It’s the person you look for recognition for for many of the aspects in the workplace, and managers typically do not get promoted, because they’re amazing with people. Most managers get promoted because of the technical skill. So there has to be intentionality behind the organization in order to help evolve their managers, what are you seeing as best practices to prepare managers to undertake this this aspect of the employee engagement journey? And what within it? Should managers focus on?

Vibhas Ratanjee  08:06

Yeah, I, you know, what, we did a survey a while ago, and this was in India. And this was for software developers. And we were trying to understand how software developers, you know, what their career path looks like, and so on. And what we found was interesting that, the more the better you get at building developing code and doing great software, the less you get to do it, because you’re promoted to being a manager. So it’s the Peter Principle radio, promoted to high degrees of incompetence. So when we talk to all these fantastic code, code developers and software engineers, on our managers about what they liked about their job, they said, Actually, I, it’s what I missed the most, which is developing great code. So I think that’s important. Not everybody is cut out to be a great manager. So you not need to be able to understand what is talent, innate talent in being a great manager looked like? So I think that’s, that’s one. So I think managers, again, are critical to engagement. And another area that I think is often overlooked is company culture. That’s where you’re seeing some massive problem. So, recent research, and we’ve been, we’ve been continuously pulling since the pandemic, of course, we’ve been pulling for a fairly long time, but almost at a quality level, we’re actually coming out with some really interesting insights. So one of the big focus areas we put in our research was culture. And we asked employees Hey, do you feel a sense of emotional connection to the culture of the organization and the founder, they only do when 10 employees actually feel emotionally connected to culture. So I think the managers are important but the other thing from an organizational point of view is that a lot of companies are feeling that the culture is drifting. A lot of that has to do with you know, as you know, working from home or in a kind of a flex hybrid setup. There’s less connection to you know, cultures traditional ritualistic art Other infrastructural components. So if companies have already invested in setting up culture building as an activity or an event, then that’s that’s an issue. So besides managers, the other thing that we need to really focus on is kind of rebuilding culture reimagining it, because your culture has evolved. It’s in many ways it’s drifted. So using the same paradigm of culture building in 2019, is not going to work. Because most of your employees, or big chunk of employees are not walking into work and feeling and experiencing that culture.

Adam  10:31

Well, just think about that number two out of 10, feel kind of eight out of 10 Do not feel an emotional connection to their organization. What does that mean? If I don’t feel emotionally connected to the organization? How does that translate into my performance

Vibhas Ratanjee  10:47

disconnection to an extreme, I’d say, you know, you’ve all heard about the quiet quitters. And I mean, that’s something that’s taken up a lot of, we’ve been kind of reporting on the quiet quitter for a really long time you call them not engaged. So these are the kinds of employees will walk into work, perhaps disconnected with their culture, they’ll do the bare minimum. But that’s all they will do. So I think that’s one, we’ve seen that engagement connects directly to performance outcomes at the end of the day. So if you’ve got a lot of employees just costing, it won’t have an impact on performance outcomes, and the kind of growth aspirations that you have. I think that disconnection is is is exasperated by thing, I think this kind of remote working, and then move towards remote working. So like I said, I think that’s what you almost need to audit your culture, if you know what I mean. It’s like, hey, where is my culture today, and not have assumptions around your culture and the way it existed before. Because you, the way you work has changed, it changed. And culture is the way you work. So real looking at that is important.

Adam  11:51

You’re so right. And as I’m thinking and experiencing the aspects of the virtual culture, it’s really difficult and almost without being intentional. By default, the inertia of the experiences takes us toward just focusing on work and not the personal aspects. And, you know, you get on the Zoom calls, right? And it’s an hour, it’s 45 minutes, you’re done. There’s a hi, how are you? How was your weekend? We’re moving on. But in the office, those moments were waiting for the meeting before walking out together? How are we now get some water or get some coffee? Do you want to go for a walk? Do you want to do lunch? All of those is what build those emotional connections? All of those experiences is what created the bonds between individuals and their organization. And now they’re again, what do we do? What do you see great organizations do in terms of being really intentional about their culture with a focus on taking the virtual experiences and evolving them to be closer to those that were in person?

Vibhas Ratanjee  12:55

Yeah, I think the cats out of the bag, I think leaders want employees to walk back into the office. But they’re not really truly understanding how needs have changed. So one of the things we talk about is, you almost organizations need to create a workplace value proposition to get people to walk back in. And that needs to be a compelling value proposition. Why should I walk back in and what do I get? So our research suggests that it’s actually things like collaboration, it’s things like connection, these are the things that are required. So even though a lot of employees are kind of working hybrid now, there are opportunities when they do walk into work, to maximize your culture, when they do walk into work, to emphasize recognition, to emphasize collaboration, to conduct hackathons to get people together. So I think maximizing the moments when people do walk in. That’s more important, rather than forcing people to walk in and stay in the office. I think that’s what we’re seeing.

Adam  13:55

So would you say this isn’t going back to normal that it’s creating a new normal in other ways? We’re not expecting this to be a nine to five back to the office for those that have that choice? Are we looking for this to be a you know, a couple of times a week, it’s now intentional, you’re coming back in for collaboration that you’re coming back for connection with team building? How do you see it?

Vibhas Ratanjee  14:19

This is the new normal. This is the next normal, you know, I’ll give you some numbers. There are hybrid research, which are interesting. So this, we’re seeing that our latest research, this is actually q2 of 2022, showing that about six and 10 employees prefer hybrid working, that’s a very large number and think about it, about three in 10 want to be exclusively remote, and then in less than one in 10 would actually like to be on site. That’s the preference in terms of who is currently working hybrid about five and 10. So hybrid is the way and when you kind of think about what are the advantages of hybrid so we did a survey where we asked hybrid workers, what are the advantages of working in this way? even better work life balance, more efficient use of the time you have freedom, less burnout, all that is good. But they also kind of admitted that they feel less connected to the culture of the company. So it comes at a cost overall, and collaboration and relationship building that’s also important impaired. So, like I mentioned, what companies need to do is build a new workplace value proposition, not force people to walk in, because productivity does suffer. A lot of hybrid working population is saying that they’re more productive, and they’re working hybrid, and then maximize the time where employees are kind of on site, or not. Another big strategy that companies are using is individualization, which means that employees working from home have different needs. And rather than force fitting a management style, you kind of start with listening to what employees want, adjusting as a manager management style, to what they want, what their needs are, what their strengths are, what their goals are, because that will enable to deliver their best performance, right, irrespective of worksheet tool or where they work. individualization is incredibly important.

Adam  16:08

It makes a ton of sense. And I’ve heard a lot of conversations recently, where I hear organization executives are very linear back to Office, we got to get work done. And then there’s a disconnect or or on the opposite extreme are, are the associates within their organization saying no, no, no, hold on a second, especially for those where, you know, let’s say there isn’t a lot of collaboration or teamwork by design of what they do. You’re now adding tremendous commute pressure, less time with the family, without there being a reason. And you’re saying it’s about individualizing. It’s about understanding the needs of that person, and then making sure that you are meeting them where they are, while understanding the needs of the organization. Is that right?

Vibhas Ratanjee  16:52

That’s absolutely right. And that does require conversation that requires constant connection. So sometimes, you know, when you’re a hybrid, you’re kind of managers might forget or not have a an intentional, consistent focus on dialogue and conversation. What I mean by that is not just daily work, actually having a connection, a conversation, asking questions, like, do you know what’s expected of you? What do you value the most? There’ll be a lot of projects you’ve done recently? How can I help you? Those individualized, personal conversations, regular check ins, even though they that you remote, those are incredibly important,

Adam  17:34

let’s talk about this idea of a connection very specifically between the manager and associate. And a connection doesn’t in my view, it doesn’t mean time together, although that’s a factor of it. But you could be on the phone with someone for 1015 minutes. And you may not improve the connection, you may be robotic, you may be distracted, you’re not authentic, you’re not real, you could still be asking some questions, what project did you work on, but you don’t show that you really care? I think a connection is when you’re present when you’re authentic. And when you show that you care for the person on the other side? Where does your research and your travels? What does it take you in terms of how to build a connection? That’s real?

Vibhas Ratanjee  18:15

Yeah, for one, I’m going back to what I said earlier, not everybody is cut out to be a manager. So if you’re not cut out to be a manager, you’re likely to use the conventional traditional command and control kind of way of working. But I think what I’ve seen great managers do differently is ask great questions. And these questions are focused and targeted at the individual, Gallup, we have this thing called Clifton Strengths, which kind of gives you a fairly good idea. It’s a psychometric assessment in a survey that you take, and it tells you what your top five strengths are. So for example, my number one team is ideation. My number two team is strategic. Now, if you want to have an individualized conversation, as a manager with your employee, that’s fantastic information, because you’re saying, Hey, I’m going to ask questions that are individualized to this business person. And I’m going to give him opportunities that help him maximize the strengths that he always already has. At the same time, you might have certain non talents, and you know, I’m going to help them with that. So, for instance, my number 3014 is discipline. So obviously, you know, having a manager who doesn’t kind of say, hey, I want you to be disciplined, and I’ll send you to discipline school, and you know, got to do this and so on. So yeah, how can I help you with that? Can I get you a partner? Can I can use a system you can use and so on. So this strengths based management style, that highly individualized management style. That’s what great managers do exceptionally well, because the conversation is focused not on what I want you to do, but it’s how can I enable you to shine every day? There’s a huge difference between, like I said the boss to coach shift is, is the point we’re trying to make is a strengths based shift.

Adam  19:55

They were Dr. Clifton came up multiple times if she just spoke to our friends at Big The wide and the gentleman there, Mark, he used to work with Dr. Clifton and similar to myself once I was exposed to the idea of strength based and I took the test and I have an activator is one of my profiles, or one of my strengths. I couldn’t look back. And I kept wondering why isn’t this the norm in organizations, and hearing you talk about it now in the context of connection, it’s almost saying, Look, if you’re a manager that really cares, then you take the time to understand, once you take the time to understand, then you customize your conversation. So you tailor your approach. It’s no longer about you. It’s about the person you’re talking to. How do you show up and meet them? Where they are? How do you help them focus on their strength? How do you take responsibility for their journey? And dare I say responsibility for helping them unlock their potential in their career?

Vibhas Ratanjee  20:49

Yeah, strength for us at Gallup. It’s a revolution, we’re on a mission. About more than 21 28 million people have taken strengths. And I think our estimates is that every day somebody takes 6500 People actually take the strength. That’s the mission we are on because we want the world to know their strengths. Wouldn’t that be a much better life for everyone where you’re actually focusing and playing to your strengths? But I think a lot of organizations are focused, there isn’t a deficit based approach, like, let’s focus on what’s wrong with you rather than what’s right with you. And it does take a lot of time to shift that mindset. Because that’s what people have grown up with all these years. Most traditional management will tell you that you need to review, you know, what are the weaknesses of an individual, and Dr. Clifton’s a big shift was positive psychology, you know, it’s what’s right with you, let’s start there that that can and find that and then amplify it provide more opportunities for people to live their strengths every day, there was

Adam  21:47

a paradigm shift in my career, I think it was about six or seven years ago, I was exposed to positive psychology and my career took a turn. What is in your experience when you have executives, that they’re not bought in? On strength based executives, like you said, that grew up in, you know, like, I’ve seen a lot in my first career investment banking, there is no chance the folks that I used to work with are going to be interested in strength based well, maybe today, I hope they’ve changed. But at that time, certainly they wouldn’t be interested. When when executives are not sold on that idea. Do you see them being able to change over time? Is there a moment where they look at the case study use case? Or is it about the next generation of executives company coming in that would get it,

Vibhas Ratanjee  22:35

it’s the first step is really for them to generate a sense of self awareness themselves. So when I’ve worked with CEOs, and I’m an executive coach, so I work with leaders is when they get to know what their strengths are, they might not immediately agree with those. They as they kind of, as I work with them as, as some of our coaches work with executive leaders. It is incredible how quick that shift happens in terms of Yes, I do see it because the point about strengths is that even strengths can they have a dark side and they have a light side. So overuse or strength can also be injurious to who you are as a leader, you know, so if I have high achiever, you know, I highly focused but you know, I might be leaving dead bodies in my stride. So I think when when, when leaders start understanding and care, getting feedback, and sharing their strengths, with their peers, or their direct reports, and get great feedback, get great positive feedback, reinforcement, as well as very direct, honest, brutally honest feedback. I think the shift happens, then. Otherwise, it’ll never happen. Because they’ll always be going back to the traditional mode of saying, hey, let’s focus on what’s wrong,

Adam  23:50

become the change that you want to see in the world. Right? If an executive says it’s not for us, it’s for them, you know that that is not going to be the beginning beginning of a change that will take hold. What I’m curious about next is, you know, back to the manager, rather than in the book, gallops book about the manager, and I think you and I even mentioned a few times, hey, it’s all about the manager stupid, not saying someone is stupid, but But fundamentally, we must focus on the managers, but we also must be empathetic. The managers have a lot on their plates, where they come the frozen middle, where they you talk about how much pressure they have being in between. And here, we’re adding more more onto their plates. That’s not performance that’s not core to their business as they see it. But all of a sudden, we’re talking about keeping in mind the strength of their associates having more conversations, they’re responsible for the connection. I want to talk about the future of people initiatives, what do you what do you see in the future state? How would you dream about the future? And I think you and I would agree that technology will be part of the solution, but what do you think is the future of how we enable managers to do better in this aspect, as a case in point of improving the connections that they have with their direct reports, as well as the reports to the organization.

Vibhas Ratanjee  25:15

Yeah, I really think the future is more human than in this technological. You know, I mean, I wrote an article about this called augmented leadership, you know, when you think about augmented reality, and, and the metaverse and so on, and what about augmented humanity? You know, how are we not going to replace managers and dealers with a bunch of code. As I think the the importance of men, the managers and leaders and driving emotional connections, the 70%, of decision making is emotional, that I think is still going to be important. But this is also where we have the biggest challenge, because our latest research again for q2, this year shows that about 47% of leaders are engaged, that number for managers is 34%. So leaders are engaged, not necessarily managers, managers are almost at the same level of engagement, compared to individual contributors. And amongst those managers, the managers that are struggling the most are hybrid managers. So think about that hybrid managers is a very different kettle of fish there. And there’s a lot of lot that leaders can do to help these managers. So you mentioned that and that’s right, one of the biggest challenge we’ve seen managers face is competing priorities. Now you couple that with increasing workload, couple that with the challenge of managing and coordinating across multiple sites, like your hybrid manager, you’re managing somebody else’s I read somebody else who’s on site, somebody is remote, somebody who’s in a different time zone, that has put tremendous amounts of load on hybrid managers and tremendous amount of burnout. So when you think about engagement, and burnout, hybrid managers have the lowest levels of hope. So I think what leaders can do is simplify, simplify their lives. Of course, select that I can imagine people for those positions, I talked about that as well. But provide good feedback and coaching. Take something off deployed before adding something more, you know, so leaders can actually simplify strategy and how that translates into tactics, that’ll help managers immensely. And then just really investing in their development, investing their ability, like I said, to become a better coach, and not just kind of pushing them up the career ladder, you know, to higher levels without equipping them with the right kind of management skills. So I think that’s going to be very important as a level of leadership, I

Adam  27:37

think, couldn’t agree more. I’m curious to hear more about the augmented leadership, I think there’s a lot of concern about technology coming into our lives. And it’s almost like you’re saying technology can help us be more human and and help leaders become more human? How do you see their future?

Vibhas Ratanjee  27:53

Yeah, I think technology is an enabler. It’s not something that will replace what we do, in fact, will free us up to do more of this emotional connection in the future, you know, technology and augmented leadership, if you may. And that’s already happening. You look at you know, the metaverse and Microsoft, HoloLens. And all those all that group great gizmos, I think they will not they cannot replace that emotional connection between an individual and, and a person that they’re managing. What it can do and where technology needs to be used in the right way is to simplify is to automate, and then free up time to actually do more of coaching, working with each other’s thinking about breakthrough ideas, innovating, brainstorming. So I think all those will be helped by the advent of technology. But wherever we see, hey, technology can replace the human connection. I’d be very wary on that.

Adam  28:51

Well, the moment that technology can replace a human connection, I think the least of our concerns is going to be what happens between a manager and a direct report. I think at that point, our entire society is going to face an entirely new set of challenges, which could be its own podcast, I think you would agree.

Vibhas Ratanjee  29:10

No. And that’s why leaders need to prioritize investments. I’m not saying they need to don’t need to prioritize technology, technology in the way it enables people or customers or suppliers. All of that is good, but prioritize the emotional economy, prioritize and investments which create well being that create training for not just our employees, but also our customers. So I think that’s the big difference that that big shift that leaders need to make, and they’re thinking

Adam  29:40

in going back to leadership, and you said it’s from a manager to a coach, right? What are some of the most distinct characteristics that define someone from being a manager or moving from being a manager to becoming a coach?

Vibhas Ratanjee  29:55

I think that a couple of things that we found to be extremely important and a big part of that I think already Engineers, the ability to ask great questions and the ability to listen. So I think that the traditional mold is kind of unclear and misaligned expectations, right? You kind of say, Hey, here’s what I needed to do. But not really establishing expectations really well, sharing expectation, I think that we found that to be a big one. The other one is, the traditional bosses more ineffective and infrequent feedback, by the coach is really the continual coaching and ongoing conversation. So at Gallup, we talk about five conversations rather than one or two, there’s one conversation that you have the beginning of the year, there’s one that you do at the end of the year, but that other conversations you can do in the middle of the year, development focused conversations, quick check ins, you know, we’ve seen managers do that exceptionally well. And I always say this, if you think about an average manager, having five direct reports, if you’re able to spend maybe an hour per direct report per quarter, having a conversation about the individual, not about your work, but about them, that’s five hours a quarter, that’s not a lot of investment that you know, can create a fantastic impact on engagement, performance and productivity. So I think that’s one and then obviously, create accountability and audit, and so on. But that’s the difference that great managers make.

Adam  31:16

So sometimes, that’s excellent. That’s not a lot of time, it’s all about being intentional with the time that you do have an understanding that the impact that’s going to create is going to be profound, it will improve retention. But also going back to where we started, this conversation is going to have an impact on every lagging indicator that you’re tracking as an organization.

Vibhas Ratanjee  31:38

That’s correct. That’s the 70% drives the 30%. The 70%, emotional drives the 30%. And leaders must understand that.

Adam  31:49

So you know, just kind of thinking about what’s next, the folks that are listening to this podcast, these are not the naysayers or the skeptics at the executive level, these are champions inside their organization. So imagine a champion a profile of someone that could be is in l&d Change Management, maybe they’re an operations leader, they truly believe strength based approach, they work, they truly want to help elevate their managers to become coaches to focus on building a connection, on the connection with their organization. How do they begin? What do you see as the most successful path to gain internal alignment for champions to affect this type of change?

Vibhas Ratanjee  32:31

Yeah, I think it really does need to start with leaders. And kind of an I’d say leadership alignment at the top, you know, because I think why leaders want to focus and invest in the rational element is because they find a sense of comfort, their sense of predictability and emotions are messy and complex and difficult to deal with. So aligning on that, before I work with any organization or other large scale, change or transformation efforts, I always want the leaders to come together and be aligned on things like priorities and decisions and their unique strengths and their collective strengths and so on. So I think starting with leaders and getting leaders to experience this the power of motion economics firsthand, I think that’s the first one you need to do, you also do need to make a business case for it. So it’s not just a fuzzy HR initiative, but it has real teeth. And you know, the Gallup research, has shown that if you actually do focus on strengths on engagement, there’s a massive impact on any imaginable business outcome, you can think of where there’s turnover, profitability, productivity, customer metrics, and so on. So, leaders need to see the business case, like they would want to see the business case and any other rational investment they make, there is a there is a business case for the these emotional metrics as well. So I think that that would be my first bit of advice. The other is, which is kind of a mantra for me, and always say it’s culture before structure. So you know, if you want to bring about cultural, with structural change, you first need to start with Building Cultural resiliency, and drive cultural change, because without culture, your structure is bound to fail. So don’t go straight to hey, let’s put this program in place. And let’s put this initiative in place. First, understand the capacity of your culture to be able to do this effectively. So whether it’s a strengths based or an engagement, whatever you’re trying to do, don’t go straight to program, go to understand first what your culture looks like. And again, I want to reinforce the importance of the manager. And gaining buy in from these managers and leaders must engage these managers kind of early on the journey as CO participants and not as just recipients of recipients of change, if you may. So I think that’s that’s the key, get your leaders align, talking to the culture, understand where you are, and then get get managers to join you on that journey of change.

Adam  34:51

Get them to join you and within those managers, there’s probably going to be as any any other adoption there’s going to be there are The adapters there’ll be those of those that are really excited, there are going to be some that are in between. And then there’s going to be some that are either trailing change, or maybe will not align to where the organization is headed. Do you see some of those difficult conversations come up and companies as they go through this journey?

Vibhas Ratanjee  35:15

Absolutely. So we think that if you want to really think about true managers, great managers, and if you think about those who have an innate talent for being a great manager, our estimate is about one in 10. I know it’s very less, doing 10 have kind of conditional talent, you know, and can do the job. The rest really need a lot of help. They need coaching, they need feedback. So you’re right. So the early adopters are the one who get it. They’re the first one to say, Yes, this makes sense. Being a coach makes sense. And they’re already doing it. That’s the other thing. If you if you look in your organizations, you’ll see actually there are some are already doing it, why not kind of use those and showcase those as I hate to use the word best practices. But it’s kind of like, here’s an example of a manager who was already doing all of this. And then kind of exemplify that. I’d say there is already a lot of great engagement in most organizations, and just is waiting to be found.

Adam  36:09

Yeah, shining the spotlight on what works scale that make sure to keep up being intentional. And thinking about Ghana, the future proofing their organization, I have so many more questions, but looking at time, I just want to pause here with one less question for you before I let you go. And I very much appreciate your time. But as you think about where where their organizations are headed in the future. And we know, you know, a lot of challenges, in some ways unprecedented. Although we have talked about some of the data has stayed, you know, pretty, pretty steady. What are you most excited about, as you think about the future of organizations,

Vibhas Ratanjee  36:50

I’m most excited about the ability of organizations to identify talent, and to be able to put that talent in the right place in front of our best and biggest opportunities to drive change. And when I say that, I mean to create a change and almost a shift in the human condition. Because I think more of it as the organization’s commitment and responsibility to driving larger, organizational sustainable change, if you know what I mean. I mean, if you think about what the pandemic has done, is brought out the most predictably irrational part of us, in many ways, and I think our biggest impact is going to be providing people with opportunities, so they can be their best and drive impact not just in the work they’re doing, but to something that takes this takes our humanity a few steps forward, rather than many steps back, because it is about understanding and realizing human behavior, in all its glory, and in all its pain. I know it might seem a little intangible, but I think we can have leaders make that difference with people and their well being and engagement. And yes, we can change the world.

Adam  38:11

few steps forward to change the world. What a thought to leave our conversation on. This has been incredible. Thank you for taking the time. I can’t wait to bring you back on again.

Vibhas Ratanjee  38:21

It’s a pleasure, Adam, thank you very much for having me on.

Adam Fridman
Serial entrepreneur, author, and speaker, Adam is a co-founder and one of the visionaries behind ProHabits. Currently, he hosts ProHabits' podcast: The Future of People Initiatives.

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