Workplace engagement: How to get employees to buy in … hook, line, and sinker

Posted November 15, 2016

By Kyra Kudick, associate editor, J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

George was a new manager with a number of people reporting to him. Stressed about work, he made a trip to the country to visit his grandfather and get away for a bit. As soon as the young man greeted his grandfather, the old man saw that something was bothering his grandson.

“What has you so upset?” asked the grandfather.

The young man confessed, “I’m frustrated. My boss wants me to produce more while trimming costs and improving quality. I know it can be done, but I can’t seem to encourage my employees to become passionate about their work. They don’t seem motivated to do their jobs. What do you think I should do?”

The grandfather listened and nodded, but he offered no advice. After a long silence, he said, “I think we should go fishing.”

“Fishing?” asked the young man. The grandfather repeated, “I think we should go fishing.”

Believing the old man could not provide any advice on the work situation, but wanting to spend time with him nonetheless, the young man agreed to go fishing. The two went to the garage to gather fishing tackle.

The young man grabbed a pole and said, “I’m ready.”

The grandfather, rummaging about and considering all of his lures, hooks, and bobbers, asked, “So fast? What are you going to use for bait?”

The young man shrugged and pointed to the tackle box, “Those rubber worms. They should do the trick.”

“Oh, I see,” said the old man. He finished gathering his gear, and the two went down to the fishing pier.

The young man threw his line into the water and waited for the fish to bite. Minutes, then hours went by. He occasionally checked the line, but he had no bites.

In the meantime, the grandfather pulled in one fish after another. After some time, the young man took note of his grandfather’s success.

“You are catching a lot of fish,” he observed. “I have caught nothing. What is your secret?”

Reeling in another fish, the grandfather said, “The secret is in the bait. You assume all fish are attracted to rubber worms, because that is the bait you are using. Yet the fish are not taking it. I have been using a variety of different bait, giving the fish what they want. That’s why I have been successful.

“Different fish like different bait,” continued the grandfather. “People are no different. What one person likes — and needs — may be different from that of another.”

Give people what they want

The grandfather’s advice can apply to people in the same way it applies to fish. What will motivate one person might not inspire another person to action.

For some people, motivation comes in the form of public accolades. They like to win awards and be recognized in front of their peers for a job well done. For others who do not enjoy the limelight, this sort of attention will only serve to demotivate them. Instead, they might like to be privately told that they are valued and appreciated. Some employees will be motivated by gifts and prizes. Others may be more inspired by opportunities for career advancement and increased responsibility.

It is critical for a leader to learn what drives his or her employees. Doing so can help foster passions and ambition. Motivating a whole team takes an individual approach.

About the author:

Kyra Kudick

Kyra Kudick is an associate editor at J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc., a nationally recognized compliance resource company that offers products and services to address the range of responsibilities held by human resources and corporate professionals. Kudick specializes in employment law/HR issues such as employee relations, hiring and recruiting, and training and development. She is the author of J. J. Keller’s Employee Relations Essentials manual and SUPER adVISOR newsletter. For more information, visit