Your Engagement Problem is Worse than You Thought, Part 1

When I re-launched my practice in 2016 as Clear and Open, it was in part to focus on engagement. I saw that all business problems come down to this. It’s the deepest root issue that my clients struggle with, and it’s what I’m most passionate about.

Since then I’ve noticed I do a lot of work trying to get my clients and members engaged. Ironic, isn’t it? The people who pay me to help solve their engagement issues… have engagement issues.

For months my mind has been bugging me about this, and I keep telling it, “People are busy. It’s normal that people pay for something and don’t use it entirely. Have compassion! Be patient!”

And I have a good case against my mind. In the business world, 25% attendance to a webinar is considered good. 15% open rate on an email is great. Most people don’t finish online courses, even if they buy them. That’s just reality, even in the most successful businesses.

But my mind just wouldn’t let it go.

Then one day I recalled something Michael Gerber had said, his gravelly voice echoing forward from the halls of EMyth, seventeen years ago. He was talking to a group of us coaches about client retention. “Clients leave for the same reason they came to us in the first place.”

Recently, having drinks with a friend, I went on a bit of a tirade about this. (My mind was still pleading its case.)

My client engagements end in one of three ways:

  1. The client is actively engaged and coachable, tries on what I suggest even if it’s uncomfortable or scary, and is immensely successful and grateful for the work. They surrender to the process and it carries them to greatness. We stop working together because they are so evolved that they don’t need me any more and/or they go on to work on a different project where my services don’t apply.
  2. The client is not engaged in our work, but thinks they are. They’re inspired by new ideas and perspectives, but mostly don’t apply them. If they do apply them, they do it so slowly as not to precipitate powerful results. Eventually, they either run out of money or cannot justify the cost of mentoring because there’s not enough ROI. They leave gracefully with words like, “I’ve learned a lot.” But they don’t have much to show for it.They tell themselves a lot has changed because 1) they have to justify their investment, 2) they want to avoid the shame of looking at their disengagement, and 3) their relationship to change is so conservative that they don’t have experience with what level of transformation is truly possible. It’s understandable, they simply don’t know what they don’t know.
  3. The client is actively disengaged and uncoachable. They defend their distorted points of view, grip their unproductive beliefs, and refuse to look at how they cause their own suffering. They use me to vent their frustration and as a confidant, which I accept as part of the process, but when I try to move them to new actions that can actually solve their problems, they stubbornly resist.They say they want to change, but their actions say loudly otherwise. As with the B clients, if I hold them accountable too strongly, they feel ashamed and betrayed, say I’m “not supporting” them, and quit in an emotional huff. Or they may cover that reaction with excuses like, “We’re not in alignment,” or “It’s not working out,” without the willingness or ability to be specific.

Then it hit me. Duh. Of course, this corresponds exactly to Gallup’s famous ongoing study of disengagement, which shows the following percentages worldwide, according to their most recent report for 2017.

  1. Engaged: 15%
  2. Not Engaged: 67%
  3. Actively Disengaged: 18%

The numbers are only slightly better for the United States:

  1. Engaged: 31%
  2. Not Engaged: 52%
  3. Actively Disengaged: 17%

Definitions (from Gallup’s 2017 report, p.22)

Engaged: Employees are highly involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace. They are psychological “owners,” drive performance and innovation, and move the organization forward.

Not Engaged: Employees are psychologically unattached to their work and company. Because their engagement needs are not being fully met, they’re putting time — but not energy or passion — into their work.

Actively Disengaged: Employees aren’t just unhappy at work — they are resentful that their needs aren’t being met and are acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers potentially undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish.

You may be thinking, “My business is different. Our people are rockstars. We do surveys and the numbers tell us so.” You could be right. There are exceptions, but here’s the thing:

  1. You’re not a workplace scientist with a Ph.D.
  2. Even if you are, you’re biased about your own business.

You have to be a trained expert to create surveys that bypass people’s tendency to answer how they think they’re supposed to, especially if those results are going to be reviewed internally.

But there’s a missing link even Gallup isn’t taking into account. See if you can guess it with this hint: You can casually solicit data that will tell you 90% of people are happy in their marriage, but the divorce rate of that same population is still 50%.

Got it yet? If not, check back next week for Part Two, where I’ll discuss how I stumbled into the missing link and how the uncomfortable truth will set you free.

If you think you have an engagement problem (either for yourself or your employees), think about joining the Clear and Open Dojo, where the members and I will support you in working on these problems and more, every day. Plus, we’ve just added a free 30-day trial option for anyone who wants to try it on for size. No risk, no charge for the trial period. Now what’s stopping you?


  1. I can see where it is difficult for company owners to be subjective about engagement from their staff. In Gino Wickman’s book Traction, he uses a People Tracker in which upper management grades staff across a set of core value statements. At the base is choosing staff based on their fit in the first place. –can’t wait for the next post!

    • Hey Debrah, I’m pretty sure you mean “objective” rather than “subjective” and yes, the idea of choosing staff based on fit/values is not a new one, but still in its infancy. How to actually write clear values requires critical thinking and inner work–not to mention actually living them! Thanks for your comment!

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