Our Biggest Problems Have a Hidden Cause

What is the single biggest problem facing our planet?

Is it Global Warming? Terrorism? Poverty?

It’s none of the above.  Let me explain.

What if we could triple the amount of human capital devoted to solving these and other major issues?  We can.  And we can do it with a relatively minor financial investment.

But first, we’re going to have to solve the granddaddy problem of them all: Lack of emotional engagement.

Right now only 32% of employees are emotionally engaged in their work.  51% are not engaged, and an additional 17% are actively disengaged.  Much has been written about the impact engagement – or lack thereof – has on profits, productivity, accident avoidance, sick time, and organizational culture.

Yet we rarely talk about why lack of engagement is preventing us from solving the most pressing issues of our time.

People do not operate in a vacuum.  There isn’t a special team of highly motivated people operating independently to solve world problems.  We live in a capitalistic system.  This is a good thing.  The innovations that enable the automobile, the airplane, groundbreaking disease research, and a global electronic system to connect with each other on handheld devices during a crisis, were not created by an off site task force of do-gooders.  These breakthroughs occurred within the construct of capitalism because highly engaged people cared enough to put forth their best effort.

The energy of our people is our greatest untapped resource.  Imagine if every organization, large or small, tripled their employee engagement.  What if instead of 32% engagement, every organization had 96% engagement?

What would we invent?  What kind of progress could we make on climate change?  How much better prepared would we be to dismantle the hatred of terrorism?  What systems would we create to tackle poverty?

Sadly, employee engagement scores mirror student engagement scores.  In the 5th grade, 75% of students are considered engaged in their schoolwork.  In late high school, only 34% are considered engaged, almost identical to the 32% of the workforce that is engaged.

Think about that.  Three-quarters of our people are fully engaged when they’re ten.  Yet, by high school, two-thirds of our population (mentally) checks out and they never return.  They spend their days simply going through the motions.  At what level should we be OK with this?

Is it any wonder we still have big problems?  How can you solve anything when only a third of our people are engaged?

Our lack of employee engagement is the single biggest crisis facing our world because it’s hindering our ability to solve any other crises.  It’s not a problem that’s going to be solved with more accountability measures, rigorous testing, or even employee surveys.

So how do we solve it?

First, stop testing and tracking, and start inspiring.  Think about organizations where people actually are engaged.  What do they talk about?  It’s not production numbers; people need an inspiring end game.

Next, study the psychology of buy-in, and culture.  Engagement is not just a fluffy nice to have.  Building a rocket ship requires discrete intricate steps; engaged organizations are no different.  There are three elements of a culture.

  1. Language
  2. Belief systems
  3. Tradition

If we want to get serious about solving big problems, we must start at the source: people.  Winning hearts and minds requires recruiting all the people who have checked out.

Full engagement. Imagine the possibilities.