Jullien Gordon on Improving Employee Engagement Practices

In Chapter 20 of 21 in his 2012 Capture Your Flag interview, business coach Jullien Gordon answers "How are You Helping Corporations Improve Employee Engagement Practices?"  Gordon notes how in his personal life, he learned you cannot get engaged (to be married) until you ask the question.  He applies this philosophy helping corporate clients understand their employees and their goals after the hiring decision.  This improves the onboarding process and raises employee engagement at work.  Jullien Gordon is a high performance coach and consultant to organizations, individuals and teams who want to increase employee performance, motivation, engagement and retention.  He earned a BA from UCLA, an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and a Masters of Education from Stanford University.


Erik Michielsen: How are you helping corporations improve employee engagement practices?

Jullien Gordon: Well, I just got engaged October of 2011, and you can’t get engaged until you ask the question. And so that’s why I always start with a question, right? Oftentimes, we get into organizations and we commit before we even know if we’re engaged, and employers have to know that for the first six months to a year, an employee is not necessarily committed, they’re really just feeling it out because they chose this because you recruited on campus or it was the most available thing to them, not necessarily it was the best thing for them yet.

So they’re still in an exploration phase. And so in order to get someone engaged, you have to ask them the right questions, and the right questions include: What are you passionate about? And how are you exercising that, or how can you bring that to what you do on a daily basis? What problems do you see for our customers, or our clients, or our colleagues, or the company in general that you may want to solve that is actually valuable? Who is it that you really serve within the context of the organization? And, again, how do you define success, personally and professionally?

Those are some of the right questions that employers need to ask their employees in order to understand who they are because the greatest depression that we have in this economic environment is the gap between who we are and what we do. That’s the greatest depression. And to the extent that we can get people to bring more of who they are to what they do, the more likely you’re gonna have higher engagement and presence in the workplace. And so that’s how I help employers actually navigate that space is by asking the right questions so that they can increase career presence ‘cause a lot of employers are actually paying full-time salaries for part-time presence, right? They have somebody who’s already quit but stayed, right? And so this is not necessarily because the person hates what they do, it may be because they hate how it’s being done, why they’re doing it, or who they’re doing it for.

Erik Michielsen: That’s a great point. And you also in our past interviews mentioned underemployment being such a big challenge in today’s job market. And one of the things we often forget is that to solve underemployment doesn’t mean you have to change jobs, sometimes you need to tweak the job you’re already in.

Jullien Gordon: Exactly. So a lot of times, especially for employees, they think that the first thing to do, when there’s a gap between who they are and what they do is to change what they do. But then they change what they do and no more of who they are is actually in that next thing and they still feel the same gap, so they just jumped from the frying pan to the fire, right? And so if we actually figure out how to bring more of who we are to what we do, then that gap is closed and you feel more present in the work that you do. There’s nothing wrong with being an investment banker but perhaps because of the reason you’re doing it, how you’re doing it, who you’re doing it for, if you take that same person and you put them in Kiva, and all of a sudden they’re doing it for small entrepreneurs in developing countries and they’re doing it for a social cause and they’re not doing it for money, all of a sudden that person feels fully alive yet they’re still doing the same thing, there’s no difference between someone who’s financing entrepreneurs at Kiva and a venture capitalist or investment banker, it’s just a different scale, a different type of customer and a different process in terms of how the work gets done.

And so oftentimes it’s not about changing what you do or changing the job, that may be the second step, first we need to ask ourselves, how can I bring more of who I am to what I do? Because there’s thousands of people who do exactly what you do. There’s thousands of lawyers. There’s thousands of bankers. There’s thousands of consultants. So you’re great at what you do, so are they. What makes you different is who you are and how you bring that into what you do. And so you have your position and you have your presence, and what a lot of people are lacking is they’re good at their position but they’re not bringing their presence or their extra who-am-I to what they do.