Book Review – The Truth about Employee Engagement, by Patrick Lencioni

Patrick Lencioni, in his typical fable-style, demonstrates would-be real life application of principles which apply to organizations across sectors, cultures and contexts.  Employee Engagement, as a concept, is a focal point on the rise these days, and for good reason.

Following the fictional character, Brian Bailey, through three organizational moves, the reader gets to witness the transformation of these companies each grows, not through the typical business school methods, but through the ministry of management.

First at JMJ, a fitness equipment company which Bailey serves as the CEO, employee engagement was high, but mostly accidentally.  Bailey led the company according to his personality, caring for his team as people first. When they decided to sell the company, Bailey was taken aback as potential suitors gave little if any attention to the actual health of the organization.  All that was seen was the bottom line – profits – which were good, but Bailey wanted them to value the company not just on on the profits, but, at least from his estimation, on why the bottom line was as good as it was. He believed it was because how much employees loved their jobs.  Others didn’t agree.

Upon retirement to the Lake Tahoe area, Bailey stumbles upon a struggling independent Italian restaurant, called Gene and Joe’s.  Bailey notices that not only is the company is disarray, but that the employees are miserable. Is this why the restaurant is failing?  Could he take his success at JMJ, apply the same principles and reproduce the results to this small business? He believes so; others think he’s crazy.  Why would a successful CEO jump into a fast-food restaurant? He had his reasons. He wanted to prove to others, and most importantly, to himself, that JMJ wasn’t a fluke.  So he jumps in with three principles in mind in regards to employee engagement that he believes will turn this company – or any other – around. These principles are: Anonymity, Irrelevance and Immeasurement.

Anonymity – that all people (who are also employees) want to be known.  

Irrelevance – that all people have an innate need to have a positive impact on others, and that their work and lives matter.  

Immeasurement – that all people want to know that, at the end of the day, they grew and can visibly track their performance.  

The results, while surprising to everyone else, proved Bailey’s hypothesis.  And they may have even surprised Bailey himself. What he thought was true, and wanted to be true, apparently was.  And not only at JMJ and Gene and Joe’s. After a few short months, his old friend Rick Simpson called with another opportunity, this time at a much larger firm, Desert Mountain Sports, a chain retailer in the outdoor sports industry.  Applying the same principles as he did at Gene and Joe’s, (and JMJ) the results were the same. The common denominator? People.

In an age were successful business leaders are leaving corporate jobs to pursue jobs in value-based industry with meaning and purpose – such as churches and nonprofits – Lencioni demonstrates that sector doesn’t matter.  Every sector contains people, where managers can, and should add value and purpose. Why not just serve people where you already are? His closing paragraph drives it home:

“And so I suppose the real shame is not that more people aren’t working in positions of service to others, but that so many managers haven’t yet realized that they already are” (page 254).

If you’re a manager, or an employee at any level in any organization, looking to make a difference, grab a copy of The Truth about Employee Engagement, by Patrick Lencioni (also published under another title, The Three Signs of a Miserable Job).

Want some help?  Give me a shout.


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