What’s Engagement, Really?
There is a lot of talk about engagement these days, and rightfully so because it is a key to well-being, productivity and therefore profitability. But a considerable amount of the discussion centers on whether or not the office is laid out like Google or the job is truly meaningful to people.
I hope your job is meaningful, but frankly, having the money to provide for yourself or for your family is pretty meaningful. Also, if you have finished college and moved back home, I can assure you a job is incredibly meaningful to your parents.
What is more, it is meaningful, even if it does not alter the course of western civilization.
In these conversations about engagement and meaning, I hope you have a mentor who can enrich your life with wisdom and experience.
For me, one of those individuals is Joseph Duda, the former chairman and CEO of A. Duda and Sons and the visionary behind the Viera community. Joseph has been a wealth of business knowledge and ethical leadership that have guided my business partner, Jeff, and me for years.
The Crop Whisperer
Recently over breakfast, the three of us were discussing employee engagement and the need for everyone in our organization to think like an owner. We had observed a growing tendency to dismiss responsibility with, “That’s not my problem,” or “It’s five o’clock; I realize this project just jumped the tracks and is a train wreck, but I’ll get on it first thing tomorrow.”
After listening for a few minutes, Joseph looked up from his eggs and grits, shook his head and commented, “When I went to work in the agriculture business, the first thing I was told was, ‘The crop is the boss.’” Meaning if there was too much rain and the pumps had to be turned on, it did not matter if it was 2 a.m. and you were in bed or it was Saturday night and you were getting ready to pick up your date. The crop did not care about your weekend plans or if you were not “feeling it” right then.
Jeff and I looked at each other. Then Jeff recalled, “When I was growing up my father was the chief financial officer for Lykes Brothers,” the huge Florida-based farming, cattle and shipping concern. “When the temperature dipped into the low 30s or high 20s, everyone was out in the grove, from the pickers to the C-suite execs, putting out smudge pots (oil burning heaters) to save the crop. There was no question about where they would be.”
Houston, We Have A Problem
I also was flooded with a memory, but it was a far cry from orange groves or celery crops, although perhaps not that far because the response was the same. My father was an engineer at Kennedy Space Center, and in 1970 he was part of the team that attempted the third lunar landing in history — Apollo 13.
Frankly, at that time the world was no longer focusing on this incredible human achievement, but instead on an unpopular war in southeast Asia. Then it happened … an oxygen tank exploded, and it looked like three Americans would be hurled forever into the vastness of space. Suddenly, everyone was glued to the TV as anchor Walter Cronkite explained the situation. What I remember most was that my father did not come home from work for four days.
Dad was trying to save lives, but Joseph’s and Jeff’s fathers were trying to save the life of their business, which also meant the livelihood of scores of people. That is what engagement really is, a mindset that says, “It matters, because it is my responsibility.”
In that, there is great meaning. ◆
On April 11, 1970, Apollo 13 lifted off for the moon with Commander Jim Lovell, Command Module Pilot Jack Swigert and Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise aboard. Two days later, with the spacecraft well on its way to the moon, an oxygen tank exploded, scrubbing the lunar landing and putting the crew in jeopardy.
Working with Mission Control in Houston, the crew used their lunar module as a “lifeboat,” and even rigged an adapter so that a command module “air scrubber” would work in the lunar module, preventing a dangerous buildup of carbon dioxide.
The mission ended safely when the crew splashed down on April 17, 1970, but its “can-do” spirit lives on at NASA. – Source: NASA