Marshall Goldsmith: Employees should take more responsibility for their own engagement


An interesting and valuable argument. Motivated employees can truly help create a virtuous circle for engagement.

Read More Sharon Evans
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Employees need to make more of an effort to be engaged, according to coaching guru Marshall Goldsmith

Employees should take more responsibility for their own engagement, according to influential HR thinker and executive coach Marshall Goldsmith.

Goldsmith, who is adjunct professor of business administration at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business and listed number 21 on the HR Most Influential Thinkers ranking, was speaking at the HR Directors Business Summit in Birmingham.

“A hundred per cent of employee engagement dialogue is focused on ‘what is the company doing to engage you?’” he said. “There’s nothing on what the employee needs to do to engage themselves. You are missing half of the equation. The difference is on the inside [of the individual].”

To illustrate his point, Goldsmith used the example of taking a flight where one flight attendant was engaged and happy and one was “cynical and miserable”. “They have the same uniform, the same pay and the same employee engagement programme,” he pointed out.

“Companies should do whatever they can to engage employees, but it should be a two-way street and employees should take responsibility for engagement themselves,” he added.

Goldsmith advised HR professionals to ask “active” rather than “passive” questions around engagement, as passive questions that receive a negative response encourage the individual to blame the environment rather than think about how they might change their own behaviour for the better.

He encouraged the audience to ask themselves six active questions every day:

  1. Did I do my best to be happy?
  2. Did I do my best to find meaning?
  3. Did I do my best to be fully engaged?
  4. Did I do my best to build positive relationships?
  5. Did I do my best to set clear goals?
  6. Did I do my best to make progress towards goal achievement?

“You can’t control the ‘triggers’ that come your way,” he said, “but you can control your reaction to them and your behaviours.”


An interesting and valuable argument. Motivated employees can truly help create a virtuous circle for engagement.


I agree with the sentiment expressed in the article. People are responsible for their own demeanour and feelings. Many people are only too happy to blame the firm or the culture and expect it to change rather than them change. It is true that some companies are poorly run, the managers have no 'soft-skills' at all or no skills, come to that. Perhaps the business is run like a slave ship or people are not acknowledged for their contribution. Whatever the negative side is how we react to it is our responsibility; our choice. When we realise that we can see clearly that it is not the environment we work in making us un-engaged or miserable etc., but ourselves - we are doing it, we choose to. Unfortunately, there are any number of people, organisations, books and the like that push the mantra that it is not our fault but the company's and so we happily point the finger of blame demanding that they do something that is totally in our control. We need to mature, take responsibility for ourselves and stop expecting others to make up for our shortfall.


Certainly employees need to take on responsibility, but the main reason isn't presented here, and it's a critical one. Companies do NOT have under their control the variables that cause engagement, which is why attempts to increase it have failed. See Herzberg Applied To Employee Engagement Explains Why Companies Can't Raise Employee Engagement


I am so very happy Marshall Goldsmith Sir.. You have vindicated what I have always been telling... Employee Engagement is and shall always be an inside job.. I recall I have put several comments on various forums on this subject.. In India elders would often appreciate a youngster by saying: Man Lagaa Kay Kaam Karta or Karti hai.. Which when translated means : Works by putting his/her heart in whatever one is doing.. Indeed engagement as you have rightly said is a matter of heart which is an inside job of course.. I think those who are truly engaged employees really do not look at the employer to give or do anything extra for them to work.. They are self-motivated.Companies would do well to sustain them by ensuring that they do not become targets of envy of others.. .If employee engagement had been an external influence then many a company would be doing a lot better.. And just to share - I did a little exercise on myself by asking those questions which you have explained in Triggers.. RS:)

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