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Self Discipline: The Missing Piece of the Employee Engagement Puzzle

employee engagement self discipline

There’s a problem with Millennials. As employees they are disengaged more than ever before. There’s a problem with employers. As leaders they are still using the traditional carrot and stick / reward and punishment approach of improving employee engagement and it  just doesn't work anymore. 

The workplace has changed and the worker of today has a different set of values and a different agenda: they need to be intrinsically motivated to work. We now have a square peg and a round hole.

Employer and employee are scrambling to work out this motivation puzzle. The truth is most are chasing their tails in a circle because they are missing a key piece of knowledge: the relationship between motivation and self discipline.

Until both employer and employee understand this, all other efforts to improve employee engagement will likely fail.

Understand this and you will see employees go from apathetic to activated.

First, it’s critical for your business growth that you understand the employee engagement situation that is unique to 2017/18.

Something is not working.

The bulk of the workforce is unhappy being at work. Look at the Gallup State of the American Workplace Report 2017. The American workforce has more than 100 million full-time employees. 33% of those employees are what Gallup calls engaged at work. They love their jobs and make their organization and America better every day.

At the other end, 16% of employees are actively disengaged — they are miserable in the workplace and destroy what the most engaged employees build. The remaining 51% of employees are not engaged — they’re just there. These figures indicate a Western World leadership philosophy that simply doesn’t work anymore.

And only about one in five say their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work. Employees feel rather indifferent about their job and the work they are being asked to do. Organizations are not giving them compelling reasons to stay, so it should come as no surprise that most employees (91%) say the last time they changed jobs, they left their company to do so.

Underlying all of this is an evolving employee attitude about what a job should and should not be.

Most workers, many of whom are millennials, approach a role and a company with a highly defined set of expectations. They want their work to have meaning and purpose. They want to use their talents and strengths to do what they do best every day. They want to learn and develop. They want their job to reflect their life.

The Global Human Capital Trends 2015: Leading in the new world of work report is one of the largest-ever longitudinal global talent studies. The research involved surveys and interviews with more than 3,300 business and HR leaders from 106 countries.

Engagement is the single most important issue facing organisations in 2015 with a staggering 87% of respondents believing the issue is “important” with a further 50% citing the problem at “very important”.


Employees aren’t engaged and they aren’t impressed with their leaders.

Gallup found that employees have little belief in their leaders.

• 22% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization has a clear direction for the organization.

• 15% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization makes them enthusiastic about the future.

• 13% of employees strongly agree the leadership of their organization communicates effectively with the rest of the organization.

The Global Human Capital Trends reports high-performing organisations are investing 1.5 to 2 times more on leadership than other organisations and are reaping triple or quadruple results over their competitors. The roughly third of companies doing this are getting a strong edge in the market. The key to an organization’s growth has been and always will be its workforce.

You Can’t Just Go On Being The Boss Any Longer

There is a definite shift in the balance of power in the employer-employee relationship, making employees more like customers or partners than subordinates and more than half of today’s workforce is now made up of millennials whose expectations are vastly different from those of previous generations.

It’s time to look for better ways

It’s time to switch from a culture of “employee satisfaction” — which only measures things like how much workers like their perks and benefits — to a “coaching culture.”

It’s time to change from a culture of “paycheck” to a culture of “purpose.”

It’s time to get acquainted with Intrinsic Motivation

A Brief History of Motivation

In Drive (2009), Daniel Pink describes the characteristics of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. He reveals that many companies rely on extrinsic motivation, even though this is often counterproductive.

What is extrinsic motivation? It’s often called the Carrot and Stick approach. Reward and punishment. It’s simply not working anymore.

Intrinsic motivation, the feeling the comes from purpose and fulfilment, drives the modern workforce.


The science and research and roles models for Motivation 3.0 is overwhelming but businesses are reluctant to change.

Though the evidence against this method exists in dwindling productivity and lower rates of efficiency, organizations are still convinced that extrinsic reward programs are the answer to employee motivation.

The Gallup organization estimates, based on surveys of about 17,000,000 employees, that over 300 billion dollars a year is paid for lost productivity.

• ”Actively disengaged employees erode an organization's bottom line while breaking the spirits of colleagues”.

• organizations that are globally successful have a ratio of 8:1 for engaged employees disengaged employees.

• average businesses have a ratio of about 1:2 for the same ratio. That means for every engaged worker, two are not.

Source: www.gallup.com/consulting/52/Employee-Engagement.aspx

Regardless of whether we are scientists, cashiers or mechanics, we are far more dedicated to our work when allowed self-determination. Some people wish to have more of a say in their working hours, others in the way in which the team is composed. If an employee is allowed these freedoms, they develop a greater potential for achievement, are more contented in their job, and are less inclined to burn out. In short, self-determination contributes positively to motivation.

It Is Right About Here That Businesses Ask The Wrong Question

This situation is real. We cannot just do nothing. Based upon compelling evidence that traditional leadership strategies are mainly ineffective for a 2017/18 workforce, the logical question to ask is how do we get our employees to be intrinsically motivated? However asking this question will stall your progress.

The question to ask is how do you get a self disciplined workforce?

Trying to find the motivation to start any new undertaking is flawed. Motivation doesn’t work that way. If you’re waiting for motivation to lift you up in it’s wings so you can soar onwards and upwards, your’e going be waiting a long time. Suggesting that people try and motivate themselves into starting is wrong. It’s unfair. It’s advice that can keep good and earnest and capable people from starting something that could have been really good in their lives. I call this the motivation myth.

Here’s the simple truth. I’ve lived this and seen it with others literally hundreds, maybe even a thousand times.

Motivation is not the starting point. The two D’s are. Desire and discipline.

If you are lucky you may wake up one day with a burning desire a desire to change from you current situation somehow you just feel driven to act. That sort of desire is pretty rare.

The successful people I have met all know that it starts with discipline. We have to learn how to cultivate this discipline so we start taking the necessary steps. One after the other. It’s only now that the elusive motivation starts to peek around the curtains from where it’s been hiding because what happens after many steps is you’ll reach a tipping point . This is where you start to see results from everything you’ve been doing and you get the first hint of success. This might just work”. I can see it all coming together no. It’s looking better than I thought. It’s now that motivation appears.

Progress and tangible results are the beginnings. This is the fuel of motivation. Here’s the best bit. This is the magic of motivation. Motivation is an anaesthetic for hard work.

Here’s the simple truth. I’ve lived this and seen it with others literally hundreds, maybe even a thousand times.

The Unstoppable Self Discipline Engine


The harder you apply yourself the more results you see. The more results you see means the more motivation you get. The more motivation you get means more anaesthetic to numb the hard work and this cycle repeats and repeats until you become an unstoppable engine.

The heart of the employee engagement problem

At the heart of the problem is a childlike belief that we should only do the things we feel like doing that somehow we need to be in certain state of mind to achieve something and that it’s ‘motivation’ that will provide us with this all important feeling.

 Well that’s just fantasy and that’s why we grow up and go on to develop a more nuts and bolts mature approach to getting things done also known as discipline. Discipline by it’s very nature separates your actions from your moods and feelings. So discipline separates the outside world from your inner world.

It takes away the crippling connection between needing to feel good and the need to get something done.

This sort of sums it up “stop your whining and get on with it and while you’re at it stop being a big princess about it. The whole irony is just the simple action of getting the task done creates the ‘feel good feelings’ you’ve been trying to find all along. Remember motivation comes after desire and discipline so that feel good frame of mind you were looking for comes only after you start.

If getting things done were dependant on feelings the world would grind to a halt.

It’s the successful completing of things that brings on that wonderful mental state called motivation. The more you complete tasks, the more you get the buzz that you were looking for in the first place. So the bottom line is if you wait until you ‘feel’ like doing something it’s never going to happen.

"Imagine being free then having rules imposed upon you - by someone - that shackle you. That is discipline. Now imagine the opposite. Imagine being shackled then having rules imposed upon you - by yourself - that set you free. That is self discipline." - Julian Mather

Self discipline is an employees ticket up

Cultivating a culture of self disciplined employees is key. But just who is responsible for making this happen?

Employees need to live up to their end of the deal.

It’s not enough for a new generation of employees to demand they want to be heard, that they want to feel motivated and driven by purpose. They need to rise to meet the challenge. Employers need to create the environment but employees must be ready to roll their sleeves up and make this new paradigm work. How do we do that? That sounds like we are back to square one. Far from it. We bring in our old friend self interest.

“In the racecourse of life, back self interest. If nothing else you always know self interest will be trying hard” - Paul Keating, former Australian Prime Minister

The great thing about self discipline is that YOU WIN. Most of the successful people on the planet are all living proof of this. Most successful people are neither gifted or connected. They have entered into the pact with self discipline. The pact is simple: play by the rules and you win.

What are these rules? I call them beats. There are six of them. The six beats of self discipline: time, discomfort, un-learning, decisions, systems, opportunity.

“Self discipline is the drum beat of success, the heart beat of personal growth and the counter beat of instant gratification. Follow the beat” - Julian Mather

Employees learn and live the simple compounding math of self discipline.

Self discipline is also simple compounding math. Small deposits of self discipline - daily - into a person’s behaviour account turns their outlook around, can completely change their view about the work they do and suddenly make goals that were out of reach realistically within their grasp.

The Six Beats of Self discipline is very much a way of life, a code you choose to live by. Self discipline wears everyday clothes. No need to dress in robes and live on a mountainside. You can drink, you can curse, you can binge watch Netflix, just not all the time. You choose when and where because you are the master in these relationships. Self discipline puts you in the driver’s seat. The corollary of this is you can no longer be a passenger in life. Which is why a business of self disciplined employees gets further ahead. Everyone is suddenly rowing.

Common employee problems will start to fix themselves and go away.

• wasting company time

• abusing the internet

• overly long breaks

• miss-management of schedule

• not learning best practices

• tardiness

• lack of effort

• lack of respect

• gossip

• interpersonal conflict

• can’t take feedback

Nobody hates workplace discipline more than those that are forced into having to dole it out. For management, performing disciplinary tasks are time consuming, awkward, personally taxing, and carry a huge opportunity cost. However, the need for disciplinary action can be reduced by getting ahead of the problem through investment as a preventative measure, and with exponentially better return compared to the alternative. Or as my Dad used to say, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’

Applying the Six Beats of Self Discipline To Your Business

The Six Beats of Self Discipline is like sanding before painting. If you skip the preparation the topcoat lifts in no time all. Properly prepared everything else sticks.

The one thing employers cannot do is nothing. They cannot wait for trends to pass them by, and they cannot wait for millennials to get older and start behaving like baby boomers. That won’t happen. This workforce isn’t going to acclimate to the status quo. Businesses have nowhere to hide. They have to adapt to the needs of the modern workforce, or they will find themselves struggling to attract and keep great employees and therefore customers.

The Six Beats Training Program gets employees from APATHETIC to ACTIVATED

Are you ready to grow your people and grow your business? 


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