Linking Personal Stories to Employee Engagement

By George Dutch

Ken’s Story

Like many young adults, Ken made a “practical and realistic” career choice, and entered the work force with technical skills that were in high demand by employers. He landed a job as a software tester in a large company during the hi-tech boom…and got stuck there.


Ken was reliable, dependable, and competent at his job, one that provided the stability and security that he needed in his 20s to get married and start a family. Before Ken made his practical career choice, he spent hours as a child and teen drawing and designing cars, planes, airports, museums, and once won a prize for a model home he built for a school project about homes of the future. It wasn’t building the model that stimulated Ken, rather it was telling his classmates about the new smart technologies that would revolutionize home construction and convenience.


Early in his career as a software tester, Ken was asked by his employer to attend a trade show and work as a technical lead. He setup the network on site, then provided demos to prospects. He loved it! “I enjoyed the process of showing our products to clients, and answering their questions. The one-on-one interaction with people was the best part of the trip. I felt comfortable talking to people because I wasn't trying to sell anything. I was happy just describing what our products could do, and how they could help our clients.”


He never got another chance to his favorite works. In his words, "I was not able to use my natural talents and abilities as a software tester which made me bored, frustrated and unmotivated," he says. "I felt a loss of control in terms of my career direction."


Ken decided that the only way to escape his job dissatisfaction was to accumulate enough wealth so that he could afford to quit. He started reading everything he could about financial investing. But once he mastered the technique, he found that he loved talking to people about it more than actually investing. He could explain the concepts in plain English and people understood. “I taught people how to invest and felt a sense of satisfaction in teaching somebody something new." Ken was putting more time into sharing his investing activities than into his role as a software tester.


Helping Unmotivated Employees Before They Exit


There are dozens of Kens in every organization, highly valued employees who no longer “fit” in their jobs for one reason or another, and feel they have hit a ceiling with their current employer. Still competent, and exhibiting no significant performance problems, they are unmotivated, and many of them are developing an exit strategy. What can employers do to increase employee engagement for the Kens in their organizations and how can career practitioners help?


Career development professionals can train HR professionals and managers to listen to stories. We live in a narrative or story-telling culture. Stories are all around us in newspapers, magazines, comics, sacred texts, books, movies, on radio and television, and more recently in social media through blogs and vlogs.


But, the most valuable and useful stories employers can ever hear are right under their noses--the life stories of their employees contain a treasure-trove of information that can be harnessed to develop talent and engage employees in a way that will payoff professionally for the individuals, and in profitable terms for their employer. Career practitioners can help managers and HR staff to:



How the Process Worked for Ken

Ken met with a career development professional, who helped him focus on times in his life when he was doing things that he found particularly enjoyable or consistently satisfying, especially outside of work. The career coach helped Ken write stories about these events to identify and define his key success factors. He remembered the contribution he made at the tradeshow, and came to understand that they were part of a motivational pattern that could be harnessed to corporate goals and objectives. Ken then realized he did not have to leave his employer. He could make the case for how his unique skill set and motivations could benefit his employer if he moved out of his current role.


The pattern was evident in Ken from an early age: he wanted to comprehend how things work, demonstrate to himself that he understood by designing and building a working model, then communicate to people his understanding by teaching them how things work. When Ken mapped his motivational pattern for his key success factors, he got a clear picture of the disparity between what he was required to do and what he was motivated to do.


Required to do: Motivated to do:
Technical Specialist Technical Generalist
Work in Isolation Work with Team
Bench work w/tools Creative Work w/idea
Process Product
Follow procedures Start from scratch
Test & Repair Design & Build
No Communication Influence Others
No Audience Viewers & listeners


Ken and his career coach reviewed the operations of Ken’s employer to analyze which corporate goals best fit with Ken’s motivational pattern. Product marketing was a very good fit. They approached the marketing manager to outline Ken’s value proposition. Ken was given a special assignment to verify his abilities: to develop and deliver live training sessions for a new company product. He passed with flying colors! He was hired into the Product Management department, and now works as a Product Delivery Specialist.


Resulting Engagement and Retention


This was truly a win-win situation for both employee and employer. Ken’s talents were developed into a new role where he now makes a significant contribution to the organization; and, his employer now has a more effective process for hiring the right candidate for the right reasons into a technical specialist role---increasing the likelihood of employee engagement and retention in both cases.




George DutchGeorge Dutch is a career coach and talent developer who specializes in employee engagement. He is the author of JobJoy: Finding Your Right Work through the Power of Your Personal Story, and principal of a career firm by the same name for 20 years. You can reach him at 1-800-798-2696, or george@jobjoy.com

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