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Best Books to Buy: “Otherwise Engaged” by John Guaspari - GoLeanSixSigma.com

This month’s book is Otherwise Engaged: How Leaders Can Get a Firmer Grip on Employee Engagement and Other Key Intangibles by John Guaspari.

About the Book:
"Otherwise Engaged" by John Guaspari - GoLeanSixSigma.com

“Engagement is not a series of activities – it’s a feeling state in which people exist.”

Otherwise Engaged addresses the issue of why employee engagement efforts so often fail. To get at the underlying causes John Guaspari uses a deft combination of satire along with a serious contemplation of solipsism.

Had to look that up, didn’t you? (Definition: Extreme preoccupation with and indulgence of one’s feelings, desires, etc.) No worries, Mr. Guaspari uses that term precisely because we don’t know it. His focus is on how we use words and what they mean to us which is part of what makes Otherwise a great exploration of the impact of organizational self-centeredness on what he describes as the “Intangibles”:

  • Engagement
  • Empowerment
  • Trust
  • Respect

…and he does it with an easy wit and airtight logic.

A Thoughtful Exploration

The format alternates between visits with the hapless Wilson Family, who try to apply business surveys and family “break out sessions” in order to improve the family’s sense of Engagement with serious reflections on how one might truly address the intangibles.

As the image of PowerPoint decks, whiteboards and Post-it notes in the family kitchen might suggest, this well-meaning family is a cautionary tale. But visits with the Wilsons are fun and set the stage for the more thoughtful explorations of these hard-to-grasp organizational goals.

Although Mr. Guaspari is well versed in the process improvement world, he recognizes the folly of trying to increase organizational levels of “Empowerment” by putting “the best Six Sigma people on it.” He makes great observations about how words like “Engagement” and “Empowerment” have come to be overused and often miss the point.

You can’t just tell people they’re empowered because, “Empowerment is a feeling of safety.” You can’t tell people to feel safe — you have to create an environment in which they fear no repercussions for taking action and speaking up.

You can’t tell people to feel safe — you have to create an environment in which they fear no repercussions for taking action and speaking up.

But creating that feeling of safety is hard to put into an action plan. Instead, the business world is steeped in well-intentioned efforts to attend to the “Intangibles.” Most of us are familiar with the satisfaction surveys, off-sites, employee appreciation days and endless supplies of mugs, hats, key chains and those “Company Values” posters that curl and yellow as they fade into the scenery of conferences rooms.

A New Perspective

Some of the most powerful parts of Otherwise include definitions for these overused words. One such segment covers “Trust & Respect” which, he laments, have “become inextricably intertwined — like Salt & Pepper or Gin & Tonic.”

He separates the two and defines Trust as “a feeling of confident expectation,” and defines Respect as “giving due consideration to the other.” These are simple and direct but what is especially relevant is his differentiation of how to approach the two: “Trust should not be given presumptively, but it can be earned. Respect should be given presumptively but can be lost.” Take a moment to absorb that because it’s true.

Trust should not be given presumptively, but it can be earned. Respect should be given presumptively but can be lost.

He rightly points out that, “Separating ‘the people stuff’ from ‘running the business’ represents a false distinction.” He makes a great case for taking the people side of the business seriously since that’s where he sees today’s business edge. Once the U.S. (finally) embraced the teachings of Drs. Deming and Juran organizations gradually included TQM, then Just-In-Time and now Lean Six Sigma into their corporate cultures.

It began with manufacturing processes but now it’s fully embraced in the transactional world and spans healthcare, government and education. Reducing waste and defects are part of any mature organizational strategy. It’s a “gimme.” But, he asks, “What are low survey scores related to the Intangibles but defects?”

To address these “defects,” his call to action hinges on Respect. He includes well-reasoned guidelines for leaders but there is beautiful simplicity in “giving due consideration to the other.”

Simple but not easy since instead of the knee-jerk reaction of adding things like the required “break-out sessions” to offsite meetings, it begs harder questions such as, “Given the meeting’s attendee list — who they are, what’s important to them, what will resonate with them – how should the meeting be structured to ensure that it yields the results I’m after?” That’s a call to more action.

Engaged Employees Make Process Improvement Happen

Lean Six Sigma Leaders take note: How often have you seen great projects and sound solutions fail due to lack of Engagement? Every problem solver or team lead learns the hard way that the “soft stuff” is actually pretty tough.

Conducting a 5S might seem simple but how often does it turn into a (quasi-annual) 3S because of a lack of Engagement? How many problem solvers are frustrated because their colleagues don’t feel safe even acknowledging process issues? Finding out what’s important to stakeholders is key and just asking is a sign of respect.

Finding out what’s important to stakeholders is key and just asking is a sign of respect.

John Guaspari has written many entertaining and enlightening business books — I think of him as the “Dave Barry” of the business world. But he gets at a serious issue here. Most of us have been the recipients of tchotchkes with company slogans but the unspoken question is, “Why should I care?” Otherwise makes a great case for tending to that question by beginning with the daily act of respecting others. Not a bad place to start.

About the Author:

For over thirty years, John Guaspari has helped leaders take on the challenge of being more effective at attending to Employee Engagement and the rest of the critical Intangibles — i.e., Empowerment, Trust, Respect — in order to leverage the full potential of their workforce. His latest book, Otherwise Engaged: How Leaders Can Get a Firmer Grip on Employee Engagement and Other Key Intangibles, was selected by Leadership & Management Books as one of “2015’s top 5 Leadership Books.”

He is the author of six previous books on this and related topics, including the best-selling I Know It When I See It, and The Customer Connection. In addition, John was the writer/co-producer of seven best-selling training videos, including Time: The Next Dimension of Quality and The Value Effect. He has also written hundreds of articles and columns, consulted with corporate clients in scores of industries, and delivered some 1,500 customer-value/intangibles-related keynote speeches, seminars, and workshops for both public and client-specific audiences.

Practical Tools and Concepts Covered:

  • Leadership
  • Employee Engagement
  • Empowerment
  • Trust
  • Respect
  • Values

Who Should Read Otherwise Engaged?

From the Page:

“[Respect] begets Trust. Trust begets Empowerment. Empowerment begets Engagement. Engagement begets a greater return on your investment in human capital. A greater return on your investment in human capital begets a better financial ROI for your shareholders. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to work?”


Check out our Amazingly Awesome List for more book reviews as well as a comprehensive list of Lean Six Sigma and process improvement books!

Elisabeth Swan

Elisabeth is a Managing Partner & Executive Advisor at GoLeanSixSigma.com. For over 25 years, she's helped leading organizations like Amazon, Charles Schwab and Starwood Hotels & Resorts build problem-solving muscles with Lean Six Sigma to achieve their goals.