Goal Tree chronicles – The hamster and the tree

Companies in nowadays competition need proactive and engaged people, yesteryear managers are expected to turn into leaders. Despite this general truth and the logical demonstration of required change, some managers just stick to their cosy routine: the hamsters.

In this post:

  • How a “hamster” manager refuses to embrace change required by robust logical analysis
  • At a certain point, dictating the next step is mandatory for company’s sake
  • The Goal Tree is hierarchy independent

The hamster

The scene takes place in a company in which I’ve spent a lot of time to carefully prepare the policy deployment with top management.

As so often, CEO and his C-suite had a clear overall idea where to drive the company for the five years to come, but they had only a vague slogan – and calling it slogan is a compliment – and a few numeral objectives ready. Nothing to overwhelm the lower level employees with confidence and motivation, on the contrary it’ll have all looked scary if communicated as it was.

First we (the consultants team) reworked the slogan and worked out details. I deliberately imposed the Goal Tree as structuring tool, first to my consultant staff, second to the client.

We started to clarify and restate the Goal. That exercise showed the C-suite how unprepared they were to communicate their plans. We spent a (long) time defining the Critical Success Factors and despite my insistence to keep only five or six of these high level objectives, the C-suite insisted on ten.

Once this was done, a presentation was made to management staff, and we (the consultants) went to see the next level of management to further explain the Goal Tree’s logic and ask managers to select the Necessary Conditions they knew/felt which needed improvement so they turn Green in my color status system (i.e. condition is constantly fulfilled).

I personally met one guy with a relatively high position and a long experience in the company. He was credited to be one of the company’s experts and one of the company’s pillars and probably among the opinion leaders.

During our face-to-face, what puzzled me most was his imperviousness towards the Goal Tree, or call it Policy Deployment / Hoshin Kanri principle. He managed to escape proposing anything, sticking to his “good soldier” posture and kept saying: just tell me what to do, I’ll adjust to it.

What a hamster he was!

The hamster is a category of employee as described in the BlessingWhite model of employee engagement.

>Learn more about “hamsters” >Learn more about “BlessingWhite model

This hamster (read manager) was typically enjoying the cosy comfort of his nest (read office) and saw no reason to add any annoyance to his routine. His position granted him some importance and the feeling that he was irreplaceable. While making believe he totally understood the threat of raising competition, all his attitude showed he didn’t care or expected to remain unscathed.

Yet he could not openly fight against the project, therefore he played obedient soldier even not wholeheartedly. “Just tell me what to do, I’ll adjust to it“. So disappointing from a manager at this level.

Not negotiable

The policy deployment was not an option and as it was obviously not possible to win this manager to the engaged camp, I made him clear what the next step was:

  • He had to explain to his staff the global project’s aim and background as well as the top of the Goal Tree (the company’s Goal and the top most objectives supporting its achievement)
  • As he couldn’t (didn’t want to) set contributing objectives for his department, he had to pass the ball directly to the next level and ask for meaningful contributions to achieve the Critical Success Factors directly linked to the department’s activity
  • These proposals must be filed into a standard format and will be reviewed by project’s steering committee for global alignment
  • He as manager was de facto accountable for the carrying out of the approved actions
  • One of the consultant will be present to facilitate the whole thing

This is not negotiable!

It may not be the best example of how to engage people, but in some conditions showing muscles and speaking in harsher tone is simply more effective and adequate.

At that moment I was the boss, empowered by the CEO and legitimate by my position as project leader on the consultant’s side.

The Goal Tree is hierarchy independent

Things went on as planned and the Goal Tree proved once again a robust and hierarchy-independent tool.

Even so the manager in charge of the department did not proactively (“reluctantly” would better fit the reality) support the cascading or “policy deployment”, the staff understood all the Goal Tree’s logic demonstrated, accepted the challenge and proposed relevant improvements.

Summing up

What does this story tell us?

  • (Goal Tree’s) Pure logic and rationality are sometimes powerless when facing emotional or cultural biases, often called “resistance to change”
  • Change management does not imply accepting any opposition as valid and trying to convert every opponent. At some point, “I am the boss” is an appropriate option
  • (Goal Tree’s) Pure logic and rationality often help to convert the mass to embrace the necessary change, even if some opinion leaders fight against it

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Beyond disengaged: actively disengaged

Disengaged employees are passionless and unmotivated about their job. They are at the lowest level for both own satisfaction and contribution to the organization’s goal / performance.

>Lisez cet article en français

There is another category known as “actively disengaged” that goes beyond the disengaged. Those employee are unhappy and unproductive at work and have negative mindset. What make them “active” is their inclination to spread negativity to coworkers.

In a French TedTalk, Isaac Getz describes actively disengaged as “people so unhappy that they come to work to demonstrate their unhappiness by taking up on engaged employees, just as a fox eating daily a chicken”. Conversely Isaac Gets describes engaged employees as chicken paid to lay white eggs but from their own initiative lay golden eggs.

The trouble with “actively disengaged” is their toxic mindset. Actively disengaged employees are often vocal or actively showing their negative attitude toward their work and their employer. They often speak about leaving and are more absent. They incline to undermine management’s authority and sabotage projects.

In the above video, Isaac Gets describes actively disengaged employees as those, in a boat, rowing purposely in the opposite direction, while simply disengaged pretend rowing but just lift the oars and splash a bit.

If actively disengaged employees cannot be recycled into engaged ones, the best solution is to get rid of them. This could help both the organization and themselves, as actively disengaged people are also often unhappy with their private lives. A new start may solve this problem as well.


Employee Engagement Model as self-assessment tool

In a previous post, I presented the Employee Engagement Model as guidelines for management. In this post I take the other side’s view (employee’s) and consider it as a self-assessment tool.


Regardless to position and job, everyone can self-assess his/her satisfaction/contribution level on a more or less arbitrary High/low scale. Of course this self-assessment is likely to be biased, but to remain meaningful, the following types of questions have to be answered as honestly as possible.

  • Am I contributing to my organization’s goal in the way, intensity and consistency expected?
  • If I was my boss, would I be satisfied with the contribution?
  • Am I sure to know what is expected from me? Is there a possibility I misunderstood or underestimated the expectation?
  • Have I any hint that my boss/organization is satisfied with my contribution? Conversely any hint they are not?

What is probably easier to assess is the satisfaction regarding personal goals:

  • Do I find satisfaction in my job? Always or only sometimes?
  • Would I rate it overall satisfactory?
  • Are job and personal life balanced?
  • Are (any form of) rewards consistent with the efforts I pay?

Confusing Crash and Burners with Hamsters

It may happen from time to time to experience a low in morale, feeling exhausted but giving so much to the organization. It looks like Crash and Burning, yet it may in reality be Hamster in a wheel, burning lot of energy for nothing.

In such situation it is important to check if the tasks and chores are important and urgent, necessary to organization’s goal achievement or something secondary.
I sometimes draw myself a small Goal Tree when I am afraid to lose focus or feel overwhelmed. The logical tree helps me to sort out the real necessary tasks from the nice-to-haves or other mismatched or misunderstood items.

>Read more about Hamsters and Crash and Burners

Confusing disengagement with fatigue

Another confusion may occur between disengagement and low motivation or fatigue. It is necessary to question the reality of lack of interest and involvement, but the answer may not come easy and sincere in a state of exhaustion. In any case, it is advisable to get a rest before assessing the position.
Once feeling fit again, if lack of motivation persists despite good physical condition and better spirit, the causes of the drop in motivation should be searched.

>Read more about the seemingly disengaged

Full engagement is the ideal state with maximum personal satisfaction and maximum contribution. Depending the result of the self-assessment, if the ideal state is not the current one, the question should be: what is the next step I can make to get me closer to engagement and/or what should I ask for to bring me closer to engagement?



The credit for BlessingWhite ‘X’ model of employee engagement goes to BlessingWhite.
I have no connections to BlessingWhite. Opinon, analysis and testimonies are all mine.

Employee Engagement Model as guidelines for management

The Employee Engagement Model provides a framework for understanding employee’s behaviors and the balance between contribution and satisfaction as well as guidelines for management.

For a manager, his team can be seen as a portfolio of resources who need differentiate care, depending on their engagement level.

Engaged need to be kept in their state as they are big contributors, reliable, motivated, committed and happy. There is little to do but it doesn’t mean there is nothing to do. Periodical feedback, involvement in unit management are generally goodies to them as well as a way to delegate some management tasks and lighten the manager’s burden.

Almost engaged can be turned into engaged if management finds out what is missing to. The challenge is to find out what make the almost engaged tick and not available or granted now. Taking care about the almost engaged is a little investment that can yield biggest return.

Crash and Burners are big contributors not finding their satisfaction. This category needs management attention to regain these people into almost engaged, ideally engaged. The investment may be higher than with almost engaged, but return on investment still makes it a good deal.

Honeymooners are happy people that must contribute more. The transition has to be smooth and smart to avoid misunderstanding or disappointment with too hard landing into reality. It would be a pity to lose their happiness. Setting objectives, expressing the manager’s expectations for short term and reviewing progress periodically adds a little positive stress. This should do.

Hamsters may show more resistance to change. They either enjoy cozy situation or believe in their big contribution while wasting energy on secondary or non-contributing tasks. Revealing the uselessness of their contribution may be a shock. I recommend a Honeymooner like approach made of a mixture of pedagogy and pressure to deliver.

Last come the disengaged, whose state of mind require deeper and custom analysis. I rate conversion failure rate higher for this category for two reasons:

  1. Disengaged may not want to engage again, depending on the reasons for their withdrawal
  2. Managers may not want to try to convert them, especially when managers are rookies or uneasy dealing with such problems.

In this latter case, senior management can be helpful backup.



The credit for BlessingWhite ‘X’ model of employee engagement goes to BlessingWhite.
I have no connections to BlessingWhite. Opinon, analysis and testimonies are all mine.

Disengaged? Really?

Before suspecting disengagement, it is wise to check if the employee’s behavior is not a low in motivation or fatigue than can be mistaken for disengagement.

Everybody can have a period of low motivation, be discouraged, worried or just tired. It should not negatively influence the job, but humans are humans with their ups and downs and it’s not that easy to let private trouble stay home.

A low in motivation is not necessarily a lack of interest and involvement but if it is, the latter probably are more consequences than causes.

To help this employee to recover, it is necessary to understand what is behind this mood. The best is letting him/herself express any grievances and frustrations. This first step, backed by management’s true listening and refraining from justifying or responding immediately, is very important. In most cases it lets the pressure out for calmer dialog and searching for solutions.

It sometimes happens that while verbalizing their trouble, people not only feel better but also find a way to overcome it or realize it isn’t all that bad.
Managers don’t have all the answers and solutions to everything but taking time to listen and take into account the employee’s trouble is a first step to improvement, showing empathy and respect.

Coaches use to ask the coached what simple step, in their opinion, could improve the situation? If the proposed step is really simple and acceptable, make it.

Periodical small meeting face to face, asking the employee to come up with the simple next step shows the manager’s attention and care but also that the manager is not going to take the burden all on his/her shoulders.

The suitable periodicity has to be found, some people just need a breather in some situations. Too frequent meetings could lead employee to feel stressed rather than relieved.

After a while, the situation should improve and return to the normal.


BlessingWhite’s ‘X’ model of employee engagement

BlessingWhite’s ‘X’ Model of Employee Engagement is about maximizing employees’ satisfaction and thus maximize their contribution to organization’s success.

The name ‘X’ comes from the intersection of the two axes and the model proposes five basic employee engagement levels, relatively to the intensity of satisfaction and contribution. Full Engagement occurs at the alignment of maximum job satisfaction and job contribution.

More about the ‘X’ Model: http://www.blessingwhite.com/employee-engagement. and in the video:


The credit for BlessingWhite ‘X’ model of employee engagement goes to BlessingWhite.
I have no connections to BlessingWhite. Opinon, analysis and testimonies are all mine.