When I was a kid, my sister and I would have coloring contests. We had a giant plastic bin with crayons and we would pour them out on the floor and just divide them as evenly as we could. The goal was to color a page in our coloring books as quickly as possible without coloring outside the lines. A fun game I remember with great fondness. One of the things I remember was trying to divide the crayons in a way that my sister would get the white crayon because it never showed up on the page.

A lot of times, this is reminiscent of our employee engagement efforts. Like the crayons, we have a number of tools in front of us and so we feverishly begin using them to improve employee engagement or culture so that engagement at least makes some positive movement. But as with the infamous white crayon, there is plenty of motion and effort with little to no discernible difference or impact to the overall picture.

As kids, we didn’t want the 8 pack of crayons. That was so 1908. We wanted the gigantor box of 120 because the more colors we had, the better our picture would be…right? We approach employee engagement in much the same manner. We have our favorite tools (colors) that we feel will make the most impact. It’s not based on any real truth, just a personal preference.

Occasionally we’ll honestly believe the right choice is the organizational equivalent of the white crayon. We scribble with such animated fervor. The image in our minds is so vivid that all this motion and effort HAS to make a difference. When it doesn’t work out the way we hoped, we are still disappointed. A bit disappointed that it didn’t work out; a bit disappointed that we were delusional enough to believe the white crayon would somehow look differently this time.

There is no standard white crayon for every organization. It depends on the needs and dynamics of your organization and it is yours to discover.

Here are some tips to dig out your white crayon:

  • What are you doing out of tradition/habit – Often times organizations do things simply because they have always done them. Perhaps they don’t make things worse, so they stay off the radar. The real question is “Are they making things better or is it just motion?”
  • Don’t only go for quantity of tools – There are plenty of tools, assessments and other things out there that clamor for your attention. Everyone’s product/service seems to fit your problem so we imagine we must need them. Using more tools won’t necessarily “cover all the bases”. Don’t try to fix everything at once. Prioritize and systematically make improvements.
  • Don’t mistake movement for progress – This is easily understood in performance metrics, but an employee engagement strategy is a performance of sorts. People are performing tasks and adjusting perceptions in order to improve employee engagement. Don’t think that just because you’re doing something it’s the right thing. Definitely a white crayon moment!
  • Know what are others avoiding – While I’m all for trail blazing and being innovative, perhaps another organization similar to yours (industry, size, etc.) has tried a tool and failed miserably. Give it careful consideration before thinking it will be the perfect thing for your organization.
  • Forget what you like, go with what works – For those of you who have been in the business awhile, it can be easy to default to something familiar that worked once upon a time. If it was with a different company with different needs, different types of employees and more than 5 or 6 years ago…it may be time for another tool. Something that has more research into the changes that have taken place. Business is extremely fluid.

How have you or your organization been able to weed out your white crayons?