Performance Management Blog

What does a Russian Lyrical Poet have to do with Workplace Motivation and Engagement?

In this post, I wax philosophic about a suicidal Russian poet and depression and share some thoughts on workplace motivation and issues of involvement. It starts out tough but, hopefully, you’ll find the ending more uplifting.


Portrait of the poet Sergei Yessenin (1895-1925). (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Sergei Yesenin was a lyrical Russian poet around the turn of the last century, who wrote about the depression and difficulty he saw in the world around him. He might be the best known of all the Russian poets based on a couple of websites. I saw this reference to him in a poem in a novel I read this week:

The moon will float up into the sky,
dropping the oars into the water.
As ever, Russia will get by,
and dance and weep in every quarter

and that got me looking up information in Wikipedia and TheInkBrain, which has an extensive biography. His last poem, “Goodbye my friend, goodbye,” was written at age 30 and done in his own blood just before he committed suicide in 1925. They are beautiful but often sad writings and the view of the world of which he writes is engaging– he starts with writings about love and the meaning of life while his latter works take on a much less positive view of the world around him. Depressing and hopeless…

But no longer wake me up at sunrise,
As you used to do eight years ago.  
Do not waken dreams no longer precious,
Hope never fulfilled do not excite.

Somehow, my thoughts around this led to my thinking about the new, involved and enthusiastic employee who is often found to succumb to the dreary realities of so many workplaces and whose motivation and energy eventually tends to norm downward — regression to the mean, the average of that workplace. For me, it is about the existing opportunities that are there to be realized and what might be possible versus the sad reality of what too often happens for so many people in the workplace in that they don’t continue to feel involved and motivated. We can do things differently; we can make better choices.

One of the biggest challenges we face as managers in organizations is the mental health of our people and their ability and desire to work in teams and to be productive and innovative. If they simply drift toward their perceived reality of few real opportunities for personal improvement, we will not see the impact that I think we want. Lots of people have difficulties working and being involved and engaged in the day-to-day opportunities, based on many studies done around issues of engagement and motivation. Why do we keep doing things the same way?

In a relatively recent study, The Ken Blanchard Company found that while 70% of employees wanted to converse with their manager about their goals and tasks, only 28% of leaders actually tended to have those kinds of conversations with their people. This same study also found that more than 80% of leaders don’t listen to their employees, something that we have read in the literature since, well, the turn of the century! Some things just do not seem to change. The study found that 64% of employees want to use meeting time with their bosses to solve workplace problems while 19% report that they rarely or never have those conversations.  Sixty four percent wish they could talk with the boss about problems with colleagues but only 8% actually do.

Is it that there is simply no time to listen? Are people afraid? Is the depression of ideals and morale just that pathetic in the workplace today? Do we not have all the technology we need such as smart phones, email, texting and other kinds of communications? Or is it that managers just do not really care about people and performance. I am befuddled. I see the world operating like this day after day and year after year and decade after decade:

Square Wheels One - How might this illustration represent how things really work in most organizations

Can’t we just talk about things? The Round Wheels are already in that wagon! Every time and always. Let’s choose to do things differently in 2014 and make a big difference in people and performance.

Why bother? Lots of reasons including these business ones:  Sirota Research found that high-morale companies greatly outperformed their industry competitors in 2012 when considering year-over-year stock market returns.  Sirota found that companies with high morale (those with scores at the 75th percentile or higher who ask “overall satisfaction with their company” on their annual employee attitude surveys) had stronger year-over-year stock performance than their industry counterparts.  

High-morale companies averaged a 15.1% improvement in their stock price while their matched industry comparisons averaged only a 4.1% year-over-year improvement (a difference of 11 percentage points or 368%!) Moderate-morale companies (companies scoring between the 25th and 75th percentiles on employee attitude surveys) matched their industry counterparts  with only a 0.8 percentage point difference, and the low-morale companies were 166% (or 13 percentage points) lower than their industry counterparts.

“We’re Not So Bad” is apparently not so good, either!

There is also an interesting post on worker-owned businesses (link is here) and it says, in part, that even without transitioning to a co-operative structure, we can learn from democratic workplaces and adopt the way they function. The author adds her thoughts to a recent article by David Brodwin in US News and World Report that made the case for why more employee-owned businesses are needed. Brodwin compared cooperatives and top-tier professional firms run by partnerships, stating that each type of business is more accountable, resilient, and flexible. The number of these worker-owned business in the United States is growing around 6% per year and now account for about 12% of the private sector workforce.

So, some changes are occurring in organizational structures that support more employee involvement and ownership. Since we can each choose to do things differently, maybe that poem used to start this article should become:

People can fly high in the sky,
And cause great ripples in the water.
Companies can do more than get by,
And see so many impacts every quarter.

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools.
Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant who is trying to retire!! He now lives in Cuenca, Ecuador.

You can reach Scott at

Learn more about Scott at his LinkedIn site.

Here is a 2-minute overview of our new online, virtual team building game:

The exercise has many links to the themes of trust (within and between teams) with a strong focus on trust in the leadership and on collaboration between the teams. This is THE world-class exercise anchored to these elements, based on three decades of client feedback.

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And here is a link to a press release about The Lost Dutchman exercise and its 30 years of impacting people and performance.

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Dr. Scott Simmerman

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of the amazing Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine team building game and the Square Wheels facilitation and engagement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced global presenter. -- You can reach Scott at and a detailed profile is here: -- Scott is the original designer of The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine teambuilding game and the Square Wheels® images for organizational development.

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