Five Lessons in Engagement from a Spaceman

I’ve recently finished reading ‘An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth’ by Canada’s first spaceman, Chris Hadfield. I was inspired and reassured to know that given how many insanely intelligent minds work on preparing for a trip to space and the thousands (if not millions…if that’s possible??) of hours that have been spent researching success, how much of it applies and is relevant to what I do – working with organisations to increase engagement and create positive workplace experiences.

I took from the book, five lessons for effective engagement which I thought would be worth sharing. Here they are:

Lesson 1: “Success (engagement) is a feeling good throughout the long journey which may or may not lead to the launch pad.”

When spacemen (and women) are training, there are no guarantees that they will get into a rocket let alone make it out of the Earth’s atmosphere. They can literally spend years training, learning, supporting others on their journey and picking up all manner of roles yet, might not make it off the planet. This really resonated with me in what I do. Often organisations focus on the flash-in-the-pan moments which will undoubtedly increase engagement. But, that’s not going to drive long-term sustainable change. It’ll certainly help with a spike in engagement but if you don’t help people to feel good, inspired and valued along the way, engagement will wean.

Make sure your engagement strategy is embedded within your business strategy and is a continual process.

Lesson 2: “You can’t view training as a stepping stone to something loftier, it’s got to be an end in itself. The secret is to try and enjoy it.”

For many, training can be a bit of a drag. Time away from working through a never-ending to-do list, in a room where you have to do role play or ‘crazy’ activities which seem to have no relevance to the job that you do. I liked this point in the book as it serves to remind us how important it is to also communicate the benefits of the training programme. Don’t just send a list of the training that’s coming up. Think about the tangible benefit to both individual and organisation.

Be clear in the objectives and outputs in your communications on what purpose the training will serve. Think about how training can encourage a positive experience for employees.

Lesson 3: “We never want to lose attitude, since maintaining attitude is fundamental to success. If you lose control in space, it can mean the difference between life and death.”

Attitude in space is about how the spaceship is positioned in 3-Dimensional space (and that’s the extent of my knowledge on attitude in a spaceship…!). But if you take this as a translation of attitude based on how you and I would interpret it (or replace attitude with the word engagement), it absolutely applies to organisations and employees. If people don’t have the right attitude, then the business is never going to thrive. Keeping engagement (and attitude) positive is critical.

Keep listening, communication and monitoring engagement levels on a regular basis, and as appropriate. Nip any potential issues in the bud as early as you can.

Lesson 4: “It’s better for everyone, including you, if you climb down the ladder graciously.

Perhaps you’re reaching the end of your career and you’re handing over the baton, or you’ve been covering a post short-term, or someone else is now running your old team. Whatever it is, it can be hard to let go of what you know. Everyone has a different way of doing things so see this as an opportunity to act as an observer and offer advice and support where you can. You may not agree with a new way of doing things and the ‘issue’, if there is one, is that the other person’s managerial style simply isn’t the same as yours.

Lesson 5: “Life is better if you’re having 10 wins a day rather than a win every 10-years or so”

I like this and it’s a lesson for me. I always have my eye on my next objective, or significant milestone. And in a corporate environment I think it’s fair to say that the showy and sparkly things tend to get more of a celebration than the smaller items which aren’t as glossy but go some way to make life easier/ better for everyone else.

Celebrate the little wins, as well as the big ones.

All too often organisations talk about engagement and note it as a priority but have very little understanding or drive to truly invest in it.

For those of us who have a desire to help a business grow and succeed, we have a collective responsibility, whatever the function you’re in, for helping drive a positive employee experience. Increased engagement has a positive impact on the bottom line. Period. Let’s make a commitment to focus more on our people and how we can help them be the best that they can be. Let’s all aim to get onto that launch pad, and even better, let’s work together to reach our destination.


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