Ep. 74

Is Employee Engagement Really the Problem? w/ Gregory Offner Jr.

In episode 74 we talk with Gregory Offner Jr. about his experiences as a performer at a dueling piano bar to explain the give-and-take of employee experience.

Gregory Offner Jr.

Founder
Global Performance Institute

Listen to this episode on:

How can we create an experience at work that reflects what our employees really want? Gregory Offner Jr, founder of Global Performance Institute and keynote speaker on the topics of engagement and performance, believes he has the answer: a tip jar culture. 

In this episode of the HR Mavericks podcast, Gregory uses his experiences as a performer at a dueling piano bar to explain the give-and-take of employee experience. Ultimately, it’s all about creating a workplace culture where everybody gets what they want, and gives something in return.

In the episode, we talk about: 

  • What piano bars and people management have in common
  • The three types of people in any organization
  • What a tip jar culture is—and how to create one
  • Why a great employee experience benefits everyone
  • The importance of learning & development
  • How to understand what your people really want from work

Want to get in touch with Gregory? Email him at [email protected], visit his website, or connect with him on LinkedIn.

Episode 74 Transcript

You’re listening to HR Mavericks, a weekly podcast, featuring leading small business HR professionals who share their experiences and insights to help you know how to turn your HR processes and employee experience into a strategic business advantage. Let’s get into the show. 

[00:00:00] Garrett Jestice: Welcome to the next episode of the HR Mavericks podcast. I’m Garrett Jestice, and today I’m joined by Gregory Offner Jr. Who’s the founder of Global Performance Institute. Gregory, how you doing today?

[00:00:13] Gregory Offner Jr: I am Fantastic, Garrett. Thanks for having me on.

[00:00:15] Garrett Jestice: It’s so great to have you on the show. I know. We, you and I just, were just ad lib and going before we jumped on here, we could have, we could have probably had an hour long conversation, a whole podcast episode before jumping on here.

Huh?

[00:00:26] Gregory Offner Jr: Yeah, that’s true. We, great marketing and sales minds start talking about what they do and just can’t stop us.

[00:00:31] Garrett Jestice: That’s awesome. Well, we’re, we’re excited to have you on the show, Like I said, before we jump into the meat of this, tell our listeners just a little bit more about you and your background and, and you know, what your company does.

[00:00:41] Gregory Offner Jr: Sure. So I am. A keynote speaker, what does that mean? I speak at conferences, I speak for organizations, and the topic on which I speak is something that I am passionate about. Before I got into doing this as a profession, I spent 15 years as a professional dueling piano player, a very unique laboratory in which to study human performance and engagement.

And so I’ve performed on five continents all over the world. I’ve seen lots of different cultures and different age groups and cohorts, and every random assortment of people you can imagine come into a building and either engage or not. What was it that we could deliver them that got them excited about basically being my free background vocalist, you know, for the night?

So 50 to 200 some people in a building, all singing along to songs that they’re paying us to play. And I thought, God, especially with what’s going on in the world right now relating to employee performance, employee retention, employee burnout, and employee engagement. There are a lot of parallels between what we learned to be able to create in that environment that could be placed right into any business environment, whatever industry or size organization you are.

The challenge I’ve seen is that leaders think the problem is employee engagement, and so they’re trying to solve for that equation. How do we get our people more engaged? What do we do? But the problem is really the employee experience. Is the employee experience one that people want to engage with again and again? And when I speak to employees, we talk about, is the experience of having them as an employee one that an organization wants to experience again and again? Because this is a two-way street, it’s absolutely a back-and-forth conversation.

There’s no blame on the organization or blame on the people. It’s the whole experience of work that needs to be addressed.

[00:02:33] Garrett Jestice: Yeah. I love it. Awesome, awesome intro. And I, I think we could spend, we, we might have to have you back on here because we, we could go, we could dive into so much of that. So the, the first question I have for you that I know somebody out there listening or probably thinking is, Tell us just a little bit more briefly about that transition from dueling piano player to now keynote speaker.

What inspired that? And I know you had a lot of these learnings along the way that you just mentioned, but, but tell us about that jump and why you decided to make that decision in your career.

[00:03:01] Gregory Offner Jr: So in, in 2015, I was, singing and I was performing at a, at a a at a gig, and I, I lost my voice. just opened my mouth to sing the first song of the night and nothing came out. Doctors would go on to discover after some, tests that my vocal chords were so badly damaged, they said I had maybe two months left to speak, before my vocal chords became permanently paralyzed.

So that would mean total silence for me forever.

[00:03:28] Garrett Jestice: Wow.

[00:03:29] Gregory Offner Jr: Confronting that me question if I was really happy with how I had been using my voice, because being a dueling piano player sounds awesome. It is not the pathway to financial freedom friends. So it’s a great job, but it’s not, it’s not setting you up for financial freedom.

So I also had a day job, which did pretty well, but I really wasn’t that into it. Like I, I clocked in at nine, clocked out at 5. Tried my best generally, but I was never really the star pupil. And so I have this job that I didn’t find super fulfilling and this lifestyle at night as a duelling piano player that I, I found phenomenally fulfilling, but it, you know, wasn’t great financially.

Both of those were yanked away from me, so I was left with nothing at this point in 2015. And after 15 surgeries, many years, many months in total silence. I had a lot of time to think if I ever get my voice back, what do I really want to do with it? And so I had some business experience. I had a ton of experience performing, engaging.

I also was fascinated by human psychology. So I’ve got a lot of studies and certifications in positive psychology and industrial organizational leadership and, and things like that. So I felt like that was the right point in time in my life to make a switch. And this opportunity to be a speaker fell into my lap.

I ran into someone at a conference that I was just attending, and we started talking and, and I told her I felt like I was at a crossroads. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. And as she’s listening and I’m divulging all these things about me, that — isn’t that weird? You tell strangers things about yourself that you don’t tell your friends and family.

So I’m divulging all these things and she’s got this glimmer in her eye. And Garrett, she looks at me and she goes, Have you thought about keynote speaking?

[00:05:14] Garrett Jestice: Hmm.

[00:05:14] Gregory Offner Jr: And I, no, I hadn’t. And she started to tell me more about it. I thought this, this could be the thing, and so I researched it. I, I interviewed probably 40 or 50 people who did this for a living, and I found out that I was probably best positioned right now to make that change in my life.

And so that’s, that’s why I started.

[00:05:32] Garrett Jestice: I love it. And so why then the choice to focus, you know, a lot of what you speak about on this idea of, you know, employee experience, not necessarily employee engagement, which again, we’ll talk about a little bit more in a minute. But, what about that topic really stood out to you?

[00:05:51] Gregory Offner Jr: Well, in a way, I guess the flip answer would be they, they say, You teach what you need to know. Right. And so I at at 30, I had held ever since my first job, like ever at McDonald’s, I had held 40 different jobs by the time I was 30. And what’s wild about that is one of them I worked for seven years, so it’s not like I was this flip flop employee.

I got to see a lot of onboarding. I got to see a lot of different managerial styles, and in some cases I got to see the offboarding or the offloading, and I just believed that there was something fundamentally lacking in the way that we create an experience for individuals when it comes to work. You know, why are we doing what we do?

In my, in that seven year job I talked about where I worked for an organization called Cintas, I got to meet with hundreds of executives in varying positions. And because I was newer to the business world at that time, I would always start my sales call or my interview with the same question. How did you wind up working here?

[00:06:58] Garrett Jestice: Mm-hmm.

[00:06:59] Gregory Offner Jr: Really, I thought really simple question and it, it was because I was genuinely curious because I just kind of fell into that job at Cintas. Like a friend told me about the interview, I went, the guy who was hiring also played rugby at the same college I did, albeit at different times. And so I was like, Well, cool.

This seems like a cool dude. There we go. 75% of the people I spoke with when I asked that question gave me a deer in the headlights look, followed by some form of they had a job opening. I applied, I took the job. And that struck me as one, curious that they thought I was the weirdo for asking that question because this is where you spend the majority of your waking life as an adult.

But two, I thought, how sad, how sad that 75% of these people are are kind of like here by 

[00:07:50] Garrett Jestice: accident.

[00:07:51] Gregory Offner Jr: This wasn’t an intentional choice, and yet it is how you are intentionally choosing to live your life. And that’s, that’s where the breakdown, I think starts is, is as an individual employee, getting really clear about why you are here at this organization.

And there’s three types of people in any organization, and I noticed this, my mentor, my first mentor in the piano bar world actually showed me this. He said, There’s three types of people in an audience. People who love piano bars, they will seek out piano bars. When they travel the world, they will Google where is a piano bar that I can go to, right?

We call them keepers.

[00:08:26] Garrett Jestice: Mm-hmm.

[00:08:27] Gregory Offner Jr: Then there are the folks who are here at the beginning of a night, like a boy’s night out, girls night out, bachelor party, bachelorette party, birthday party, corporate event. Like they’re here for a short time and then they’re going somewhere else. Those call ’em Leapers.

[00:08:40] Garrett Jestice: Okay.

[00:08:41] Gregory Offner Jr: and then there are some folks who honestly don’t know why they’re here.

Maybe it was the drink special that they saw and they thought, I’ll come in and get a drink and if it’s great, I’ll stay. And if not, I’m outta here. Or they’re part of that party that showed up as the bachelor, bachelorette party, whatever. And, and it’s our job to either get them to connect with this experience or to help them find the door.

Nothing, nothing wrong with that. We call them Sleepers, like, you don’t know why you’re here. We either gotta wake you up or sort of like get outta the chair, somebody else really wants to be here. Right? Those people that cohort, those same three types of people exist in every organization. They’re the keepers who, for them, they love what they do, love where they do, it’s a calling, right?

It’s not, it’s not just a paycheck, they’re not just in it to get a promotion or to put a fancy name on their resume. They just love what they do. The leapers are there to go somewhere else. They’re building career capital. And then the sleepers, they’re, they’re like, you know, Milton from office space, kind of like, you know, if you stop paying ’em, maybe they’ll stop showing up. And the way an organization curates the employee experience based on that category is fundamental to its success. And when they get that right, that’s the beginning of the shift in engagement in, in more retention and in more passionate and committed people.

[00:09:52] Garrett Jestice: Yeah. I love that. And I think just to kind of build on that, I want to, I wanna transition a little bit because I know one of the things you talk about in some of your keynotes is, is this idea of a tip jar culture. So tell us a little bit more about what that means and how that can really help solve that engagement, retention problem that I know so many businesses face.

You know, so many businesses I think will resonate with exactly what you just said of the different type of people that work there. So tell us more about this tip jar culture and how it can help.

[00:10:21] Gregory Offner Jr: Yeah, the tip jar culture is what we call an environment that people want to experience again and again and again. And when you think about a piano bar, that tip jar, that’s really, that’s really unique to piano bars. I mean, you see pianos in malls and in sort of like nice fancy restaurants, and maybe there’s a tip jar, but how full is it really?

I mean, how much are people really interacting with that tip jar? But then you see a tip jar at a piano bar, and I mean, the money is spilling over. It’s spilling out onto the piano in many cases by the end of the night. The difference is the request slip.

[00:10:58] Garrett Jestice: Hmm.

[00:10:58] Gregory Offner Jr: It’s not just about what you can put in someone else’s tip jar.

It’s what are you getting in exchange? It’s that, you know, I called it earlier a conversation. It’s a two-way conversation between the organization and its people, and that has broken down in some ways. What a tip jar culture, that idea, creates is a conversation about what you’re willing to give, what type of impact will you create and what you expect in return.

First question I get when I describe this is, So Greg, you’re basically saying money, like more money for our people, right? Like, hey, genius, we would’ve thought of that if that were the real answer. And it’s not. It’s really things other than money that we can create out of this experience called employment that make the employee experience better for the employee and in turn better for the organization.

That’s why I say better people become better for or better people are better for the business. You can become, you can transform your organization by transforming your people, and it’s not just in the form of money.

[00:11:59] Garrett Jestice: So give us some examples of, you know, what that looks like in a healthy organization.

[00:12:05] Gregory Offner Jr: The number one thing people report when we ask them, what other than money could your organization, you know, help you achieve? They want growth. I mean, the, the thing that fuels humans at a very basic level is progress. We thrive on progress. Where organizations are getting it wrong right now is they’re spending 98% of their training and development budget on job specific, industry specific development, and they sort of push off or neglect the employee deciding where they get developed. 

I mean, it it, it’s almost like if you went to college and you couldn’t pick, I forget what the word is now, but I’m trying to use for tho those courses,electives. It’s, it’s almost like you couldn’t take electives. It, it sort of goes without saying that employees are going to learn about the industry and the job that they’re in.

Most of that happens on the job. And yeah, for some of the clients I serve, like in banking and insurance and, and, and healthcare, yeah. There are very specific legally required trainings your people have to go through. I’m not talking about that, but as a for instance, most organizations don’t train people in leadership skills until they become a leader.

And in some organizations that can take four to five years. Those five years are then wasted. We wanna train leaders on day one so that when they become a leader, they’re ready. Not, not, not give them the position, and then hope we can ramp them up fast enough.

[00:13:32] Garrett Jestice: Mm-hmm.

[00:13:33] Gregory Offner Jr: So when people say they want growth, organizations respond with, Great, you’re an accountant, here’s an accounting 201 class.

And they’re like, Yeah, that, that, that’s not what I meant cuz I actually don’t like being an accountant, but I don’t have the skills to do anything else. So we need to make our people better as people. And then they show up to work in whatever capacity they work as a better employee by extension.

[00:13:55] Garrett Jestice: Yeah. I love that. That’s so great. So, this, this kind of prompts a question of, I know you, you touched on this a little bit, but just kind of summarize some of your thoughts for me and for our listeners. You know, if, if the problem that you stated really isn’t engagement, if it’s really not employee engagement, how would you summarize what the problem really is for a lot of organizations?

[00:14:15] Gregory Offner Jr: Yeah, the problem is the experience. Understanding what people want from this employment experience goes back to the three types of people in your audience. Do you know if this person is a keeper, a leaper, or a sleeper? That’s going to govern how you create, let’s call it an incentive plan. How you create an incentive or a job path plan, a path of progress for that individual.

So it starts with knowing what category they fall into. Why are you here? And maybe a good example to use is that of that of a concert. Some people don’t go to the concert necessarily for the music. Like I, I got to go to the World Series, Phillies World Series game a couple nights ago. Some people weren’t really there for the game.

They were there to Instagram themselves with the World Series thing on the field and like, look how status cool I am. I’m here. The Phillies have to create an experience that caters to that. Like how do we create an experience that’s not necessarily all focused on baseball? A great organization in, in terms of baseball that’s doing this, are the Savannah Bananas with Banana Ball.

Like they’re, found their owner Jesse Cole. It’s all about the fans. Like baseball is there, but it’s really about the fan experience. How are we creating an experience at work that reflects what our employees really want? And after their own progress, what they report wanting to see most is a sense of professional progress.

And I don’t mean titles, I mean the outcome of what I spend my day doing. If I don’t see that as an employee, this is what they’re telling me. If I don’t see that, I feel like I just wasted eight hours of my day. Like I may as well have just gone on a hamster wheel and run for eight hours and then hopped off, I got nowhere. How do we enable our people to see and connect with the progress that they’re making each day? I don’t know if I went off on a tangent or if I…

[00:16:08] Garrett Jestice: No, I love it. No, I love it. So I’m thinking about, you know, the, the listeners who are out there who are maybe, you know, those small, medium sized business owners, maybe the HR people, and they’re listening to what you’re saying and they’re, and they’re thinking to themselves, This is great.

This totally resonates, but what do I do now? Like what do I do? What are the next steps for me to go and really improve the employee experience? I think you touched on some of that as really understanding the types of people that you have and what motivates them. But what else would you recommend that people who are in that boat, what do they do next?

[00:16:42] Gregory Offner Jr: Yeah. The first place to start is establish request slips and a tip jar. Give your people a way to tell you what they want, and not just in these general terms like, I want career growth. I, I have a, I have a framework that I walk my clients through to help them get the actual answer. Because most times we are asked a simple question like, What is that you would like Garrett?

And the answer you give isn’t really the answer. That’s not your fault. It’s just sort of how we’re conditioned. Like when I work with kids in schools, I love to ask them the question, Who wants to be a millionaire in this room? And like almost all the hands go up, right? The other kids are sleeping, but like all the hands go up.

And then I ask them, When you’re a millionaire, what will that allow you to do? And there’s like a weird pause, but then they start to, I’ll get a boat, I’d go on vacations, you know, I could, I would, nobody would be my boss. I could just do what I wanted. Really the answers come down to freedom.

[00:17:42] Garrett Jestice: Mm.

[00:17:42] Gregory Offner Jr: So then what we have to ask is, so if there’s a way to achieve that freedom without becoming a millionaire, is that something you’d be interested in?

If the answer is yes, then you really don’t want to be a millionaire. Really what you want is this freedom. And so often when we ask our employees what they want, they give us this goal that sounds good. But it’s not the real goal, and I’ve developed a framework to help clients get there. But once they establish this system of just getting the conversation going, what I call request slips, then they also need to establish a tip chart, a way for the employee to see the impact of what’s being done, because that’s what it’s all about for these organizations.

They’re more than… the people I work with, the organizations I work with are more than happy to pay you more if you’re delivering more. But most people can’t see the impact of what they’re doing, so they don’t know how to do more of the right stuff.

[00:18:29] Garrett Jestice: Yeah.

[00:18:30] Gregory Offner Jr: We’ve gotta create a tip jar and a request slip, a way for me to tell you what I want, and then a way for me to fill that bowl, that tip jar, so that you are getting what you want.

That’s what creates this tip jar culture. That’s why the piano bar is one of the most engaging environments on the planet. Everybody’s got a voice in the experience. There’s a way for anything you want to hear to be played. It’s just gotta make sense in the tip jar.

[00:18:56] Garrett Jestice: Mmh. Love it. Love it. I think that’s, it’s such an awesome concept, applied to businesses and organizations. So this has been such a great conversation and man, it’s just got me thinking. And like I said, Gregory, we’re gonna have to have you back on at some point to just go dive deeper into this. I know we’ve just barely scratched the surface with this today.

but it has been such a great, great conversation, so thank you for being with us today. As there, if there are listeners that want to learn more about this topic, maybe they have follow up questions on this or maybe they wanna learn about working with you, what’s the best way for them to contact you?

[00:19:31] Gregory Offner Jr: Yeah, my email is [email protected] You can find my website gregoryoffner.com or just connect with me on LinkedIn. That’s probably the best platform for me right now.

[00:19:42] Garrett Jestice: Awesome. Well, thank you so much. We will drop the links to both his email and LinkedIn and the show notes. You can find it there. Feel free to reach out to Greg. Again, thank you again for being with us. Hope you have a great rest of the day.

[00:19:53] Gregory Offner Jr: Thanks Garrett. You too.

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