Engagement and Happy Workplaces with Ruth Ross and Coonoor Behal

Hosted by Chris Dyer, the CEO of PeopleG2 – TalentTalk Radio features engaging conversation with CEOs, thought leaders and HR executives.  TalentTalk connects professionals who care about talent-related issues and having the cultural mindset to embrace the needed diversity of the workplace.

Today’s guests are Ruth Ross, Engagement Evangelist at R Squared Resources and Coonoor Behal, Founder of Mindhatch. To hear the entire show, click here.

Two very dynamic ladies, who left their corporate jobs to start their own ventures, talk about employee engagement and happy work spaces on the show today.

Ruth Ross engagement

Ruth Ross spent the first 30 years of her career in corporate HR with her last job being that of an Executive Vice President, HR with a major financial company. In 2011, she decided to retire and become an engagement evangelist. She wanted to write a book and speak about employee engagement. That is how her company, R Squared Resources, was founded.

Who exactly is an Engagement Evangelist? “Evangelist is somebody who goes out and preaches about things that are going on. In my world, I am an expert on employee engagement. Coming from an HR perspective of having done a lot of things like the survey process or the feedback or taking the results and trying to engage others,” explains Ross. She says that she had a “face in the mirror” moment in late 2011. She was getting ready for work and she looked at herself in the mirror and screamed and told herself, “When are you going to admit that you are completely dead and tired and you have lost the passion for what you did for 30 years.” That is the moment when she diagnosed her disengagement and decided to quit her job and talk to people who were having their face in the mirror moments around disengagement.

Fallouts of Disengagement

Ross explains that when someone is completely disengaged from what they are doing there are three things that happen. One is you just keep going whether it’s for the money or the benefits or something else. You acknowledge the situation but continue doing what you are doing and maybe quietly start thinking of a plan. The other thing is what she calls job sculpting where you go up to your manager and tell them about your situation. You make tweaks to your job role to get that spark and become reengaged. The third thing that could happen is you realize that it is time to do something different. You are ready to leave what you are doing and move towards something better.

Knowing When to Quit

There is an interesting line that Ross has on her LinkedIn profile – “The world is full of moments when people cross the line from engagement into disengagement, replacing creativity and passion with stagnation and resentment.” Explaining this statement, Ross says that people are often scared and overwhelmed when they are disengaged because it is almost like a quick sand feeling where you feel you are being sucked in. Recollecting her personal experience she reveals that it took her 18 months to acknowledge the fact that she was tired and frustrated with her job. In the last few months of her corporate career she felt like a fraud because she was drawing a big pay check and doing everything that was required to but deep inside she knew she was not giving her 100% to the job. That’s when she realized she had to get out of that quick sand situation.


Ross believes that culture is the key to everything. To explain this she gives an analogy of the construction of a house. If there are cracks in the foundation, you can’t add more floors to the building. The foundation has to be strong in order to build the structure. Similarly, in a workplace, if the culture is cracked and if the foundation is not strong, it is impossible to layer other things on such as engagement, recognition and so on. Thus, it is imperative to start out with a strong corporate culture otherwise everything else will collapse.

Busting Myths

Myth #1: Employee engagement and satisfaction is the same thing

Ross strongly believes that employee engagement and satisfaction is not the same thing. While an employee maybe fully engaged, it is not necessary that he is happy as well. In fact, some of the most engaged people she knows are not quite happy because they feel passionately about what the company is doing and they challenge the status quo to make things better. “While you can be both engaged and happy, they are not the same thing,” emphasizes Ross.

Myth #2: Engagement is a program

Ross insists that engagement is not a perk or program. It is not about throwing money and putting out a new program. Engagement is about creating an environment where employees can do their best work. It all ties back to the culture. If you have a solid foundation of doing the right things then engagement is going to happen. Engagement doesn’t come with opening a new cafeteria or getting a new ping pong table.

There are five things that people look for when they come to work – meaning, alignment, growth, input and context (the what and why behind what they do).

What Are You Reading?

Ruth Ross is currently reading “Power of Thanks: How Social Recognition Empowers Employees and Creates a Best Place to Work” by Eric Mosley and Derek Irvine.

How Can People Connect With You?

Connect with Ruth Ross via www.ruthkross.com or LinkedIn.

Coonoor Behalengagement

Coonoor Behal, Founder of Mindhatch, was a strategy and innovation consultant with Deloitte Consulting. Her latest venture, Mindhatch, is a consumer insight firm that focuses on human centered thinking and design solutions. It provides qualitative human insights as opposed to data centric quantitative insights that businesses usually rely on. The methods that they use are based on the fact that they are serving humans and that they are using humans to serve them.

The three methods the company uses to gather insights are

  1. Design Thinking – A process for creative problem solving and/or creating innovative solutions. A large part of design thinking is creating empathy via research to unearth really big nuggets of insights from your customers so that you can be responsive to what your customer needs, wants and emotions are.
  2. Organizational Improv Training – Behal says that Improv is gaining popularity as a business tool for training staff and also as an ideation tool. At the heart of the organizational improv is training people on leadership, communication, public speaking and so on while taking them through some fun improv exercises and methods which are far more memorable and effective.
  3. Innovation Facilitation – A dynamic process that unleashes ideas through sessions facilitated by experts aimed at helping people get results faster.

Improv Training

Behal’s improv training sessions for her corporate clients are full of games and exercises. She organizes workshops and makes them as tactical as possible to throw light on some key takeaways and insights. She puts her facilitator hat on and guides her sessions in a way that people come to realize on their own about how they can change things or how they can keep up with the good patterns of behavior and communication. Every exercise is designed with an intention and purpose in order to guide the group to discover its capabilities. Behal reveals that with all the fun activities and exercises, within the first minute, people drop down their guard and are more vulnerable to each other than they have ever been before. “This establishes a tone for the team that this is a safe place where I can be vulnerable even if that means being silly and being wrong. It is something we can all own and find joy in,” she elaborates.

Creating a Healthy Work Space

As an employee you want to be able to put forward your ideas and pitches in front of your manager. While on the other side, as a leader, you want your people to bring forth the best that they’ve got. During the idea generation part of the workshop, Behal often notices leaders starting to think about how they can they create an environment where their staff feels comfortable coming to them. “Once you get told no a half a dozen times, you are less likely to bring something to your leader. If you are told yes but there is no follow through, it is kinda the same thing as no. So there is really delicate balance that is achievable for creating a space where people feel comfortable to come to you with their ideas or concerns and then responding in an authentic way without sacrificing your ability to be a leader,” explains Behal. The point is to not discard an idea prematurely without thinking of its feasibility. When our instinct is always to first say no, we immediately try to justify the no. Sometimes saying no often inspires worst case thinking and creates obstacles which may not even exist.

Being a Good Leader

Humility is one of the best qualities that makes good leaders stand out. Behal believes that humble leaders will always give a fair shake to the ideas presented by others. They will have no problem saying they don’t know the answer to a particular question or problem and will be willing to explore or co-discover the answer with others. Authenticity is another quality of good leaders that Behal admires. These are people who do what they say and mean what they say.

What Are You Reading?

Coonoor Behal is currently reading a memoir by Haruki Murakami called “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.

How Can People Connect With You?

Connect with Coonoor Behal on LinkedIn.