Learn how to understand the six engaging questions from "Triggers" by Marshall Goldsmith

This article is the fourth in the series from the book called "Triggers" by Marshall Goldsmith. This book has too many lessons for any human being, irrespective of whether he or she is a student, an entrepreneur or one employed in an organization or a housewife. In this article, we will deal with the concept of engagement, and the Six Engaging questions from the book and examine the same in some detail.


This is the fourth in the series of articles from the classic book "Triggers" by Marshall Goldsmith. This book had been a bestseller and had profoundly influenced the minds of hundreds of thousands of people from around the world.

The Six Engaging questions, as Marshall Goldsmith calls, there:

*Did I do my best to set clear goals today?

*Did I do my best to make progress toward my goals today?

*Did I do my best to find meaning today?

*Did I do my best to be happy today?

*Did I do my best to build positive relationships today?

*Did I do my best to be fully engaged today?

Each of the above questions can be and should be, anchored in the particular contexts that we always find ourselves in. These questions are particularly a) relevant to us in our personal lives b) relevant to us in our organizational roles c) relevant to us in the wider context of our family d) relevant to us in our interpersonal relationships and e) relevant to us in our societal roles.

Relevant to us in our personal lives

Take the first question. We all need goals. According to the author, "employees who have clear goals report greater engagement than employees who don't".

Exactly. Don't we see someone running ahead of us all the time? They pick up new skills. They spend money on acquiring such skills, even before the organization is ready for it. For example, a very ordinary NIIT product, who worked in what was then called the "EDP" department, picked up the SAP HR qualification from a private institute in Bangalore, by traveling all the way to the city from Katpadi on every Sunday, The hard work paid off, when the same organization utilized his services to configure the implementation of the SAP in the organization. He was able to bring to the table, all the skill that he had and had the backing of the entire Top Management. His focus on the goal was clear. It was very obvious that the employee was ahead of his time.

Relevant to us in our organizational roles

Engaement is the missionary zeal with which employees work. The mind and soul are totally immersed in the activity. Japanese experts were stumped to see hundreds of employees in the shop floor of the fabulous organization called Sundram Fasteners. This organization is the sole supplier of radiator caps to all plants of General Motors, around the world. The employees would not even rest a minute and had their ears and eyes totally fixed on the job. Off and on, there were some employees who were huddled in some five-minute conversations. It later transpired that the discussion was about Kaizen or continuous improvement. The employees were empowered to do continuous improvement by themselves and were also praised in public by the owner-founder, Mr. Suresh Krishna.

Managers and leaders who sometimes see demoralized workers should find out ways and means of engaging them. If the workmen are sought to be engaged within a very short time, that might as well prove impossible. Years of lack of trust will make the workmen see red. They might suspect the Management. The process has to be a very gradual one.

By doing so, the Management will give enough opportunities to the workmen to understand the wider context of their roles. In particular, they will find answers to the two vital questions, that is, 3 and 4. Yes, the workmen will be able to find meaning in their work and also be happy too. The environment at work is crucial. If the environment is supportive, the cultural variables such as dedication and commitment will become more established. This has been the way things have been organized at BHEL, NTPC, Asian Paints, Marico Industries, the Aditya Birla group and so on. There have been huge success stories in India as well. We just need to have deep research into whatever had happened. The details will be discussed in separate articles later. The truth is that sincere and very systematic efforts have already happened in Indian organizations.

If you a Manager, you can attempt to do so in your own way. After all, every single Management will look forward to such initiatives from every Manager and will be happy if that comes through minimum cost. Whevever incentive schemes work, shrewd managers have warmed themselves into the hearts of workmen by explaining to them that they will be able to share larger gains if they can work as a team. In effect, the replacement for someone who has died or retired is never given. The workmen are happy that they get to earn more. But the engagement is complete as the Management is very happy that the net savings are far higher than the wages and perks that would have been paid to the workman if he or she had been replaced.

Relevant to us in the wider context of our family

We need to be disciplined ourselves. If you wake up at 5 AM in the morning and go for the compulsory walk, our four-year-old son will follow suit automatically. So, even this is a goal. If you work consistently on it, it becomes a habit. You would be out of bed, sort of automatically. This is the crux of the entire story.

If we are sincere in finding answers to questions one and two, in each of our lives, three and four will be answered automatically. However, the fact is that we give up far too easily and go back to our original ways. We lack discipline. We lack the will to take it on.

This is true of far greater challenges like organizing our own files, keeping the computerized data with passwords, developing subordinates and so on. The "will do tomorrow" excuse overwhelms us. Yes, tomorrow never comes. Years later, when we had lost everything, we feel miserable. More so, when we meet someone who was just one year senior at college. If you check with him, he would have read four thousand books on various subjects, His knowledge would be so versatile. This is exactly what happens if we are left behind in the rat race, due to our own mistakes.

Seeking answers to the six questions at different stages of our life is very crucial for our family, in these times of rapid change. After all, the family is no more the same. The electronic and online invasion is complete, even before the children are seven years old. We possibly have to run every minute to just stay where we are.

Every minute, we need to be alert. The third article in this series on "Creating" is very relevant here as well.

Relevant to us in our interpersonal relationships

This is very important too. Unless we are good at maintaining good interpersonal relationships with every single person who matters to us the most, we will not go anywhere. To give a very simple example, a relationship with our suppliers is very important in our official roles. If we are in customer-facing roles, this is our bread and butter. This is one reason why the front office personnel in the best Five Star hotels are continuously trained to do a great job in terms of customer relationship management, which has now emerged as a separate discipline with a big specialization.

It is most relevant in our relationships with neighbors, with our support staff at home or whomsoever, at any point in time. We will be able to answer each of the six questions very satisfactorily, only when we have good relationships with all people. This also includes all our close relatives on either side, who have done something meaningful to us at any point in time. We need to return such gratitude. If we do this, we are likely to be happy. ( Question 5).

Relevant to us in our societal roles

What role do we have in our society? We have to be very good and honest citizens, who pay our taxes regularly. We need to be good neighbors. We need to be role models in our office. We need to do some meaningful social work every now and then, at least to the extent that we can contribute as members of some voluntary group.

Yes. We do find very superbly honest people and very simple people doing such work. If they had done so much work, they would have obviously had some goals and would have answered all the six questions at some point in time in their careers. It will give us tremendous insight if we were to interview such people. The most famous Medha Patkar comes to mind. She has many goals. Not one. She goes about the tasks with a missionary zeal. Her team is always enthusiastic in whatever they do.

The splendid work done by the late organic food expert, Namvaahvar, in Tamil Nadu, has inspired thousands of people. Organic farming and organic products are now dime a dozen in many parts of South India, thanks to this great man. During his lifetime, he had taught several hundreds of thousands of people, what it takes to stick to the traditional methods of farming, without ever using nitrogenous fertilizers.

So, so much of the data is already available to us. We just need to understand the wider context of all their achievements.

The aforesaid questions are specifically important to students too, at any level. There is absolutely no escape for any student today. If he or she is disciplined with a clear focus, he or she is likely to be totally engaged in constructive tasks.

The time to start is now. So, let each one of us take each of the six questions very seriously and get going. If we make a start, the process will automatically throw up many learning points for us to improvise.


The task of being and becoming engaged is never too easy. The missionary zeal does not come to us automatically. We need to work on the same every day. When we start seeking answers to the six engagement questions mentioned above, we will have mastered the techniques of being engaged at least to some extent.

Let us begin.

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