How a Leonardo da Vinci etching turned into a Rembrandt.

March 10, 2020 by

Decades ago, my Father placed a bid at a charity auction for a piece of artwork.  He was told that this particular etching was created by Leonardo da Vinci.  He won the bid and brought the artwork home.  In his typical colorful fashion, he hung the da Vinci in his bathroom, where it resided until my Dad’s passing.

Upon becoming the new owner of this etching, I carefully looked for proof that it was indeed a real da Vinci piece of artwork.  This authentication was especially important because, sadly, my Dad had a history of being sold a false bill of goods.  I could find no signature on the etching, so decided to see if da Vinci signed the back of it.  While I was dismantling the old frame, it fell apart.  Unfortunately, there was no signature on the back.  So I suddenly realized that I was now the proud owner of an unsigned, unproven, and unframed Leonardo da Vinci etching.  Most organizations experience the same disappointment vis-à-vis their non-engaged employees, which at 52%1, constitutes the single largest bucket of employee engagement.

After about two weeks of this supposed da Vinci sitting on the floor of my apartment, I brought it to a local gallery to have it re-framed.  The owner of the gallery carefully grabbed the etching and said “Where did you get this Rembrandt?”  I said “What?!!  Why do you think it is a Rembrandt?”  He then pointed to Rembrandt’s signature in the lower left-hand corner of the etching, which I had completely missed seeing before.  So, I went from being the owner of an unproven, unsigned, and unframed supposed da Vinci, to becoming the very proud owner of a proven and signed Rembrandt, which I later officially authenticated.  

So how do you turn your unproven, valueless, and non-engaged employees into valuable Rembrandts?  There are three proven ways of doing so:

     1. Voluntell them.

One of the clear signs of non-engagement is that these people do not, and, will not, volunteer for extra effort.  Why not create a special project and ask for volunteers at your next staff meeting?  By doing so, you will immediately identify who these non-engaged employees are in an effort to re-engage them.  These are the employees that, upon hearing that request for volunteers, will hide behind coworkers or dive under conference room tables in order to avoid being selected.  Call them out on that by “Voluntelling” them onto the special project.  Give them no choice.  

Voluntelling works.  Use it.

     2. Give them a fully-engaged Mentor.

Marrying up a fully engaged Mentor with a non-engaged employee is also a sure-fire way of eliminating non-engagement.  Engagement is infectious.  Have the Mentor meet with the non-engaged employee at least once a week, asking questions like:

  • How is it going with your job and job duties?
  • What did you find most engaging in your job this week?  (Carefully listen to their answer and then try and feed them more of that in the upcoming week.)
  • Did you find anything dis-engaging you in your job this week?  (Carefully listen to their answer and then try and remove these dis-engaging factors in the upcoming week.)
  • What can I personally do to help you be even more engaged in your job?

Mentorship works.  Use it.

     3. Re-cast them.  

Literally half of the 52%1 of the non-engaged are simply in the wrong job.  Train your Managers how to identify which employees are in the wrong job.  Then train these Managers on re-casting these employees into roles which not only utilize their best skills and abilities, but are also jobs which these employees can get passionate about.

Since not all Managers will be good at this re-engagement strategy, train your employees on how they themselves can be reflective about whether they are in the wrong job.  Years ago, I created a list of 20 reflective questions to help employees discover whether their job is best suited for them.  Here it is:

Re-casting works.  Use it.  

META:  Transforming your non-engaged employees into wonderful, beautiful, and valuable Rembrandts means you will never lose them.  As for my Rembrandt, I will never sell it.

Sources:  Gallup, The State Of The American Workplace, 2019


Kevin Sheridan is an internationally-recognized Keynote Speaker, a New York Times Best Selling Author, and one of the most sought-after voices in the world on the topic of Employee Engagement. For five years running, he has been honored on Inc. Magazine’s top 100 Leadership Speakers in the world, as well as Inc.’s top 100 experts on Employee Engagement. He was also honored to be named to The Employee Engagement Award’s Top 101 Global Influencers on Employee Engagement of 2017.

Having spent thirty years as a high-level Human Capital Management consultant, Kevin has helped some of the world’s largest corporations rebuild a culture that fosters productive engagement, earning him several distinctive awards and honors. Kevin’s premier creation, PEER®, has been consistently recognized as a long-overdue, industry-changing innovation in the field of Employee Engagement. His first book, Building a Magnetic Culture, made six of the best seller lists including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. He is also the author of The Virtual Manager, which explores how to most effectively manage remote workers.

Kevin received a Master of Business Administration from the Harvard Business School in 1988, concentrating his degree in Strategy, Human Resources Management, and Organizational Behavior. He is also a serial entrepreneur, having founded and sold three different companies.