Once upon a time, in a land far, far away (well not really, it was Florida) I learned a very important lesson in the school of SBSS (Stop Being Stubborn, Stupid).

Now if you know me at all, you’ll not be surprised that I’ve had multiple classes at Stubborn School.

And yet…being stubborn…I still need many more (and often a good smack).

Stubborn or Determined?

I was on vacation with my family, in one of my favorite spots in the world, Sanibel Island.

We’ve gone just about every summer since I was two and so it’s a bit of a home away from home.

During this particular year, I was going through my “I’m a crazy ultra runner” stage in life, so I was ridiculously excited about being able to be a crazy ultra runner on the beach.

Much to my dismay, a hurricane was rolling in making the beach a very windy place.

Being the unflappable (stubborn and stupid) chick that I am, I proclaimed that no hurricane was going to prevent me from running on the beach.

And so out I went, into the goodness knows what speed wind gusts, to go for my morning run.

I started out full of anger, energy, and adrenaline surging spit.

Not only was I going to run, I was going to run 20 miles, maybe 30…who knows. I’d show this force of nature who the force really was.

After all, who did this freaking hurricane think it was trying to ruin my vacation and my planned beach running?

I ran my heart out, I ran as if I was defending the right of every runner all over the universe to run in peace and harmony (or something…).

After about 45 minutes of all-out, hardcore sprinting in the wind, I decided maybe 20 miles was being ambitious and decided to turn back.

I stopped and tried to get some sense of where I was and how far down the beach I had gone.

And that’s when I realized, after almost an hour of running harder and more ferociously than I had ever run before in my life—I had gone backwards about 50 feet.


The wind had been picking me up and pushing me back with every stride.

Environmental Factors Affect Success

Here is the moral of this story: Don’t underestimate the power of the external environment to affect..well…EVERYTHING, including your employee engagement.

I’ve written before about how profoundly employee engagement and internal culture will affect your overall business goals and external operations.

The same holds true in reverse.

While many smart businesses might have a solid and tested crisis communications plan in place to communicate effectively externally in the wake of a crisis, very few put as much effort into understanding what communications measures need to be taken internally to prepare for when a “hurricane strikes” so your employee engagement doesn’t suffer.

A “hurricane” for your team might take many forms: It might be a down economy, a large lay-off at a company in your industry, a company acquisition, the loss of a key employee, or some other  employee engagement change.

Successful employee engagement requires you to recognize the hurricane (or even better preempt it when it’s just at tropical storm level) and adjust your internal AND external messaging accordingly (remember—your team is listening to what you say, and how you say it EVERYWHERE. Just like any other messaging outreach you must be consistent across all channels).

The same communication that could be completely benign or beneficial under sunny skies can take an entirely different interpretation when clouds roll in.

Employee Engagement Means Listening, Providing Answers, and Work through Resistance

A couple of nights ago, I was listening to an excellent interview by Debi Lewis with Randy Hall of 4th Gear Consulting.

He was discussing employee engagement strategies and mentioned, while everyone thinks people don’t like change, that isn’t really the case.

We invite change into our lives all the time knowingly and happily (getting married, having children, moving, to name a few examples).

Often, however, with internal change, lack of employee engagement and resistance comes from fear, habit, and other factors that create ambiguity among your team.

The key is to listen to that resistance, help provide answers where you can, support to work through the resistance, and look for the opportunity to use the “hurricane” to make the organization and team (both individually and collectively) better as a result. 

Doing this means not being stubborn and trying to push through the storm blindly and aggressively.

It means taking a step back, accepting what’s going on in the environment around you, and adjusting as needed to create the best result.

Did I push through that hurricane and end up getting a “run” (heavy quotation marks here) in?


Could I have been more productive and efficient (and not taken the chance of being blown to Cuba) for my long term goals by doing some cross-training instead?


In the end, awareness and acceptance how the external environment affects your employee engagement will help you communicate in a way that will support a stronger business.

Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is chief marketing officer for Spin Sucks, an integrated marketing communications firm that provides strategic counsel and professional development for in-house and agency communications teams. She is a weekly contributor for their award-winning blog of the same name. Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.

View all posts by Laura Petrolino