‘Turbo’: 6 Snail Lessons on an Employee’s Choice to Be Engaged

At DreamWorks Animation SKG, Dan Satterthwaite Head of HR, believes, “Engagement requires choice.” And in the company’s newest movie Turbo, starring the voices of Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Samuel L. Jackson, Maya Rudolph, and Snoop Dogg, we see the smallest of employees “snail up!” and deliver on the engagement agreement.

Often, the burden of employee engagement is put upon leadership and HR and trickles down to managers, while forgetting one large component: the employees. But the truth is, employees have to bring themselves to the table. They have to accept that there’s an unwritten agreement between them and the organization, and each entity has to deliver on its end of the deal. The employee has to choose to be engaged, and the organization has to foster the choice that the employee continues to make every day.

In Turbo, we see a little snail named Theo transform himself from disengaged to engaged by fulfilling his personal responsibilities to engagement. Here are some lessons every employee and future employees can learn from a little snail:

#1: Find Your Passion

Theo/Turbo: Everyone has that one thing that makes them happy.

In the beginning of Turbo, Theo was extremely disengaged working at “The Plant.” He had no passion for what he was doing, and the organization didn’t encourage him to pursue his passions. So eventually he left.

While an organization can do its part to assist employees in finding their passions and letting them excel by fostering opportunities to put those passions to work, in the end, it’s your personal responsibility to discover and pursue your passions. You are the director of your own happiness cruise. If you depend on others to create your happiness, then you will most likely end up miserable. Theo the snail took ownership of his destiny and pursued what made him happy.

#2: Master and Innovate Your Skills

Sure, in the movie, Theo takes a dip in nitrous oxide, which like any superhero story magically gives him a boost of speed superpowers that transform him into Turbo. However, before he took that nitrous dip, Theo practiced, honed, and tested his skills. And yes, it took him 17 minutes to move 36 inches, but that was still a new record for him.

When Theo, post-nitrous dip, met up with other racing snails, he saw how practice, determination, and risk could pay off. His new snail friends Whiplash, Smoove Move, Burn, Skidmark, and White Shadow didn’t have superpowers, but through mastery and innovation of their talents they still beat him in a death-defying race.

#3: Pursue Passions and Skills That Others Value

Whiplash: You’ve clearly got the skills to pay the bills…if snails had to pay bills that is.

Having a passion isn’t enough on its own. People have a personal responsibility to turn their passions into careers. Far too often, I see job seekers, new degree in hand, thinking that the world owes them a job. They’ve pursued a special interest and somewhere along the line were taught that a degree would deliver a job. But what they failed to understand is that their talents and their education are worthless unless society puts a value on it. Passion is important, but discovering and nurturing your passion is only the first step. It’s your responsibility to turn your passion into a commodity. It’s your responsibility to pursue a passion that will result in a career, not just a degree. Begin with the end in mind. Hint: the end is not your degree.

#4: Dream and Take Chances

Guy Gagne: No dream is too big, and no dreamer is too small.

While Theo’s brother and other coworkers at “The Plant” encourage him to play it safe and accept his limitations, Theo’s hero, racing legend Guy Gagne, is his inspiration. Guy is often quoted in post-race interviews giving inspiration to others. Theo dreams big and follows Guy’s advise to “take a chance and risk it all.”

Unfortunately, it’s no coincidence that Guy is from France, where they serve up snails as a delicacy, nor is it a coincidence that Guy’s last name basically says “gag.” Later, Guy reveals his true self when he tells Theo, “Dreamers eventually have to wake up.”

In one sentence, the hero becomes the villain. But there is some truth there. Dreamers do have to wake up and be realistic, but at the same time keep dreaming, push limitations, and take calculated risks.

#5: Be You

Whiplash: Are you a car?

Theo/Turbo: No.

Whiplash: Then stop driving like one! Snail up!

Throughout the movie, Theo pushes himself to be more than he is, to be who he is on the inside. His brother, Chet, isn’t his biggest supporter. Chet encourages him to stay complacent and accept the place that Mother Nature has given him.

In the end, it is a combination of Theo’s innate snail qualities (“Tuck and roll!”) and his aspiration to be more (“Don’t hide in your shell!”) that take him to the finish line. When Theo fully accepts who he is and learns how to use that to his benefit, he succeeds.

#6: Build a Support Team

Theo/Turbo: All of these people, they believe in me.

In the beginning, Theo works at “The Plant” where none of his coworkers support his dreams. He is disengaged. Does the organization stink? Yes. Is the onus all on “The Plant”? No.

You can blame the people around you or the organization you work for all you want, but you also have to take ownership. It’s up to you to surround yourself by those who lift you up and inspire you. Whether it’s your coworkers, friends, family, or professional network, get yourself a support team. They will push you to succeed and pick you up when you fail. Theo didn’t win the Indy 500 by himself; he had a team.


DreamWorks’ Head of HR, Dan Satterthwaite, pretty much “snailed it”: Engagement requires choice. At DreamWorks, they work to build a culture that is less like “The Plant” and more like an unlikely team of snails, so employees can continue to make the choice to be engaged every day.

Turbo offers plenty of lessons for organizations as well. Organizations can make it easier for employees to choose to be engaged and increase engagement and retention by aligning with these employee lessons.

  • Help employees identify their passions and leverage their strengths (Lesson #1 and #3).
  • Offer professional development opportunities and encourage employees to hone their skills (Lesson #2).
  • Create an environment that encourages employees to contribute ideas (Lesson #4).
  • Create an environment that makes it okay for employees to fail (Lesson #4).
  • Let employees be themselves. Celebrate and encourage differences. (Lesson #5).
  • Support your people (Lesson #6).

For more inspiration, read our ebook, 50 Leaders’ Inspirational Quotes on How Corporate Culture Drives Business Success.

Free ebook! 50 Leaders' Inspirational Quotes on Employee Engagement and Workplace Culture

Published July 19, 2013 | Written By Hilary Wright