Archie (I will refer to him by his first name, I hope he doesn’t mind) was invited to talk to us about what employee engagement means to him, and after David MacLeod introduced Archie as the Godfather of employee engagement, I was keen to hear what he had to say. Here are a few things that caught my attention:
WORK IS BECOMING VOLUNTARY Archie said that young people are deciding more and more whether they want to work, where they want to work and for whom. The last two I get, but I felt his first assertion was somewhat removed from reality. Most people want and indeed probably need to work, and I couldn’t help wondering what kind of response his statement would get from the roughly one million young people currently unemployed in the UK? KNOWLEDGE WORKERS Archie said that businesses are becoming more focused on knowledge, skills and the service that people deliver, less about costs. I certainly think there is a strong connection between the employee service and customer service experience, and if you can get the employee piece right, the customer service flows more easily and meaningfully. And I think most people would agree that improving knowledge and skills is vital, yet the ‘training’ budget is often one of the first to be hit in tough times. As more and more big companies are run by bean-counters, I’m not sure I see the cost challenge going away any time soon. CUSTOMER SERVICE Archie said that ‘we go to places to shop that have humanity’, and he also said that ‘self-esteem defines service’. These are powerful observations and I was pleased to hear talk of things more emotional, and less functional. ENGAGEMENT IS NOT A SURVEY “Engagement is not an HR activity, although HR should be responsible for measuring it,” Archie said. “And it’s not a survey. Engagement is about leadership living the values.” Unsurprisingly, I disagree with anyone being responsible for measuring engagement and I do think that if engagement is about meaning, purpose and shared values, it should flow everywhere in and out of the business, through leadership and way beyond. HIERARCHY IS DEAD ‘I haven’t had an office since I worked at McKinsey’, Archie told us. ”Hierarchy is dead,” he said. “Offices and all that have to go. Job titles are meaningless.” He encouraged total transparency and said that leaders should reward staff for speaking up and telling them what should be changed about the company. I’m curious to know how Archie felt when after finishing his talk we were shown a video of some 40 CEOs all giving their blessing to employee engagement. Most, if not all, were older, white men, doubtless very well paid indeed. The fact that this collection of the great and good lacked any obvious diversity was disheartening enough, and the assertion that somehow the Engage for Success movement might succeed thanks to the exhortations of the 40 leaves me feeling Hierarchy is still very much alive. I’d love to hear your views, particularly on the death or otherwise, of hierarchy.Doug Shaw is head of employee and customer engagement consultancy, What Goes Around. We welcome any and all contributions from the community, so please feel free to share your views and opinions with us, your colleagues and peers via our blogs section.