Interview: Crispin Manners, Chairman, Onva Consulting

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Crispin is a judge at the inaugural Employee Engagement Awards which will recognise the very best in engagement programmes publicly.

1) What does employee engagement mean to you?

I believe that many companies fail to recognise that the solutions to many of their problems, and the sources of innovation that could be transformational, can come from their employees. As a result I believe employee engagement means turning employees into advisers so they are given the opportunity to be involved in shaping the present and the future of the business in a systematic and wholly inclusive way.

Who is Crispin Manners?

Crispin has over 25 years experience in delivering communications solutions for brands as diverse as 3Com, Simple and Unilever.

He is the creator of the award-winning communications planning and management regime – ValueFlow – that won the accolade of the UK’s Innovative Company of the Year in 2003.

He is a regular speaker about advocacy as the driver of growth, a Founding Fellow and past Chairman of the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA), a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), a Fellow of the Institute of Directors, a Freeman of the Guild of PR Practitioners and a past Chairman of the European region of the Worldcom PR Group.

2) What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learnt about employee engagement in the past year?

To be patient and recognise that the journey towards true employee engagement will take time because many of today’s leaders have not been trained to expect to involve employees in the business.

3) What are your three tips to companies looking to ramp up engagement levels in their organisations?

  • Identify a fundamentally important reason for employees to be involved where there is a clear sense of purpose for the engagement that really matters to the business
  • Provide the opportunity for every employee to be involved but do not expect them all to engage all the time
  • Have complete transparency of communications where the leadership closes the loop with employees at each step in the engagement process – to increase buy-in and contributions

4) What do you feel are the biggest mistakes that companies make when trying to develop an engagement culture?

There are a number of mistakes that companies make:

  • There has been no strategic commitment to engagement for the long term as part of the business plan – ie it is just seen as another initiative or activity and not core to business performance. Consequently, it doesn’t have the active involvement of the Board
  • Engagement does not have a true sense of purpose, with measurable outcomes that help the company to achieve its business goals.
  • Companies fail to listen to employees and then act on their feedback
  • Companies fail to plan far enough ahead so that the topics of engagement have a chance of connecting with other strategic initiatives at the right time. As a result some engagement initiatives feel completely discordant (and therefore contrived) to employees
  • Companies confuse engagement with motivational activities and events - which may be fun but do nothing to involve employees in developing the business in a systematic and continuous way
  • Companies fail to recognise that their employees are likely to be a wonderful source of innovation and therefore do not engage with employees to tap into this intellectual resource

5) Why do employees fail to buy in when companies try to ramp up engagement?

There are many reasons why this happens, including:

  • The purpose and benefits of engagement have not been made relevant to employees at an individual level
  • The company has not sought to achieve buy-in to the purpose of engagement at an individual level
  • Some engagement schemes are seen by employees as an attempt to put a band-aid on more systemic problems which are not being addressed
  • The engagement activity is seen as just another initiative without any clear outcomes for the company, the individual or other stakeholders
  • It is seen as too complicated and too time-consuming
  • Companies fail to communicate transparently with employees the outcomes of engagement and what will happen next
  • The company does not appear to be listening and acting on feedback

6) What soft skills are most useful for everyone to have when trying to move towards a culture of engagement?

  • Active listening - the ability of leaders and managers to show employees that their opinions and contributions count
  • Facilitation – many employees need the right kind of encouragement and facilitation to encourage them to share their best thoughts
  • Adaptive communication – to get buy-in to engagement one person at a time, leaders need to be able to adapt their communication style to the preferred style of each individual

7) You’re a judge for the inaugural Employee Engagement awards, which seeks to recognise engagement efforts across the private, public and charity sectors. What will you be looking for in entries?

I will be looking for proof that the company has a genuine desire to engage and involve its employees. The proof will need to show that:

  • There has been a strategic commitment as part of the business plan to engage for the long term
  • Engagement has a true sense of purpose, with measurable outcomes that help the company to achieve its business goals. This could cover a wide variety of areas, including: improving core business systems and processes, enhancing the customer experience, innovating and reducing costs
  • The goals have been achieved – or there has been measurable progress towards the goal
  • The company is listening to feedback and acting on that feedback
  • Employees feel more valued, more inclined to stay loyal and are more likely to recommend their company as a place to work

About Jamie Lawrence

Jamie Lawrence, HRZone

Jamie Lawrence is editor of global online HR publication and community HRZone.com. He is committed to driving forward the HR agenda and making sure that HR directors have the knowledge and insight necessary to make HR felt across the whole organisation. He regularly speaks to audiences of 250+ and has interviewed key HR industry names, including Daniel H. Pink. He has worked previously as a small business journalist and a copywriter and has published non-fiction that reached #2 on the NYT Children's Bestseller List. In his spare time Jamie likes writing fiction, films, fitness and eating out.

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