On Monday 12 November, three years after the publication of the MacLeod Report on employee engagement, a series of events around the new ‘Engage for Success’ campaign will be launched in a bid to make the promise a reality.
For example, about 30 chief executives have signed a letter that will be published in The Times that day saying that engagement matters, while employment minister, Jo Swinson, will host 20 CEOs at a breakfast to encourage them to pool ideas. Described as a voluntary “movement” by report authors, David MacLeod, co-chair of the employer-led Taskforce on Employee Engagement, and Nita Clarke, director of the Involvement and Participation Association, the aim of Engage for Success is to try and encourage a more productive and inspiring way of working. The movement believes that:
- Everyone should have the opportunity to work to their full potential
- Employee engagement drives measurable improvement in performance, creativity and innovation
- The next generation of successful organisations will be those that free the potential of people within them.
Aims and outcomes To this end, its aim is to:
- Raise awareness of the employee engagement issue
- Equip people to develop and deploy employee engagement approaches
- Provide evidence, practical ideas and tools for action
- Provide access to and support from like-minded communities.
As well as the Taskforce, which was set up last March to guide and develop activities in the area, a guru group of academics, researchers and consultants who are providing their services on a pro bono basis has been set up to feed in their ideas and insights. Project groups comprising volunteers have also been formed to work on certain aspects of engagement such as innovation, well-being and corporate social responsibility, while a practitioner group will share, create and support each other in undertaking best practice when implementing engagement initiatives. A sponsor group, which includes Marc Bolland, the chief executive of Marks & Spencer, Will Hutton, the executive vice chair of the Work Foundation, and Karen Boswell, the managing director of East Coast Rail, has likewise been set up to help fund activities, while political sponsorship is being sought too. Finally, a website has been created to act as a single point of access for any relevant tools, technology, ideas and case studies. But here are also four key engagement approaches that MacLeod and Clarke shared with delegates at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s annual conference in Manchester this week in advance of the ‘Engage for Success’ launch: 1. Develop a strategic narrative It is crucial to have a story about the organisation, where it’s came from and where it’s going because that sense of story helps to generate a feeling of identification and empowerment among employees. But the narrative doesn’t have to be a complicated or involved one. As Clarke said: “Just something really simple and hold-in-your-hand that gives a clear line-of-sight to what the organisation is doing.” But simply having a story isn’t enough in and of itself either. Effective communications are vital, which means telling the story clearly and consistently without any spin so that everyone is aware of it and can buy into it. One approach that is starting to grow in popularity here, particularly among financial services organisations, is literally to draw one or more pictures in order to illustrate the narrative. “Drawing pictures allows you to articulate more and you can hold it in your head more easily,” MacLeod explained, adding that the idea of a coherent narrative really mattered because “research shows that an emotional commitment to something is four times more important than a rational understanding”. 2. Ensure that managers foster engagement The essence of good management is ‘tasking, trusting and tending’ that, is focusing employees on what success looks like, giving them the scope to achieve it and providing them with the necessary support when they require it. The best managers coach and stretch people constantly, praising them when they do something right and, rather than simply ignoring it, bringing it to light in a constructive fashion if they do something dysfunctional. A key problem today, however, is that too many employees are promoted to become managers because they are good at their job and have the right technical expertise, but are not subsequently trained in people skills. Clarke, for one, mentioned that she does not like the term ‘manager’ anyway, as “I think the issue is about leadership”. MacLeod, on the other hand, expressed himself averse to the term ‘human resources’. “I’m not a human resource or human capital. I’m a human being and individual,” he said. “I’m not having a go at the HR profession. I’m having a go at the attitude summed up by the term, HR.” The idea is that, if someone is made to feel like a number, they will feel diminished. “But if I feel recognised, it’ll create a bigger relationship and you’ll get more out of me. We’ve squeezed out the humanity and so we’re now trying to put it back in business,” MacLeod added. 3. Enable employees to have a voice The idea of ‘employee voice’ is about listening to the sometimes challenging views of staff members - and their trade union representatives if the organisation is unionised. Some HR professionals and business managers are afraid of going down this route, however, in case they hear things that they don’t want to or feel unable to act on. But as long as employees feel that their input is being treated seriously and responded to, most will understand that it is not possible to put every request or thought into action, particularly if the time is taken to explain why. Moreover, Clarke pointed out, feedback is the “best guard against reputational risk there is”. Evidence from public enquiries into scandals has shown, for example, that while someone always knew something somewhere, they:
- Were disengaged and didn’t care
- Had reported the situation but no one listened
- Were too scared to alert others.
So the idea is that you can pay expensive legal fees and even more expensive PR costs to pick up the mess, “but if you deal with this stuff before it hits the fan, it’s much more effective”, Clarke said. She also added: “Whistleblowing should be everyone’s job. Employee voice isn’t something warm and fluffy – it’s about keeping the organisation honest.” 4. Live your company values For all too many organisations, the company values posted on the wall fail to overlap with behavioural norms, a situation that, in turn, leads to distrust. But it also means that it takes longer to make things happen as everyone starts second-guessing everyone else’s motives and become reluctant to cooperate with each other. For instance, while lots of organisations describe themselves as ‘innovative’, how many allow people to experiment and learn from their mistakes without suffering negative repercussions? “You can’t spin your way out of the reality of the gap between the writing on the wall and people’s behaviour. Leaders have to understand the shadow on the wall that they cast and that their behaviour is mirrored by their staff,” Clarke said. As a result, 360 degree feedback systems were “one of the most effective things that HR has come up with”, because “when it’s done well, it can really make a difference”, she concluded.