If employees have a sense of purpose, feel valued and are able to trust an organisation and its leaders, the chances are they will be passionate about what they do for a living. In order to create such a working environment, boards must think carefully about communicating a message which is universal and yet resonates with a diverse range of individuals who possess different motivations.
While no company is ever going to get it completely right, a high price will be paid if leadership teams fail to understand why it’s vital to take engagement seriously. Criticaleye spoke to a variety of Members to gauge their views on how to forge an approach which is strongly tethered to business performance.
1) Give Employees a Voice
Empowering employees so they can actually make a difference will help them feel more connected with the organisation. Therese Procter, Personnel Director at Tesco Bank, says she encourages people at all levels to collaborate and push themselves: “I might get our graduates involved in having a focus group with me, so they put forward fresh ideas on how we might do things in a different way. Or, for instance, when I was in Newcastle recently, I had the opportunity to work with some of our frontline colleagues.
“They spent an entire morning teaching me what it is that they’ve been doing in order to make the operation leaner and more agile. They’re coming up with the ideas that are making the business better for customers, rather than those ideas coming from executives, and I want to continue to build an environment where that can happen.”
It’s about taking the time to ensure others are able to share their opinions. Clodagh Murphy, Managing Director of technology services provider Eclipse Internet, says: “I run informal sessions once a month where we select colleagues randomly to have lunch with me so we can chat… [and] I just ask: ‘How is it going?’ It allows me to gauge how engaged the employees are.”
2) Get Your Middle Management Onside
Don’t underestimate how much middle management dictates the mood and tempo of a business. Mike Tye, CEO of Spirit Pub Company, says: “If I can’t engage the senior team with what we are trying to achieve, and if that doesn’t eventually filter through to our general managers and our units, then we’ve lost the war. The critical thing is that general managers have got to talk to their teams and say: ‘This is what we’re about,’ and they’ve got to do it regularly.”
Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), stresses the importance of good line management: “It’s going beyond the typical dimension which would be: ‘Do I think my manager is competent?’ into spaces such as: ‘Do I think they have integrity? Are they consistent in actions and behaviours? Are they what some people might call benevolent? Do they recognise me as an individual and reward, encourage and support me?’”
3) Push for High Performance
While no-one would doubt the usefulness of surveys and scorecards and crunching the data around what employees are thinking, there is a limit as to how insightful these tools can be.
Peter argues that some of the claims made around measuring employee engagement are spurious: “You can read reports that suggest if you increase your engagement score by X per cent, you’ll increase your return to shareholders by Y per cent. Well, I don’t think that basis of engagement is sufficiently sound. More importantly, you cannot make calls on those links as there are too many other intervening variables.”
According to Colin Hatfield, Founder of communications specialist Visible Leaders, questionable assumptions are being made about what engagement means for an organisation. “People are confused,” he comments. “They say: ‘Well, if we build engagement we will get high performance.’ But I think there is a danger that you can build engagement and think that it’s going to lead to high performance but actually what you end up with is a highly engaged workforce and performance levels may not shift.”
Colin gives the example of an organisation with exceptionally high engagement scores where the employees were seemingly happy, receiving great benefits and remuneration packages, but a significant change was required for the company to get back on track. “The point is that engagement doesn’t automatically deliver performance, although to deliver performance you need engagement,” he says.
Leaders have to establish clear goals so that people are aligned with what’s delivering value for the business. “The danger is that with all of the talk about the importance of engagement, everybody’s eye has been taken off the ball about performance,” adds Colin. “What we need is a more balanced view between managing the two dynamics.”
4) Keep Communicating
If a leader is going to be listened to, he/she will need to be consistent in their behaviour otherwise employees will switch off. In fact, many employees will be looking keenly for any sign of contradiction or lack of authenticity.
Clodagh says: “If you’re trying to manufacture a message because you think you should be saying something, that’s when you become unstuck. Whereas if the message you’re getting out is actually what you’re doing, it’s what you’re living and breathing every day, then it’s simply the way things are. You’ve then got to find the different ways of ensuring everybody is on that journey.”
It’s about tailoring the message and finding ways to inspire others. Kevin Murray, Chairman of brand building and CSR consultancy The Good Relations Group, suggests that a CEO’s vision needs to flow through the entire company, right down to the people on the frontline so they understand how they are contributing to the corporate culture. “To engage your employees you need to be inspiring, a good listener and recognise the impact you have on your staff,” he says.
Mark Jones, Managing Director of hospitality and business education centre Wyboston Lakes, says: “A leader has to define success and work towards achieving it. It’s all about people, especially in a service delivery business. I take it as a personal crusade to assist the team with their levels of engagement and understanding.”
For this to hit home, consistent and regular communication will help people to have faith in the leadership team. Peter says: “If I, as an individual, trust first and foremost my line manager, but secondly the wider leadership of the organisation, then I’m more likely to go with it and I’ll have an underlying base of engagement that, provided I can maintain that trust, should broadly be sustained even in difficult times.”
Not everybody is going to want to come aboard. Nick Barton, CEO of property management company CityWest Homes, says that it’s crucial to have a plan to address the disengaged people within an organisation: “It is this group that will constantly hold back even the most engaged workforces so they must be dealt with and quickly. This group have been described as ‘mood hoovers’ – those that feed on failure and wallow in a nihilistic trough. They exist in every organisation.”
5) It’s Not All About Money
A healthy remuneration package matters, but pay alone won’t necessarily make an employee loyal or high performing.
Mike says: “People need to feel that they’re being paid fairly. The thing that is most likely to upset or disengage people is unfairness or inconsistency, but most people join a business knowing what their salary is.
“I always describe remuneration as almost a bit of a sugar rush – it’s great when it happens but unless everything else is great as well, the benefit of that sugar rush will soon wear off. It’s not normally the key reason for people to stay in an organisation, rather it's the culture, values and leadership engagement that are the big drivers.”
Clodagh comments: “If [pay] is fair and equitable, it doesn’t motivate at all. If it is unfair and inequitable, it demotivates, usually. So I think in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it’s right down the bottom [in terms of driving engagement].”
There’s no silver bullet when it comes to aligning employees. Rather, it’s a continuous process of two-way communication around the journey the business is on. It involves a mixture of repeating messages, finding new approaches to inspire others and behaving with integrity.
“Engagement is not around any one single thing,” says Colin. “You’ve got to be aware of all of the potential drivers of engagement as it really is different strokes for different folks. These need to be managed in an integrated way and you have to be alert to the fact that people within a single team are going to be engaged, motivated and inspired by different things.”
I hope to see you soon.