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April 2011

A New Approach to Employee Engagement?

Employee engagement is a hot topic.

Certainly it is getting more and more management attention and more and more coverage in blogs, ezines and on the internet. It seems that wherever you turn today, you will find something about the need to engage your employees more. 

Heck, even governments are getting on board. Here in the UK the (Conservative) Prime Minister has followed in the footsteps of his (Labour) predecessor and set up an Employee Engagement Task Force to "bring together two of my government’s top priorities – delivering sustainable growth across the UK, and coming up with new approaches to help people improve their wellbeing.” It must be important if the government is getting involved, right?

So is government backing going to make the big difference and enable us to see the breakthrough that we are all clamouring for? Or is it going to be the "kiss of death"? Time will tell.

Drudgery However, I recently came across this arresting statement by Richard Bach, most famous as the author of Jonathan Livingstone Seagull; "The more I want to get something done, the less I call it work!" 

Makes you think, doesn't it?

At least it made me think. Perhaps we are guilty of over-complicating the whole subject. Maybe in your endeavour for continuous improvement, increased productivity and greater competitiveness you are sending out a negative message. You are emphasising the importance of work. And maybe that is not a good thing!

Certainly (as I have argued before) the phrase "work-life balance" perpetuates the concept of work as something that conflicts with life rather than being innate to it. Maybe these other things do too. So maybe the answer actually lies in less, not more, emphasis on work. Even the term employee engagement reinforces the concept of employees and employment, which, however you try to soften the message, is ultimately about work and the greater expectation you are putting on your people.

Thus I ask you, without putting my tongue firmly in my cheek, "Do you think you might do better to look at ways to stop calling it work, or even implying it is work?" Of course that is easier said than done, but maybe the Zealise employee ownership model gives you a way of doing this. What do you think? 

Are you a "coolfarmer"?

Sustainability Now there's a question that I bet you have never been asked before! 

Who would ask such a question anyway?

Hopefully you would. 

"But," I hear you say, "I don't even know what a coolfarmer is!" 

Well, not to worry. It is a term that I hadn't come across either until today.  But that's the only positive to ignorance - you can easily remedy it! A coolfarmer is "someone who excels in nurturing new creative ideas by helping the creators of these ideas grow and succeed."

So now you know. But the questions remains - are you a coolfarmer?

I leave you to answer that. But whatever your answer, I hope you are thinking more deeply about the significance of the question and, as you do, that you are recognising the challenge it presents, responding to it and renewing your commitment to meeting it.

Of course, upon reflection, there is nothing new to it. It is rather like trying to lose weight or give up smoking - you know what you have to do but find it easier said than done. Perhaps you need some help.

Well, you can certainly learn more from the article that brought the term to my notice. It is by Peter A Gloor and it is headlined, "To become a better manager, stop being a manager." 

Needless to say the article resonated with me, because I have long championed more leadership and less management. Consequently the idea that you must "make managers redundant" was music to my ears. I can appreciate, however, that you may not think it sounds quite so attractive. But you can relax because it isn't about making the role redundant. It is simply talking about changing the nature of the role. And hopefully you don't find that daunting because, deep down, you already know that you are going to have to change, because the old methods no longer work the way the once did.

Now, I know nothing about the Coins Seminar the writer is promoting to effect this, so cannot comment. Nevertheless I have some misgivings because the problem with most initiatives today is that people try to introduce them within the context of the old structures, systems and models. That is always set to reduce your chances of success because, to paraphrase Einstein, "You cannot solve a problem with the same system that created it or allowed it to flourish."

Your answer lies in recognising the power of the Linus Torvald's statement quoted in the paper, "having another person's trust is more powerful than all other management techniques put together."  However, current levels of employee disengagement suggest trust is widely lacking. So, if you want to turn this around and improve employee engagement, you need a new model.

That is why you should be looking at our universal employee ownership model. It enables you to stop managing and to lead instead. It forms the foundation for such trust and creates greater employee engagement and an environment of coolfarmers. Isn't that the kind of leadership legacy you would like? 

Shaping the Future - but What Future?

We have now looked at all 8 of the "key themes" for driving sustainable organisation performance identified in the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) report "Sustainable Organisational Performance: What Really Makes the Difference."

To refresh your memory they are:-

  • Alignment; 
  • Shared purpose;
  • Leadership;
  • Locus of Engagement; 
  • Assessment and Evaluation Capability;
  • Short-term and Long-term Balance;
  • Agility;
  • Capability Building.

Is there anything on that list, as a business leader, you are not grappling with already? Perhaps locus of engagement begs a second look is and that is possibly only because it is not a phrase you commonly come across. Having seen what it means you will also recognise it is something that you are well aware of and constantly trying to address.

So this is not a bad report.

I am sure you will agree with me that the list is a good summary of your everyday people management issues. As such it certainly identifies the 'what' of your challenges. And the report gives a number of equally good examples of what the sample companies are doing to address these issues. That has to add some value.

CSR 1 (Triple bottom line) But as I said before the "Shaping the Future" headline suggests that it can help you to find new ways to meet these challenges. Unfortunately, I don't think it does that. As we have looked at these themes in detail over the past weeks you have seen that there is little new that could help you shape the kind of future you are really looking for. The case studies reinforce the 'what' but are pretty light on the 'how.'

This all makes the report pretty disappointing overall. 

Of course, it is easy to be critical. It is always easier to knock down than to build up, so we need to look at what is missing and offer something more tangible as an alternative. 

That is a no-brainer. You have to start looking at you people in a different light. The fact is people are your organisation and they make or break your performance. They give you whatever competitive edge you have. Consequently you have to start recognising and appreciating their value more. The traditional approach is to look on the investment you have to make in your people. Do you ever stop to think that those people - your employees - are also making an investment? They are investing their lives in you. After all they devote a significant proportion of to working for you and that in turn represents a significant chunk of whatever time on earth they are allotted.

How does that change things? Well, if both parties can recognise this, it makes work a partnership. And that is the underlying premise of the Zealise model. It creates the platform to make this a reality.
The concept of valuing people as assets changes the mindset and encourages recognition of the value of people. It is the signature on the deal and creates a partnership to develop that asset and enhance its value, and thus make life more worthwhile. It engenders capability building that encourages employee engagement. And simultaneously, it offers a new model of employee ownership that embraces shared values and so embeds alignment and builds a strong foundation for greater, sustained success.

In fact if you think about it it effectively addresses all 8 of the themes identified in the report. So it certainly offers a better platform than anything currently being suggested and hence a new opportunity to really shape your own future - the way you would like it to be.

Shaping the Future: Capability Building

Building blocks 2 We have now come to the last of the 8 "key themes" for driving sustainable organisational performance identified in the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) report "Sustainable Organisation Performance: What Really Makes the Difference." This week we will look at: "Capability Building." 

Once again this would appear to be self-explanatory but for the record the report defines it as, "Equipping the people in the organisation with the skills and knowledge they need to meet both present and future challenges. However, capability-building applies not only to the individuals, but also to teams and organisations. It involves identifying existing and future required capabilities and ensuring they are in place or accessible across the organisation."

This also seems obvious and again it is alarming that this theme was only identified in Phase 2 of the research and not from the start. After all, according to the report:-

  • Capability building needs to be a continuous process; 
  • Building capability is an integral part of successful organisational development and change programmes;
  • Management capability is essential; 
  • Different management capabilities are required in difficult times;
  • Organisations need to be creative about how they build staff capability in testing times.

Actually, even though these seem obvious, I am not sure that I even buy into them. A leader with a clear sense of purpose and clearly identified values should be just as capable of leading in difficult times as good. Thus once again it seems that the report is extending the present management approach rather than looking to create something new.

Remember, we are talking about people here, and you lead people more effectively than you manage them. You cannot build people's capabilities; you can only provide an environment which realises them. In other words, you need to create a culture in which your people are able to release their own potential. To do that, people need to get a sense of what they are capable of and pursue that to their utmost. 

The fact is that nobody actually likes being managed. Inherently we all like to be given an objective and the tools we need to get on with it ourselves. With the joy of independence, responsibility and a sense of purpose we simply press on and do what we have to do. And then hopefully bask in the satisfaction of achievement, fair reward and appreciation of a job well done. That is what employee engagement is ultimately all about.

So if you continue to manage with the conviction that capability-building is something in your remit, you effectively suffocate it at birth. Training is the most obvious way of developing capability but if you see this as something that you need to manage you lose the power it offers. If you are afraid of the risk that your people will exploit the training you provide and then move on, perhaps even to the competition, you will see that happen. Capability building is a joint venture between you and your employee, and the sooner as you see it as such the more you will both prosper.

Rather than trying to be creative about how you build staff capability in difficult times, if you and your employees see it in this light, they will be up for the challenge of testing times and identify for themselves what they need. Surely that is more like the future you would like to create - a future where you have to worry less about managing and let the people manage themselves. Isn't that really what leadership is all about? Why would you want to make life even more difficult for yourself - and ultimately set yourself up for failure?

It is such a pity that this report misses a golden opportunity and fails to tell you how to shape the kind of future you really want.