Wednesday 22 June 2011

My presentation with the Employee Engagement Taskforce


    I hadn’t received any suggestions for my presentation so I decided to simply focus on the opening preamble to the Westminster Briefing event.

The first part of this focused on the role of the taskforce.  I suggested this was a useful initiative but that the key people who need to spearhead engagement are the HR people in the room (more so than David and Nita, and also more than is often thought the case, the line manager):



I also used the value change slide I’ve used in quite a few of my posts and pops up in many of my presentations too, to suggest that engagement could be seen as an activity but it’s really the individual who motivates (or engages) themself, so it’s better to see it as an outcome.

Emphasising the importance of HR’s role that I talked about earlier, I noted my belief that HR can take accountability (not responsibility which does need to be taken by line managers) for this outcome too.  (I clearly didn’t convince all attendees about this however as I put a question on it into the later polling.  In response to the question ‘Should HR be seen as accountable for engagement levels across an organisation?’, only 36% of people voted yes and 64% put no.)



Referring to the second part of the preamble about the definition of engagement, I suggested the above outcome is a part of human capital, ie the important qualities that employees loan to their organisation.  But engagement doesn’t mean anything in itself – being usually defined (at least by survey providers) as a mix of a number of different things eg satisfaction, pride and advocacy etc. (Gallup even go so far as to avoid defining it, simply seeing it as something that is developed by do the things referred to in their twelve questions and which lead to business impacts.)  I’m not that keen on the word (see below), but it doesn’t matter that much how you define engagement, as long as you understand that it’s important.  Let’s get over the lack of consistent definition.


I also talked about the opportunity to use engagement for creating rather than adding value (or as Henry Mintzberg explains, quoted in McLeod’s original report), as the ‘wellspring of success’ rather than a factor or production).

True engagement comes from creating value – from putting people first rather than the business.  However this requires a different way of managing – one which is more right brained and people oriented, and emphasises understanding people (psychology, sociology etc) rather than understanding the business (metrics, analytics, financials etc), and talking the language of people too.

I referred to Gary Hamel’s focus on changing the language (though didn’t have time to talk about the love hack) and noted the dissonance I find in the fact that HR’s primarily focused on becoming more business-like (adding value) at a time when the rest of the business is finally becoming more people centred (creating value).

This thing about being a ‘business person first, an HR person second’ is fine as far as it goes, and definitely plays a role in building HR’s credibility in the business.  But it’s a loser as far as engagement is concerned.  And it’s important when, as I’ve described above, HR has the most important role as far as engagement is concerned.

So we’d be better focused on making the rest of the business more like HR (in which everyone is a people person first) than worrying about our own business skills.

That’s my main point about how we can best increase engagement.


(See Vineet Nayar’s ‘Employees First, Customers Second’ if you want to understand more about what it means to be a people person first.)


Picture credit: Raffaela Goodby


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