Thursday 15 November 2012

Engagement or Entwistle?


Entwistle loadsamoney.001.jpg  So perhaps just one more rant provoked by (not really about) the new report 'Nailing the Evidence' produced by Engage for Success to support their launch this week….

So far I've suggested engagement can't be about measurement or just about business benefits but has to start to put our relationships with employees first.  So we shouldn't see employees as being like virus prone computers but ourselves - business and HR leaders - as the source of most of their - and therefore our - problems.

Because we continue to - and seem to do even more and more - dumb things.

And it's our actions as leaders that lead either directly, or indirectly as a consequence of the actions we take and the culture this creates to these dumb things.

So one of the points I did really like in 'Nailing the Evidence' was the suggestion right at the back of the report that corporate reputation also acts as an enabler for higher engagement.

I don't know if engagement at RBS can get much lower than I presume it has been over the last couple of years but Barclays as well as presumably HSBC and other banks fined for manipulating the LIBOR rate are clearly going to find their engagement scores hit.

If Centrica and the other energy firms are found to have rigged gas prices, they're hopefully going to be in similar trouble with Ofgem, the government and the firms' customers.  But the companies shouldn't be surprised when their employee surveys suggest engagement plummeting either.

EBay, Facebook and Starbucks are already being hit by customer protests at their 'immoral if not illegal' tax avoidance strategies – in the Public Accounts Committee’s spotlight this week  (I think it's harder to take action against Apple and Google) and I'm sure we'll see this filter into their employee engagement scores as well.

And closer to home, when Chris Patten and George 'loadsamoney' Enwistle play poker with viewers' licence fees it just makes it that bit less likely that BBC staff are going to try harder to make good programmes, when the evidence suggests that instead they could just sit back and wait for a good pay off when something goes wrong.

How Entwistle thinks he is doing the 'honourable thing' by stitching up the licence fee payer by taking half a million pounds for a few weeks work is beyond me.

But why on earth does Patten think he can throw another quarter of a million after the first 'contractual' £250k just because he can't be bothered to sack the guy for poor performance (did he not listen to the John Humphreys interview?).

And how did BBC HR agree to a £250k exit bonus for its new DG (CEO), irrespective of performance or length of service, anyway?  I'd suggest this is inappropriate even in an investment bank.  But it has no place at all in a publicly funded broadcaster and national institution like the BBC.  Any candidate (particularly an internal one) requiring such a clause should in my mind have been immediately disqualified from the recruitment process.  I'd have even had it as a selection test - anyone who puts their lawyer in touch with me is clearly not the person I need to do the job.

Oh, and by the way, suggesting your staff not comment (e.g. tweet) on your public problems or disagrements may help cover up these issues short-term, but it's just going to send discontent underground.  Much better to have an open conversation - and regardless of my earlier comments on the report, I'm really pleased to see that Engage for Success understands the importance of this (see the other comments on my earlier post).


Also, just to note, I don’t really mean to single out those companies and people I’ve listed above – they’re just the organisations in the media’s headlights this week (though Entwistle did do an amazing impression of a rabbit in the headlights in his John Humphreys interview).

Also Barclays and the BBC are two of the organisations on the Engage for Success taskforce – doing a great job to promote the need for engagement – even if they perhaps haven’t yet quite got their own houses in order!

But next week it’ll be a different group of miscreants.  That’s just the point – poor corporate behaviour seems to be pretty endemic these days.  And we need to look within ourselves and examine this problem at least as much as why so many of our employees aren’t as passionate as we think they should be.


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  1. The interesting thing about the BBC is the very public way an employee (in this case Humphreys) can challenge the head of the organisation.

    This is not something many people have the opportunity to do and I doubt other media organisations would allow.

    How much of that criticism was coming from Humphreys the journalist and how much of it was coming from Humphreys the employee? Either way the ability to challenge the chief in such a way has got to be good for engagement

  2. That's a great point Paul, and I do understand the BBC must be a particularly complex environment to work in because of this dual commercial and editorial focus. And I'm not really trying to criticise the BBC particularly - I just feel a bit hot under the collar about Entwistle's payout and I realise that's come out quite strongly - so the post is a bit of a rant. But the real point is supposed to be simply that we need to recognise that it is what we do as leaders, in most organisations, that creates disengagement - this isn't something which is innate within our workforces.

    Just on the BBC however, I do think it's a shame that the freedom to challenge was slightly moderated by trying to reduce the freedom to tweet. Personally, I think it'd be great if the BBC had allowed or was even encouraging employees to contribute to the public debate about what's been going on in their organisation. The debate's out there anyway, so their employees might as well join in.

    That's why I made the other point about Engage for Success. The movement doesn't employ me, but I'm still part of it. Their (meaning the people on the main task force) tolerance of my internal criticism has been a breath of fresh air, and has made me feel even more committed to the movement.

    So yes, I totally agree with your final sentence too.

    Thanks for the comment! Cheers, Jon

  3. Jon
    This is a fabulous post. Maybe it's my age, but it didn't seem like a rant to me - the concept that Patten et al live in a world so divorced from reality that getting a guaranteed payoff if you're fired is written into your contract seems normal is astounding. In fact, (whisper this) I'd take a year's cash (considerably less than Entwistle) tomorrow - in fact I might be tempted to mess something up on purpose (just kidding).
    I suspect engagement at the banks might be higher than you imagine though - at least amongst the wrongdoers - that's part of the issue, not a lack of engagement, but being engaged in things that were (and are) damaging.

  4. Thanks John, I'm really glad to know this worked for you. An earlier draft of this post had actually added something to my comment about banks that went something like "at least those slightly more functional parts of them". I took it out as the early draft definitely was a rant! And I do need some organisations that will still have me as a consultant, after all!


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