Wednesday 10 April 2013

The Economist's Talent Management Summit and the new rules of Employee Engagement


Screen Shot 2013-04-11 at 23.55.22.png  One of my favourite conferences is the Economist's talent management summit which I spoke at last year and this blog has been supporting for three years now (see my competition to attend and blog for me at this year's event).

As usual this year there'll be the normal range of great quality sessions.  For example, one I'd be keen to see is Data and Smarter Decision-Making: Making Analytics Work for Your Business featuring Marlon Sullivan from Abbott Laboratories and Matthew Jeffery now at SAP.  That's partly because Matthew is always such good value but mainly because I think the link to decision making is the common missing link in the big data agenda.  Data analysis is only useful if it informs better decision making and I think we often forget this fact.

But I thought I'd post on one of the other sessions which is with Jean Martin from CEB on the New Rules of Engagement.  That's partly because it's a topic I've been presenting on myself recently and have been meaning to post on for some time.  So I don't know what Jean will say, but for me the new rules (I'd prefer guidelines) are about:


1.   Prioritising engagement - understanding that it's important, and will continue to increase in importance, as more and more organisations compete on their culture / organisational capability and which needs to include at least an element of engagement.

2.   Investing in engagement - acknowledging that engagement is difficult to achieve as although there are simple things which can be done, they're mostly not simple things to do on a continual basis.  And also because not all of these things are simple anyway.  Engagement should always be engagement to do certain things (engagement in innovation needs to look different to engagement in speed or efficiency) and understanding, articulating and building an environment around these specific connections generally isn't that easy to do.

These first two 'rules' aren't necessarily that new, but they are certainly now more of a requirement.  Whilst engagement was a new and less important concept it was probably enough just to focus on doing the basic management essentials well. That's no longer enough today.  We need to understand much more clearly what engagement needs to look like within our own particular organisations, and see developing what's required as a key strategic requirement too.


3.   Making engagement more human.  We used to be able to ask for peoples' engagement simply to support business needs, or because of our hierarchical position of authority.  That doesn't work these days.  Instead of this, we need to focus on developing personal relationships as the basis for engagement.  People will increasingly engage in supporting us if they want to support us as individuals - not just because they want to achieve certain business needs.  This shift is making the belief that managers lie at the centre of engagement ('people join organisations but leave managers') even less true.

4.   Accepting challenge is engagement.  Another change has been in moving away from wanting everyone to line up behind us.  This never worked that well anyway.  But increasingly asking for this unthinking compliance just turns people off.  Employees may still keep quite and line up, though increasingly they won't (they'll just blog about you instead).  What works these days is to present arguments, have conversations and to try and bring people on board.  But if people still don't agree then we need to accept this.  This challenge and conflict is still engagement (it's the silent cynical compliance which is non engaged).  This doesn't stop us having people working to the same plan, but it certainly alters the dynamics involved in getting to this.

By the way, I think a really good example of what I'm writing about here comes through from the government's actions in the NHS post the Mid Staffs debacle and in particular the banning of gagging clauses to silence whistle blowers.  Take this quote from Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt:

 "There has been a culture where people felt if you speak up about problems in the NHS you didn't love the NHS. Actually it's exactly the opposite.


Criticism is positive you see - but I don't think that's the way we tend to think about engagement now.  So I do think these last two 'rules' are new, and it'll be interesting to see whether they come up at the Economist's event.  Are there any other 'rules' that you'd add, or do you agree / disagree with mine?  

Hopefully we'll get some input here from Jean's presentation at the Talent Management summit too...


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  1. Well said. Rules are problematic around engagement and I would go with guidelines or even invitations.

  2. Jon, nicely put. It’s absolutely true that the “rules” of engagement are evolving – especially as the new generation workforce, the Millennials, come on stream. I particularly agree with points 3 and 4. My own experience as leader of an international technology company is that people thrive when they are happily engaged at work. And this comes from setting a challenge, giving the support to achieve it, and the knowledge that success will bring recognition and that failure will not bring blame. I look forward to hearing more.


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