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In most large companies, the number of employees who are highly engaged in their work is less than 30%, and the number actively disengaged is greater than 20%. These figures are scandalous: engaged workers are the lifeblood of any creative or entrepreneurially-minded company, and most companies are simply failing to create the conditions that make people excited about coming to work.

In this Conference, experts from the worlds of academia and business practice will discuss the latest ideas about employee engagement, and some of the innovative approaches to generating engagement that they have tried. Questions to be addressed include:

Why does engagement matter?
What are the key drivers of engagement in the workplace?
What practical steps can you take to make your workforce more engaged?
The conference is being hosted by the Management Lab (MLab), a research centre at London Business School whose mission is to accelerate the evolution of management.

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MLab: “The Art of Engagement”


• Stuart Crainer
• David MacLeod
• Nita Clarke
• David Smith.

First session is a panel, talking about why engagement matters.

After a quick introduction from Julian and Stuart Crainer, we started with presentations by David MacLeod and Nita Clarke on their recent engagement report. I’ve read the report before, but this was the first time I’d seen MacLeod and Clarke present.

MacLeod thinks there are very few organisations that really get engagement. Many don’t, particularly in the public service. Capability reviews haven't been used in the right way. Even in the NHS, there’s a huge issue about engagement. Despite the amount of money that’s gone into it, employees are not advocates for the service.

There’s a dichotomy between two approaches. The first is about a group of leaders who understand that if people are treated with respect, they will respond.

The second is an HR approach. HR is the most ghastly term in management speak! These organisations tend to see people as things that turn up on 2 legs – and are delegated these to HR dept. HR has a very compartmentalised view of engagement, It’s about surveying people and acting on the findings.

It should be about treating people not as HR but as human beings. And accommodating people as individuals.

There are no ‘7 steps to Engagement Heaven’, but here are the 4 main characteristics:

• Have a strategic narrative – where organisation is, where it’s been, where its going etc
• Treat people as human beings
• Ensure employee voice is permeating the organisation
• Develop a sense of integrity – don’t have gaps between values and behavioural norms.

Nita Clarke is now working on a set of free resources for SMEs. The don’t want a big tome about it! (how many pages was their report again?).

Sorry I’ve not got much to note here – I’ve found the content of much of the session a bit basic (for me at least – note that I spend a lot of time working in this area - but, IMHO, it didn’t get up to the Management 2.0 level).

But you can find my summary on David MacLeod and Nita Clarke’s engagement report here:

Oh, one more thing. After MacLeod’s rant at HR, I feel free to respond back in kind. From reading his earlier book and the new report, I personally feel most senior HR people have got a better understanding of engagement than them. So there!

Also see my summaries of some of the sessions from MLab’s previous, Management 2.0, event:
We finished the session with a presentation from David Smith , former HR Director at ASDA.

Emphasising that retail is not a calling for most people, who typically only join them for a short-time, and not as a career, David asked how did Asda become Best Place to Work?

Davis suggested there were seven key strategies:

1. Hiring for attitude vs retail skills.
2. Overdosing on communication – everyone every day gets a 5 minute briefing.
3. Changing style from tell and do (retain is like a military operation but this is not very motivating so you needed to change the management style – (In Asda, 2/3 of managers said yes, this was way they wanted to manage. Most of the other people were weeded out of the business).
4. Managing in a different way, so they got a different response. He saw in the stores. But also in the stories from staff, eg: “Because of way I’ve been treated here, I will never leave”.
5. The way they treated underperformers – people expect their managers to do this, and they also need to move people on quickly – a lot of people move on, up and out.
6. Recognition – this is well underplayed in UK society. Money is a demotivator. Pay is a big problem in most organisations. Find other ways to motivate them.
7. Making the organisation fun: “Work made fun gets done”.

I talked to David after the session and asked him if he thought this environment, ie the high level of engagement he had created, had contributed to Asda’s ability to transform into an open and transparent business (their ‘Chosen by You’ strategy

David agreed that it was central – Asda wouldn’t be able to act like this if their employees weren’t very highly engaged and aligned behind satisfying their customers.

In addition, he thought they were missing a trick – with Twitter and so on, inappropriate behaviours can get communicated very quickly these days (we talked about the recent Domino’s Pizze example).

David’s summary on this: “Businesses should embrace it rather that wait for it to come back and bite them”.
The next session started with presentations from Julian and Stephen Martin, the "Under Cover Boss", CEO of Clugston. I've posted on this on my own blog:
I missed the final presentation from Henry Stewart, Chief Executive of Happy. I had to leave early as it's my wife's birthdays. However, we all received a free copy of his book, Relax!

It's not going to be one of my favourite books - I don't often respond to business story type books that well. However, there are some good ideas in there:

Eg, performance management - the need for individuals to take responsibility for getting feedback, and doing so at the point of performance:

"Getting appraisals once a year is no good. It would be like playing a game of football, and not finding out if you won for a year, or even if you scored a goal or not. Even though, they wouldn't know if they'd won, only if their manager thought they'd won."

"We don't call out people managers, we call them coaches. The dfference s that the member of staff decides if an when they want to see the coach."

Although I didn't enjoy the book that much, if I ever run an organisation, I'd aim to make it look like Henry's. And if I ever need to use a firm of computer trainers, I will definitely go to them.
That's it from this event. Three good case studies but I do think the MacLeod report is engagement 1.0, not 2.

By the way, I've just noticed a tweet from Umair Haque suggesting that this event was subject to Chatham House Rules. New information to me! I'm afraid that these days, I tend to just assume that I'm free to report on events I attend unless its stated explicitly that I can't.

So good event Julian, and do let me know if you don't want me to post nest time.
Did anybody attend? How about a summary? Slides anybody?
A bunch of management heads will tell you that engagement matters because of productivity and its effect on profits. Which is like saying your heartbeat is important because of breathing. Engagement matters because it is a measure of how people feel about their work. It matters because engaged employees are finding happiness and satisfaction on their work rather than wishing that they are somewhere - anywhere - else.

The key drivers are purpose, empowerment, positive peer interaction, and outcomes that matter. People need to see value in the outcome, be part of the solution, give some of themselves to the solution, and see the results from their efforts.

As management, the biggest thing I can do is make myself unnecessary. Not useless, not un-valuable, not indispensable, but not needed. That means helping the team have the skills and sustainable direction that allows them to make the right decisions without me.

I once created and led a high performing team of kids just out of school. I went of vacation and told them to make the best decisions they could and I'd back them up 100% when I returned. While I was on vacation, the team decided to work a second shift to help another (dysfunctional) team catch up. There was noting in it for them. They also changed my schedule, move resources around, and gave a team member a day off. And when I got back, not one of them thought to tell me, explain why, justify their decisions, or make excuses. They never asked me to make another decision for the remainder of the project. I was unneeded. I took on a new role and my role wasn't replaced.

That's engagement. They worked 16 hours a day because they wanted too. They liked that they were learning new skills and could make their own decisions. They were empowered. And when they were given to me for my team, 80% were just out of school and utterly clueless (their word, not mine).

What made this team? 1. My boss trusted me tp run the team any way I wanted. 2. The team agreed that it would assign its own ratings or take one rating for the entire team. 3. I set up rules - much like a game - that they had to follow, but the rules allows them to make decisions. 4. They had to help each other to get things done. 5. We created a team identity - by shooting rubber bands at each other for 15 minutes each day. 6. I worked with each one to help them do better and treated each as an individual rather than a generic employee.

How do you disengage an employee - hire them for their skills, experience, judgment, and successes - then tell them exactly what to do and re-do their work to your liking. You might as well toss their soul in a wood chipper.


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