John Smythe spoke to the Welsh Government regarding Employee Engagement and leadership styles. The slides and notes from the presentation are below.

Notes from John Smythe’s talk:

Internal communication, change and leadership communication was my central focus but in 2004 I started to look at what then was just an ugly phrase – Employee Engagement. It’s still an ugly phrase but it is changing the way some people work, for the better. And as more work places exhibit good practices the more the bad ones will stick out. And as this recession ends there will be mass exits to engaged workplaces.

Lets be clear Employee Engagement is not rocket science …any leader at any level that is respectful, trusting, tough when needed, and generous is likely to engage pretty naturally

Which workers would you say are the most engaged and productive?

Slide #2 shows pictures of the self employed. By and large, they choose their hours, work out their business plans and match outgoings with income. They do this without a manager or a HR department. Nor do they engagement have an engagement plan…wow amazing. Think too of organizations with a zealous purpose like MSF and Green P – they don’t need an engagement plan either.

And of course in more corporate settings; in the both the private and public sectors you can see amazing levels of engagement by people in their daily roles and with their teams….not an engagement plan in sight.

Disengagement is usually highest with out of touch bosses and top down change and strategy conceived upstairs and delivered by cascade.

So what’s on today’s plat du jour?

I know you are all interested in the topic and many of you will be well along the track but sit back, relax and enjoy the flight wherever you are…

Oh actually don’t sit back yet…first I’m going to ask you to tell me what engages you …turn to a partner and in pairs

Take it in turn to relate your project/period and focus less on the project or period and more on the leadership style at the time which liberated you to do fantastic work, make a difference, have fun, learn. Listen to your friend well – I will ask some couples to report what they have heard from their partner.

Most powerful enabler of your engagement?

Slide #5 shows another sector of people who engage themselves….

And all of us when we are attending to our favorite pastime or community role .

We have already had insight about what brings about or enables engagement …but what does an engaged person do?

Slide #6 illustrates.

The last enabler should be first, they are generous. Think about the leadership styles that you have experienced: the effective ones will all have been generous to you…and you to others. Generous with time, generous with care and generous with your development.

Engaged people have also opted to engage themselves.

Slide #7 “I decide when to engage myself, not you boss!”

It’s the leaders’ role to create and role model the conditions in which people elect to engage themselves.

My boss’s attitude to power and hierarchy and their affection for power, hierarchy, protocol and deference lie at the heart of creating the conditions in which we engage….also let’s not confuse nice outcomes of engagement like these: shown on Slide #8.

In the green and in the red corner the enablers that contribute to creating the conditions that encourage people to engage themselves. These are the Engage for Success four …we at Engage for Change put the greatest emphasis on leaders that make conscious and informed judgements about who to enfranchise in the decision making process.

Lets take a look at this in a bit more detail: #Slide 9

#Slide 10: Being told, being sold, being included and being invited to co-create…and there is a 5th approach to being engaged….

#Slide 11 – But is it worth the effort? I’m sure you have all heard of the government’s inquiry into employee engagement – Engage for Success. I am fortunate to be on the main task force and at the beginning of this year, helped to form the International group – remit to discover what engages people at work in different parts of the world and what might be globally applicable practice. If you want to run some Discovery workshops in non UK locations, please email me.

These statistics on Slide #12, our own YouGov UK wide studies, include a further glimpse of the lost GDP to the UK through poor levels of engagement. We polled 25,000 people at work.

Only a third of people at work are fully engaged – the apostles. 20% are disconnected and worst of all 28% are hostages: that are ‘satisfied’ at work enjoying great benefits but are disengaged with the mission and purpose of their institution. What about the mavericks? We all need mavericks. They can be annoying because they ask awkward questions but they can be innovators. Think about the composition of your teams. If you have North of 60% apostles you are doing a great job. If not you are having to do more work for others than you ought to be. If we engage others they will lift the load for us.

Ok lets step back before we look at the opportunities that employee engagement provides for you to the grand sweep of the social history of work. There is nothing new about employee engagement, look back to the last century: McGregor’s y theory, Oucho’s Z theory, the 1990’s Empowerment movement. All failed to usurp Command & Control…will E theory displace authoritarian, hierarchical capitalism & replace it with democratic capitalism? There are three factors that were not present in the last century.

Those three factors are as shown on Slide #14 – All three are meta influences on the way we work, and all three have only been present in this century. The combination may be enough to mutualize relationships at work. Time will tell.

Slide #16 – Coincidental social upheavals?

Of course our eyes will be on the heartlands of authoritarian capitalism of Russia & China & other despotic states in the Arab world and beyond. They are right to be worried that taste for choice that consumerism brings turns, soon enough, from cars and full fridges to the way people are governed.

There are issues and problems with the topic: see Slide #17

Let’s get excited by the possibilities presented to all of us by employee engagement.

There are 6 opportunities or pathways to seize the day (Slide #18). I’m only going to deal briefly with the first two.

The first is based on our model of behavioural capabilities tested UK wide among 25,000 by YouGov. We help organisations to review their development processes and upgrade them to reflect these employee engagement capabilities.

We also work with leadership teams to help them develop their role model.

The first plate describes the shifting nature of leadership (Slide #19).

Recall the four approaches to engagement: TELL, SELL, INCLUDE, CO-CREATE. In the next two slides I overlay the capabilities of people that engage effectively on that model.

#Slide 22 – These are the factors we examine when working with C suite and functional teams.

Opportunity 2 is probably the best route to experiment with as it will produce quick commercial returns. Engage for Change has designed dozens of interventions intended to engage leader groups and staff in strategy execution, change and transformation processes. Let’s look at the real experiences of Ruby and Geraldine.

Geraldine is the vexed one on the right (Slide #24). She has just returned from a change kick off meeting which had no prior intent communicated. In it a serious man in a suit went through a long PP deck explaining that a secret squirrel team had identified a need for change and worked out all the solutions. The implications were laid out including a consultation process on the ‘human asset’. Most people sat through it trying to translate the jargon into English or Dutch or French or German. A couple of obviously planted questions were asked. The atmosphere dropped to ice cold.

Ruby, as you can see, is looking reflectively out of an office window in lovely downtown North London. She has worked for Total, the French multinational, for 10 years and through their internet she and everyone else has been tracking the decline in fortunes of all 10 business units. The year is 2009. She has just been to a meeting with newish MD Didier Harel. Didier has a mandate from Paris to get profitable again quickly. Normally such a recovery would be carried out in the French dirigiste tradition – just as Geraldine experienced in Bank co. And usually patrician Paris would make allowances. Not this time.

The thing you need to know about Didier is that he hails from Mauritania which is a bit like hailing from Cornwall. In the meetings Didier has reviewed the numbers which everyone is familiar with and…

#Slide 25: And relayed the news from Paris, which came as a shock because Total had always been a secure and sought after employer. But he went to explain that whilst the need for x % efficiencies was not negotiable – the what – the how the efficiencies would be achieved was up to all colleagues. He provided detail of how the process called Action For Recovery would comprise three phases – Survive, Recover, Thrive. Everyone was ‘engaged’ in the process and just 9 months later double digit millions had been saved and new revenue streams started. By everyone I mean admin staff, sales, truckers, traders, bosses and suppliers too.

Geraldine, on the other hand, found herself at the bottom of this dismal but familiar top down approach to change which looks like this: Slide #26

Internal communication grew up as the radio station of top down, command and control styles of leadership. Its job was to communicate messages that leaders wanted and needed employees to have to do the jobs, be more generally informed and feel good about what they do. Its job was also to feedback and encourage dialogue.

These are still relevant roles. But the underlying assumption was that power lay with elites and broadly speaking that power went one way, top to bottom. The communicators role was the alignment of the many with the intentions of a powerful few.

The essence of employee engagement, on the other hand, lies in involving employees more in influencing and shaping big ticket decisions like strategy and change, as well as day to day operational decisions.

Under command and control, communication is linear, a lot goes down, a bit goes back up. In organizations where employees are invited to challenge and contribute, communication still needs to convey some top down messaging but much more critically it needs to enable the involvement of many more people in well governed decision forming, once the preserve of elites.

So whose shoes would you rather be in?

Geraldine’s who was told, or Ruby’s who was engaged and enfranchised? With the right leadership style people.

Ruby experienced problem solving using the principles of crowd sourcing. Crowd sourcing has been around a very long time. Jurys are based on the idea that a crowd of everyday ordinary people like you and me can solve complex problems.

#Slide 29 – Complete transparency of data

But to do so at work employees need to be trusted with the data.

And then to be involved in an intervention in which a clear invitation is made to them to challenge and contribute without fear of rejection – safety to speak up even for leaders is a key to creative thinking that goes beyond the incremental noise that you often get after desultory ‘brainstorms’ at leadership events.

To harvest breakthrough ideas requires Creative Dynamics that emulate the circumstances that often trigger breakthrough ideas AND breakthrough commitment – a warm bath, a walk, ok retail therapy etc. We have learnt a lot about those dynamics and there are some tips to pass on: see Slide #30.

People arrive at the intervention experience in flight fight operational mode…not the conditions in which they will be able to reflect and discover. We could have a day or more on this, but here are a few tips to get people into the zone:

Get people working on their own for a short while thinking about what the challenge in front of them (strategy, change etc) means to them such that they have a point of view when they start to negotiate with others, rather than just an emotional reaction

Pair them up to negotiate the best specific, actionable ideas that will address the challenge

Double to fours, the 8…right up to centurion groups of 100…again negotiating the best specific, actionable, measurable ideas

If there are more than one centurion group…get them to negotiate – its called Team Size Escalation

We have worked with Face to face groups up to 2,500 in size

We use enabling technology for instant capture

GET IN TOUCH if you are interested in creative dynamics for teams of 2 to thousands.

And now DIGITAL ENGAGEMENT we can reach hundreds of thousands.

Another key tip is reducing the strategy/change/operational challenge to a few words that can be understood by anyone anywhere.

The retailer (Slide #31) C&A whose strategy was from NEED to WANT and CARING & AMAZING.

This was a boil down from dozens of power points.

Before you can design the intervention you need to

Simplify the vision

Simplify and headline the strategy

Simplify the work streams that will deliver the strategy

Decide the invitation for others below the sponsor team to challenge and contribute to the WHAT (CONTENT) and the HOW (EXECUTION) – they are not the same.

Slide #32 shows another example of simplicity of message from (now) the world’s largest law firm.

Slide #34: And this is 700 executives experiencing Strategy Safari in a giant TV studio in Germany.

As the intervention goes live and real work is being done by people everywhere momentum is maintained by highly visible PROGRESS DASHBOARDS on the intranet where all staff can calibrate – competitively – how their part of the business is doing. This a great way to both celebrate progress and a great way to shame laggard departments and businesses!

Slide #35 – In the oil company case, the progress of all lines of business against the efficiency targets was published on line (access to all) every week. Laggards were embarrassed into action. With no transparency the laggards can hide and obfuscate. When their employees are asking why are we at the bottom of the league table, it’s much harder.

The next tip is the Volcanic eruption syndrome with no lava flow. It needs rigorous process, designed in parallel with the design of the intervention – left to after and it won’t happen and you end up with a very visible failure.

All of this warrants a book… The Velvet Revolution at Work: The rise of Employee Engagement, fall of Command and Control.

(Let me have your feedback, thank you.)

It’s been a romp, if you would like to continue the debate in your organisation or run a leadership meeting on this topic, get in touch.

Our services include:

Employee engagement plans, Designing inclusive interventions, Engaging behaviours, Top team role model, Engaging communication, speaking at leadership meetings and public venues.