Employee Engagement Taskforce

These notes are my recollections and scribblings from the latest engagement taskforce (gg) meeting. If you really want to know what (gg) means, go here.

Warning – this is a pretty long post. Coffee or other stimulation may be required to get to the end. Good luck!

Part One

engagement taskforce meeting slide one

In groups we were asked to consider the ‘bigger picture’ shown above and to discuss what the taskforce should seek to achieve over the next 18 months.

At our table the conversation started around shareholder value, profit, productivity etc and then we quickly shifted, these things are old talk, and yet we recognise that they are often what the CEO and board is measured against. A CEO will (nearly) always think survive first, thrive second, particularly when times are tough.

A lot of folk still see engagement as HR’s job. How we manage is important. Actually it’s not about management it’s about consultation and involvement. It’s about ongoing simple dialogue, understanding what better work means for everybody. There was a sense that the senior management (sorry but I will not use the term C-suite, these are people not furniture we’re discussing) might agree with the principles and don’t know how to implement. This emerged from observations that all too often we ‘blame’ layers of management beneath the top team when of course there is responsibility for the most senior teams to engage directly with others too.

We talked about the need for some faith, and trust. Familiarity is important, and this could be gained through being more visible. The open door policy is patronising and out of date. No one should have an office enclosing them. Private space is readily available for sensitive meetings, conversations etc. as needed. O2 were held up as an example of this – the CEO sits out in the open, well done! In conversations later that day I learned of two more accessible senior management examples at Yellsites and LBi. I think we need many more.

Who people are is important, behaviour matters and we talked about how, when driving people to meet KPIs and targets, there is little or no acknowledgement of this. Despite the fact that some organisations may try to measure the behavioural stuff using Myers Briggs and other tools, we don’t seem to acknowledge the differences when people are managed.

Developing a sense of commitment to each other, to suppliers, customers and other groups is important. There is no mention of community in the diagram yet most if not all felt it was a strong, even vital connection to the world of work. We need to find ways to encourage emotional connections, belief is important.

Looking ahead what would we like to see (comments from our table and the wider group)?

There is a growing expectation for dialogue; a wider workplace acceptance of social tools may be needed

Engagement and Wellbeing appearing on the MBA syllabus

It’s not how we manage – more like how we work (the word manage came in for a lot of stick and several people asked for it to be removed from the diagram – old fashioned)

Stronger connections with community, wellbeing and customer service

We are still doing this to people; it’s not a way of life yet (even after decades of discussion)

We manage too much

Metrics don’t make a story

Leadership (at all levels) means more than management

Creativity and innovation if allowed make a big difference. Few organisations allow for the disruption and mess that creativity and innovation bring so if your organisation punishes mistakes (and many do) then perhaps creativity and innovation are not for you.

Small is significant. No programmes required try some small behaviour changes and see what works.

Part two

engagement taskforce meeting slide two

We were shown these sub groups of activity which the taskforce wishes to develop and progress, and were invited to choose one and have a conversation about it in our groups. We were a little greedy and talked about the barriers to engagement and engagement through adversity.

We felt that how well (or otherwise) redundancies are handled makes a big difference. Bad news is bad enough without it being cloaked in false hope and dishonesty. Be straight with people and tell them as much as you possibly can. Authenticity is partly about sharing pain and discomfort. Big rises in exec pay and huge share options against a backdrop of cuts is disengaging.

We talked briefly about whether current management training schools people to lose touch. We acknowledged that managing beyond KPIs and targets is not easy and the emotional economics of work need to be explored. There should be more acknowledgement of the many differences between us.

A story was told whereby two separate local authorities devised and implemented a parking charges scheme for employees. One was imposed, the other suggested and agreed upon. Needless to say the involving approach worked – people were happy to adopt the scheme and get on with other more important things. In the imposed case, the charging scheme is still causing problems.

Management involves coercion – lead through involvement

Underperformance is not dealt with well, and in adverse times it seems that it’s dealt with even worse (perhaps as companies use underperformance to directly reduce staffing numbers – rather than deal with the root cause of the situation?).

Loyalty and respect have to flow all ways, short termism is a problem. Tough times lead to draconian compliance, fewer chances for self-determination and risk aversion thrives. Be risk astute.

Here are a few other things that buzzed around the room and caught my attention

Work is increasingly no longer at the centre of people’s lives

Innovation is not an ideas box – crowd source stuff. There was talk of other cultures, e.g. China, which has a greater sense of community connectedness, where innovation works better as people are mindful not just of themselves, but of others too.

Over engagement leads to burnout. Wellbeing is partly about sustaining purpose and aspiration.

Community connectedness is important

A results only working environment versus possible unravelling of workplace social fabric

What next?

Folks were encouraged to make connections and get involved with activities they felt strongly about. This is a good thing and I hope it will lead to more focus and less talking and more action. There will be another taskforce meeting next week and more news to follow on that (quickly I hope).

A couple of personal observations

Lots of emphasis on creating a movement not another model. I quite like that. Lots of emphasis and pushing for case studies and evidence. I’m much less keen on that. As far as I’m concerned there’s sufficient evidence that the previous 100 years of management and coercion have produced less than satisfactory employee and customer experiences. I’d rather get on and co-create new ways of working with those people and companies who are interested, and let the rest stumble along until they either realise they need a new direction, or fade from view.

I’m turned off by the apparent need to turn this thing into a diagram. I prefer pictures and stories personally.

At the first of these meetings I observed that almost all the participants were white, seemingly middle class folk. It’s very rare these days that I find myself in a group of that size and think I am one of the younger ones in attendance. I contacted the taskforce team after this first meeting to pass on this and a few other observations. The make-up of the group seems largely unchanged. This taskforce group are the now of work; we are not the future of work. I will ask again that the group be infused with some youth and cultural diversity. The group may well be experienced, and it also has lots to learn I’m sure.

I will be seeking to get more involved in ‘Barriers to Engagement’. I’ll keep you posted. Oh, and if you made it this far, well done!

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

10 thoughts on “Employee Engagement Taskforce”

  1. Lots of extremely interesting discussion points here, Doug. I’m particularly intrigued by the note that “Metrics don’t make a story.” Was there much further debate around this point?

    1. Hey Michael thanks for popping by. I coined that phrase ‘metrics don’t make a story’ as an observation on the fly. There were hints about the concept which drifted in and out of other dialogue but nothing really caught hold. Some talk about ‘enough with the cries for more evidence let’s get on and do’, and perhaps we should have thought more about how to tell stories rather than draw convoluted diagrams. I captured it partly as a reminder to come back to it, and I’m pleased it stood out for you too.

  2. How dare you call me middle class! 😉

    Great post. Thanks for sharing being as I couldn’t be there this time. Totally agree with your statement that ‘we need to change the way we work’.

    For me the challenge rests on leadership capability; the true, authentic Lau Tsu form of leadership that is so lacking in this country.

    How do we make being referred to as a ‘leader’ a true badge of honour?


    1. he he….

      I’m happy to continue to share my views on this project. I feel I should finish what I started and lots of people have contributed via this blog. I think it’s a shame the taskforce hasn’t yet delivered more engaging dialogue of its own. If I can do it – they/we can do it.

      I concur – authenticity is vital. Love the badge idea – I’m wearing a virtual badge right now. I’d be happy to meet up and talk about your idea in more detail, will drop you a line.

  3. Hi Doug,

    Thanks for sharing this.

    I agree with your observation about the importance of diversity within the taskforce participants.

    I recently read Lynda Grattons book The Shift (a great read if you’ve not already done so http://www.lyndagratton.com) about the future of work. I think her work really highlights the differing expectations and the needs of Gen X, Y, Z… and involving representatives from these ‘groups’ is requred to shape a future (and indeed present) that everyone wants to particpate in… Perhaps this is another stream?

    Thanks for your post.

    Catch up soon.


    1. Hello Ali. Thanks for the book recommendation I’ll take a look. I think you, Lynda Gratton and others are right about these different groups wanting and needing different things. I really hope the taskforce picks up on this important point.

      Cheers – Doug

  4. Thanks Doug. This is a really important topic and great to have someone at the coal face reporting back. Your cynicism is well placed. This is a no-shit-sherlock subject which is avoided by management and subcontracted to HR, who in turn activate it as a clinical mission, mapped out in powerpoint, glorified in diagrams.

    This taskforce will only be successful if it breaks this mould. i would take issue with one point though. Measurement. As you have to understand the needs of the employee you need to understand the needs of management. The only way to break through the emotionless barricades around senior management is irrefutable metrics. Emotional connection and belief connects with staff. metrics connects with management. I know this because I am at the frontline promoting engagement to management. I really hope that out of this taskforce comes two things: a clearer perspective of the value of engagement to staff and a clearer perspective on how to engage with management. I am not a fan of being enlightened and only working with interested companies. It is those who are stumbling that need the help.

    Keep posting, you input is invaluable!

  5. It sounds like a fascinating session. But I can’t help thinking that government are the wrong people to be doing this stuff: I have absolutely zero confidence that they would be able to make a difference…!

    1. Hi Patrick. I’ve been to two of these now and a third is scheduled for January. Though it is sponsored by Govt they don’t seem to have any active role. That said currently I’m frustrated by lack of progress and have made this known and asked what can I do differently that I’m not already doing to help. Will keep you and everyone posted, thanks for your feedback.

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