What is Employee Engagement? Ask Archie!

In my Engage for Success launch blog post on Monday about defining employee engagement and measuring employee engagement, I also mentioned we heard from Archie Norman, currently chairman at ITV. Archie (I will refer to him by his first name, I hope he doesn’t mind) was invited to talk to us about what employee engagement means to him, and after David MacLeod introduced Archie as the Godfather of employee engagement, I was keen to hear what he had to say. Here are a few things that caught my attention:

Work is becoming voluntary

Archie said that young people are more and more deciding whether they want to work, where they want to work and for whom. The last two I get, but I felt his first assertion was somewhat removed from reality. Most people want and indeed probably need to work, and I couldn’t help wondering what kind of response his statement would get from the roughly one million young people currently unemployed in the UK?

Knowledge workers

Archie said that businesses are becoming more focused on knowledge, skills and the service people deliver, less about costs. I certainly think there is a strong connection between the employee service and customer service experience, and if you can get the employee piece right, the customer service flows more easily and meaningfully. And I think most people would agree that improving knowledge and skills is vital, yet the ‘training’ budget is often one of the first to be hit in tough times. As more and more big companies are run by bean counters, I’m not sure I see the cost challenge going away any time soon.

Customer service

Archie said that ‘we go to places to shop that have humanity’, and he also said that ‘self esteem defines service’. These are powerful observations and I was pleased to hear talk of things more emotional, and less functional.

Engagement is not a survey

“Engagement is not an HR activity, although HR should be responsible for measuring it,” Archie said. “And it’s not a survey. Engagement is about leadership living the values.” Unsurprisingly I disagree with anyone being responsible for measuring engagement and I do think that if engagement is about meaning, purpose and shared values, it should flow everywhere in and out of the business, through leadership and way beyond.

Hierarchy is dead

‘I haven’t had an office since I worked at McKinsey’, Archie told us. “Hierarchy is dead,” he said. “Offices and all that have to go. Job titles are meaningless.” He encouraged total transparency and said leaders should reward staff for speaking up and telling them what should be changed about the company.

I’m curious to know how Archie felt when after finishing his talk we were shown a video of some 40 CEOs all giving their blessing to employee engagement. Most, if not all, were older, white men, doubtless very well paid indeed. The fact that this collection of the great and good lacked any obvious diversity was disheartening enough, and the assertion that somehow the Engage for Success movement might succeed thanks to the exhortations of the 40 leaves me feeling Hierarchy is still very much alive.

You can read another angle on Archie’s talk courtesy of HR Magazine here and Graham Frost has covered the event more broadly here too. And as always, I’d love to hear your views, particularly on the death or otherwise, of hierarchy.

photo credit


Author: Doug Shaw

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

2 thoughts on “What is Employee Engagement? Ask Archie!”

  1. The popular illusion that work is voluntary is leading young people (willingly in some cases) into a life of low wages, based on an urban belief that money is the root of all evil. No disrespect to Archie etc, but does he wish to forego his salary, house, benefits and so on.

    We are in danger of going back to an age of exploitation of the masses.



    1. Cheers Peter – I thought the point about work being voluntary was at best a thoughtless thing to say and simultaneously, a very easy thing for someone so well off to say. His talk was a real mixed bag and the more I reflect on it – the more I’m struggling with the authenticity of it.

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