What is Missing?

Having recently posted talks from Barry Schwartz, Dan Pink and Curt Coffman all focussing on the importance of employee engagement, I got stuck into the Towers Perrin Global Workforce Study for some light reading. It’s a great report, crammed full of useful facts and figures and powerful arguments for employee engagement as a basis for sustainable change. In particular, the analysis on how engagement affects financial and individual performance stood out for me.

Financial Proof that Employee Engagement Works

This looks like a rare beast, a win win scenario. The more I examine the evidence, the harder I struggle to understand why these principles aren’t more widely understood, and indeed practiced.

I need your help. In your experience, what is it that stops organisations from embracing the connection between employee engagement and improved financial performance, and doing something meaningful about it? Have you got any examples of this in action?

Author: Doug Shaw

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

14 thoughts on “What is Missing?”

  1. The simple fact is keep it simple, you can disengage employees quickly. As a salesman in my time i have been duped by organisations when it has come to payment of commission and bonuses. I worked for a company who had a head office in Leicester and a new sales office in Birmingham where I worked. I had acheived sales of £42000.00 for this particular month which I acheived only to be pipped at the post by £62.00 by a guy from leicester, funny that. It transpired that the sales director had topped up his sales by a conciderable sum for him to win the contest, as he did not want the birmingham sales office which was in hind sight understaffed and underfunded to beat his team. I left after my commision came through went to a direct competitor and did that company some serious damage on the sales front, i did not lose out but I was disengaged at the point of the deception.
    The Birmingham Sales team came with me we left a secretary and the desks. how much did they lose because of their behaviour?
    Who knows? I dont care. The moral of the story is if you dont treat people with a modicum of respect they will walk, you do not need graphs to prove the direct correlation between success and failure, just common sense should tell you so!

  2. I would caution against the correlation between any one business metric and financial performance. This feels too simplistic. I am sure that the investment bankers who were over compensated and over indulged were `enagaged’ and that, for a time, they could point to improved financial performance. But, as we know now, were not concerned about the financial performance over the mid to long term. I am sure that employee enagement is important but there are many other factors that influence financial performance e.g economic cycle, competitor activity, innovation, right sourcing, leadership, to name a few. The blend and importance of influence of the different factors will depend upon the sector and company specifics.

    1. Hello Cornelius and thanks for stopping by. Thanks for your very well made point with which I agree. You are right, it’s not the only connection, and it is an important one, among some others you have stated. I appreciate you adding to the diversity of the debate.

  3. I would like to offer a perspective: that of leadership and promotion to leadership roles in many organisations.

    Business leaders, and those occupying the senior leadership roles, generally have arrived in these roles on the basis of their success in more junior roles, that relied upon their technical, specialist execution skills. However the skills, and more importantly behaviours, that are essential to be effective at the senior level are very different and depend upon understanding the need for effective team work (within the senior team), collaboration between functions and understanding the end-to-end customer experience – which requires a holistic view of the business. None of these come naturally to expert specialists and takes time, space and focus to develop in each leader. The situation of the absolute leader of business is event more acute as they are alone in their position, without reference to peers or guidance.

    This ‘carried-upwards’ behaviour (of the promoted specialist) often results in the decision-makers focusing on the mechanical aspects for the business (strategy, metrics, processes, organisation structures, etc), resulting in little or no time (and certainly no reward) to think about anything else.

    To be successful at employee engagement this requires empathy, insight, time and a desire to understand leaders’ role in helping (or hindering) their organisation to be successful.

    I think you will find this is a common cause of the symptom highlighted in the report mentioned in your blog.

  4. hi Doug

    I’ve been beating the drum on the direct correlation between people shift and performance shift for as long as i can remember. The barriers to take up in client companies are; unless it’s driven and owned from the very top, it doesn’t become a priority or understood further down; the absolute absolute (sic) proof of exact ROI is still more a leap of faith than a science in each individual company; engagement programmes mean changing often deep rooted habits, at all levels, and some clients dont have the stomach for such a long and occasionally arduous fight amongst all the other priorities;

    What’s your view?

    1. Hi John, appreciate you stopping by. You raise some interesting points. This whole senior sponsorship thing is bugging me more and more. I have seen change innovated, tested and delivered without senior sponsorship, and I see that as real empowerment. Folk didn’t need a senior person to nod their head, they just got on and did it. Yes it’s rare, and yes it’s powerful.

      I feel a bit sorry for the clients that don’t have the stomach for the fight, and I guess I will feel a lot more sorry when they don’t have a business to fight for.

      Keep beating the drum it can be done 🙂

  5. Hi,

    A mighty storm battered the coastline relentlessly for several days. When it ended, there were a million starfish left stranded, high and dry up the coastline. A young boy wandered across the beach, picking up the starfish and returning them to the sea. A man watched for several minutes before saying to the boy “you haven’t a hope of making any difference to this, there’s a million of them”. The boy looked at him, picked up another one and threw it into the sea before replying “I made a difference to that one didn’t I”.
    I have worked for a company that has seen its business genuinely transform in the last 5 years whilst simultaneously recording engagement scores from seriously disengaged through to “world class”. The key for me is simple – if people believe they can make a difference, however small, they will. If they don’t, they won’t!
    Best regards – John

    1. Thanks John, appreciate you getting in touch and I like the starfish story. I wonder how you might help those that don’t believe, to think again? Or is it more fundamental in your experience, i.e. if they don’t get it they never will?

  6. I have been a practitioner and teacher of involvement-based approaches like Sociotechnical Systems design for almost 25 years. The fact that it works is not new, notwithstanding T-P’s study. There have been positive performance metrics of all sorts for this kind of approach since the late 1940’s when it was discovered in the British coal mines by Fred Emery and Eric Trist of the Tavistock Institute. The Europeans readily adopted the practices, but the North Americans have been a resistant bunch. Business organizations in the US, although existing in a democracy, have not been run as a democracy. As a result, it has been difficult to get them to adopt egalitarian approaches. And employee engagement is nothing if not egalitarian.

    1. Thanks Henry, this is interesting. From here in Europe, I perceive that the US gets it, whereas we struggle. You see the mirror version. Disappointingly, I see little evidence of egalitarianism here. In fact, only today I heard about a new engagement approach in an organisation that I know well, and that I thought had begun to “get it”, at least in co-creation, or involvement based approach terms (I like your terminology). Turns out this latest, albeit interesting idea has been devised by, and driven by the top. Hmmmm. Appreciate you getting in touch.

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