Support Act – Part Two

As promised, here is my next set of scribblings, my interpretation of the second part of the engagement taskforce “guru group” meeting. I can barely bring myself two write those two words. Guru. Group…..shudder! I really don’t like that term – enough said on that.

Part two of the meeting involved a discussion at tables for twenty minutes to decide what activity we thought the taskforce should prioritise. Now if getting answers to the first question had at times proved tricky – what followed was a little more challenging. I often observe that people sometimes need gentle reminding and refocusing on the matter in hand. Folk are generally great at offering opinions – not always so good at answering questions. And I find this often gets even trickier when it comes to making specific actionable suggestions. I want to be clear – I’m a part of this group and therefore partly responsible. I’m not singling it out, this is behaviour I observe often and so I was not surprised to see it here.

Our table discussion started and it was almost all theoretical. I sat and listened, waiting for action to emerge from theory. I waited for over ten minutes before interjecting and suggesting that with half our allotted time gone, we should move from theory to practice. Here’s what we managed to come up with:

  • Experiment more – be open to trying things differently and learn from them, don’t punish mistakes in this experimental environment
  • Why is the engagement taskforce here? Clarify it? Its intention is to achieve what? How do taskforce members see it contributing to other things?
  • Do more qualitative analysis
  • Involve younger people
  • Stop doing employee engagement surveys
  • Use social tools to help create a community resource

After the twenty minutes were up each table was invited to set out its stall. I must stress that what follows is what I heard – it is not some official output. I tried really hard to capture what people were saying and just like before I’m sure I will have missed stuff. So here goes:

Transcript from the Engagement Taskforce Guru Group Meeting held at 1 Victoria Street London on 19 May 2011

Question #2 what things do we think the taskforce should prioritise and address first?

What’s in it for the employer and employee? Need both for UK plc

Share experiences and stories of employee “voice”.

Identify where improvement has been sustained and share – what is the succession plan?

Shareholders as blockers

How does a manager become engaging?

Engagement as part of core values

Share reality of good practice

The language is too simplistic

How do we deal with a U shape of engagement where the people at the top and the front line are engaged and middle management isn’t?

Leadership styles

Is employee engagement too passive could it be more two way?

Use social tools to help give voice

Create a community resource – open source employee engagement

3 tensions:

1 – A discipline, on the surface it’s disposable deeper it sustains, create meaning, it’s an enabler not an outcome

2 – Data versus insight, quantitative versus qualitative

3 – What’s in it for the employee and the employer? Value congruence – wellbeing

Why are you (the taskforce) a part of this? Passion? Gain? Personal and give and share?

Experiment together – try new stuff and see what works and what doesn’t

Stop doing engagement surveys, at least for a while. Stop the measurement and focus more on the doing

Embodiment of engagement

Convince sceptics

Twelve months time looks like what?

Survey versus intelligent data

Civil service, engagement has gone down, and pockets have gone up – why?

Leadership style for engagement – what is it?

Don’t want a set of tools for middle management

Separate the engagement index from bonuses

Blank sheet – ask employees what they want to do – not a choice of x, y or x

Career development

How do the armed forces create engagement?

Challenge the assumption that scores should go up every year – this is not sustainable

There are some things in this list which interest me and at the same time I’m not very comfortable with it. Maybe we need a clearer view on what resources the taskforce is to invest into the project to help focus the thinking, but for me – this output is too loose and too theoretical. When a colleague at our table read out my stop doing the surveys request and focus on acting on what people are saying – that got a laugh. I had to stress that I was quite serious and I’d like this request put to the taskforce. I wonder if it will make it onto the list?

So there you have it – my views on an interesting gathering last week. It’s early days so I ask that we don’t judge too harshly yet. I will be interested to see what emerges post the taskforce meeting scheduled for June 8th. And if there is anything you wish to add to this post I would be very pleased to hear from you.

Support Act – Part One

Transcript - a snapshot of my scribblings from the engagement meeting last week
Transcript – a snapshot of my scribblings from the engagement meeting last week

Last week I, and around 50 other practitioners, consultants and academics attended a meeting chaired by David MacLeod and Nita Clarke. This group had been asked to convene in advance of the first engagement taskforce meeting due to be held in early June.

David and Nita set the scene stressing that folks at Number 10, BIS, and the CBI see “employee engagement” as a hot topic. We are told the engagement taskforce is most definitely NOT a government initiative though it has government backing. The engagement taskforce companies have committed to putting forward resources, as yet unspecified. It was acknowledged that the weakest part of the original report “Engaging for Success” was the section on barriers to engagement, which had attempted to understand why the concept is not better understood and more widely practiced.

So why were we there? To answer two questions:

#1 since the publication of the Engaging for Success Report two years ago – what has changed?
#2 what stuff did we think the taskforce should prioritise and address first?

I’ll come back to the second question later this week. For now I want to focus on #1. We were sat in small groups at tables and this question was answered by anyone who had a point of view – hands up style. I’m not sure this is the best way to draw insight from such a large group, but that’s how it was handled. As people offered their views, and answers to the question I scribbled like mad trying to capture as much as I could. As you can see from the transcript which follows, a lot of folk didn’t answer the question; nevertheless some interesting points were made. Here is what I heard (with any additions in brackets).

Transcript from the Engagement Taskforce Guru Group Meeting held at 1 Victoria Street London on 19 May 2011

Question #1 since the publication of the Engaging for Success Report two years ago – what has changed?

There has been a proliferation of events, seminars

Strong emergence of social tools and new media (my observation – well come on you didn’t seriously expect me to keep quiet about that did you)

There is dissonance caused by pressure on living standards

Capturing where it is happening already

We are getting more C Suite (this term came up an awful lot and it makes me choke so I shan’t use it again) – senior level engagement

Command and control is an issue particularly in bigger more established organisations (I wonder how many of the taskforce organisations this may apply to?)

Is the person responsible for engagement committed to real change or is this just a part of their career progression (I worry that someone is responsible – surely we all are?)

The taskforce – what is the point of it? Can you integrate HR middle management with top level management?

Downsizing has not been handled well

We need to make a connection with brand and communication

The score or measure goes up yet folk don’t actually feel any better (indeed – comes from fiddling with numbers instead of trying to create any real meaning around the working relationship methinks)

Engagement is seen as a problem to fix, not a way to be

Surveys are not acted upon so people lose faith, think – why bother (murmurs about linking scores to bonuses – don’t get me started!)

Making changes in the way we educate children could be an opportunity (for new thinking and new behaviour)

Generations matter – perhaps younger people are not interested in authoritative leadership? They may have different expectations of a leader, pearls of wisdom and war stories bore younger folk.

Engagement is person specific – not a model

Engagement = compliance to retain your job

Tension around engagement versus short termism and the need to satisfy shareholders and deliver profit (perhaps we could use that to accelerate and drive change rather than shy away from it?)

Investment in middle managers has decreased – can we bring them together to reflect and learn from each other? (great idea something I hear other organisations talking about – so let’s do it!)

Aspire to be a social community (hmm – sound familiar?)

Pride, loyalty and effort come from the employee to the employer, what comes back? And how do we fit this into and around wellbeing and sustainability?

Participative working practices, involvement, converge

Why all this talk about the top level buy in – how about we infuse this stuff virally, further down?

Take a strength based approach

Collective behaviour change needed, mix passion and proof

Stories – what is being engaged? The organisation – no. Employees – yes.

Other observations which struck me about this invited group were: I saw no representation from the black and minority ethnic communities among the guests (there were a few empty seats so maybe some were invited and couldn’t make it) and I think I was one of the younger folk in attendance. I’m 46.

One further point that interests me is that I “advertised” the fact that I was going to this meeting on several forums. I encouraged folk to contact me with ideas, opportunities, concerns etc. that they might want to get on the table. The response barely registered a murmur.

So – I’ll write up question #2 and share that with you in a day or two. And now that you’ve seen the emerging thinking about what has changed in the last two years – is there anything in this so far which interests you? Anything you’d like to add?