There was an optimistic air at the recent CIPD Scotland Employee Engagement Conference, held at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh. With its translucent roof and glass walls, the dramatic setting of the Stratosphere was a fantastic meeting space, while the Ozone Suite was well named, if the thoughtful range of insights on offer was anything to go by.
Guest speaker, Co-Chair of the Employee Engagement Task Force David MacLeod OBE, had the audience on his side from the outset as he wittily related the difficulties of getting a Government Minister to grasp the importance of employee engagement, having initially used the analogy of shopping in a supermarket, albeit an upmarket one. Supermarkets not being the natural domain of Government Ministers, David obviously had his work cut out.
Speaking about the four pillars of employee engagement (strategic, narrative, engaging managers’ employee voice and organisational integrity) he laid out the challenges and importance of making employee engagement work in practice. Referring to the “death of deference”, he cited a recent survey that seven out of 10 employees were either neutral or didn’t trust their boss. In addition, research in 2008 indicated that only one third of employees were actively engaged, resulting in a huge impact on productivity. Summing up these challenges, he observed that there are four ways to improve your business: innovating, giving great customer service, finding cheaper ways to do things, and entering new markets. “You need everyone in the organisation to be engaged in order to achieve those four things. That requires trust, a lack of hierarchies and less deference,” David said.
David pointed to the accelerator effect, where more engaged employees means more engaged customers. He quoted Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary, who said: “If I had known that being nicer to our customers was going to result in higher load factors (a measure of how full an aircraft is), I would have been nicer years ago.” It seems engagement pays off.
In order to access the benefits of an engaged workforce, employees need to be both aligned (they know what to do) as well as engaged (they want to do it). Alignment without engagement leads to the creation of “tin soldiers”, where employees follow the letter but ignore the spirit. Engagement without alignment results in “headless chickens” with managers and staff rushing around enthusiastically but creating mayhem.
Delegates came away with a range of insights and ideas which got to the core of the subject and highlighted practical pointers on ensuring employees are better engaged and ultimately more productive. These ideas were challenging, innovative and sometimes iconoclastic, mirroring the building in which those ideas were aired.
You can find out more about employee engagement at Engage for Success.