Two Thumbs Up For UK’s Engage For Success

I want to congratulate the UK government for understanding the power of employee engagement. In 2009, the Labour Government engaged David MacLeod and Nita Clarke to produce a research paper on the importance of engagement to the UK economy. Based on that study, the government backed the launch of the Engage for Success movement last November. In a video that was made for the voluntary movement, a young worker proclaims…

…give employees a voice… create a place where people want to shine… I’m not a human resource; I’m a human being.

Here are a few comments from the authors of the initial study and leaders of the movement:

  • MacLeod: “We can show you places where the workforce has been reduced but levels of engagement have gone up. It’s because the challenge has been explained to the workforce, their ideas have been taken on board and there’s been a partnership. Anyone who says ‘we can’t do this because there’s a recession on’ just doesn’t understand what engagement is.”
  • Clarke: “If you’re not trying to improve engagement, you may as well be standing on top of a building chucking money away… “HR needs to be expert, they need to orchestrate how to find engagement in a transformational way… This is HR’s opportunity to be at the top table, to help the CEO and top team ensure people are behind their strategy.”

My take: I totally agree. Employee engagement is critical for an organization’s success, it represents an opportunity/imperative for HR to become more strategic, and it could even be a catalyst for improving the competitiveness of an entire country.

To achieve those benefits, however, the prevailing approach to management must change. Rather than imposing layers of strict controls over employees in an attempt to ensure financial success, companies need to engage employees and reap the benefits. While this may seem like a subtle difference, it leads to a profoundly different approach to management—from controlling to leading.

Employees aren’t a fungible commodity that you burn through on the way to success, they are your critical assets. Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines, does a great job of describing his enlightened approach to employees:

“If you create an environment where the people truly participate, you don’t need control. They know what needs to be done and they do it. And the more that people will devote themselves to your cause on a voluntary basis, a willing basis, the fewer hierarchies and control mechanisms you need.”

The following chart, which is the initial figure in the Temkin Group report The Five I’s of Employee Engagement, highlights how employee engagement is the start to a virtuous cycle and showcases compelling data from our benchmark study of U.S. employees. As you can see, our research on U.S. employees concurs with MacLeod’s and Clarke’s findings.

EEoverviewUnfortunately, HR has not yet embraced employee engagement as a strategic imperative. In a recent Temkin Group study of HR professionals at large organizations, we found that 75% of HR professionals recognize that employee engagement is important, but only 61% rate their HR group as being good or excellent in this area. As you can see in the chart below, employee engagement has the second highest capability gap amongst the 14 areas we examined.

HR_EE_GapIn our work with organizations, we rarely see HR organizations driving any serious employee engagement activities. HR groups are more focused on transactional activities such as hiring, firing, compensating, and training. Given the opportunity for creating value, it’s time for HR to take the lead in this critical area. As Clarke stated: “This is HR’s opportunity to be at the top table.”

The bottom line: Employee engagement is critical for organizations and for HR

About Bruce Temkin, CCXP
I'm an experience (XM) management catalyst; helping organizations improve results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. I enjoy researching and speaking about these topics. I lead the Qualtrics XM Institute, which is the world's best job. We're igniting a global community of XM Professionals who are inspired and empowered to radically improve the human experience. To achieve this goal, my team focuses on thought leadership, training, and community building. My work is driven by a set of fundamental beliefs: 1) Everything starts and ends with human beings, so you need to understand how people think, feel, and behave; 2) XM is a discipline that needs to be woven throughout an organization's entire operating fabric; and 3) Building the XM discipline requires a combination of culture, competency, and technology.

2 Responses to Two Thumbs Up For UK’s Engage For Success

  1. Guy Letts says:

    A succinct and compelling article, with helpful data to support what I’m sure many of us feel instinctively. Thank you.

    I have one question on the conclusions: If our aim is to reduce the hierarchies and control mechanisms as the counterpart to increasing voluntary engagement, then isn’t your challenge that it is HR’s responsibility (or opportunity) at odds with that goal?

    My fear is that as in the case of customer service, as soon as it is considered the responsibility of one eponymous department to bring it about, the implication is that it’s NOT the role of everyone else.

    I wonder whether it is the responsibility of leaders within ALL disciplines to embrace these values, championed instead by the most able and enthusiastic sponsor, who may or may not reside within the HR function?

    • Bruce Temkin says:

      Guy: Thanks for the comment.. and for asking a great question. I like to think separately about “owners” and “change agents.” If your organization has the employee engagement that it needs to succeed, then it is likely owned collectively across the leadership team. My guess would be that the senior executives spend time, implicitly or explicitly, thinking about it. But what about if you are not where you need to be, which is the case for most organizations. Then some person/group needs to facilitate a change. Obviously the leadership team needs to be onboard and fully supportive, but they don’t typically have the skills or knowledge to change employee engagement levels on their own. That’s where HR needs to step in; as the facilitator of change. Helping leaders improve the level of employee engagement across the organization; not by owning employee engagement, that continues to be the responsibility of the entire leadership team.

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