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Rules of Engagement

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By Margot Cairnes, MBA, B.Ed. (Hons)

employee_engagementBoards seem to be very interested in the results of employee engagement surveys in which there is a burgeoning industry. CEOs are responding by ensuring they are doing “something” about low engagement scores.

We recently researched this trend. It turns out that most engagement surveys are based on research done by those selling the surveys. Moreover, there is little agreement on the definition of engagement and although each consulting house has done its own research, there is no refereed research to back it up.

This gave me licence to draw my own conclusions based on a remarkable increase in engagement I witnessed in one organisation over a period of two years. I saw a company radically reduce its staff turnover, attract higher quality staff and magnetise back good people who had left. I saw all the staff members increase their commitment to the company and their involvement in leadership of areas not directly under their control but also in service of the wider business. I saw team work increase and what appeared to be the staff “growing up” in thinking and behaviour.

The key change was the result of a new CEO. The outgoing CEO had been self serving and mostly interested in his own image,

The new CEO genuinely empowered people, giving them real responsibility and accountability… He had his finger on the pulse of his people, their contribution, their emotions and their output.

power and status, whereas the new CEO genuinely cared about the company and the people in it. The old CEO controlled through divide and rule and seemed to create dependency on him as a leader – making all decisions and ensuring nobody acted without his say so.

The new CEO genuinely empowered people, giving them real responsibility and accountability. He worked alongside them to teach them (where necessary) and had regular performance management sessions wherein he gave constructive and honest feedback. He had his finger on the pulse of his people, their contribution, their emotions and their output.

The former CEO, when receiving constructive feedback from the Board, quit (which turned out to be a blessing). The new CEO when receiving constructive feedback engaged a coach and upped his game. The former CEO fought the introduction of effective systems and processes, the new CEO ensured that everybody has the systems they needed to do their job and be accountable for outcomes. Under the former CEO the company stumbled; under the new CEO it thrived, reinvented itself and increased sustainable success.

People wanted to come to work, worked harder, made more money and thought more entrepreneurially. Perhaps that is why boards are interested in engagement surveys. Perhaps they see it as a way of checking up on the effectiveness of the leader. If that is the case, I wonder why the response to such surveys is training programs of people lower down the organisation

Margot is the creator of 12 Steps For Business; a strategic leadership and corporate transformation toolkit which enables leaders and organisations to envisage and achieve unprecedented levels of growth and success.
March 23, 2015
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