HRBPTT – Are we chasing our tails with engagement?

These are the thoughts and takeaways from the most recent HR Business Partner Think Tank (HRBPTT) held on Wednesday 25th July 2012, hosted by PwC and titled ‘Are we chasing our tails with engagement?’ The following summary has been prepared to reflect the discussion held amongst senior HR professionals from leading UK and international businesses.

For more information on the group, or to discuss membership, please contact Jeremy on 0207 11 88 444 |

“Have we become caught up in chasing high survey scores that we end up going around in circles trying to create engagement? – Discuss”

With all of the changes HR has been going through in the last couple of decades: rising in strategic importance and profile, continuous restructuring and re-labeling and re-defining; one thing seems to have remained consistent – its success is still being measured by surveys.

Rightly: “An employee engagement survey is a vital tool for improving engagement in your organisation” or wrongly: “Despite numerous decades of attempted measurement and espoused value, little progress in measuring human capital, engagement and performance has been made”, surveys seem to be here to stay.

A special thanks to our host, Nigel Hutchinson, and guest speaker, David MacLeod.

Key challenges

  • Keeping employees engaged through change (at a local and global level)
  • Being practical – driving actions, not just surveys. “Making it real”
  • Engaging the leaders who are driving change
  • ROI – How do you prove that engagement is worth the effort?
  • How do you globalize local engagement, and localize global engagement?
  • Engaging with remote workers, and within small, growing organisations where there aren’t surveys in place yet

Common factors that organisations do well…

David’s studies have found that within all types of organisations (Private, Public, SMEs), there are 4 common factors around engagement:

1)    Strategic narrative. There should be a story within the organisation. Where has it been? Where is it now? Where is it going to? It should be simple and concise, so that when told to a third party they can understand and articulate it. Emotional engagement is four times more valuable than rational understanding.

2)    Focus on what success looks like. Treat people not as Employee #406, but as an individual. Task, trust and tend to allow your employees to immerse themselves in the organisation. The Standard Chartered motto reflects this perfectly: “Know me. Focus me. Care about me. Inspire me.” Give positive feedback in a natural and enthusiastic manner, and do not walk past dysfunctional behaviour. 59% of engaged employees bring out creative ideas, compared with 3% that aren’t engaged.

3)    Does my voice count? It is important that your employees feel they are listened to. The job of a CEO is to listen! If you aren’t going to follow an idea up, show respect to the employee by explaining your rationale. Remember – someone always knows! But is their voice heard? (Examples: phone hacking scandal, oil spill fault)

4)    Integrity. If there is a gap between an organisation’s values and behaviours, this will create distrust. There is no model for engagement, but there is good practice, and this is key in promoting integrity.

The role of leaders…

  • Drive cultural change by personally displaying the values of the organisation. If the leader’s values are different to those of the business, it will soon become disjointed and therefore lead to a lack of engagement
  • Inspire your workforce! According to a recent CIPD report, a third of employees do not trust their senior leaders. See them as the solution, not the problem. Leaders are beginning to polarise – those with a command/control approach (“There’s a recession on”), and those who gain everyone’s contribution to improve the organisation (“Let’s get through the recession” by improving on either customer service, innovation or cost reduction)
  • In an international organisation, leaders should recognise the importance of understanding intercultural differences. The British typically have a rebellious nature and want to know why changes are happening. This is because we are interested! Communicate changes openly with employees to increase engagement.

The role of HR in assisting leaders…

  • Develop leaders to listen in an authentic way. Help them to identify what makes them a good leader of people, not just a good business leader.
  • Coach leaders on how to engage with large groups – it is not uncommon for leaders to become shy, particularly during difficult situations. Ensure that leadership is visible within the organisation.
  • Make leaders feel comfortable enough to address these issues. Show compassion and be a crutch to lean on!

Surveys – the good, the bad and the ugly…

+ Allows more ‘minor’ issues to be resolved quickly. “You said you wanted apples. We gave you apples

+ Surveys give people a voice, and the anonymous nature means that this is a true reflection of their thoughts

The anonymity means that you don’t know who the unhappy people are! Combat this by encouraging managers to get regular feedback on what employees like/dislike.

– Traditional lines of communication are being broken. Employees do not wait for an engagement survey to express their thoughts, particularly negative ones! Due to social media, they are Tweeting, using, etc.

– Results and analyses can take far too long, and smaller issues that could be resolved immediately take a month in order to be addressed.

– The word ‘survey’ often puts people in the wrong mindset, and not everyone will complete it.

What could replace an engagement survey?

  • Internal focus groups/forums

Take a cross-section of the business and ask “What is life like around here?” Provoke dialogue.

  • Online pop-ups

Can be weekly/monthly. “How do you feel today, on a scale of 1-10?”. This gives a snapshot of how employees are feeling on a particular day, and is a good indication of what survey results will look like. If employees answer with a low value, request that they speak with their manager to resolve issues.

  • Weekly newsletters

This could be an email or printed newsletter created internally by a Communications Manager. It gives employees an understanding of what is going on the business, but they do not give employees a voice. A solution could be to team them with an online pop-up (see above).

Quick engagement ideas…

  • Regular desk swaps – get to know different employees, mix up functions to increase business knowledge and visibility (Finance sitting next to HR?), mix up the seniority levels to appear more approachable (Directors aren’t hidden in offices)
  • Directors should personally meet all new starters
  • Hand-written ‘Thank you’ cards from the CEO to recognise employees that have delivered above expectations.

These will all make your employees feel like an individual. Personal touch is vital in increasing engagement levels.

Memorable quotes

“In hospitals, you can correlate mortality with low engagement”

“More engaged pilots use less fuel”

“The seeds of failure are always in success”

“58% of employees are not bothered about their work” (CIPD report)

“67% of more engaged employees say good things about you when your back is turned”


  • There is no perfect answer to employee engagement – it is trial and error!
  • Personal touch is so important to individuals
  • The role of a leader impacts at all levels
  • Give employees a narrative of past/present/future
  • Get people within the company talking to each other!
  • Engagement evolves – be flexible to respond to changes.
Oasis HR

Written by , Network Driven HR Recruitment

Oasis HR is a multi-award winning HR Recruitment Agency based in London that delivers Contingency and Search services within the Human Resource and Business Change Markets. Our client base encompasses all industry sectors and we have a proven track record of delivering permanent, interim and temporary professionals at all levels across all HR disciplines. From a £20k HR Administrator to a £200k HR Director, Oasis HR is well placed to identify, approach and secure the best available talent in the market

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