Very unhelpfully, political and economic commentators are suggesting that the current austerity culture and resulting economic stagnation may well persist until at least 2020.
Politics aside, to hell with that!
I’m old enough to recall the last recession and while the root cause was very different, it’s now high time business leaders removed their heads from between their knees and recognised that, rather than stare into the oncoming headlights of the vehicles they can’t control or continue to bang the drum for business as usual while the world changes around them, they should be doing all they can to make the most of the assets they have, namely their people, proposition and brand.
One of the many problems of the chatter about employee engagement is that it’s the equivalent of lecturing the drowning man about why he isn’t swimming. And when the folk handing out the lectures come from the public sector, training, eventing or even comms stable or have patently never managed a P&L let alone a corporation or even a team, it gives an entire “industry” a bad name. The so-called engagement “movement” is doing little more than dumbing down the decades of past learning and providing catharsis for the cynical and disaffected at the moment. The stats unfortunately back this up.
I’ve long expressed the view that the goal of educating Board directors about the importance of employee engagement misses the point by quite some way. Most directors worth their salt know that more focused, motivated employees make for more productive employees. So now, once and for all, please repeat after me: “Engagement isn’t an end in itself . It’s just one of the factors that help drive organisation performance”.feel good? Thought so!
Having come safely through the engagement fug, what exactly can the forward thinking CEO; HRD or fellow director take upon themselves to do differently to buck the austerity trend and steal the march on their competitors who mistakenly believe that forcing noses back to grindstones will win the day?
Well, they could start by reflecting on ways they can help their people do things better or do better things and take the time to learn the lessons of a brand like Zurich which went from an indistinct insurance company to a leading global player, not by making gradual changes nor through acquisition or by splicing their management demographic with the DNA of creatives but by cultivating a culture of innovation amongst their existing leadership population. Importantly, Zurich didn’t just browbeat middle managers about their engagement skills. They achieved success, largely by re-distributing internal budgets and embarking on a 3 year people-centred change strategy which involved:
1. using trusted advisers to gain the commitment of the top team (“I will if you will”) and begin to create a supportive culture from within
2. focusing on innovation as an exciting core strategic principle and core value, a break from the safely grey branding of old
3. setting clear and measurable targets and goals that even the FD could relate to (new concepts; culture; cost/income benefits of mobilisation events etc)
4. developing a shared process for:
- idea generation and recognition
- engagement (road shows supported by creative comms)
- senior support and sanction
- accessing guiding expertise (behaviour change as well as new product development etc)
- cross-industry partnerships
They transformed their brand in the process and stole the global march on many of their competitors.
You can learn more about the ZFS change journey and other examples of leaders and organisations who have moved rapidly from engaging to performing in Brand Engagement: How Employees Make or Break Brands or by dropping Ian Buckingham a line.
May 1, 2013
Interesting post on the CIPD site by editor Alison Gilbertson this week alluding to the disconnect between the apparent needs of recruiting employers and apparent expectations of Gen Y.
While I dislike the gross generalisations in this context as much as I found the clumsy gender stereotypes irritating in the book to which it alludes, the research raises a number of interesting points for anyone responsible for managing their organisation’s employer brand:
New research launched at last week’s CIPD HRD Conference, reveals a gulf in expectations between young people and employers that is seemingly contributing to high levels of youth unemployment. It’s also fuelling a ticking time bomb of skills shortages for UK businesses, who may be limiting their access to this important and diverse talent pool.
The report identifies flash points hindering young people from finding work and the CIPD has published a practical leaflet with top tips for recruiting young people.
In such an employer’s market, it’s easy to dismiss these findings by placing the emphasis back on young talent to adapt to the stated needs of the recruiters,especially with regard to “classic skills” an argument too easily overlooked. But over on the flip side, it does beg the question whether recruiters are so far behind the skills and innovation curve that they may well be missing out on the type of talent that will help boost the recovery drive.
There are opportunities to influence thinking in this area by voting on a CIPD poll.
Alternatively, drop us a line if you would like to explore employer brand, recruitment or engagement challenges you may currently be faced with as we’ve helped a range of organisations from sectors as diverse as financial services, not for profit and healthcare re-connect with existing and prospective talent.
Peter Cheese, Chief Executive, CIPD: ‘Too many young people are struggling to find their first job, whereas many employers are finding it difficult to get the skills they need. This mismatch needs to be addressed’. Hear Peter Cheese give his views on the future of HR – challenges and opportunities – at the Industrial Law Society’s one-day spring conference on 18 May in London.
April 18, 2013
I often think about Campbell’s quote, not least when times are tough and people are clearly having to “put up and shut up”. It reminds me of that scene in Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil and of the Kurtzman dilemma I wrote about in Brand Engagement.
The dilemma alludes to the flawed notion that we can somehow entirely divorce the “work” me from the “home” me and is caricatured by the famous scene in which Mr Kurtzman, the sinister, institutionalised manager is undermined by his own “army” of clerks who clearly despise their tawdry roles.
The scene starts when Kurtzman is suddenly disturbed in his grey factory of an office by the sound of cinematic gunfire. When he throws open his office door to investigate, contrary to his suspicions that fun rather than work may be afoot, the general office of clerks is unexpectedly a hub of normal industrious activity. Meanwhile, behind his back, his personal monitor switches from the figures he’s been working on to a classic Western movie.
Returning to his office, the moment he closes his door the movie resumes on the monitors in the general office and the clerks once again grind to a leisurely halt. The scene repeats itself several times over, the manager, Kurtzman growing increasingly paranoid and agitated with every iteration.
As the viewer we’re complicit in the subterfuge which is revealed to us whenever Kurtzman opens and closes his office door. It’s a memorable parody of the “us” and “them” mentality and the way we’ve been conditioned to view work and leisure activity as polar extremes. It also illustrates how, despite even the most draconian of regimes, the human spirit of rebelliousness and mischief in pursuit of some form of involving interaction will out and will channel the attention, creativity and energy of employees.
In my experience of working with brands across sectors and with people at a variety of levels, it’s that self-same human spirit, call it what you will, that makes or breaks organisations. People are undoubtedly more comfortable, more engaged and more productive if they are self aware enough to understand their deep-seated hopes, desires and ambitions and the values and behaviour that can lead to the fulfilment of those desires and dreams.
In turn, organisations are much more engaging, successful and ultimately sustainable (the ultimate objective) if they are clear about their goals, values and culture. Put another way:
Employer brand (aspirational) minus employee brand = employment brand (actual).
Sure, it’s natural for leaders to become obsessed with survival and enforcing the ”day job” in the tough times. But the sooner we all recognise that it is the day job of leaders at all levels to encourage self-awareness, self-actualisation and to cultivate a true performance culture in which people feel free to be themselves and thereby share in the ownership of the organisation’s goals, the faster the recovery process will be.
And that’s in everyone’s best interests, isn’t it?
Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a particular way of asking questions and envisioning the future that fosters positive relationships and builds on the basic goodness in a person, a situation, or an organization. It’s an organisation development process or philosophy that involves and engages individuals within an organization in its turnaround, renewal, change and focused performance.
Put another way, it’s an approach that believes in the power of positive thinking and seeks to draw out the inner superhero in every employee rather than a self-fulfilling belief that all employees are dullards or innately villainous.
Used effectively, it enhances an organisation’s capacity for collaboration and change. It’s a fantastic way of signaling an energising alternative to the depressing and draining, downsizing mentality of a recession.
Appreciative Inquiry utilizes a cycle of 4 processes focusing on:
- DISCOVER: The identification of organizational processes and behaviours that work well.
- DREAM: The envisioning of processes and behaviours that would work well in the future.
- DESIGN: Planning and prioritizing processes and behaviours that would work well.
- DESTINY (or DELIVER): The implementation (execution) of the proposed design.
Even the headings are inspirational.
The basic idea is to build organizations around what works, rather than just trying to fix what doesn’t. It is the opposite of problem solving. Instead of focusing on gaps and inadequacies to find blame and remediate skills or practices, AI focuses on how to create more of the occasional exceptional performance that is occurring (and there will be examples), regardless of conditions, because a core of strengths is aligned.
The approach acknowledges the contribution of individuals, in order to increase trust and inspire best practice. The method aims to create meaning by drawing from stories of concrete successes with the potential of becoming best practices and lends itself to cross-functional social activities. It can be enjoyable and natural to many managers, who, let’s face it, are often sociable people when they come out from behind the badge.
There are a variety of approaches to implementing Appreciative Inquiry, including mass-mobilized interviews and a large, diverse gathering called an Appreciative Inquiry Summit Both approaches involve bringing very large, diverse groups of people together to study and build upon the best in an organization or community.
The basic philosophy of AI is also found in other positively oriented approaches to individual change as well as organizational change. AI fosters positive relationships and builds on the basic goodness in a person, or a situation. The idea of building on strength, rather than just focusing on faults and weakness is a powerful idea in use in mentoring programs, and excellent performance evaluations – where superheroes come into their own.
If you’re wondering what to do with your employee survey and are a little nervous about how any internal benchmarking activity will be received; if you’ve had enough of the pessimism and would like to know more about the power of Appreciative Inquiry or just need a hand spotting those brand champions quietly battling the economic doom and gloom, get in touch. We’re happy to share ideas.
March 25, 2013
The status of HR remains one of the persistent love ‘em or hate ‘em leadership debates of our time. After two decades of business transformation experience at the sharp end, despite the ravages of time, I still stand squarely in the HR camp.
This is largely because I believe passionately in the importance of behaviour to brand and organisation performance and that the enlightened CEO should embrace rather than marginalise the HR function.
To transform an organisation successfully and sustainably from within, the CEO and HRD need to work shoulder to shoulder as the most important custodians of organisation culture.
The CEO always has demigod status whether they cultivate it or not. And first line managers are of course, the critical behavioural pivots around which organisation culture revolves. But when I reflect on the many culture transformation programmes I’ve led or facilitated down the years, there isn’t one that was successfully achieved without first transforming HR.
There are two very good reasons why:
- Like it or not, the HR function owns most of the people processes like recruitment; induction; performance management; reward; training and development and even internal comms. And we all know what happens to the house if we don’t take care of the plumbing
- HR professionals, in my experience, tend to have highly-tuned survival instincts that enable them to adapt to the needs of the most vociferous business leaders, fly the people flag yet avoid alienating themselves from their more left-brained colleagues. However, rather like litmus paper they soak up and reflect prevalent leadership cultural norms.
You have to transform the HR department if culture change is going to stick. So it makes sense to ensure that the HRD plays a leading part in the business improvement programme or process.
There’s clearly little doubt that HR has a lingering and possibly worsening image problem, however. According to a very recent survey of 418 C-suite managers, for example, conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit and sponsored by management consultancy KPMG:
- a mere 17% believe that HR does a good job, with many seeing it as a non-essential department.
- 75% of those questioned pointed out that their workforces were becoming increasingly global, virtual and flexible, yet only 25% believed that HR excelled at projecting the employer brand and finding and retaining international talent.
- A worrying 24% also warned that HR teams were simply unable to support the company’s globalisation strategy
Not the greatest endorsement from this group of internal customers, albeit the research was undertaken in an age when we’re hardly being overwhelmed by positive leadership role models generally.
I’ve been in fine company when I’ve called for culture change, not just in Financial Services, but within the boardrooms of many of our FTSE organisations. The Governor of the Bank of England; the CEO of the CIPD and many organisation leaders themselves have recently acknowledged the role that culture has to play in sustaining business and brand equity. Businesses and brands aren’t built on promises but on the cumulative weight of the everyday actions of workaday employees. Culture is the sum of that behaviour. Terms like presenteeism have recently been dreamt up to describe the invidious impact of rotten culture. It’s what happens when employees turn off yet dangerously still turn up. My shorthand for them is the walking or working dead* and in the current business climate, if we’re to believe the overwhelming evidence of the more credible engagement research it’s unsurprising that shambling masses are seemingly shuffling to work in the undead equivalent of droves.
The term culture change rolls easily off the tongue. But it’s tricky to implement, especially when you’re part of the problem and are too close to the key issues. No CEO can fix corporate culture alone. If the likes of Stephen Hester at RBS are serious about a culture-led transformation of their brands, it’s time they stopped filibustering about values and behaviours hoping for favourable PR. They need to start inspiring and empowering their HRDs who in turn clearly need to become more than yesterday’s seemingly safe pair of hands. And if they don’t believe in their HR leadership the time may well have come to seek out more proactive talent to help wake the walking dead.
* Brand Engagement (PalgraveMacmillan 2007)
March 8, 2013
As we face more talk of triple-dip recessions there’s patently too much doom and gloom about and it can be sapping stuff, especially for line managers on the front line. But as the ancient wisdom goes, the fast track to feeling more empowered is to focus on what you can personally influence. We all have some degree of empowerment in the workplace, even if it fees like “blowing into the wind” at times, whether we’re the CEO or a supervisor. And even if we can only influence the apparently little things, they all add up over time.
If the barrage of statistics is to be believed (and it’s not fair just to trust the bad news), companies with high employee engagement levels grow on average 4.5 times faster than those with low levels (Hays 2010).
As I illustrate in Brand Champions, engaged employees are:
I - involved
P - proactive
E - energised and energising
So, if you’re keen to nurture these characteristics in your colleagues, why not try these top tips to promote the engagement drive within your own organisation. As you’ll realise, most are within your control and most of them are free:
1. Give recognition
If someone has done well, let them know you know it. A simple thank you goes a long way to increasing engagement even if it’s one colleague at a time, so “catch” them doing the right thing.
2. Give constructive feedback
Managers giving little or no feedback to their workers fail to engage 98 per cent of them, according to a 2009 study by Gallup. Let employees know how they are doing and what they can do to improve. It’s worth giving your first-line managers in particular training on how to do this.
3. Incentivise good work
Ensure that your HR processes are hard-wired to recognise objectives that are “on brand” and “on strategy”.
4. Create an engaging culture
An open door policy creates an approachable feel to the office, where employees feel comfortable. Ensure management have a physical presence in the office and are role models for your core values.
5. Involve people
Self-managing teams are engagement nirvana. Involving people in company decisions will make them feel part of the organisation and give them a real sense of ownership.
6.Keep people informed
Don’t assume that people don’t know or don’t need to know. They will appreciate being in the loop about any changes in the company. Internal communication must do more than SOS (send out stuff).
7. Encourage suggestions and input
Let them know their opinions count…. chances are the answers to your issues can be solved in-house.
8. Promote role models
Rather than favouring favourites look to unusual suspects for examples of great practice and celebrate them. This will engage more people than you can imagine.
9. Encourage training, development and a career path
Stress the benefits of working for your brand including developing new skills and having a career path in return for development. Relationships count but they need to be nurtured.
10. Focus on their talents
Get to know the “real people” who work for you. Play some games. Find out what talents they have or want to have. Use these when delegating projects to ensure they are using their talents and developing in the right areas.
For more free employee engagement resources, pick up a copy of Ian’s latest book, Brand Champions.
November 15, 2012
Nice to catch up with the brand synonymous with conciliation and arbitration, Acas, last week and to hear that they’ve been endorsing our approach to employee engagement for some time now.
Here’s what they posted on their website at the turn of the year, revisited in the hope that it may inspire a fresh perspective or two in this final quarter:
A few simple tips from employee engagement expert Ian Buckingham can help you get 2012 off to a productive start.
- Give credit where it’s due: Key to staff engagement is giving recognition and constructive feedback. If a member of your staff has done well, let them know – and let everyone else know, too. Championing good practice and achievements can work wonders to incentivize staff and breathe new life into a stagnant working environment. Similarly, if there’s room for improvement, give constructive advice and let everyone benefit.
- Keep the door open: Be an approachable, hands-on manager who listens. An environment where staff feel that their suggestions will be taken seriously can help boost your in-house problem-solving capabilities and encourage creative thinking at all levels of your organisation. You might even find you uncover some hidden talents among your workforce!
- Communicate: Talk to your staff. Tell them what your plans are for the future, and explain how they feature in it. Even if the news is bad, your staff will appreciate being told what’s going on rather than being kept in the dark.
- Know and nurture your people: Even when times are hard for your business, don’t lose sight of the fact that the people who work for you still have goals and dreams. Listen to them, find out what they want to achieve in their careers and do what you can to support them. Take the time to discover and develop the unique strengths of each member of staff and your business will reap the benefits.
The Acas engagement mission of promoting employment relations and HR excellence has always been music to our ears. Let’s hope these few simple messages help improve the employee engagement and wellbeing statistics , even if it has to be one line manager at a time.
November 6, 2012
The November edition of Admap in which Ian regularly features, explores the vital role of the employee in creating engaging brand experiences whether in the physical or virtual shopping space.
In collaboration with retail environment specialists M Worldwide, Ian asserts that as customer choice increases, employees always make the difference between a truly innovative, enriching and engaging service experience whether delivered online or face-to-face.
He singles out the emergence of holistic brand offerings like Nuffield* and Lloyds Pharmacy as examples of organisations who “get it” and strive to “get it right” by collaborating with and engaging their brand champions to ensure that they fulfill their ambitious service promises.
Click on the link below to read the article in full**:
*Talking about our work creating the Nuffield Service Promise and Champions Engagement strategy, our client said: “You introduced some fantastic ideas, challenged our people to discover what they need to be as leaders, and created high quality, engaging materials.”
**The article is, of course, a collaboration between the authors and the publication and is reproduced with permission of Admap.