Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Employee engagement: Simple concept, complex reality?

Fifty senior human resources, talent, learning and development specialists met last week at St Ethelburga’s Centre for Peace & Reconciliation. This was an appropriate setting given that the theme of discussion was on the need for organisations to reconcile the meaning of the organisation with the personal needs of employees.

The debate raised far more questions than answers, so does this mean we don’t have a way forward?

Can employers prescribe meaning when it is such a personal concept?

Should Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs be turned upside down in times of hardship; will security and safety follow meaning?

Can you really say that you’re engaging with your staff and giving them a place of work that has meaning when you’re stripping away benefits that play a crucial role in their lives?

Do people want meaning at work, or do they – above all else – just want to do their job well, be rewarded accordingly and treated with respect? After all, stories abound of people turning up to work at the worthiest of charities for a higher purpose, getting treated terribly, and leaving…so how much can meaning really carry you through a 60-hour week?

There was a mix of passion for engagement countered with just as much cynicism about whether employee engagement is just the PR of HR. Even more cynicism surrounded the question of whether organisations really did walk the talk on engagement, or should they be preparing for huge attrition rates as soon as the recovery opens up new avenues to greener pastures?

A great line-up of speakers, including John Philpott from the CIPD and Matthew Jeffery from Electronic Arts, was topped off by barrister and poet, David Neita, who amongst all these complex issues proposed that it is simply about staff taking responsibility for those things beyond their job description.

You may recall the story of President Kennedy asking a janitor at NASA what he was doing, to be told: “I’m helping put a man on the moon”, you will understand what David Neita means.

We all know an engaged employee when we see one – is it more complex than that?

David’s final act was to draw the metaphor of employee engagement as a romance drawing on the beautiful prose in Paul Laurence Dunbar’s ‘Passion & Love’. This highlighted the idea that romantic engagement can’t be forced any more than finding meaning at work.

- Oliver Mack is Head of Learning & Development at Common Purpose and chaired the Common Purpose and Changeboard event on 16 September 2010.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Lead by intuition

Chris Blackhurst (Evening Standard) says we need more ‘people who intuitively realise what is required of them, who connect naturally with customers, staff and yes, shareholders’. I couldn’t agree more. He also says you won’t learn this stuff through an MBA ‘They did not manage by machine, where personality is extinguished. They weren't armed with MBAs. They ran their companies by feel and touch. If it seemed right to them, they did it; if not, they didn't. There wasn't the appliance of management science we see today’.

Fantastic, someone shouting out that MBA’s and other formal business, management and leadership education isn’t the answer. It just doesn’t prepare leaders for the kind of complex challenges they have to face so often. We’ve been trying for years to get this idea across, but it’s tough. Some people feel you can’t learn this kind of intuitive leadership, but I think you can. You need support, you need to have some experience of it, sometimes you need to discover this intuition and sometimes you need to nurture it, but it can be done.

Take a look at this piece in European CEO for a bit more on this ….

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Leaders need followers

I'm often asked what should a person do if they haven't got a specific passion, or they aren't ready to lead and so often the answer is find someone you want to follow. Not only does it make it much harder for them to step back from their commitment, but it also means you will be taking a leading role yourself. Check out this great David Sivers video and commentary to see what I mean

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Broader Horizons

Time and again I come across the need for people to be able to change the way they perceive problems/the world/themselves/organisations etc if they are to be able to lead change. Covey talks about uncovering your bias, de bono talks about the beautiful mind and then last night I was reading William Isaac's dialogue (again) and his thoughts on why we need to be able to suspend our thoughts and opinions to truly listen to others.

So I have little doubt the management and leadership literature is out there, but do we practice? What do you do that keeps you from closing down your world view? Do you spend enough time with others away from the familiar thoughts and ideas of your industry?

Take a look at this video and see if it gets you thinking? It's part of our new campaign to have everyone do something small on the 10th October to broaden their horizons. Hope you enjoy it.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Open or closed V2

We get a lot of skepticism about our courses being under the Chatham House Rule (as well as a lot of support), yet getting any group of people to trust each other enough to share their mistakes and be open to really listening and not just posturing seems essential to me for any kind of personal development. I've been to too many open conferences where people are so busy telling others their opinions, or keeping up impressions about them, their job title or organisation and not really sharing, listening or learning anything. Is the internet and these kind of discussion changing that. Is there a new kind of openness emerging and better learning and collaboration as a result? If so what role do small groups, closed seminars or discussions have in the future?

Open or closed?

A leaders ability to learn lies in their ability to enter into true dialogue with others. But do you need a closed room (physical or otherwise) to create the environment for real dialogue?

This article from Seth Godin's blog puts a case for how a closed room generated a lot of discussion and energy...

A chance to join the online triiibe Five months ago, I built a social network on Ning. No ads, all free. I briefly opened it to the readers of this blog as a place to talk about leadership and connection. A few thousand people bought my book and signed up. Since then, there have been hundreds of thousands of posts and connections and stories. The plan was to run it as a closed community and then open it once we laid a foundation of connections and content. Well, the group that orginally homesteaded the site has agitated to keep it as a closed community. I can't disagree. In fact, the password-protected, non-anonymous nature of this community makes it work. People hesitate to spam or troll because they know they'll get kicked out and won't be able to return. They talk to one another with respect because it's really them, and they're really there. I've decided to let a few more people join in order to keep things fresh and growing. The only requirements:1. To be fair, you need to have purchased at least one copy of Tribes, just like everyone else there.and2. It's a promotion-free zone. If you attempt to sell things or sites or anything, we'll ask you to leave.

What do you think?

Wednesday, 19 August 2009


Add VideoI spent 4 weeks in South Africa in 1994 and was blown away by the optimism and this video brings it all back. There's a piece where Mandela stands up with a Springbok cap in front of a crowd of people. Sometimes leadership needs to be seen, not explained...