CEO views on engagement: symptomatic of a wider problem?


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This week I attended an Ashridge Business School event, where it unveiled an excellent piece of research on UK CEOs' views on engagement.

There were a lot of positives to come out of the research and proof CEOs view employee engagement (EE) as an important initiative for the growth of their business and the economy as a whole.

Many also see it as a "journey" not just a "quick-fix" or something which will disappear in a couple of years.

Over the past 12 months we've seen some excellent progress being made at getting the message across about the importance of EE.

Many business leaders have driven this and there has also been the very successful Engage for Success initiative, fronted by David McLeod and Nita Clarke.

Which is why it was such a surprise to learn from reading through the research and some of the comments at the event that some CEOs are failing to buy-in to EE. A major reason being they are failing to see the connection from EE to the bottom line.

Is it because they still see it as a "fluffy" initiative or is it because they don't take the views of HR serious enough?

Last week (before this event) I had the pleasure of meeting a HR director for coffee in central London to discuss various topics. And this very issue arose. Their view was a lot of CEOs just "don't like people", they prefer to concentrate on their balance sheet and shut themselves away. Having an open-door policy but "only open to good news".

A good point was made by one CEO at the event, who said it's easy to make your employees engaged when the arrow on the balance sheet is going in the right direction but the moment it starts heading the other way and cuts are being made you want to "hide yourself away" and engagement can suffer.

The report outlined clearly a lack of quality leadership with many managers displaying outdated models and a complete lack of self-awareness, which leads to poor engagement.

Speaking of poor leadership, rarely a week goes by without some mention of it in the NHS. Since the Francis report earlier this year, it has been scrutinised and written about on numerous occasions.

This week, I met with two senior NHS employees of a London-based hospital. They reiterated all the points of poor leadership I've read and wrote about recently. One particular worry was junior doctors who are over-worked and under-paid on 70+ hours a week.

They talked of the "ridiculous" shift patterns surgeons are on - on-call for 24 hours then straight into surgery, sometime with little sleep. External politics and constant media involvement does little for engagement, they said.

"A lot of leaders in the organisation don't seem to have the knowledge, skills or empathy to work in an environment where people contact is so important", was one direct quote.

I realise this is just two employees in an organisation of thousands but when they start to describe leadership and engagement issues within the NHS as a "ticking time-bomb", you have to worry.

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