Engagement is not an HR activity; it’s company-wide, says ITV chair

Katie Jacobs , 27 Nov 2012


Speaking at the Engage for Success event in London yesterday, Archie Norman (pictured), chairman of ITV, ex-MP and former CEO of Asda, told delegates that employee engagement should not be thought of as simply an HR activity, but that everyone, from line managers to CEOs, should be involved.

"Engagement is not an HR activity, although HR should be responsible for measuring it," Norman said. "And it's not a survey. Engagement is about leadership living the values."

Norman, who is credited with turning the retailer Asda around at a time of near bankruptcy, said that much of that transformation was down to completely transforming company culture and making the business less hierarchical. He added that this was something that all other UK businesses needed to think about.

"Hierarchy is dead," he said. "Offices [for more senior people] and all that have to go. Job titles are meaningless." He encouraged total transparency and said leaders should reward staff for coming forward and telling them what should be changed about the company. "There should be no such thing as people thinking 'it's not my place'," he told delegates.

According to Norman, the workplace and how people feel about it has changed for good. "Young people come to work in search of values and they want a workplace they can believe in," he said.

All of which makes engagement more important, he said. "Engagement is not a fashion," Norman continued. "It's a change in the business and people and their attitude to work. As employers, our attitude should be that work and where you choose to work is voluntary. What matters is good communication, people feeling involved in the business and being treated with fairness."

He concluded: "People come to work to shine and it's our job to make them shine."

The Engage for Success event was held in London yesterday as part of the Engage for Success movement, led by David Macleod and Nita Clarke, which aims to improve the way people work in the UK.

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So true!!

Narasimha Rao 27 Nov 2012

This is so true. Actually, we can achieve significant enhancement in employee engagement only when it moves out of HR and becomes an agenda for the entire leadership. We have tried one intervention earlier that worked very well. Our leadership team used to meet twice in a month to discuss business. In consultation with our CEO, i have introduced one topic for a brief discussion at the meeting titled "What have I done to enhance employee engagement during the last 15 days". Every functional leader should share something he/she has done in this area. This small intervention went in a big a way where leaders took it upon them as an agenda to drive employee engagement along with the business. Since it is discussed at the beginning of the agenda, it attained even more significance.

Banish Job Descriptions!

Kerry Lackey 27 Nov 2012

True engagement begins when people are inspired to action. Banish dull and detailed job descriptions and throw down creatively-written, commercial gauntlets instead. Bright talent no longer wants a 'job' - they want to collaborate with others to achieve big things. Fresh approaches to 'employment' will be the wind beneath the wings of a new UK economy.

How Right You Are

Ben Simonton 28 Nov 2012

How right you are! Sadly, most businesses are run using command and control techniques, issuing orders to achieve the behavior management wants. Unfortunately, control always gets you compliance and poor performance while it is autonomy that always gets you engagement. Command and control by its nature demotivates, demoralizes and disengages employees. The truth is that the employee's job is to decide what to do, when to do it, how to do it and then do it. Management's job is provide whatever the employee says they need to do that, to do a better job, a support/help function not a function of giving orders/direction. The old saw is that employees don't care what you know until they know if you care. Showing that you care can only be done by supporting/helping them with whatever they say they need be it information they want, better tools, better training, or whatever. That can only done by asking them, listening to their needs 24/7, and responding to their satisfaction. You will be amazed at their performance when you do this. So I disagree with the author somewhat because it is not enough to be responsive to what they bring to you. Management must go out to them and ask for whatever two cents they want to put in the pot and then be responsive to that 24/7. I started out using command and control, but after I shifted totally away to the autonomy and support model, I learned that the vast majority of problems I was trying to command away were actually created by my commands. once I shifted I was able to create a highly motivated, highly committed, fully engaged workforce with very high morale and innovation literally loving to come to work and over 300% more productive than if poorly engaged. Best regards, Ben Leadership is a science and so is engagement

Engagement never was down to HR

Michael Moran 28 Nov 2012

As MacLeod showed engagement is all about the manager. 4 enablers: strategic vision and knowing ones part in that vision. Management. Working for an organisation with integrity. Management. Having a voice. Management. Lastly having a manager who is interested in me, and will develop and stretch. Management. HR's job is to build the management capability to drive engagement.

Well said and thanks, Ben!

Andy Lippok 28 Nov 2012

Ben, once again you are so right about this, and great to read you on this thread too! The only other remark I'd make is that despite Archie's good intentions as outlined in his speech, he still displays command & control thinking tendencies by insisting that employees ought to be rewarded, i.e. incentivised, by the leaders to bring forward their ideas about what needs to be done. Plain wrong and disappointing, Archie! If you follow Ben's lead you never have to incentivise people, they'll do it all willingly because they alone know what needs to be done and then do it! Managers just need to get out of the way and stop doing the things that prevent people doing what's right.

Abolish Performance Appraisals

Andy Lippok 28 Nov 2012

And while we're on the same area of what else we can do to enable more employee engagement, how about HR helping leaders to abolish performance appraisals (all based on wrong thinking, assumptions and beliefs), and replacing them with the things that really matter (check out the book by Coens and Jackson for what they are and how to do it differently)!

Engage your staff to drive long term business growth

Simon Guest, Maverick 29 Nov 2012

It’s great to see the Engage for Success taskforce extending their focus beyond the HR sphere. Gone are the days when employee engagement meant ticking a box at the induction stage and leaving staff to their own devices. Archie Norman highlights a real need for engagement to be represented at board level, an approach which would ensure that staff are engaged with the companies beliefs, values and culture. Companies who can then leverage this, to create a focussed and motivated workforce, are better equipped to drive long term business growth. Simon Guest, Business Strategy Director

Mindfulness and Engagement

Mark Leonard 05 Dec 2012

It's great that people are recognising the importance of being engaged in what we do at work and recognising the implications of this for leaders, managers and, in fact, all employees! As this article suggests, increasing engagement will not only impact behaviours within existing organisational structure but also make hierarchical "command and control" managment systems redundant. Most approaches employ strategies for changing conditions in which employees operate. How will the role of change managers change, I wonder? Little has been done to find ways of helping employees to relate to their workplace conditions differently. This is where mindfulness training in the workplace could have a powerful impact. What might happen to change managers if people have autonomy over the way they adapt to changing conditions and how would conditions change then?

Of Course it;s not an HR function

Doug McKee 08 Dec 2012

While this article is spot on and refreshing to see, it repeats what is, or should be by now, common knowledge. It does not tell us how to actually get the CEO on board, or just what she will need to do once she decides to become the Chief Engagement Officer. Changing the style of management is not something that is either intuitive or easy for most. The conference of an MBA or MSHCA does not make someone any more likely to have the skills necessary to engage. It probably does just the opposite in that the conferee is now a certified expert in management and is less able to consider the fact that a huge and vital piece of what was learned does not work, is not valid, and is actually counterproductive. Our expertise has the potential to transform almost an entire workforce. Having said that, what we do has very little to do with the actual work being done in a company. “The decision to Engage is an individual’s internal, rational, and emotional decision to invest more energy in a relationship.” So our goal is to teach relationship skills that empower individuals to be able to make the choice to engage. It is up to the company to create a workplace environment in which the barriers to that choice are minimized or eliminated. We must show them how. As to the point made by the article, the reason the CEO must lead the effort is simple, as in teaching any skill; “If I cannot show you what I want you to do, and teach you how to do it, I am surely wasting your time insisting you do it.” Our magic starts there.

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