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Business leaders on engagement

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Terry Leahy, Tim Davie and Doug Sawers discuss employee engagement

It’s been more than three years since a group of business leaders sent a letter to The Times calling for an increased focus on employee engagement, so what’s changed? At an Influencers Breakfast event hosted by WorkAngel and Santander a group of experts convened to discuss driving culture and engagement. On the panel: ex-CEO of Tesco Terry Leahy, BBC Worldwide CEO Tim Davie, and HR Most Influential partner Ceridian MD Doug Sawers. In the audience: HR magazine. Here are some of the best bits…

The trouble with engagement

When asked why engagement still hasn't caught on in the highest levels of business, Leahy responded that the “pressures of a competitive market distract managers and they lose their way”, making many organisations “not great places to be”. “It’s hard to maintain engagement when you feel like one cog in a great big machine,” he added.

“The reliance on systems and processes is quite alienating for people to be part of. But you get so much more from staff who believe in the company, that they matter, and that their contribution is recognised.”

Leahy stated that it is possible to engage employees even when an organisation is going through challenging times. “It can be motivating to work in a challenging market if you have achievable goals,” he said.

It’s all about behaviours

“There’s no connection between good values and engagement,” said Davie. “Enron’s value statement looked great, but it’s all about the behaviours.”

There are three simple questions employees must be able to answer positively, he added: have you got a clear purpose; am I listened to; is my direct experience aligned with what I’m hearing from the top? “Those three have to be aligned,” he said.

When it comes to data, Davie said he is more interested in “understanding behavioural dynamics” than just seeing engagement scores, and wants to learn more about what his workforce is interested in.

Think about the medium

“If you’re not social and you’re not mobile, basically you’re toast,” warned Davie. WorkAngel CEO Jamie True said that modern HR systems “have to be mobile first”. He revealed that among WorkAngel clients’ workforces people were logging into the app three or four times a day on average. “An integrated approach is key, otherwise you will drive disengagement,” he added.

But it’s not all about technology; Sawers spoke of the importance of face-to-face communications, especially when going through change. “Spend a lot of time communicating and use old-fashioned face-to-face,” he advised. He also emphasised the importance of aligning messages across all platforms and to all audiences. “What you say in your business needs to be the same as what you say outside,” he said. “There’s no hiding place, you must have alignment.”