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CIPD 2014: UK plc must embrace ‘transformational’ employee engagement

UK businesses must embrace ‘transformational’ employee engagement or risk not being able to compete globally, according to Engage for Success duo David MacLeod and Nita Clarke.

MacLeod and Clarke, who co-founded the Engage for Success movement, were speaking at the CIPD Annual Conference in Manchester. They were talking about the difference between ‘transactional’ employee engagement, usually focused around a survey, and ‘transformational’ engagement, where leaders believe staff are integral to developing and delivering business strategy.

“This is no longer a nice to do anymore,” said Clarke. “Without increasing levels of engagement, how are you going to deal with what is coming down the line for your organisation?”

Clarke and MacLeod referenced several “megatrends” that UK businesses can’t afford to ignore, such as increased competition from Asian markets, demographic pressures such as ageing population escalating the ‘war for talent’ and the rise of data and technological advances.

“This is a real wake-up call,” said Clarke. “We can’t keep on doing what we’ve always done as the world is coming to get us. Unless people can adapt and change, it’s going to be extremely difficult. People aren’t your best asset; they are your only asset.”

She added that advances in neuroscience proving the ineffectiveness of command and control management mean “there is no excuse” for companies to rely on outdated management systems any longer.

To cope in this new world, Clarke and MacLeod called on companies to rethink how they see engagement, moving from transactional to transformational. This includes ensuring they have a strong strategic narrative around purpose and focusing on “organisation integrity”, where values are reflected in behaviours.

“You can do things transactionally and get a bit of a result, or do things transformationally and really move the dial,” said MacLeod.

He added that due to increasing transparency via tools such as Glassdoor, where employees anonymously rate their companies, organisations will soon have nowhere to hide. This puts a lot of pressure on HR.

“When a CEO is questioned by the press or the City about bad quotes from employees on Glassdoor, guess who that CEO is going to come and see first? [HR],” he said. “How do we cope with that transparency? We have this fantastic opportunity to help our organisations understand this stuff and improve it.”