By Luke Westaway
This month we were thrilled to have engagement expert David MacLeod drop by the simply offices for a chat. His recently submitted government report - Engaging for success:
Enhancing performance through employee engagement - is set to have a massive impact on how UK business leaders view employee engagement. He’s a man with an impressive track record – starting at Dulux, where he proved his ability to bring innovation to big brands, as well as his status as an early pioneer of engagement. “Although we didn’t talk back then about engagement, getting innovation through big companies requires a lot of [what we would now call] engagement.”
MacLeod then moved on to European business, learning how to guide a business through a massive change programme to enhance profitability and then create a successful global merger of two organisations by getting people excited and committed to the new merged company.
The next step was the Cabinet Office, where MacLeod found that issues around getting people involved and making people care were just as present in the public sector as they were in corporate life. Engagement became his passion, and he used his expertise to co-author his first book, The Extra Mile: How to Engage Your People to Win.
“That effort led the civil service to find me, and for me to work with Nita [Clarke, co-author of Engaging for Success] to write the report to government.”
The report itself demonstrates that employee engagement can be measured, and that its effects can be accurately charted. This is something which traditionally has provoked scepticism amongst managers – sure engagement sounds good on paper, but is there any proof that employee engagement is good for business? This report claims that yes, engagement can be quantified. The report explains the best ways to measure engagement amongst a workforce, and presents numerous case studies in which employee engagement has had a direct and positive impact on the bottom line.
So what exactly does the report hope to achieve?
“When you get engagement right, it is a win for the organisation. If more organisations win, it’s a win for the country. And if you do this genuinely, it’s a win for the individual - because a sense of wellbeing is very important to engagement. More engaged employees with a greater sense of wellbeing - that’s the ultimate goal.”
As this goal is achieved, MacLeod is confident that we’ll start to see “more organisations taking up these ideas, sharing these ideas and benefitting from them.”
Once the information is out there, business leaders will be quick to adopt engagement techniques in their own organisations.
The report, then, could potentially have a huge effect on how engagement happens in this country. Undoubtedly, though, there’s a mountain to climb. In the video accompanying this article, MacLeod explains what he considers to be the main obstacles to widespread engagement.
So how is this change going to be affected?
The CEOs and managers will be the ones who actually challenge the status quo – what is it about engagement that will drive people in positions of power? MacLeod says:
“I think for those at the top of the organisation, most of those who decide to really get behind this – they’ve linked it very firmly to performance. And it will be performance in - for instance - the private sector where they have to compete and make the best of opportunities in recession and out into when they face the full brunt of India, China, emerging economies. It’s a very strong performance lens that people tend to start with. From asking people questions like “does work bring out your most creative ideas?” and so on, we’ve found that there is now compelling evidence for a correlation between people who are engaged, and financial performance.”
“If for instance you take absenteeism – I think absenteeism costs the country twenty to thirty billion pounds [per year]. Engaged employees take less than half the number of absent days that disengaged employees do. Or take innovation – 59% of engaged employees say that work brings out their most creative ideas. Only 3% of disengaged employees make that claim. And in terms of advocacy, 67% of engaged employees say they work in an organisation that they recommend and feel proud to work in. Again, only 3% of disengaged people will recommend their organisation.”
What makes an engaged organisation?
In our video below, MacLeod describes some of the characteristics of an engaged organisation and explains the distinction between what he terms ‘level 1’ and ‘level 2’ engagement.
Great Britain vs America
To some extent it seems that managers in the UK can be seen as struggling to move beyond ‘level 1’ engagement. How do we fare when compared to the seemingly automatic ‘can-do’ attitude evident in the United States?
“I think we have the potential to be completely world class in this area – don’t we have the world’s most productive car plant right here in the UK? Having lived and worked in America I am aware of the [American’s] natural propensity to be enthusiastic and therefore have that natural level of engagement. In Britain therefore it is even more important that enablers are put in place. Once such people are instated there have been modest estimates from Gallup that the resulting engagement boost would be worth between £46 billion and £53 billion to the economy. The benefit of Britain having the same level of productivity as our major competitors would be worth £50 billion. The size of the prize for the UK is absolutely enormous in my view.”
In a tough economic climate, engagement is not at the top of every organisation’s agenda. In our video interview, MacLeod explains why employee engagement isn’t something that can be allowed to fall by the wayside.
Are we fitting the bill?
The communication industry is a fairly young one. We asked MacLeod if he sees any evidence that we are stepping up to the mark in terms of engagement: Do communicators really understand ‘level 2’ engagement, and are they changing how they behave?
“We didn’t specifically study communicators, but as we researched the overall topic we saw really great examples on communication in action through narrative and strategy. We also saw some poor examples. I think comms still has a way to travel before it can fulfil its potential in being central to organisations' strategies. The industry has travelled well past the point of thinking that we can communicate a different message internally and externally. However, it is important to think about this next stage - if we can really engage our external and internal audiences with coherent messages and a strategy that is clear, then comms becomes a fantastic gift to an organisation. There was one piece of research that showed that where clients and employees are engaged with the company, the profitability of the organisation is 3.4 times the average. If you can get both the external and internal people engaged you really start to pull ahead of the pack.”
A call to action
With his report submitted, MacLeod is now thinking about the next stage of his initiative to transform how we view engagement. To do this, he is encouraging communicators to get in touch and bring forward any relevant case studies or engagement techniques. MacLeod is also available to answer any particular questions people might have on the matter. You can contact MacLeod directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.