For years now, business leaders have become increasingly aware of the value of employee engagement, typically measured through employee surveys run by the HR department.
The logic is obvious: it’s hard to imagine delivering great customer service with un-engaged staff. Despite that, it doesn’t seem to be the priority it should be, with a survey by the Government-sponsored Engage for Success organisation placing the UK economy ninth out of the 12 largest economies for engagement, with a correspondingly low score for productivity.
Of course, high engagement doesn’t guarantee success. If you are leading superbly motivated teams producing high-quality products based on a technology that has suddenly been superseded – for example, first-generation mobile phones after smartphones have become widespread – then your business is still at risk.
This cautionary note is valid, but the bigger lesson is that business strategy and engagement have to be considered together. Too often, they have been treated separately. It’s not that one is more important than the other – they are both essential, in the long run – rather the challenge is to recognise how closely linked they are. Evidence now shows that you can transform both strategy and morale with the right kind of leadership.
There are immense implications for the HR profession. Having high people engagement scores and well-regarded training programmes may feel satisfying, but it raises many questions: is the engagement well directed? Are your initiatives helping the business meet the real needs of the customers, or identify and attract new ones?
The approach that I have pioneered over many years, backed by both academic inquiry and practical application, is known as The Management Shift.
This approach seeks to bring all elements of effective business leadership together. It is a fundamental shift from a segmented, piecemeal approach to business management towards a holistic view. My research and work with employers has resulted in identifying six key factors, which form the 6 Box Leadership Model. Three of the dimensions relate to people: Culture, Relationships and Individuals. Three are related to processes and materials: Strategy, Systems and Resources.
The most effective companies raise performance and engagement across the whole organisation, in many dimensions, unleashing the potential of all the people employed. They treat innovation and strategy as an ongoing challenge for the whole team, not just a handful of decisions by the Board.
How can you measure engagement?
A most useful way to measure and improve the level at which an employer is realising the potential of the workforce is through a diagnostic approach that tests across a range of attributes. This goes beyond the straightforward snapshot of an engagement survey.
I have found it helpful to identify five ‘Levels’ of operation (as shown in the Emergent Leadership Model above), from Level 1 – teams of highly disaffected people, to Level 5 – teams with unbounded levels of passion, innovation and commitment.
A comprehensive set of questionnaires can be used to identify which level a company or a division or team has reached, to inform management and training initiatives to assist an improvement.
Significant improvements are transformational for the organisation and its performance. A particularly significant shift occurs between Level 3 and Level 4. This is akin to a metamorphosis from a compliant way of working to an engaged and innovative culture.
It is much more than a matter of a bit more enthusiasm and extra productivity. The Management Shift is a transition:
- From a controlling mindset to an empowering one,
- From setting rules to establishing principles,
- From issuing instructions to creating teams,
- From overseeing transactions to building alliances,
- From a focus on short-term profits to serving all stakeholders,
It means a change both for individual executives, and for the wider organization.
Truly transformational leadership can lift performance across the board. It is a different philosophy, not just a new set of techniques and measures.
“The Management Shift – How to Harness the Power of People and Transform Your Organization for Sustainable Success” by Vlatka Hlupic is released on 31st October.