Posts Tagged ‘employee engagement’

The limitations of the employee engagement survey

posted by Scott McKenzie

We Brits are easily pleased. After an admittedly long and wet Spring, a couple of days of sunshine has palpably seen the mood of the nation improve.

I have noticed it in my colleagues and clients. People are smiling and laughing more. A lot more in fact. People seem more motivated, enthusiastic, happy. I have just come from a meeting where my colleagues were as passionate and engaged as I’ve ever seen them. It was great. Now clearly I could isolate that to the motivational factor of working alongside me but I’m guessing that this would be an erroneous conclusion…

It has got me thinking about the way we measure engagement.  It has become a boom industry. Many reputable research companies sell products that claim to make a direct link between communications and employee engagement. The models used are impressively engineered – seemingly simplifying the complex picture that is engagement.  Making convincing claims about how if you pull this lever just a bit more, you will get this improved result.

Beware. In my view, it is the old story of the alchemist trying to turn lead into gold. Many of the models used are based on some frankly very dodgy assumptions and an even dodgier reliance on pseudo-science. 

For those who are profitting from this industry that may be heresy. But I’m afraid it’s true. The best you can demonstrate is a correlation between some communications activity and an increase in engagement. The reality is that there are so many variables which impact on how engaged an employee feels.

It could be the relationship they have with their manager, or their colleagues. It could be how much they are paid. It could be whether they feel valued or recognised by leadership.It could be the nature of their work – do they feel they’re doing work which has genuine meaning?

And yes, it could be affected by something as simple as the weather.

Human beings are inherently complex. Making the simple connection between communications and engagement makes sense at a conceptual level. But we should see it for what it is. Just one of the variables.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t measure engagement. We should.  Indeed we are not averse to selling surveys ourselves. But for us the value is in genuinely using the data to inform your decision-making process. Employee engagement surveys should be a speedy, low-key way of quickly identifying potential risks and opportunities… Although we should be incredibly cautious about acting on the data alone. You will only get a meaningful picture of what is really going on by speaking and listening to some real-life people.

Which reminds me. My H+K colleague David Iannelli and I are talking about this very topic at the CIPR’s measurement summit on 13 June. Hope to talk to you there… and I hope the sun will be shining!

The ballad of Barrett’s privateers

posted by Scott McKenzie

I recently spent a couple of weeks visiting my parents in Canada. The mix of two kids under three, a long haul flight and jet-lag was, to say the least, not particularly relaxing. My mum and dad worked hard to give my wife and I a little bit of down time. The best example of this was a glorious day ski-ing, followed by a Friday night out.

Frankly, there is nothing more gratifying than sipping a cold glass of beer with the gentle ache of a day’s ski-ing in your legs. What made it even better was the live band that night.

Sarah (my wife) and I are both Celts and lovers of Folk music. The band gave us our first introduction to the music of Newfoundland. We were enthralled as we heard beautifully sung ballads about leaving your country, family and home behind. The songs were often bawdy, colonial tales of amorous adventures or drinking disasters. One in particular stood out - the infectious Ballad of Barrett’s privateers.

It’s been a couple of weeks since we got back and I still find myself humming it, or singing parts of the (very catchy) refrain in the shower…

It has made me reflect once again on the importance of storytelling. Humanity has had an oral/aural tradition of telling and re-telling stories for millenia. It is where many of our common myths and legends were born. As corporate storytellers we often focus on the rational. The facts and figures. These are important indicators. People want to know whether we are we up, or down.

But do we invest enough time getting behind the emotional elements of the story? The bits that really resonate. The bits that are sticky, memorable, easy-to-repeat. The bits that have you singing in the shower?

P.S. – we are really looking forward to hosting the next LCEG event here at H+K on the 20th March…

The perils of embracing technology

posted by Scott McKenzie

This is a guest post by John Tilbrook, consultant in Hill & Knowlton’s Change & Internal Communications practice

This is the first blog I’ve ever written and it’s taken some time for me to get my act together and write it. You see, I’m one of those ‘too old for my age’ young kids who sits on the suspicious side of the technology divide.

In fact my boss Scott, whose blog this is, constantly reminds me that I’m a Luddite and while I always remonstrate (at the same time feeling secretly proud that I know what a Luddite is), he probably is partly right… and he certainly has more followers on Twitter… whatever that means!

So you’ll probably expect me to agree with the 31% of companies that still block employees from using social media such as Facebook and YouTube at work.

Well actually, no.

Once described as recreational, these technologies are now considered to be important business tools for companies. But for me, from an internal communications perspective, it’s more than this.

I think companies should be encouraging the use of social media. Firstly, it shows employees that you trust them. Secondly, it allows them freedom to share their views – which transcend your corporate image – on what the company stands for, its products and its services, which will inevitably result in better customer interaction, more customers and business results.

In fact, as David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan state in the book ‘Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead’, your trust in employees will be rewarded as they build followings who will eventually buy your products or services.

So why not let employees guest blog on your company website, tweet about your products or contribute to your company Facebook page? You should probably put some guidelines in place, so they know what they are doing, but leave it at that.

Ok, they might do something wrong, but if they do, own up and move on. Your customers will respect this more than an attempted cover up. Embrace technology and you’ll find it has mutual benefits to your employees and your company.

We’ll see, this may be the last blog I’m ever asked to write, but I’m learning… I’ve even just joined LinkedIn. I may not be playing Angry Birds all day long, but at least I’m not smashing up computers either.

John Tilbrook, Consultant, Change & Internal Communications, Hill & Knowlton

It’s the brand… Stupid

posted by Scott McKenzie

I despair I really do. Today’s news on Bank of Scotland’s handling of complaints is the latest in a long line of self-inflicted injuries by the Banking sector.

I spent 10 years working in Banking and here at H&K we work with a number of Financial Services companies manage their reputation, engage their employees and deal with issues and crises.

And there have been a few. We have witnessed banks stumble from one self-inflicted PR disaster to another. From the nadir of the economic crisis to unjustifiable overdraft charges and the shambles of Payment Protection Insurance.

What is so difficult to understand? The brand really does matter. And frankly it doesn’t matter how fluffy and people-centric your advertsising is (stand up NatWest)… if you treat your customers with such wanton disregard your brand will be in tatters.

Yes balance sheets are important. But so is trust. So is reputation. The Banks really need to up their game on customer service, on handling complaints on having greater transparency on pricing.

The new UK regulatory regime likely to be far more punitive when banks get it wrong. Rightly so. But we all have a role to play.

In his wonderful book “Whoops: Why everyone owes everyone and no one can pay…”,  John Lanchester brilliantly explains how banks make their money in a wonderfully simple and clear way. We should demand the same transparency. The banks have a right to make (lots of) money. But they should be doing it the right way. And we all have a duty to hold them to account.

BTW – if you are interested in how employees can help brands really work you should come along to our event on the 15 June. It will be a panel discussion with great speakers from Bacardi, Aviva and British Gas. One you should not miss!

Scotland’s shame

posted by Scott McKenzie

Those of you (the majority) who are not interested in the parochial world of Scottish football will have missed a quite disgraceful incident at a match that took place in Edinburgh last night.

Neil Lennon, the Celtic FC manager, was assaulted by a fan who ran a full 50 metres before police and stewards eventually caught up with him. What is more galling is that Mr Lennon has had to put up with death threats and indeed the very real threat of receiving mail bombs in the post. In that context he is very lucky indeed not to be seriously hurt.

So what does this incident tell us?

Well, frankly it makes me feel ashamed to be Scottish. The motives behind the assault and the death threats are purely sectarian. But I don’t want to dwell on the neanderthal nature of people who support this hatred (it’s just too depressing).

Instead I am keen to understand what other workplaces would see a leader have to put up with such public, intense and very personal danger? Professional boxers?  UN Peacekeepers? High profile politicians perhaps?

How do they focus on performing in the day job when the world around them is so chaotic and threatening? And what can those of us who work in high-intensity, but less life-threatening working environments learn from these experiences?  How do they perform already difficult tasks under such enormous pressure?

And for the record Celtic won 3-0 last night keeping their slim hopes of winning the championship alive. Perhaps we should invite Neil Lennon to talk at one of our H&K events…

Talking of which please keep 15th June free in your diaries. With the London Olympics just round the corner we’re planning an event around how employees can act as key advocates of brand and sponsorship campaigns. More details to follow in my upcoming blogs…

Killing engagement. Post script.

posted by Scott McKenzie

I think Employee Engagement is still breathing this morning.

Last night’s debate at the offices of Baker Tilly helped highlight the fundamental issues at stake.

1. Should we be approaching engagement from a starting point of great HR  systems and processes , or is more about how we build more meaningful, emotional “connections”,

2. Can employee engagement be explicity linked to business results, and even if it can, should it be?

3. Do leaders genuinely want to engage their people? And if they do – do employees really want to be engaged by their Chief Executive as opposed to their line manager?

The panel wrestled with these questions and many more. It seems to me that these are serious questions that deserve more discussion, more insight, more analysis.

My tuppence worth is this: there is a risk that this debate gets stuck on the fringes. We must avoid taking a deeply entrenched position.

For example, are we genuinely saying that we should not have good performance management systems in place? Or that building an emotional connection with employees has no bearing on business results?

We need to be careful that in the midst of heated debate and passionate rhetoric we make some false choices.  It seems to me that there was a lot of expert insight on the panel last night, but not a lot of listening and learning from each other’s viewpoint.

In my view that’s one of the most important elements of engagement. Let’s make sure we do more of it.

Finally, a big thank you to Matt and the team for making the debate happen.

Killing employee engagement?

posted by Scott McKenzie

I am one of the fortunate 80 who have made the cut for tonight’s Employee Engagement: Art or Science? event.

Of course, the answer to the question is inevitably “both”. (Yes - so it’s a fairly hackneyed dichotomy – one I have shamelessly used before…!)

Looking at some of the commentary ahead of the event I clearly need to work out whether I’m a co-conspirator for the end of “employee engagement”, or not.

I do have problems with the “employee engagement” label. There is a risk that it has become slightly meaningless. You see leaders using the words without really believing there’s anything behind it.

Which undermines those of who care deeply about the importance of the connection between organisations and their employees.

Here at H&K, we firmly believe that employees need to feel a strong sense of purpose, that they need to feel that they are part of something valuable and that they understand the direction of the organisation. Put all of this together and you could easily give it the label “employee engagement”.

But the label is not really what’s at stake here. It’s the principle behind it. So in our rush to be co-conspirators we need to take care we don’t kill that very principle.

I look forward to hearing how the debate takes shape!

Engagement, Discretionary effort and Freakonomics

posted by Scott McKenzie

I like the way that my successor as CIPR Inside chair Sean Trainor describes the importance of engagement in his recent PR Week podcast.

He rightly talks about “engagement” being an over-used term. In my view it is often inappropriately used – sometimes lazily, occasionally more cynically.

One of my biggest concerns is how often employee engagement is described as the outcome we are seeking to achieve. It is not.

We live in a world driven by the bottom line. Engagement is an enabler to better results – whether they are profits, customer service, patient satisfaction, etc., or whatever results drive your organisation. These are the real outcomes our Chief Executives care about.

Sean makes the absolutely key connection between engagement and discretionary effort. In other words if I have the choice to do something of incremental value for my organisation will I do it?

These are the real moments of truth that we all face every day of our working lives.

I have always believed that it makes intuitive sense that if you have an employee who understands the direction of their organisation, and believes in it, and understands the role that they can play… you are likely to get better business results.

But how do I prove it? Is it too much of a leap of logic to assume that an “engaged” employee will be a more productive one? It’s at this point that I wish I thought like Professor Stephen D. Levitt of Freakonomics fame. Perhaps we should all club together to ask him to explore the behavioural economics behind employee engagement?

Although there may be no need. A couple of pieces of research may be making the picture a little clearer.

Thomas Lee brought this research by Hewitt to my attention, and I am also grateful to Kevin Dwyer for highlighting some work the Corporate Leadership Council has released.

This data is useful to us. As I have long argued the way we promote this profession has to be about more than good use of language. We need to understand the numbers and how they relate to what we do. We can then present an overwhelming business case to our leadership.

Perhaps I should put that call into Professor Levitt after all…

Long time, no speak

posted by Scott McKenzie

Long time, no speak.

I have broken all the rules about having a blog. Only commit to it if you have the time. Make sure you have regular, relevant content. Have your own unique voice (i.e. be interesting!). My colleague Candace would be seriously unimpressed with me!

Ok so I haven’t blogged since before Xmas. In my defence, there’s been a lot going on in my life. My wife is pregnant with our second child (we had the 20 week scan on Friday). I have had business trips to Paris, Amsterdam, New York and Frankfurt. We have begun some meaty new projects with some really interesting and complex clients.

But as I have a blackberry (and my wife bought me an i-phone 4 for Xmas) Candace would rightly say that this is not much of a defence. I should be able to blog from wherever I am in the world (with the possible exception of the Maternity Ward!). There are no excuses. I have had so much going on there should be a rich vein of content.

I promise to do better!

P.S. – I was also not able to get along to this great event on the relationship between social media and the worksforce run by our friends at Media140. I really should have found the time…

10 things we’ve learnt about communicating change

posted by Scott McKenzie

I was asked recently to give my views to Communicate magazine on how we should communicate through a post-merger integration. You can read the full article here.

We’ve built up a lot of experience here at H&K over the last few years. We’ve worked on major change programmes for the likes of Shell, HP, Microsoft, Pfizer and Merck.

This is what we’ve learnt (boiled down into 10 key points!):

1) Communicate as early as possible – especially with employees from the “target” company. There are usually market rules which need to be followed and then there are various labour laws depending on the countries you are operating in.

However, as a principle you should aim to engage employees early and help them understand the vision for the new business, the culture you’re seeking to build, etc

2) Honesty is the best policy – partial truths can create rumours. When you do not yet know the details, you need to say so and explain why. You can make it your policy to say, “If you haven’t heard it from me, it’s not true.”  And if you don’t know something, admit that you don’t.  Otherwise your team may think you’re simply holding information back.

3) Give regular updates whether you have news (even small ones) or not. It is important that you keep employees involved and engaged. People will otherwise worry and speculation and rumour (probably negative) will fill any vacuum. Monitor feedback/questions as this will help you the next time you need to communicate. You need to assure employee that when you have information to share, you will do so in a timely and responsible manner.

4) Explain what it means to individuals as quickly as you can – as an employee I will want to know whether I have a job, what job is it, where will I be based, what desk will I be sitting at / part of production line will I be on, who will be my boss, colleagues, etc. The sooner you can communicate to this granular level of details the better.

5) Don’t necessarily wait until you have all the details. You may never have all the details.  What you need are the basic facts and you should only give people the information they need. If you don’t communicate then the information vacuum will almost certainly be filled with rumour and speculation.

6) Involve and equip local managers – employees still tend to see their manager as the most trusted source of information. So it’s key that you prepare the managers to be handle conversations with their employees – this could include briefing notes, key messages, frequently asked questions, etc.

7) Remember change for employees is emotional and rather than rational. But try to remind them that healthy organisations adapt to change and always examine and challenge how they work. Accept that uncertainty will affect people differently and aim your communication at those most likely to be concerned, unfocused or unproductive.

8 ) Provide practical and responsible reassurance. Start by painting the ‘big picture’ so that subsequent messages will fit into this context. Then focus on one or two key priorities that people will understand readily and be able to act upon quickly. Try to communicate messages as clearly and directly as possible. During change employees perceive “woolly” talk about vision, mission and values cynically.

9) Find opportunities to bring people from both legacy organisations together – this could mean cross-functional projects, face-to-face meetings, etc. The sooner that people realise that they are working with other human beings with similar challenges the better.

10) Communicate person to person or in smaller groups (where possible). Research proves again and again that employees prefer face-to-face communication with their managers. The value of a manager as a trustworthy communication channel should not be underestimated at any time and this is particularly true during times of change.

Finally make sure you listen to people’s views, concerns, ideas and questions. Be open and honest and don’t patronise – most employees will understand the reason for change even if they are resistant to it.

I hope you have found this useful. Drop me a line at if you would like to find out more about the work we’ve done.