Engage Staff to Survive.

Consultants PWC state that involvement is essential in managing change successfully. They identified that nine out of ten barriers to change relate to people.

Greg Young, Managing Director, LeaderShapeLeaderShape’s Managing Director, Greg Young, agrees: “Engaged people are up to 40% more productive, developing solutions to improve productivity that no top-down approach can ever identify. They bring innovation to the way they and their organisations work. It is leadership, at all levels, that determines the level of engagement in an organisation, its productivity, its agility and therefore its long term sustainability of performance.”

Staff engagement is seen as one of the biggest keys to success.  A new report from the Economist Intelligence Unit identifies more than 80% of top company executives across Europe and the Middle East airing this concern.  Yet almost half (43%) admit that issues like motivation, identification with company goals or willingness to ‘go the extra mile’ – are only ‘occasionally’, ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ discussed at board level. Moreover, almost 90% say their organisations fail to take action to tackle continually low staff engagement.

LeaderShape’s Greg Young continues:  “The key is to enable leaders to become more empathetic. It is about really listening to and understanding people – their viewpoint and the underlying beliefs or values which drive them. Leaders need to demonstrate that they not only understand the views being expressed but the reasons for those views – especially at such a difficult time. Engagement is clearly key because how else can leaders hear those views, explore them with staff and show that they have heard?”

A analysis of available research leads us to conclude that up to 30% of the variance in organisational success is due to differences in the work ethos, and therefore the level of staff engagement created by line managers. Studies consistently point to immediate superiors as being the key to morale and productivity. Yet only 16% of senior managers just below the top leadership team believe they are personally responsible for generating employee engagement. And, worse, the most senior managers agree.  Only 13% believe line managers and middle managers are the prime drivers of involvement and morale.

The Sunday Times 100 Best companies to Work For provides a sample of businesses with the highest level of engagement.  The factor that correlates most strongly with ranking in the sample is Leadership. 

Julia Clarke, Healthcare Team Leader, LeaderShape FacultySays Julia Clarke: “Leadership at all levels is the main driver of staff engagement since leaders set the tone and climate and are in the position of being able to create, or otherwise, the bond between staff and the organisation.”

There is a tendency to adopt a ‘What you need to do is…’ approach: LeaderShape prefers to look at the ‘How’. LeaderShape works on enabling the embedding of empathy (and other Emotionally Intelligent behaviour) into company culture to promote trust, from which it believes a sense of ownership naturally follows. Behaviour changes are supported, through, creating the conditions for insights to occur that lead to a refocus on values and a better understanding of how people think. The process transcends all types of cultural diversity across public, private and third sector organisations.

The four keys to improving empathy are

  •  To listen attentively to what people say 
  •  To demonstrate awareness of how others feel 
  •  To accurately identify the root causes of the other person’s perspective 
  •  To express an understanding of the other person’s perspective

Even if a leader is not naturally empathetic, these new behaviours can be learnt, opening up a new world of understanding. A study by Gallup found a strong correlation between workforce engagement and innovation.  59% of highly engaged people said their job brings out their most creative ideas, as opposed to only 3% of disengaged workers.

Greg Young concludes: “Organisations that are more agile in responding to external changes will be more able to provide excellent standards of care.  So, fostering employee engagement through empathy is essential to influence staff willingness to adapt, learn and perform at work.”

Leadership in the Public SectorLeaderShape use a unique Leadership and Emotional Intelligence Profile Assessment tool to assess chief executives, senior teams and middle managers. This process measures EI competencies and converts them to a performance measurement of various leadership styles. To discuss this or explore how LeaderShape can help develop empathetic leaders in your organisation call 0870 990 5576 or email us.

7 Responses to “Engage Staff to Survive.”

  1. 1 Bay Jordan 16/05/2011 at 2:45 pm

    “Engage staff to survive.” Sounds so obvious, and as the comments point out is now the common wisdom.

    So let’s look at it another way. What are the primary needs your organisation has in order to survive? Could the fact that you are not meeting them as well as you would like be prima facie evidence that your people are not engaged?

    There is little doubt that engagement can deliver improvements in the hundreds of percent. The challenge, however, is to sustain such improvement and that is problematic because “employee engagement” is such a generic term and means so many different things. For that reason it is usually left to enlightened leaders, and all too often dissipates when the person moves on. We have to move beyond that and that entails:-
    1. Removing the factors which create disengagement – many of which we do not even recognise and even build into our remedies.
    2. Finding a way to embed engagement into systems and processes.

    It is also widely agreed that the highest level of engagement comes through ownership. So we need to find a way to make employees co-owners of the business. If they share the same aspirations and benefit from its success, they are more likely to feel empowered and participate constructively. That is what replaces the “me” with “we” which is what engagement is all about.

    • 2 Bennet Simonton 17/05/2011 at 10:59 am


      You wrote – “For that reason it is usually left to enlightened leaders, and all too often dissipates when the person moves on. We have to move beyond that and that entails:-
      1. Removing the factors which create disengagement – many of which we do not even recognise and even build into our remedies.
      2. Finding a way to embed engagement into systems and processes.”

      You make what I found to be a very important point and exactly what I experienced after my first turnaround. I had taken over a relative disaster and turned it around to be superlative in about 18 months, a US Navy destroyer escort. My relief did not treat the people as I did and much to my chagrin the ship returned to its previous disaster state in a little over a year. I felt terribly that I had only created a house of cards and struggled mightily to understand why and how to avert it in the future.

      After about 8 years and one more turnaround, I figured out the solution. About 95% of all people are followers more or less, meaning they follow what they think is expected of them by doing the work in accordance with the value standards reflected what they experience in the workplace. What they experience is mainly the support provided by their bosses in way of training, tools, rules, procedures, direction, discipline, tech advice, planning, parts and material, peace of mind, etc, etc. The values reflected in that support is what they use to perform their own work. For example, if they are ordered around (the normal top-down command and control approach), they interpret this as very disrespectful so they treat their own work, their customers, each other and their bosses to the same level of disrespect.

      The other 5% are non-followers meaning they do what they do in accordance with their own value standards. While the follower expends huge amounts of brainpower discerning value standards from what they experience today and then integrating these new data points previously gained data, the non-follower is free to use 100% of his/her brainpower on the work. This accounts for the quick change experienced in my destroyer escort, but also for the very, very large difference in creativity, innovation and productivity I learned exists between the follower and non-follower.

      Through study and my own and my wife’s experience with children I learned we are all born non-followers but that a very authoritative “do what I say” society of parents, teachers, churches, media, government, and workplace bosses, converts the vast majority of us into followers.

      So why not convert them all back to being non-followers thus experiencing huge gains in creativity, innovation, and productivity?

      In my next turnaround, a 250 person unionized group, I did exactly that in about 18 months. Then I watched from my new position in the same company for a period of about 7 years. They as a group never reverted back to being followers and continued to set new records of performance even though their new top manager (there were 3 over that 7 years), did not treat them well. When I visited they would hug me and tell me how they were doing things better every day.

      Yours was a very important point, Bay. But it is not embedding engagement into systems and processes. It is converting followers into non-followers who will not follow bad leadership but will continue to do their work in accordance with high standards of all common values.

      Best regards, Ben

      • 3 Bay Jordan 17/05/2011 at 12:15 pm


        Your naval experience sounds very similar to the one Michael Abrashoff described in his book, “The Best Damned Ship in the Navy.” (If you haven’t read it you should – you will obviously relate strongly to it.)

        You are of course also quite right to say the ultimate objective is to create leaders and not followers and that is what the distibuted leadership movement is all about, isn’t it. You are also to be congratulated on maintaining the changed attitudes after you moved on, especially as your successors did not follow your example. I just question how effective it would have been if you weren’t still there as a “father figure” and someone they could hug and brag to?

        That is what I meant by embedding engagement into the systems and and processes. Of course, as you point out, that is semantically something which cannot really be done. However, my proposed solution is a new model of management that effectively makes ALL employees co-owners of the business. Thus it takes away the “you” and “me” of traditional management and means that everyone is actually working for themselves. You will never remove the complexities of human interactions but at least it puts them in a context of greater common purpose and helps establish shared purpose and the sense of the organisation as a team. This is a catalytic change that reshapes behaviour and to the extent that it lays the foundation for improved engagement could be said to embed engagement as far as this is possible.

        By the way, this ownership does not involve shares or cost the organisation or the individual anything, so it:
        * Does not affect the shareholders’ rights;
        * Can apply to any type of organisation.

        I hope that clarifies the matter. Thank you for your comments. They certainly compelled me to clarify what I meant and I hope will help others better understand. I don’t think there is any doubt that we both have the same end goal in mind.

        Best regards

  2. 4 James Watson, Portland, Maine 16/05/2011 at 10:46 am

    Greg, I found this article to be spot on with a concept that I regularly preach to my clients:

    Practice the “Employers’ Golden Rule” – Treat your employees as you would like them to treat your customers.

    The most effective way for a organization to grow a base of loyal, engaged (external) customers is by engaging their internal customers: Their employees.

    And the best way to do that is by practicing those initiatives which you’ve outlined in this artilce.

    Thanks for the spot-on post!

    Jim Watson

  3. 5 Bennet Simonton 16/05/2011 at 10:27 am


    You make some good points, but some of them lead me to believe you have never created an engaged workforce.

    Your estimate of an up to 40% productivity gain is far too low. The last time I enabled an engaged workforce the gains were north of 300% per person in productivity gains. Peter Hunter’s gains on drilling rigs were likewise in the hundreds of percent.

    You write – “The key is to enable leaders to become more empathetic. It is about really listening to and understanding people – their viewpoint and the underlying beliefs or values which drive them. Leaders need to demonstrate that they not only understand the views being expressed but the reasons for those views – especially at such a difficult time.”

    Empathy is a feeling and we don’t actually need that. Nor do we need to understand our people’s beliefs or the values that drive them. Those goals are almost impossible. Creating an environment that causes employees to become engaged is much easier than all that and it is all about action and not beliefs.

    If anyone would like to learn how to cause a workforce to become engaged, I suggest engaging Peter Hunter to teach you. He is the author of Breaking The Mould.

    Best regards, Ben

  4. 6 Peter A Hunter 14/05/2011 at 10:54 pm

    By now the added value and the effectiveness of an engaged workforce is not really in dispute, although experience shows that recorded performance improvements are in the hundreds, not tens of percents.

    What does seem to remain shrouded in mystery is what can be done on Monday morning to start to create the environment that will allow the workforce to engage.

    When that simple and repeatable strategy becomes common knowledge organisations who have not engaged their workforces will be unable to compete in a market place in which their competitors have allowed their workforces to engage.

    Peter A Hunter

  5. 7 Joy Griffiths 12/05/2011 at 11:49 am

    Good article – thanks for posting.
    I’ve laboured over unrealistic targets in a past life and know how demotivating that was, then seen the pattern repeated in other scenarios, until a senior manager finally pushed for something more “real world” and everyone’s motivation went up. It really is time for top managers to find a realistic balance between setting shareholder expectations (or stakeholders, if not a public company) and getting the most out the employee pool. Motivated staff are far more likely to “go the extra mile” if they think you’re on their side!

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