When Business Gets Personal

At its best, employee engagement unlocks the discretionary effort staff are only willing to give once they’ve fully committed to a company and believe in its purpose. Getting this right can make the difference between a distinctly average workforce and one that performs to a higher level.

NATS’ team of highly specialised air traffic controllers are inherently incentivised by the duty of care they owe to the travelling public. However, Simon Warr, Communications Director at the aircraft navigation company, is aware that additional forward thrust will be required to reach the organisation’s desired destination.

“The business transformation we’re going through is based on changing the technology that underpins what they − air traffic controllers − do,” Simon explains. “That means the way air traffic control is done starts to look a little different.

“Engagement is critical to bringing through the changes we need. We need to get employees to understand what it is we want to change, why we want to change it and get their buy-in.”

NATS is early on in the process but Simon knows the engagement drive must focus on a strong sense of purpose. “It’s about finding the beating heart of NATS – what people are really here to do – and to connect with that.”

Charlie Wagstaff, Managing Director of Criticaleye, agrees that “the best way to get staff engaged is by clearly communicating the company’s mission and the journey it’s planned to get there. Relating the story in a personal way will lead to commitment on a personal level”.

The trinity of high-performance

The three Ps of employee engagement are passion, productivity and purpose. Unless there is clarity about how these are articulated across the workforce, it will be hard for individuals to relate to a business and its strategy.

Unilever, a multinational consumer goods company, is very clear on its way forward. Its vision – packaged as the Sustainable Living Plan – has what Stephen Pain, Vice President of Sustainable Business and Communications, calls three ‘audacious’ goals: To improve the health and wellbeing of a billion people, improve the livelihoods of millions of people it does business with and halve its environmental impact.

“For us, engagement focuses on a very clear vision of the future. We want to decouple our growth from our environmental footprint and increase our positive social impact – that vision is consistent throughout the business,” Stephen says.

“The ability of employees to engage with the organisation beyond the fact that they do the job, is very important. That’s focused on having a keen sense of purpose and an understanding of the relationship between what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and who you’re doing it for.”

Feedback matters

Customer satisfaction can be a revealing indicator of how much discretionary effort you’ve unlocked. “One of the things we do from an HR perspective is look at joining employee engagement and staff turnover with customer satisfaction,” explains Tea Colaianni, Group HR Director at Merlin Entertainments Group (which owns brands including Legoland, Sealife and Thorpe Park).

“We looked at the attractions with low engagement scores and found they tended to have high staff turnover and lower customer satisfaction. We monitored those attractions to see if there was a correlation between those key metrics. Usually there is.”

Tea has identified a way to make staff feel valued while also measuring their engagement against customer satisfaction. The company has asked its most loyal customers (annual pass holders) to give stars to employees who have gone above and beyond in terms of service. They can either print off a star and hand it to a member of staff, or take their name and give them one online at a later time.

“It recognises staff for having made a customer’s day and given them a great experience,” adds Tea.

Ownership unlocks effort

While the challenge and context for Mark Scanlon, Group CEO of employee benefits services company Personal Group, was somewhat different, he also draws a link between engagement and good customer service.

He motivated staff by providing them with a clearer sense of ownership. He describes the problem of having “a complaints department that was creating complaints”. In a move to address this, he ensured frontline staff received better training and then, greater autonomy. As a result, complaints dropped by 66 per cent, he says.

“Our biggest measure of engagement is being able to get discretionary effort – that willingness to go the extra mile. I believe, and the company believes, that there is a connection between productivity and engagement, and if you get your engagement right you can improve the performance of the business,” explains Mark.

For him, it’s no coincidence that employee and business performance have improved. “Our share price moved from £2.63 when I joined in late 2011 to £6.20 when we closed last year, with no dilution for the shareholders,” he says.

The trick is taking an approach that is both personal to your staff as well as the company’s goals and values. Anne Stevens, Criticaleye Board Mentor, Board Trustee for charity Over The Wall and Former Vice President of People and Organisation at Rio Tinto, points to the quality of an organisation’s leadership team as the differentiator in how much effort and commitment employees are prepared to give.

“It’s about leaders that are inclusive, good at nurturing talent and building teams in a balanced and diverse way,” she says. “I always bring it back to the environment you create, the way your workforce feel valued and included and how you lead them in a collaborative fashion.”

This article was inspired by Criticaleye’s recent event, Power to the People: Driving Productivity Through Employee Engagement, hosted by Personal Group.

By Mary-Anne Baldwin, Editor, Corporate


Do you have a view on this subject? If you have an opinion that you’d like to share, please email Mary-Anne at: maryanne@criticaleye.com

Keeping Employees Happy

Employee engagement is a slippery fish. It can mean as many things to staff as it can to employers. For some companies, it’s simply about motivating people in order to increase productivity and boost the bottom line, others take a longer-term approach. Meanwhile, employees present individual and generational differences in what they want from their jobs.

That’s a lot to expect of any employee engagement strategy but not if we boil it down to its essence: in order to have a successful company, you must have happy staff. Get that right and you’ll stop them from sleepwalking through their jobs.

As Fiona Roberts, Group HR Director at Volkswagen, states: “We know people are at their best when they’re happy at work. The more engaged people are, the longer they stay and the more discretionary effort they give to their organisation.”

Meanwhile the converse can be costly, as Gareth Jones, Group HR Director at M&G Investments notes: “We strive for engagement because if a company has a negative culture and people are disengaged, then that will leak out to customers and prospective employees. You can’t hide it and corporate spin is no longer sufficient.”

For Jonathon Hogg, Partner and Head of People and Talent at PA Consulting, employee engagement is about experience, values, fairness and clarity. “In essence, companies need to ask what things tend to wind people up, because that’s where they lose commitment,” he offers.

One way companies are achieving engagement is by taking inspiration from other firms. And it’s not just about what your competitors are doing. For example, Nestlé hosted Google (which for the sixth consecutive year ranks first in Fortune’s ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’) to pick its brains on best practice.

“That was a really inspiring session because the culture is very different to Nestlé but the ideas they operate around are quite pragmatic yet impactful,” said Neil Stephens, Managing Director of the Beverage Division at Nestlé UK & Ireland. “They really understand the type of people they want to attract and retain and then they create the environment, culture and tone around it.”

Similarly, Fiona explains that Volkswagen invited a company from another sector to gain ideas on how it could manage performance: “Capital One, which has mostly call centre activity, has done some very interesting things [in performance] over the last few years. We’ve invited their HR Director to speak to some of our People Managers to really understand what they do.”

Surveying the landscape

While external advice is useful, improving engagement typically starts by determining the existing levels of staff satisfaction. A traditional approach is to survey the workforce on what they do and don’t like about their jobs, locating areas for improvement. Yet assessment alone is never enough.

“Doing a staff survey in its own right has no impact whatsoever, all you’re doing is measuring how people feel,” says Fiona. “It’s about hearing what people have to say and doing something about it. Writing it down on a piece of paper and sticking it up on the wall doesn’t mean anything.”

Gareth warns that companies must prove they’re introducing improvements from the feedback they’ve been given: “I don’t think you should ever run the next employee survey until you’ve followed through on your commitment to action a number of areas.”

When putting things into practice, the best approaches tackle both staff satisfaction and productivity so that they benefit workers and employers simultaneously. Take Cisco Systems, which subsidises a child day care centre at its HQ that opened 18 months ago. Cisco’s population of female staff is just 20 per cent, but initiatives like this allow women to return to work after having children, meaning the company can improve diversity while also reducing the cost of recruiting and training new talent.

The additional feel-good factor is not to be scoffed at. Cisco System’s CEO of UK and Ireland, Phil Smith, says: “I got loads of feedback, not just from people who have kids, but also people whose kids have grown up and those who just thought it was a great idea.” Cisco is now also looking at new schemes, such as care for elderly relatives and loans to assist the firm’s first-time home buyers, both of which would help staff stay in their role and remain committed.

For Alison Speak, Group HR Director at Oasis Healthcare, recent surveys have focused on building staff commitment to consumer-led change. Oasis, which employs 5,000 dental healthcare staff, had to respond to demand for weekend and evening opening hours.

Part of the process was to create support by communicating the need to adapt during local monthly meetings. “What we have seen is that in those areas in which engagement is higher, it has been easier to get those practices to willingly extend their opening hours,” says Alison.

The generation game

While for some, the need for change is led by consumers, for many it’s due to the growing expectations of a younger workforce. Fiona explains: “Generation Y and the millennials are much more rational about their engagement, rather than emotional. It’s about what they can do to develop their career, making it bespoke to them. If the organisation isn’t going to provide that, they’ll go somewhere else.”

Under Cisco’s ‘Dream Jobs’ scheme, staff get to pitch and fill their perfect role if they can argue the business case for it. In essence, says Phil: “You’re asking people from the ground up what sorts of jobs should exist in the company that we wouldn’t necessarily have thought of.”

He explains the significance of such endeavours: “One has to keep innovating because you’ve got a changing demographic in the workplace with young people coming into the organisation who have different expectations.”

It’s a belief that Neil also adheres to: “Engaging as a leader requires a flexible, humanistic style. Tuning into people at different stages of their lives and careers requires conscious effort and significant time.”

Charlie Wagstaff, Managing Director of Executive Membership, Criticaleye posits: “Each member of staff has individual expectations formed from their own career aspirations. Companies must be adaptive to those varied requirements if they are to stay competitive in the fight to retain talent.”

As Jonathon notes: “We need to understand our workforce to engage them, but the onus is not on them to become motivated, that is the organisation’s responsibility and it must be tackled consistently at all levels.”

By Mary-Anne Baldwin, Editor – Corporate

Do you have a view on this subject? If you have an opinion that you’d like to share, please email Mary-Anne at: maryanneb@criticaleye.net


3 Reasons Why Change Fails

Comm update_5MarchChange management programmes fail to deliver due to a lack of clarity and conviction within the leadership team. The original ideas put forward to improve performance become lost in the miasma of short-term agendas, petty politics and stonewalling. Small wonder then that ‘change fatigue’ is a big issue for businesses as it’s easy for employees to become disillusioned when they think they’ve heard it all before.

Criticaleye spoke to a variety of business leaders to find out the three crucial areas where leaders fall down in their approach to launching a change programme.

1) No context

“The first mistake that’s so often made is not having a clear understanding of the reason for change and failing to set out some very clear goals of what you want to achieve by making a change,” says Richard Oosterom, Executive Vice-President of Group Strategy & Business Development at communications provider Colt Technology Services.

Marcus Hayes, Joint Managing Director at consultancy The Storytellers, comments: “What often happens is that the senior management, in developing the strategy for the change, spend a lot of time looking at the big picture… then they move towards the ‘how’.

“As that gets disseminated down through the organisation, the danger is the ‘why’ and ‘what’ get lost and the energy gets focused on the ‘how’. In my experience, if you give people the ability to see the context, to have an opportunity to explore why the change is taking place, not only does it provide the motivation for the ‘how’ but it also allows them to approach the change with the right mindset.”

2) Lack of engagement

Not everyone will see change as an opportunity. There will be winners and losers as roles are altered and jobs may be lost, so the pressure is on during a change programme to identify your advocates.

Thibaud de Saint-Quentin, Executive Vice President & Managing Director for EMEA at gaming concern Activision Blizzard, who came into the role in 2009 following a management reshuffle and large scale business restructuring, says: “We created a change agent network, identifying the key ambassadors for our strategy to help us drive changes throughout all levels of the organisation.”

According to Samantha Barber, Non-executive Director at electricity company Iberdrola, “your leadership team needs to identify those who are best able to be conductors for that change… those who can be pioneers in that area and encourage others. [Likewise] some people will need additional support to make that transitional move, while others will need to move on”.

Neil Wilson, CEO of recruitment consultant Stanton House, says: “Sometimes the communication isn’t as effective across the organisation as it probably needs to be. You need the line management to be absolutely engaged in what’s going on… If they’re not quite onside and they feel as though they’ve got other priorities, then of course, that’s when it all starts going wrong.”

3) Too much, too soon

The pace of change will need to be judged carefully. For Ian Stuart, Chairman of Aspen Pumps, the formula for success when he was President of the Latin American division for Black & Decker was to trial changes step by step.

“Global organisations should manage the risk by implementing changes in one place and [refine accordingly] before rolling it out,” he says. “I had about ten different companies around Latin America reporting to me and we wanted to bring in a new enterprise system…

“We took it to Argentina first and they messed it all up because they tried to change everything and make the system fit the way they operated; then we went to Colombia and learned a lot from that experience… [and] by the third one we were ready to roll it out globally.”

It’s often a case of less is more, says Samantha: “Remember, you’re not trying to change too much. Sometimes you need to go for the two or three big wins [that impact] cultural change and, if you can secure those, then other things will follow.”

This is a lesson that was learned the hard way at Colt Technology Services, where its change programme, now in year four, was intended to improve customer service, drive growth and increase efficiency. Richard explains: “We have done another strategic review in the last 12 months because we have not achieved the goals that we set out at the start of the change programme. We had too many programmes and we have been trying to do too much…

“You need to allow yourself to really focus on the things where you can make the biggest difference… and just stop doing the rest.”


The overall performance of an organisation is the best metric to use when determining whether a change programme has been a success. That said, change is not something that suddenly stops – the leadership team should always be looking at ways to disrupt the status quo and improve the business in order to drive success.

In that sense, it’s a never-ending process.

I hope to see you soon.



Making the Move to Group CEO

CE update 19.02.14Becoming Group CEO is the pinnacle of an executive career, but those with ambitions of taking the helm of a global business should be careful what they wish for. From managing the board and marshalling the views of divisional heads, to communicating with the media, analysts and shareholders, it’s a 24/7 responsibility which provides the ultimate test of a person’s ability to lead.

“The biggest impact for me was recognising the demands of the City and shareholders,” says Mike Turner, Non-executive Chairman at engineering concern GKN and formerly Group CEO of BAE Systems. “What surprised me at first was that at the half-yearly or yearly presentation the shareholders and analysts weren’t interested in the results, they really wanted to know about the future growth prospects of the company. That brought home to me the need to be able to articulate a clear, long-term growth strategy.”

Pim Vervaat, who became Group CEO of plastic manufacturing company RPC following five-and-a-half-years as CFO, comments: “Being good at governance, numbers, talking to banks; this alone is not enough to make the transition to CEO. You really need to have an interest in the people and the key strategic drivers of the business.”

A change of mindset will be needed by those who’ve stepped up from a divisional CEO or regional MD role. Leslie Van de Walle, Chairman at building material company SIG, who made the transition from Divisional CEO to Group CEO at United Biscuits, says: “Divisional heads often underestimate the difficulty of always getting the right compromise between the various stakeholder objectives. When you get to group level you have to balance decisions against the needs of the business, the shareholders, the wishes of the board… and the interests of suppliers and customers.”

Carl-Peter Forster, Non-executive Director at engineering company IMI and formerly Group CEO at Tata Motors, says: “You have to move on from being very operationally focused, which most divisional CEOs are, to becoming much more strategic. Leading a group calls for a more indirect way of influencing and motivating people.”

In focus

The pressure of being the public face of the business can come as a shock to the uninitiated. Judith Nicol, Director at executive and non-executive recruitment specialist Warren Partners, says: “Most people at the very top of organisations are absolutely gobsmacked by how much everyone scrutinises them on a daily basis.

“You become the cultural compass and people take in everything from how you’re walking around the building, how you look, your mood… It all becomes so much more important when you’re a chief executive.”

Mike comments: “The UK press is pretty demanding, and that was a challenge, but the biggest struggle I had was in dealing with the government… In the end I had to talk with then Prime Minister Tony Blair to try and get him to understand that this county’s defence equipment base would just disappear unless he adopted a defence industrial strategy.

“In business, you’ve got to look to the long term. I’m afraid a lot of politicians just look to the next election.”

To make it as a Group CEO, you need experience across a range of functions and situations to understand how a business operates. Pim comments: “As CFO you have got to deal with shareholders, the board, and all the stakeholders quite closely already…  Working closely alongside the chief executive in a public company for five years has helped me immensely.”

Likewise, taking on a NED role as an executive will certainly give you valuable insights. Carl-Peter says: “Dealing with the board was certainly something I found to be a bit of a challenge and it was the one area I wasn’t particularly well prepared for… An external NED role would have helped massively because it puts you in a position where you can observe things objectively.”

The real differentiator for the best CEOs is the ability to see the bigger picture, showing superb leadership skills and possessing the strength of character to handle the constant pressure of being in the spotlight. Leslie says: “You have to be clear not only about the attraction of the role and the power associated with it but also the downside, which is the fact that you are alone and that you are ultimately responsible and accountable for whatever your team and the group does.”

I hope to see you soon.



3 Ways to Engage Your Employees

Comm update Faces - 24 september

In many respects, discussing employee engagement can be to state the blindingly obvious. After all, CEOs shouldn’t really have to be told that they need to talk to their staff and be able to listen. Perhaps this continues to be such a hot topic because too many leaders allowed themselves to become estranged from their employees and now it’s a case of getting back to basics.

That means interacting with people and getting everyone to believe in the business. After all, a fully engaged and motivated workforce will be a powerful agent for any organisation seeking to change, grow and deliver success. Criticaleye finds out how leaders from a range of organisations are making it happen.

1. Test the Water

The first step is to ask employees for feedback. Most organisations still find the annual employee engagement survey an important barometer here.

Maria da Cunha, Director of People, Legal and Government Affairs at British Airways, says: “While you shouldn’t get too hung up on measurement, I do think it’s useful to have some way of checking how you’re doing. In a large organisation like ours, which has many sub cultures, it’s quite important to get some sense of whether you can prove you are going in the right direction.”

Just keep it simple and understand what you want to try and achieve. Tea Colaianni, Global HR Director at Merlin Entertainments Group, comments: “In our employee engagement survey we ask just one key question: ‘Why do you enjoy working here?’… while it turns out that 95 per cent of our employees enjoy working for Merlin, we try to spend a lot of time working out why there are 5 per cent who aren’t engaged, and the goal is to try and turn them around and make them ambassadors for the brand.”

2. Be Visible

Obviously, CEOs need to get out and talk to staff. “I do a lot of floor walking,” says Martin Balaam, CEO at IT services concern Jigsaw24. “It’s important to be out there and visible, not just having forums and presentations… but to make sure you take time out to chat and reflect on things with your staff. You can often tell what the mood of the office is just by walking through it.”

It’s harder to get around when you’ve a globally dispersed workforce, but there’s still no substitute for face time. Jane Griffiths, Company Group Chairman for EMEA at Janssen, the pharmaceutical division of global healthcare organisation Johnson & Johnson, comments: “Two weeks ago I was in Russia and Poland; next month I will travel with my leadership team to Istanbul… it’s important to go and listen to what the situation is like in different markets and meet with people in different offices face to face. You’re trying to dig deeper into the organisation all the time to see who’s there and who needs more input into their development.”

The other key thing is for middle managers to be engaged and behaving like ambassadors of the decisions made at board level. Colin Hatfield, Senior Partner and Founder of Visible Leaders, a consultancy that specialises in leadership communication, says: “There’s often this great intent at the top of the organisation but it falls down in that layer below, at the local leadership level. Frankly, that is where engagement really happens because the point of this is to get teams engaged…

“If those leading teams within an organisation are not engaging people, then it’s not going to happen. So the emphasis needs to be on helping that layer of leadership do the right things to drive engagement forward.”

It’s a point taken up by Paul Isaac, who until recently led HR for the industrial business of DHL Supply Chain in the UK: “[Engagement] is about the visibility of more senior managers, actually visiting sites, talking to individuals, getting to understand first-hand how those individuals are engaged with the business and the site where they operate.”

3. Walk the Talk

To get any sort of lasting engagement, employees will want to see that you’re serious about taking their views on board. That means being honest, says Ella Bennett, Human Resources Director for the UK and Ireland division of global IT systems and services provider Fujitsu: “It won’t all be good news and openly recognising that helps build leadership credibility. We use…online discussions where people can raise issues in real-time, suggest solutions and get immediate responses from senior players in the business… We make sure the executive team is always accessible.”

Maria comments: “Feedback can get lost in the corporate machine, so people might feel nobody’s listening or that they aren’t contributing, when actually they may be making a very important contribution. So having a feedback loop with clear, two-way communication is the most important thing that can be done and often one of the hardest to get right in a large organisation.”

Such was the case for Nick Allen, former VP of Strategy and Portfolio at oil and gas giant Shell, who was tasked with the challenge of understanding how the organisation could better retain female middle managers. “It required listening to why they were leaving and being willing to take on board the things you may not have thought about, or that may be more difficult to execute than you would like,” he recalls. “I ran virtual focus groups using… video conferencing with six female managers and it was genuine dialogue, so I ended up getting them to chair and facilitate the discussions… [because] you really want to get to the point where the solutions come from them.”


What engagement really boils down to is good old-fashioned communication. That means listening to employees, acknowledging their views and making them feel that they’re opinions count for something.

The mistake is to think that employee engagement can be created in bitesize programmes or one-off team building initiatives. As Colin says, “Organisations with a truly engaged workforce simply see it as part of everyone’s day job.”

I hope to see you soon.



CEOs: How to Manage a Crisis

Today’s intense public scrutiny seems to unearth business calamities on a weekly basis, whether they’re leadership gaffes, tales of wrongdoing or a disastrous technical failure. When such a crisis hits and the media demands immediate answers, it’s up to the chief executive to get the details clear, control any panic and secure the long term reputation of the business.

Andrew Heath, President of Energy at engine-maker Rolls-Royce says: “Our approach is to stick to the facts: acknowledge them and work swiftly internally, to understand what we need to do before we tell people [outside the business]. The media doesn’t necessarily like it, but both [they and] our business circles do recognise that… we don’t speculate and only put out what we know when it is factual.”

Once the details and the extent of the risks to the business are ascertained, the clear up can begin. Leslie Van de Walle, a Criticaleye Associate and Chairman of both construction supplier SIG Plc and recruitment consultancy Robert Walters, says: “Be vigilant: you need to monitor the… feedback from your audience. Be ready to react relatively quickly, with a low profile and with the facts, hoping that it will calm down the bad press before the spotlight moves on to something else. [The key] is giving an appropriate response to the events, without under or overstating it.”

It’s a case of defining your priorities and the interests of key stakeholders first and foremost. Kevin Murray, Chairman of PR consultants Good Relations Group, says: “Trust is a strategic asset and if you destroy a relationship with a customer or a supplier it is far more damaging to your business than some bad media headlines. Ask whose relationship with you is being damaged [by the crisis] and what you need to say and do to fix it. It is about developing the right strategic response, rather than the right media response.”

Enough businesses have undergone high profile catastrophes to make it clear that successfully handling the external perception of a crisis hinges on the quality of internal management and with the aforementioned focus on a business’s relationships, values and reputation.

In mining, for example, the ongoing stability of a venture is threatened when companies don’t keep local communities onside. Bruce Cox, Managing Director of Rio Tinto Diamonds, says: “It is not just the global brand reputation that is critical, but the perceived or real community concerns. They can result in lasting local reputational damage that is hard to recover from. The solution there comes from facing issues head-on, through sincere and genuine engagement with community leaders.”

The company line

When a crisis breaks, it’s the CEO who has to exercise judgement on what the impact of a crisis is on the business and decide on the appropriate course of action, rather than relying solely on the opinion of advisors and comms teams (although they certainly have their place). Likewise, it’s the leader who needs to ensure, and thereby feel confident, that the values of the organisation are understood by each and every employee right through to those in the supply chain.

Easier said than done, perhaps, but weak links in organisations are causing catastrophic consequences. Patricia O’Hayer, Vice President of Global Employee Engagement at Unilever says: “Today at any point in time anyone can mobilise a maelstrom of activity which challenges a company’s reputation, so never discount a threat as insignificant or not credible… But it’s not all doom and gloom, a company’s reputation is an asset that can be managed and bolstered each and every day.

“Invest in your employees as the first line of defence, they are the best advocates for your company… and hold your suppliers accountable to use your products, speak well of your company and adhere to your standards, [as they] too have a vested interest.”

It’s about drilling home what’s at stake to the whole business, adds Martin Sutton, Head of Corporate Assurance at National Lottery owner Camelot Group: “On the very rare occasions that a player has a problem with our lottery systems, we know that, no matter how small or temporary the problem may be, news of it will spread like wildfire on Facebook and Twitter… [but] most crises start small and like a storm approaching don’t necessarily in themselves warn you of what’s about to come.

“It’s a fine judgement and the first indications often won’t lead an inexperienced manager to think this is indeed a crisis… [so] we put all of the senior executives through a training process, which I found incredibly useful because you know what to expect in those first 24 hours that define the overall response.”

Let’s not forget that with all of this, good non-executive directors have a role to play in protecting the reputation of the business. Leslie explains: “I think it goes back to the board… If you have an experienced board that is capable of taking an appropriate assessment of the situation, the company’s leadership is likely to be helped in taking the right decisions… It’s difficult once the press get involved but it is the role of the board to take a balanced view and a balanced response.

“In a crisis, it is a question of being prepared, it is a question of being transparent and honest, and it is a question of having people who are mature and experienced. [They] know that as a CEO you will have a crisis during your tenure.”

Please get in touch if you have any comments about the issues raised here.

I hope to see you soon.


Who Drives Employee Engagement?

It sounds simple enough: employee engagement is achieved through listening and communicating with clarity and authenticity. Strange then that many organisations fall short when trying to achieve this and seriously struggle with an almost institutionalised disconnect between employees and senior management.

Cutting through the politics of a business can be one of the hardest challenges, particularly when seeking to drive change. Dan Londero, Chief Sales Officer at Reed Exhibitions, says: “My personal approach when leading change initiatives is to personally meet with as many staff as I possibly can as a point of priority. The staff in a business know what is going on and often can tell you what isn’t right. By involving our staff and genuinely listening, I find that they later engage in the steps that need to follow.”

Instead of this, executives fall into the trap of taking on a ‘thou shalt’ style of leadership. Gwen Ventris, the former COO of AEA Technology, says: “Executive teams can go wrong when the decision-making process becomes too separated from employee expectations and belief systems. It creates a trust gap between what is said and what is actually done; employees can become alienated if they conclude that management is making decisions in its own interests without taking account of the views of people within the business.”

Another common mistake is to repeat clichés about ‘brave new directions’ and priorities for the business. Rudi Kindts, a Criticaleye Associate and former HR Director for British American Tobacco, explains: “Many times I hear leaders saying that ‘we are in new territory and we need a major mind shift,’ whilst at the same time pushing forward with the same old and failing leadership practices.”

This is where the question of ‘authenticity’ takes on meaning. Employees want to see consistency, whereby words are followed by actions. David Plumb, General Manager of Enterprise for O2, says: “It’s about good line managers taking the time to understand what’s important and what motivates each individual employee, then thinking about creating that ‘win-win’ where the employee gets that motivation and the business gets its delivery, creating a virtuous circle. That’s why employee engagement is so powerful.”

Crowd sourcing

Unless due care has been taken to engage effectively, cracks within a company culture can be brutally exposed when change needs to be implemented. Gary Browning, Chief Executive of HR consultancy Penna, reveals that when he took the hotseat in 2005 a number of reforms were called for which required a rounded approach. “[We] invested heavily in engagement by building a strong internal communications strategy, including regular roadshows, getting around the regional offices, conducting monthly calls with managers and giving key messages on a one-to-one basis,” he says.

The ‘key messages’ have to be integrated into the organisation. Gwen states that “it is critical… for senior management to understand and effectively [oversee] their management teams to ensure they are active in their support and act and communicate with their people accordingly”.

Any perceived cynicism or discontent among those expected to endorse changes will spell disaster. “It’s very important people get the message from their line manager, not just from the chief executive, so we put in place channels for that to happen,” says Gary, adding that when introducing changes the management were put through a programme to enhance their communication and basic coaching skills.

Although there are going to be times when a consultative approach won’t be appropriate, boards should be aware of how information is being disseminated through the organisation and put measures in place which allow for feedback. It comes back to the trinity of strategy, vision and culture and taking the time to figure out what this means in practice for a business and the people who work there.

Matthew Dearden, CEO of advertising company Clear Channel Outdoor, says: “To me, internal communication is critical as tone and culture come from the top and people buy into that. If little time is spent on working out what you want to stand for as a company and the kind of behaviour you wish to see from your employees, it can be enormously damaging… With a clear, consistent voice using the right channels, internal communication can be an engine for any company driving commitment, change and individual behaviour.”

According to Nick Helsby, Managing Director of executive search firm Watson Helsby, the value to be gained from well-considered and structured interaction with employees needs to be a higher priority for boards. He argues that “it is time for a fundamental rethink of internal comms, its value propositions, what it should deliver and how it is organised and resourced”.

One of the reasons for this may be around ownership and responsibility for who really drives the engagement agenda. Laura Haynes, Chairman of brand and communications agency Appetite, says: “Executive teams go wrong by missing the opportunity of co-opting and engaging at an early stage and throughout the process, putting a distance between the boardroom and shop floor where it need not exist.”

For some leaders, it may be time to dispense with a traditional, overly hierarchical view of a business if they do want to achieve the desired strategic results. Martin Balaam, CEO of IT company Jigsaw 24, says: “There are a disproportionate amount of organisations where energy is spent communicating downwards compared to listening to what the team on the ground, the one nearest the customers, have to say.

“Executive teams would do well to think about what they are there to do – are they really the ones who know what is going on at the coal face? Do they really understand the feelings of the organisation – if they started to think of themselves as being there to listen and to react to the feedback coming from customers, employees and suppliers, then they would be starting to really care about the customer experience.”

Some may dismiss this as touchy/feely but those who underestimate employee engagement do so at their peril, especially when major changes have to be made and suddenly senior management are calling out for all employees to pull in the same direction.

If you haven’t earned the necessary trust and respect, what level of commitment can you really expect?

Please get in touch if you have any comments about the issues raised here.

I hope to see you soon.



2012: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

You could be forgiven for thinking that the cinematic storms lashing the UK’s shorelines and cities are a macabre foreshadowing of the economic tempest to come over the next 12 months. Although it’s obvious that troubles most certainly do lie ahead, it’s equally true that leaders who continue to hold their nerve and are willing to adapt can and will make their businesses prosper.

As the CEO and one of the founders of Criticaleye, I believe that whatever the wider economic and political environment, over the course of this year those leaders that are able to put ‘context’ first will thrive. The leaders that base their decisions on the context of their own organisation and its eco-system, while carefully monitoring the experiences and views of others rather than just the macro-picture, will take their companies into strong commercial positions.

To my mind, 2012 is going be a great year for leadership, an investment year, a growth year and, above all, a positioning year.

As Ian Bowles, Chief Executive Officer of Allocate Software plc says, the current crisis was not triggered by widespread business failure or lack of opportunity: “Good companies can thrive if they focus on core activities and execute well.”

Besides, plenty of corporates and SMEs have piles of cash on their balance sheets – the question is when and where to invest. For Bala Chakravarthy, a Criticaleye Thought Leader and Shell Professor of Sustainable Business Growth at IMD, “2012 will sort out the true blue-chip companies from the pretenders” and that will require a potent mixture of “innovative strategies and prudent risk taking”.

Troop morale

The immediate priority for executive and non-executive teams is to buoy the spirit of employees and stakeholders so that everyone continues to believe in a business and its future. Siva Shankar, former Corporate Finance Director at commercial property investment and development company  SEGRO plc, warns against the dangers posed by employees falling into the trap of alarmist thinking, largely fuelled by ‘sensationally negative’ stories in the media.

He says: “Unfortunately, this kind of ‘negative sensationalism’ will naturally seep into organisations and leaders will have to be vigilant and take firm steps to contain the impact that a few destructively influential ‘tabloid communicators’ can have across a whole organisation.”

Laura Haynes
, Chairman of brand and communications company Appetite, says: “The growing uncertainty often leads to paralysis in change, development, innovation and investment, not only for individual companies, but for the economy as a whole… I [do] think there should be a focus on employee engagement and keeping people focused on the goals ahead and the values of the brand and how to deliver against the ambitions of the organisation.”

The ability to react to change and take an opportunity remains paramount. Mike Hayes, President of  gaming company SEGA Europe Ltd, says: “There [is a] need to adapt to the way technology is changing methods of consumption. As broadband improves… consumers will want to experience their entertainment, receive their key information and buy goods in a far more real time and direct manner… Businesses will have to adapt to keep consumers engaged.”

Andy Dunkley, CEO of Lee Cooper Brands, says: “For our business the key opportunity is expanding internationally and giving our customers a full menu of support so they can take as much or as little as they need. That being said, I am anticipating a harder scenario in picking up international business in 2012 than we had in 2009 to 2011, so we are going to be much more cautious in the management of our cost base.”

When assessing the bigger political and financial picture, there’s no point in denying the dangers that exist as growth in Asia slows, the Eurozone teeters on collapse and economists predict a double-dip recession. The threats are out there and, as Marcus Stuttard, Head of AIM, the London Stock Exchange’s international market for growth companies, states, confidence is crucial as “uncertainty in the markets has been the biggest brake on activity in recent months and is likely to continue in the early part of 2012”.

Ian McCaig, Deputy Chairman of smart meter energy company First Utility, says: “I still have deep uncertainties over the consequences of any stimulus actions that seek to bring about short-term improvements. It’s difficult to be positive unless we know what happens next in the Eurozone. If we see an individual market or the currency collapse, trading relationships will continue to worsen.”

Guessing game

Every sensible executive and non-executive team will be measuring the wider risks against the individual strengths and weaknesses of their organisation. Brian Stevenson, former Chairman of Global Transaction Services for the Royal Bank of Scotland Group plc, says: “Most companies are in good shape to weather the challenges of 2012 but, in general, banks and governments are not. This, together with the continuation of macro-economic imbalances in the world’s economy, mean that it is difficult to be optimistic.”

In this sense, over-exuberance and bullishness may appear ridiculous and even offensive, especially as austerity measures start to bite and organisations need to make realistic cuts in tight market conditions. For those in the public sector, for instance, the pressure is on to make savings and reduce expenditure while seeking to improve service. Jane Furniss, CEO of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, admits that this is no easy task as “it’s a combination of adapting and trying different things”.

It’s not a time for any business leader to be operating in a silo. Jane continues, “Certainly, advice from colleagues within other organisations that have been through this, both in the public and private sector, has been useful and that’s where the Criticaleye Community has really helped me. I have conversations that help to give me ideas and also having more formal discussions with people about how they have tackled similar situations.”

And so it comes back to the importance of understanding the context of your business. Only through dialogue, interaction, hard analysis and good old-fashioned gut-feeling will you be able to make the right choices and empower your leadership team so that you’re where you need to be in 2012.

Those who lose sight of their contextual position will be sucked into a very tough vortex!

Please get in touch if you have any comments about the issues raised here.

I hope to see you soon.