Category: Engagement

Something is Clearly Wrong with Employee Engagement in South Africa

An article in the Sunday Times Business “SA Strike Rate highest in the World” certainly caught my attention. This article set out the days lost in SA as being nearly double that of other countries and some instances at nearly 10 times the days lost in a country like Italy.

However what really got my attention was the these two contrasting statements:

  1. Mike Schüssler, Economist – “All over the world labour unions act mores strategically and think more tactically than SA unions do”
  2. Patrick Craven, Cosatu spokesman – ‘ Employers cannot try to blame workers for their own inability to conduct negotiations in a constructive ways which would avoid strikes’

Constructive ways? Not thinking strategically?

These contrasting statements points to a problem with employee engagement and internal communication and should be addressed rather urgently by companies.

Adcorp also pointed to this in its latest employment index report and I quote – ‘The inability to get workers to perform and the inability to pay them for their performance, are the single biggest drivers of low employment”.

The word engagement came to me whilst reading this article. To me Engagement means how to capture the Hearts, Minds, Hands and Heads of the people that work for you.

I wrote about this in my blog post – The Employee is NOT a Stakeholder –

I received quite a number of responses to my post ranging from supporting my stance to some querying my use of international models. One post queried the use of the concept of employee stakeholder profiling when dealing with unionised employees as it might be seen as “discrimination”.

The reason that I wrote the post was to evoke debate. I wanted to raise an understanding of the need to segment the employee stakeholder or at least considering ‘different strokes for different folks’.

Obviously there are many models or windows through which to look at the employee stakeholder group. This is why I use these models and various research studies in my workshops to show up differences and enhance dialogue and learning’s.

One author once said that there is nothing as practical as a good theory. One of the biggest dangers that I would caution against is that everything must be home grown.

Benchmarking against international research is crucial and taking the parts that can be used.

Nevertheless, the conventional wisdom about generational differences in the workplace is mostly wrong, according to a new book by Jennifer J. Deal, a research scientist with the Centre for Creative Leadership.

The shorthand used to describe the four generations that now make up the workforce goes something like this:

  • The Silent Generation (born before 1946) values hard work
  • Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) value loyalty
  • Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980) value work-life balance
  • Generation Y (the generation just entering the workforce, also known as Millennials) values innovation and change.

Or, in terms of negative stereotypes, the Silent’s are fossilized, the Boomers are narcissistic, the Gen Xers are slackers, and the Gen Yers/Millennials are even more narcissistic than the Boomers.

Not so, says Deal. She argues that the generations now of working age value essentially the same things. Her findings, based on seven years of research in which she surveyed more than 3,000 corporate leaders, are presented in her new book, Retiring the Generation Gap: How Employees Young & Old Can Find Common Ground (Jossey-Bass).

“Our research shows that when you hold the stereotypes up to the light, they don’t cast much of a shadow,” says Deal. “Everyone wants to be able to trust their supervisors, no one really likes change, we all like feedback, and the number of hours you put in at work depends more on your level in the organization than on your age.”

Clearly, people of different ages see the world in different ways. But Deal says that’s not the primary reason for generational conflict. The conflict has less to do with age or generational differences than it does with clout—who has it and who wants it.

“The so-called generation gap is, in large part, the result of miscommunication and misunderstanding, fuelled by common insecurities and the desire for clout,” says Deal.

Miscommunication. Misunderstanding. Deals says it. Craven refers to it.

This clearly illustrates to me a need to take a relook at the process and rationale of employee engagement and internal communication, because something clearly is not working.

This is something that I am going to explore in more detail in my upcoming workshop on Strategic Employee Stakeholder Engagement on the 18th – 19th August in Johannesburg.

The Employee is NOT a Stakeholder

The Employee is not a Stakeholder!


Surely this is wrong. Is it?

The Employee is not a Stakeholder. The Segmented Employee Stakeholder is.

Employees are not homogenous. They are not beans in a tin can.

There is a vast difference between a new employee and someone who has been with the company for many years. The one is eager, has fresh ideas, wants to make a difference but does not know everything about the company nor the culture, whilst the older one is cynical, has seen many change programs start and/or falter.

Researchers and experts around the globe segment employee stakeholders into many types ranging from Traditionalists to Baby Boomers to Generation X and Millenials, indicating that there are differences between the way employees interact, participate, communicate, listen and learn.

In fact, some studies classify employees into four generations in the workplace:

  • Traditionalists born 1925-1942
  • Baby Boomers born 1943-1962
  • Generation X born 1963-1978
  • Generation Y/Millennials born 1979-1998 (under age 30 today)

Boomers, Generation X and Millenials differ in the way they solve problems, focus on tasks and make decisions.

For instance studies show that Boomers tend to solve problems in a hierarchical fashion whilst Millenials like to solve problems in a collaborative fashion.

But even pigeonholing some people into these categories can be dangerous. One size does not fit all.

Just because I am 52 years old, does it make me a Baby Boomer? 80% of the way in which I do things and solve problems are millennial in nature. Yet, when it comes to certain things like ethics and manners I am definitely old school.

Many years ago I remember how upset I became when I was given a letter stating that I was a certain grade in a Paterson Job Grading Scheme. In fact, I tore the letter up and stated that I was a person not a grade.

How you profile and classify employees will determine how you treat them and design training programs, communication and other campaigns.

How you profile and segment your employee stakeholder will affect your engagement strategies. One definition of engagement is that it is the  “heightened emotional connection that an employee feels for his or her organization, that influences him or her to exert greater discretionary effort to his or her work”

How can you raise this emotional connection if you have not segmented your employees?

Understanding the various profiles is vital. Profiling your employee stakeholder is vital if you want to design and develop targeted communication, engagement and learning campaigns to build a superior reputation.

P.S To assist companies with the task of building a superior reputation in the workplace, I will facilitate a 2 – day workshop on Strategic Employee Stakeholder Engagement from the 18th – 19th August in Johannesburg.

During this two day workshop‚ you will learn how to boost internal stakeholder engagement & communication‚ enhance professional stakeholder management processes and enhance the organisations’ quest to be an admired employer. I will cover:

  • Why Engagement is not just  a buzzword;
  • What is the secret of engagement and becoming an Employer of choice;
  • How to strategically profile & engage the employee stakeholder to build brand awareness and reputation;
  • How to design, implement & drive an effective engagement strategy, using tools such as stakeholder management, communication, Social Media, liberated HR and OD practices & engagement techniques;
  • Practical steps on how to impact relationships with the internal stakeholder in a favourable manner;
  • What it takes to become an admired & preferred employer;

Quote–Employee Stakeholder Engagement

“Imagine an organisation full of people who come to work enthusiastically, knowing that they will grow and flourish, and intent on fulfilling the visions and goals of the larger organization. There’s ease, grace, and effortless about the way they get things done. People take pleasure and pride in every aspect of the enterprise – for example in the way they can talk openly, reflect on other’s opinions, and have genuine influence on the structures around them. That’s a lot of energy walking in each day, accomplishing an ever-increasing amount of work and having fun along the way.”

Author – Peter Senge: The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook

What Social Media means for Corporate Culture

Social media is making the top-down approach to management obsolete, and that’s affecting the way companies conceive of themselves and treat their workers, writes Soren Gordhamer.

By giving every worker a voice, social media increases the importance of an inclusive and innovative corporate culture, and of leaders articulating a powerful vision of their company’s big-picture goals, Gordhamer writes.

“The old paradigm was individualistic and focused on thriving to be personally brilliant; the new one is much more social, and it involves creating cultures that enhance innovation in all those present,” he writes.

Read more –

Creating Shared Value is a Stakeholder Manager Priority

Here is an interesting article that contains  a number of important lessons for Stakeholder Managers – Reconnect business success with social progress.

via Make money and do good is the new corporate buzz | Reuters.

In my mind, it speaks of the necessity to integrate sustainability thinking into the everyday processes of the organization, whether it is choosing paper for the photocopier or pressing a button spilling effluent into a pristine water ecosystem.

Creating Shared value fits into the Inclusive Stakeholder Management thinking model and is in line with the recommendations of the King 3 Code on Corporate Governance.

In a stakeholder inclusive approach, the organisation considers the legitimate interests and expectations of stakeholders on the basis that this is in the best interests of the company, and not merely as an instrument to serve the interests of the shareholder. What this means in practice is that in the ‘stakeholder inclusive’ model, the legitimate interests and expectations of stakeholders are considered when deciding in the best interests of the company.

The integration and trade-offs between various stakeholders are then made on a case-by-case basis, to serve the best interests of the company. The shareholder, onthe premise of this approach, does not have a predetermined place of precedence over other stakeholders. However, the interests of the shareholder or any other stakeholder may be afforded precedence based on what is believed to serve the best interests of the company at that point.

The best interests of the company should be interpreted within the parameters of the company as a sustainable enterprise and the company as a responsible corporate citizen. This approach gives effect to the notion of redefining success in terms of lasting positive effects for all stakeholders, as explained above.

Creating Shared Value for all.


Employee Engagement can Make a Difference

This story came to me via Seth Godin’s blog and is called Sad Tim, and forms an ideal introduction to my post.

‘At the post office the other day, a guy wearing a beautiful handmade scarf finishes his transaction and starts away from the counter.

A small nail holding the moulding apparently isn’t hammered in all the way. It catches the scarf, pulls the threads and ruins the scarf. The man turns to the counter, looks at the postal worker who took his money and says, "There’s a loose nail here, it just ruined my scarf."

Tim, the postal worker, beaten down, tired, given up, stands behind the counter and barely makes eye contact. "Oh."

End of interaction.

When you allow (yes, allow) all humanity to be stripped from your day, all day, then what?’

Organisations are slowly realising that they NEED to change to differentiate themselves from the competition and the process that they use with employees is now called Employee Engagement. To  some it is just a buzzword but to others it is a strategy that sets their firm apart from another i.e. To become an Admired Company and preferred employer.

Managing your organization’s reputation has become one of the most important strategic imperatives for any organization. An Organization’s reputation is derived from the way the organization is perceived by its various stakeholders.

2137729430_11b29f9164_bThese perceptions are impacted and influenced to a large extent by how the organization behaves and performs. The engagement of the Employee stakeholder in this vital process is essential, as a reputation is built from the inside outward. Living the brand promise, changing employees into reputation builders and not destroyers and brand ambassadors is a vital strategy in this quest.

It goes without saying that no company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it. That’s why you need to take the measure of employee engagement at least once a year through anonymous surveys in which people feel completely safe to speak their minds.” — Jack Welch, Former CEO, General Electric

The employee stakeholder needs to be treated with care. Creating a positive work environment is of mutual benefit to employers and employees and builds loyalty. Employee communication programs should be designed to create opportunities for strengthening the relationships between employees and management. The many changes that the work fabric has encountered over the past 10 years have eroded the traditional loyalty approach that many employees had.

With constant cost cutting, restructuring, downsizing, mergers, employee equity drives and outsourcing happening all the time, employees must start to wonder when it will happen next at his area of work. Under the old “social contract” between employee and employer, the employee expected a lifetime or long-term job in exchange for regular promotions, benefits and a pension.

In the “new work order”, employees will seek short-term social contracts in which employee and employer will outline mutual commitments for each other’s success. Such agreements will be individually forged. “Making generalizations” about what will work for all employees is not realistic anymore.

In many research surveys on company loyalty, workers in hourly and customer service categories scored the lowest. While low wages in those categories are a factor, customer service workers had the lowest loyalty scores even after accounting for the effects of income. That finding may be a major cause for concern, one study said, because customer service workers are most likely to be in a position to influence customers’ perceptions of a company.

One study looked at six factors controlled by companies that could affect loyalty namely the direction the company is heading, work satisfaction, recognition and rewards, opportunity for growth, work environment and work/life balance. Companies need to give consideration to all six factors to improve employee commitment but some studies show that recognition and rewards and opportunities for growth need the most attention.

Companies need to evaluate themselves, and then decide what steps need to be taken. Too many companies are relying on resources and programs from the old social contract, the researchers said.

The bottom line is that employer – employee relations is at the ebb of change, and that it is now even more important to build these relationships. The role of the stakeholder reputation manager is to ensure that these relationships are important on both sides of the relationship.

Hewitt defines Employee Engagement as “The state of emotional and intellectual commitment of a person, group or organisation to the entity with whom they are employed.” Whilst another definition states that it is “employees who are mentally and emotionally invested in their work and in contributing to their employer’s success.”

A result achieved by stimulating employees’ enthusiasm for their work and directing it toward organizational success. To do this, engagement calls for striking a new bargain with employees: Organizations invest in creating the conditions that make work more meaningful and rewarding for employees. And employees, in return, pour extra effort into their work and delivering superior performance.

This means that the Employee Stakeholder needs to be carefully profiled and engaged.

Footnote – The above is an extract of my Strategic Employee Stakeholder Engagement program that I recently launched and facilitated in Malaysia and will repeat in Johannesburg from the 2nd – 3rd March. See for more information.

Crucial Questions to ask about Stakeholder Management

995748_91898411An organization derives its reputation from its stakeholders. Therefore the perceptions that is created through the things stakeholders see, read, hear about or experience first-hand.

This implies that there exist a web of relationships with a diverse range of stakeholders that needs to be monitored and managed.

But what is a stakeholder? The word stakeholder means anyone that has a legal, moral or economic stake in an activity. Some stakeholders have more clout than others, but that is also changing.

For example – Ghandi was an activist. Today with the right tools, any one person can become an activist or a journalist, hence the rising of the citizen reporter phenomenon. I can have a block of shares in a company, worry about ROI irrespective of the number of people who are retrenched. Alternatively I can be a member of the media. I will have an interest in what your organization does…because the public has a right to know.

The term ‘stakeholder management’ refers to the development and implementation of organisational policies and practices that take into account the goals and concerns of all relevant stakeholders.

The term Stakeholder Management also involves the dialogue, relationship building and process generation that take place between an organisation and its various stakeholders. Each of these stakeholders can affect an organisation’s reputation positively or negatively and necessitate different strategies to leverage the situation.

In the King 3 Code of Corporate Governance specific mention is made of the importance of stakeholder inclusivity (,i.e. that the legitimate interests and expectations of stakeholders are considered when deciding in the best interests of the company), stakeholder identification and determination of expectations and needs, the proactive management of stakeholder relationships, and that management should develop a strategy and formulate policies for the management of relationships with each stakeholder grouping.

The King Code also makes mention that the Code is on an ‘apply or explain’ basis and that the board of directors, in its collective decision-making, could conclude that to follow a recommendation would not, in the particular circumstances, be in the best interests of the company. ‘’The board could decide to apply the recommendation differently or apply another practice and still achieve the objective of the overarching corporate governance principles of fairness, accountability, responsibility and transparency. Explaining how the principles and recommendations were applied, or if not applied, the reasons, results in compliance. In reality, the ultimate compliance officer is not the company’s compliance officer or a bureaucrat ensuring compliance with statutory provisions, but the stakeholders”

In particular, the one danger that everyone is missing is Section 8.1 of the King Code 3 i.e. The Governing of Stakeholders states that the Board should appreciate that stakeholders’ perceptions affect a company’s reputation.

How can managers do this if they do not fully understand stakeholder management and its impact on governance and reputation?

Here is a quick test for you. Can your management team answer the following strategic questions:

  • Who are our stakeholders?
  • What are our stakeholders’ stakes?
  • What opportunities and challenges do stakeholders present?
  • What economic, legal, ethical, and social responsibilities does our organisation have towards our various stakeholders?
  • What strategies or actions should we take to best manage stakeholder challenges and opportunities?
  • Do you have a system for managing relationships with stakeholders?
  • How do you measure results? What metrics do you use to assess and gauge stakeholder relationships?
  • In a crisis how quickly can you communicate with your relevant stakeholders?
  • Do you know the various methods to engage with stakeholders and when not to use it?
  • Can you state how much you are spending on each stakeholder group and what your ROI is?
  • Have you developed a set of rules and practices on how best to manage the process of building stakeholder reputation with each stakeholder group?

Once you have answered the above questions, then you should attempt these:

– What strategies or actions should our firm take to best manage stakeholder challenges and opportunities?

– Should we deal directly or indirectly with stakeholders?

– Should we take the offense or the defence in dealing with stakeholders?

– Should we accommodate, negotiate, manipulate or resist stakeholder overtures?

– Should we employ a combination of the above strategies or pursue a singular course of action?

All of these are vital strategic questions to ask for any project, incident or issue. Reputation Risk emerges when the reasonable expectations of stakeholders are not met.

What is reasonable? Let me use an example. The recent amount of product recalls and scandals examples illustrates this very clearly. As a consumer safety is a basic right. I therefore would expect an organization to communicate with me, and warn me of the advantages and drawbacks of a product including tips on how to use it. (I wrote a short article on this in of my Powerlines newsletters )

But do companies do this? Only those who are enlightened do so, and not all are. It is only when a body like the FDA or the Consumer Protection Act forces some companies to comply, that they will come to the party.

Take a look at the Supersize Me saga, where through a class action law suit, McDonalds were forced to start to use more ethical labelling and change their menus. Why did it happen in the first place?

They were out of touch with current thinking. It is the same with collaboration methods. There are companies who try and stop staff from accessing Facebook, write blogs and use other forms of social media, thinking they can control messages. Yet, we deal with people in companies. Real, live people – not spokespeople, not Corporate Heads, but normal day to day people.

People want to connect with other real people.

How ready is your organization to engage with its stakeholders? Is there an integrated or a fragmented approach to managing stakeholders in the organization? Would you like to learn more about this interesting and holistic field of management?

Why don’t you attend the next Stakeholder Reputation workshop in March in Johannesburg, South Africa. For more information visit

Layoffs – The Reputable Way

j0433131 (2) With the news that Standard Bank will review costs which will result in layoffs, I thought it would be prudent to share some thoughts on doing layoffs in a reputable way.

So, you have been called in and told to cut costs by culling the workforce!

Just a simple exercise! FIFO method. First In, First Out. Basing your choice on what value the person has added to the organization.

This is the time for a Red Flag. Stop. Think. How can we part in a reputable way.  This is not just a HR or cost-cutting exercise. This is an exercise that can create long-term damage to your reputation. Rather think of it as an engagement exercise of sorts.

As a consultant I always tell companies to plan any retrenchment exercise with care as it is nothing other than another large scale change exercise, and as you know the only person that loves change is a baby with a wet nappy. My experiences below is based on having advised and implementing the downsizing of a whole company as well as my experiences as a consultant the past fourteen years.

Any retrenchment exercise has not only environmental and company impact but also psychological impact on both the people being laid off as well as survivors and stakeholders. They are all faced with uncertainty. Networks of relationships are interrupted.

I believe that companies should provide options: Examples:

** Avoiding Layoffs … there really are options ..Why not provide business start up training to those people – help them to become free agents to the organization? Allow them to tender their services back to the organization.

** How about running innovative cost-cutting campaigns in the business? Ask staff to come up with ideas and cost-saving suggestions. Make it a large scale awareness exercise and innovative thinking campaign.

** Companies should provide training to people on how to deal with being laid off. Many will take it personally, iro of the current economic climate.

** Managers should be trained with how to manage layoffs carefully and thoughtfully. A question that should be asked is: Are we looking at the human cost of these actions?  Layoffs are not about "headcount"; they are about people. Unfortunately layoffs spread a fear virus that can leave an entire organization weakened and open to attack.

The Fear Virus

Let’s assume that you are laying off 1000 people. Assume that each of the people laid off has close working relationships with just 5 people … that’s almost 5000 "surviving" employees who are now traumatized by watching their friends being laid off.  These people are now living in and acting from fear.  Plus their informal network for getting work done is shredded.  Productivity? Reputation Conscious? Not likely.

Now let’s assume that each of the 5000 traumatized employees spends several hours talking about layoffs and their fears to just 10 co-workers.  Now there are 50, 000 fear-based employees doing their best to do ‘’CYA’’ and avoid risk and management scrutiny. 

And these people as well as the original 1000 laid off people go home and have angry and fearful conversations with their family members, neighbours and friends. They spread messages that undertake a life of its own and become a virus of its own on all the social networks.

Let’s say that each person spreads fear and distrust of organizations to 10 people … now we’ve got a fear virus affecting millions.  At this point it tips and takes on a life of its own, creating environments where people don’t trust management and are not about to take chances, volunteer for new projects or propose new ideas. (Remember Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point)

Would that company have a good reputation?  Forget it! The seeds for destruction is sown!

The same company will have to spend more the next time round to recruit staff and encourage employment (One of the dangers of Reputation Risk)

Here are some other thoughts that may help guide lay-offs in a humane and reputable way:

I firmly believe that communication is the key to successfully implementing any large-scale organizational change.  Whether you are implementing new systems, redesigning business processes, or transforming organization structures through downsizing and M&A, effective communication is absolutely critical. 

A former colleague used to write, "Communication is more than the tangible vehicles and tools that convey information; it is the glue that binds internal and external stakeholders to your vision, mission, goals and activities. Effective communication engages the hearts and minds of all stakeholders."

With regards to a change process, the objective of these communications is to move your target audiences along the following continuum with the stated effects:

  • Awareness – individuals are conscious of the change
  • Understanding – individuals have a shared meaning of the change
  • Acceptance – individuals internalize the change and have a more favourable outlook
  • Alignment – individuals provide appropriate levels of support for the change
  • Commitment – individuals begin to claim responsibility and ownership for the change

This is only achieved by developing a communication strategy that utilizes multiple communication vehicles and delivery channels throughout the course of the change process.  Most importantly, these communications must build upon each other to share a bit more of the story as it unfolds.  It is not sufficient to make a global announcement the day before or the day the change occurs.

Now let me put the above into practical terms. A few "nuts and bolts” regarding lay-offs that I picked up, being part of a team that had to dismantle an organization:

  1. Give as much advance notice as possible.
  2. Have the lay-offs announced by the person with the highest authority possible, hopefully the decision maker or the top person in the organization to whom the person belongs or, minimally, the supervisor, i.e. someone the person respects or has some personal relationship with. (I believe that Standard Bank did this) For the sake of humanity, such notices should be made in person.  Retrenchment notices are stone-age stuff.  The notification session should be interactive sessions.  Those making the announcements MUST be briefed or trained on what to expect and how to handle various reactions, i.e. give them models like the grieving process (denial, resistance, exploration, commitment), have them prepare questions, etc.  If notification cannot be made in person, then telephone can be substituted if done properly and by the right person, e.g. someone the person has some relationship with.  If individual notification is not possible, it might be done in as small a group as possible, but this is certainly not a preferred alternative by any stretch of the imagination. Follow-up or augment the human notification with a concrete, written set of plans or guidelines that the laid off person can refer to as he or she tries to accommodate the lay-off, e.g. steps that will take place, contact people, how to access unemployment, etc.
  3. If at all possible have a workshop for workers which should be held immediately (within 24-48 hours of the notice) that explains things like unemployment, severance pay, job hunting, etc.  Experts should conduct the session but the leadership should be represented to help clarify how things will be implemented or viewed in the organization.
  4. A good counselling program should be available to the laid off workers, e.g. financial counselling, job searching, starting your own business programs, grief counselling, etc.  If at all possible, a list of job opportunities should be provided.
  5. As much as possible, respect the privacy of those laid off for as long as possible even though that will be eventually lost as transition occurs.  The word will get out but time gives the employee a chance to adjust or get thru some of the grief cycle before having to deal with well meaning co-workers.  Even expressions of sympathy may be hard to take for someone in denial or resistance.   If possible, give the laid off person some time off, but no more than one work day.  He/she will need a support group to help deal with some of the chaos they will experience and removing them from that becomes counterproductive if too long. 
  6. Provide a hotline.  Email offers a great venue because email can be routed to an appropriate expert.  If that is not available, provide a phone or drop box for people to provide concerns, anonymously if they prefer.
  7. The potential for workplace violence is real.  Think about it, very seriously; both from the perspective or prevention and remediation.
  8. Remember, not only the laid off workers will be affected.  Briefings or other forums where they can get information and share concerns are important for them, too.  The culture will be affected, not to mention the formal and informal organization.  Some thinking needs to be given to ensuring proper reconnection of the loose ends that will inevitably take place as people leave.  The people who are left need to feel a sense of regained homeostasis as soon as possible. 

I know many organizations do not deal with lay-offs so compassionately, i.e. notice is made and the employee is supervised while clearing his/her desk and immediately escorted off the premises.  This has changed due to legal restrictions, but the above suggestions will go a long way to show why the organisation regards itself as an Admired company, as it lives up to its brand promises.

The list above is is certainly not comprehensive but some stuff I learned thru first hand observation, I offer them because my heart goes out to the estimated 50 million people worldwide who will be affected this year.

Economically it will not always be possible to put all of the above into action, but remember you want to part ways with an ex-employee in a manner that the company’s integrity and reputation will not be jeopardised.

· For those who know of professionals who will be laid-off, please ask them to contact me. I may be able to assist them with setting up their own consulting practices. For the past twelve years I have run a program called Market your Consulting Practice that have been well received by those wanting to turn their professional knowledge into a personal advantage.

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How To Find Out If Employees Are Engaged? Use your Eyes and Ears

Two weeks ago I launched and facilitated my new program called Strategic Employee Stakeholder Engagement in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

During the event a number of interesting questions came up in group discussions. One of these was: ‘What are the visible signs of engagement in a business?’

One definition of Engagement is that it is defined as employees who are mentally and emotionally invested in their work and in contributing to their employer‘s success.

If we unpack engagement using NLP, it means that we need to look for visual, auditory and kinaesthetic clues. I gave it some thought and based on my experience in performing communication audits and employee climate surveys came up with the following checklist:

j02160701. Walk around. Use your eyes and ears. Listen carefully how people address each other. Do they use titles, or first name terms? Look for clues of us versus them.

2. Look for clothing, office arrangements and /or perk differences – this gives a clue about status or job level differences.

3. Look where people get together to talk. Study the body language and facilitation patterns of people.

4. Take a close look at formal communication channels and media. Look at the tone of the conversations.

5. Look at visible motivation efforts such as posters and the like.

6. Have conversations with people. Ask them what they do. Look out for differences beyond words.

In her book, Transformation Thinking, Joyce Wycoff also listed the following clues:

While each organization has its own personality and culture, look for the following clues:

  • white boards and easel pads in meeting rooms, common areas, and offices lots of open-access bulletin boards,
  • walls covered with charts, graphs, flowcharts, and project maps, pictures of employees doing things together both at work and socially, product demonstrations or product pictures on display,
  • pictures of customers using products or special boards for customer comments, survey results or letters,
  • frequent clustering of people working on problems, issues and ideas ,
  • open doors throughout the organization,
  • high energy cafeterias used by all levels and often subsidized , high contribution to community and charitable organizations – adopt-a-school, etc.,
  • high level of involvement in sports and social activities,
  • first-come, first-serve parking ,
  • absence of executive perks – "mahogany row," executive dining rooms, etc.
  • employee-oriented newsletters – employee stories, celebration of personal events, reports on social activities, pictures, shared information – sales, profits. shipments or other financial goals posted for all to see
  • personalized workspaces, sometimes radically personalized
  • frequent celebrations at the organization, department and individual level – from birthday parties to award presentations,
  • frequent training opportunities open to all
  • frequent sighting of company T-shirts, hats and other insignia
  • company legends – stories of success or outlandish events or deals,
  • high level of acceptance of diversity and tolerance of eccentricity,

Last but definitely not least: lots of laughter and fun!

What about your organisation? Take the next 5-10 minutes to identify “clues”from your own organisation. Then compare notes with the members of your team. What could you do to implement some of the clues?

The clues listed above are not just cosmetics or window dressings that management can dictate or manipulate. They are the underlying clues (Schein called it artefacts) that the organization supports individual growth,transformation and is serious about engagement.

P.S Please note I did not even mention Social Media…..just to make a point that employee engagement is far more than social networking techniques.

A Suggestion Scheme as a Listening Tool

Listening is a key concept in stakeholder management. By listening to your stakeholders you can gather valuable information, plug gaps and design appropriate strategies to maximise relationships and reputation.

A Valuable but underutilised tool in many companies is the suggestion scheme. The suggestion scheme can be very useful to pick up hints and ideas to improve processes but could also be seen as a risk management tool. Employees may sometimes use this scheme to communicate issues and risks that exist.

I always check the use of this scheme when doing a communications audit and have been astounded by how few organisations have a flourishing scheme. Almost always the statement is that it is not working. This reflects a lack of strategic planning and championing of the process.

Perhaps this will help you to plan for or revive your suggestion scheme.


110_036 Before a Suggestion Scheme/Box can be implemented you must consider whether a climate for innovation exist in the organisation.For instance, can any individual answer yes to these two types of questions:

  • "In my business unit new ideas are welcomed and management is willing to support you in the subsequent implementation".
  • "People in my Business unit are open-minded and accept the possibility that there may be better ways of achieving the same objectives"

It is my belief that you will be asking people to be creative and innovative and yet most people don’t believe that they are creative or, are stifled when they are.You will have to provide interventions such as training to enable staff to think beyond the boundaries.

Your aim should be: " How can we stimulate the creative thinking of our people". There is enormous creative potential locked inside the heads of staff, "How can we tap it?"

It starts way before a suggestion box or a suggestion scheme.

Every Organisation suffers from innovation inhibitors – attitudes and policies that limit the search for new ideas. For example, a group of senior managers at a large educational research institution reported recently that managers tend to resist good ideas suggested by subordinates. That is a clear organisational inhibitor to innovation.

In order for the suggestion scheme to work you will have to create awareness of these inhibitors and provide interventions to overcome them. You could for example run a course, on Creativity and Innovation for Senior Management, covering topics such as types of creativity and the creative process, types of thinking, characteristics of the creative organisation, methods to stimulate creativity and innovation and breaking the barriers to corporate creativity.

This will start to create a climate in which suggestions can flourish.

Here is some specific notes on suggestion boxes/schemes that you can use. The suggestion scheme can be approached from two angles i.e.:

  • A new idea scheme
  • A cost saving scheme


An analysis of suggestion schemes in world-wide shows that the formula or success in implementing the schemes are as follows:

1. All details of the system must be well planned from the definition of a suggestion to evaluation and award criteria.

2. Responsibility for programmed co-ordination must be assigned to a responsible management member (someone who will "Champion" the cause).

3. Programme details and procedures must be clearly communicated to all employees.

4. Top management must visibly and enthusiastically support the programme and communicate it’s continual commitment to it.

5. Acknowledgements must be prompt.

6. The program must receive ongoing publicity.

I strongly believe that suggestion schemes can work, if properly administered. The question that will arise from the individual is normally: "What is in it for me?"

Adequate financial incentives should be provided but that is not enough.What people really want is public acknowledgement, personal expression of appreciation coupled with financial incentives.


To ensure that a suggestions scheme will succeed, you will have to "sell it" to management and staff, preferably from the top down.

The following steps could prove advantageous in doing so:

1. At the launch of the scheme – the purpose, details and advantages should be spelled out to them orally and then followed up with a written document.

2. An attractive notice or poster, briefly summarising the essential features of the scheme and designed to draw attention to it, should be placed on notice boards in the branches.

3. A suggestion Committee should be selected on the basis of their technical and managerial knowledge to appraise and rate the suggestions fairly and accurately. (Some members noted for their creativity should be included).

4. The suggestions should be evaluated on a regular basis, i.e. bi-monthly.

It is essential that suggestions should be dealt with promptly, so that staff may be assured of the sincere desire of management to receive and evaluate suggestions.

5. Regardless of its value, every suggestion should be acknowledged promptly and as soon as possible the employee who made the suggestion should be advised of the outcome thereof, by personal interview or letter.

This will prevent staff from losing interest in the scheme.

6. Any usable suggestion should result in some definite recognition to the employee concerned, ranging from: Honourable mention, or letter of appreciation to a maximum cash award.

7. In order to ensure impartiality on the part of the members of the committee it is desirable that the person who comes with the idea’s identity be unknown to them to prevent bias.

8. Every suggestion that is adopted should be noted on the staff member’s service record for consideration when the question of promotion arises.

9. The Suggestion Scheme could also be viewed as a complaints channel provided the Department head’s authority is not undermined.


Due thought needs to be given to the award criteria. These can range from tangible to intangible awards.

Financial awards could consist of various grades of suggestions per company ranging from Overall award for the year to Quarterly awards. It can,however,be assisted by other methods:

A Floating Trophy.A large floating trophy should be purchased and be given annually to the company or branch which came up with the best reward, at either the Annual Conference or the AGM. The individual and regions name should be engraved on nameplates and mounted on the trophy. Another factor is that this trophy can be held and displayed at the winning office for the period between judging, thus generating regional pride.


You will have to actively drive and sell the programme. This could be effected by:

  • The running of promotional campaigns, i.e. using well designed posters, circulars in pay packets etc.
  • Placing photos of staff awarded and an article should be published in the in- house magazine and corporate newsletter.
  • Another alternative can be involvement by the HR Division. The design and running of a "Creativity and Innovation" training workshops can assist in the process. The benefit of this course will be that Managers, including staff, will know how to evaluate ideas, generate ideas and how to share ideas.
  • A climate for suggestions can be created.

What are you doing to capture the thoughts and ideas (the intellectual capital) of your employees? Time and time again research has shown that employees have ideas that can benefit the organisation.

Unfortunately ideas and thoughts are like light bulbs. If not captured, they disappear at the flick of a switch.

Engaging the Employee Stakeholder

December last year I facilitated a one day program at a conference called Strategic Employee Engagement. The lessons learned from interacting with the audience made me respond yesterday on the ODNet list to a rant on so called soft skills. My response to someone’s e-mail, evoked a number of requests for my PowerPoint presentation (Contact me and I will gladly send you a copy).

This was my e-mail response:

Companies today have to manage a complex web of relationships with a variety of stakeholders in order to establish a lasting and favourable impression in the minds of those stakeholders. That reputation in turn influences buying behaviors, investment behaviors, and the attraction and retention of staff.

A Crucial word that is used in those circles are engagement.

In December last year I was asked to facilitate a day conference replacing another speaker on the topic Strategic Employee Engagement. So, I had to get up to speed with latest knowhow quickly, obviously I had some.

Some thoughts I shared with the audience:

What is Employee Engagement?

“The state of emotional and intellectual commitment of a person, group or organisation to the entity with whom they are employed.” Source: Hewitt

Engagement defined as “employees who are mentally and emotionally invested in their work and in contributing to their employer’s success.”

The Benefits of Employee Involvement & Engagement – Employee involvement makes sense because . . .

· They are closest to where the action is

· They tend to know the areas of greatest pain for themselves and for the stakeholder

· They have a vested interest in making the job go easier

· They want to feel good about the work that they do . . . that it makes a difference….

I concluded by stating that the Employee stakeholder can create enough reputation risk to cripple an organisation today. Managing that interface has become a strategic imperative.

*** I also went on to say during my presentation, that I have a lot more to share, but could not due to time constraints.

These thoughts cover the spectrum of communication, culture and traditional HR responsibilities but have a huge impact on engagement of the employee stakeholder.

So here goes:

Never in history have organisations had such a need to communicate effectively and consistently. We have laws on what to say to job candidates and how to deal with them and laws on what we must say to employees who are exposed to potential risks on the job. The problem is that all of these processes are mandatory and tries to institutionalize something which is based on trust, respect and caring.

We have many different tools at our disposal, but they all need a foundation from which to start.

The crucial prerequisite for Effective Employee Relations, Effective Engagement and communication is the creation of a positive organisational climate based on feelings of trust, confidence and openness.

This premise creates the foundation for effective engagement. To create the right conditions a successful communication policy should be developed and implemented in organisations that are built on management’s desire to:

j04094041. Inform employees of organisational goals, objectives and plans.

2. Inform employees of organisational activities, problems and accomplishments.( Open Book Management Philosophy)

3. Encourage employees to provide input, information and feedback to management based on the experiences, creativity and insights.(PROPER suggestion schemes)

4. Level with employees about negative, sensitive or controversial issues.

5. Encourage frequent and honest job-related two-way communication among managers and their subordinates.

6. Communicate important events and decisions as quickly as possible to all employees.

7. Establish a climate where innovation and creativity are encouraged.

8. Have every manager and supervisor discuss with subordinates their progress and position in the firm.( Performance Management systems)

These principles stated above must be the underlying focus for any programme and should be embodied in a written document which becomes part of the organisation’s Policies and Procedures manual.

This takes time as communication is ongoing, not static – and people should take the time, to improve it. The problem is that the process of communication is so intertwined with all the other organisational problems that it therefore becomes difficult for managers to find out the real price they pay for lack of communication with their employees, because the price is part of what is not communicated.

The costs in lowered morale, lost sales, poor customer service, and lost market share often are attributed to increased global competition, rising input costs, and systems problems, rather than simple communication itself.

One reason for this failure to see communication problems as the cause of organisational problems is that we all understand ourselves perfectly. Therefore we assume that we have made ourselves clear, when all we have really done is make ourselves clear to ourselves.

And here is the fallacy – Effective Communication just does not happen on its own accord. It must be planned and scheduled. It must have task support. Someone in every organisation must manage it and support it and champion it. Strategies and systems must be co-ordinated and brought into alignment with an organisation’s goals and culture. And Communication is the glue that makes it possible.

Every organisation wants to enhance its performance. More and more, communication is being touted as the key. What organisations need are formal communication systems that play the following roles:

  • Articulating and communicating the organisation’s goals, values, culture, and image;
  • Defining and clearly explaining the roles and activities necessary to reach the organisation’s goals
  • Interviewing and selecting the right people;
  • Providing them with the necessary information and skills to do their jobs well;
  • Giving feedback and coaching on individual and group performance;
  • Creating a culture that nurtures open, honest, fair, and multi way flows of communication and collaboration;
  • Collecting and analysing key performance indicators, strategic plans, and policies;
  • Managing information flow rates to optimise an individual’s ability to use it ( e.g Training in financial literacy for instance);
  • Establishing standards and policies so that internal and external communication is audited and aligned with organisational values and goals.

What is needed is a far more holistic approach to solving organisational problems and the problems of implementing improved employee practices or so called engagement of the employee stakeholder.

Investigating the role improved and enhanced communication practices can play is paramount to an organisation’s success. What are needed are managers and leaders that are prepared to tackle this age old problem. And that is the crux of the matter.

Ask yourself truthfully and honestly: "What breaks down more often than the photocopier or delivery vehicle?" Communication, of course. What must stop is rhetoric! Action speaks louder than words. Tackle communication problems in your organisation.