Good piece on employee engagement

I received this email today.  It belongs to The Consultation Institute’s weekly Tuesday topic.  It gave me food for thought so I wanted to share it on our blog to stimulate others too.

So these are not my words but they are relevant to what we do and believe in….

In the world of customer service, we now know that Companies who treat their workforce badly have real problems delivering a high standard of service to their customers.

Maybe staff are still loyal, are still motivated and even willing to disguise any disillusionment they feel with their employer – but somehow it shows. One can camouflage only to an extent, and nowhere is this more evident than in what Jan Carlzon famously called ‘the moment of truth’. That happens when something goes wrong – when customer satisfaction depends upon the imaginative response of empowered staff using their wits and going the extra mile for the customer.

Evidence shows that when Managers treat their staff well, engage them fully in the progress of the enterprise and consult them regularly, their staff respond by showing the same consideration to their customers

Now let’s apply this same principle to public engagement and public consultation. Listening to customers is quite similar to listening to the public. Both feel they have a right to an opinion and expect their views to be taken seriously; both are also highly sceptical having seen through the gushing PR and scarred by the disappointment of broken promises.

So this is about the link between our ability to listen internally and our ability to listen externally. In some ways it’s an attitude of mind; open-minded Managers are slow to close off options or to refuse to listen to new ideas; they are also keen to understand other perspectives on how to do their jobs, recognising that the facts are often less important than the perceptions of customers and colleagues alike.

So step forward Professor David MacLeod.

Last year he and Nita Clarke jointly-authored a major study on employee engagement for the Government. Entitled Engaging for Success, it is a most comprehensive account of the case for employee engagement and an analysis of what the best organisations achieve. It is full of persuasive research and statistics and lots of case studies – many from the public sector. The worlds of HR and top management are digesting its implications and there is talk of a major cross-sectoral initiative to promote these ideas.

But in the context of consultation – the key message is very clear. High-quality employee engagement is a non-starter unless Managers set out to organise themselves to listen. It just doesn’t happen automatically. Staff views may well be expressed around the coffee machine, but there is no process of osmosis that feeds these upwards to those who take decisions any more than public views on the Town Centre re-development mysteriously arrive on the desk of planning officers.

In short, we have to plan for staff consultation just as we have to plan for public consultation. That means surveys, meetings, focus groups, forums and all the paraphernalia with which we’re familiar. There’s more! Feedback to the public is the Achilles’ heel of public consultation – and so also when we listen to our own staff. Just count the number of people who are fed up with answering the annual Staff Survey because they heard nothing following the previous exercise. As Andrew Templeman of the Cabinet Office is quoted in the MacLeod Report, ‘No one ever got a pig fat just by weighing it!’

So we must move beyond the annual survey and start examining what really should happen when Managers start listening properly. Many of the techniques for best practice consultations apply – with modification – to the internal world, and we think HR teams will welcome help from those of the Institute’s members who facilitate dialogues on a day-to-day basis.

And there is one other reason why the two worlds of public and employee consultation should collaborate. With many of the more challenging issues we face, some of the most knowledgeable and insightful people are not out there in the community. They’re not ‘hard-to-reach’! They are probably next-door, sharing the same office … or at least the same employer, and we must stop listening to everyone but our own colleagues.


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