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As we get underway with the launch of our 2018 UK & European Employee Engagement Awards, we at the Engagement Zone will be interviewing judges for the upcoming event. Today, the Engagement Zone sits down with Natalie Sigona, a Diversity & Inclusion Consultant who has previously worked with Rolls-Royce.

EZ: What does employee engagement mean to you?

NATALIE: It means treating employees with respect and as a human being from the moment you come into contact with them (at the attraction stage), throughout their employment and even after they have left. It means listening, understanding, being in tune and connecting with employees on a one to one and organizational level – so that both parties gain a sense of belonging and are able to bring out the best in one another.

EZ: What are your three tips to companies looking to drive engagement in their organisations?

NATALIE:

  • Be curious about your employees’ thoughts, opinions, differences
  • Embrace your employee’s thoughts, opinions, and difference and build on this to drive innovation, tea work, and high performance
  • Follow the platinum rule of treating people how they want to be treated. This is one step above the golden rule of treating other people the way you want to be treated.

EZ: What do you feel are the biggest pitfalls that companies should look to avoid when executing their engagement strategy?

NATALIE: In my personal opinion employee engagement is NOT about running a survey and action plan year on year – this is just one indicator to understand people’s views. And even then there is so much upfront thinking and investment to be done before a survey can be a true indicator of how people feel.

Engagement is about culture – and that’s about ‘the way things get done around here’. The manager and organisation need to create psychological safety so that people can feel safe to speak up.

In my opinion employee engagement is about the day to day conversation, connection, and treatment of individual employees. This takes place from the moment a person becomes aware of your brand and through each and every stage of their employee life. Employee engagement is often about the immediate line manager’s relationship with the employee.

A company can have the best engagement strategy in the world but if the immediate line manager isn’t emotionally intelligent (EQ) or in tune and doesn’t care about the psychological contract with their team members then that employee isn’t likely to feel engaged.

Managers should find out and care about their team – understand what makes each and every team member tick and how to get the best out of that person.

So the pitfalls would be – thinking it’s about a survey as opposed to culture, lack of EQ when managing people and not walking the talk!

EZ: Why do employees fail to buy in when companies try to ramp up engagement?

NATALIE: As before – I think if an employee has not had a personally engaging experience on a day to day basis – either with their manager or people they have come into contact with from day one then they are unlikely to buy into any engagement initiative which ‘promises’ a more desired future state or experience they just haven’t ever personally felt.

Key stakeholders and managers need to walk the talk and behave in ways that employees ‘feel’ a sense of care, belonging and commitment every day.

Employee engagement plans cannot be a siloed activity that happens on the side of an everyday reality or be a different experience to what is being ‘sold’ in an engagement ‘ramp up’.

EZ: What skills are most useful for everyone to have when trying to move towards a culture of engagement?

NATALIE: In my opinion emotional intelligence, open-mindedness, curiosity, caring, listening, vulnerability and empathy go a very long way!

EZ: You’re a judge for the Employee Engagement awards. What will you be looking for in the entries?

NATALIE: Authentic, genuine examples of where companies care about the culture, day to day leadership behaviors and creating a sense of belonging every day – as part of the fabric of the employee experience.

EZ: How important do you think it is to connect Employee Experience to the Customer Experience and why?

NATALIE: I think it is important because any human interaction with a company is the brand and identity of that organisation. So whether it’s a customer or employee the organisation should strive to treat everyone with a sense of care and respect. In my opinion, if customers and employees get a sense of belonging then they are unlikely to want to go anywhere else. The organisation then retains both!

EZ: What’s the best EE idea you’ve seen a company roll out/attempt and wish you’d had that idea yourself?

NATALIE: Here’s a snippet from a recent LinkedIn report on Global Recruitment trends:

“Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance, and belonging is dancing like no one’s watching’. Belonging is the feeling of psychological safety that allows employees to be their best selves at work. Even at the most diverse of companies, employees will disengage and leave if they don’t feel included and accepted. The good news is that companies are focusing on all three, signalling an understanding that inclusion and belonging make diversity stick. Looking ahead, we’ll see more companies disentangling the concepts and especially measuring belonging.”

I think this is spot on and wish I’d come up with the new addition of belonging to this popular D&I dancing phrase myself.

EZ: What’s the worst and glad that you didn’t?

NATALIE: I personally think that any organisation which doesn’t make efforts to connect and demonstrate a sense of care and belonging personally with employees is missing a trick! This includes organisations which fail to consider how their 3rd parties (for example suppliers, recruitment agencies or head-hunters) represent and connect with employees or potential candidates from day one. As someone who is about to be a new candidate on the market, I think this is a USP for any organisation which aims to attract, recruit, and retain diverse talent.

EZ: Since you entered the world of work, what’s the best experience you’ve had?

NATALIE: My best experiences have been when my immediate line managers have seen potential in me which I didn’t see in myself and pushed me to strive to meet my career goals. When they have believed in me and cared about my whole welfare (not just work) and had my back. I remember returning from maternity in Rolls-Royce after my first child and my manager at the time encouraged me to submit a flexible working request even though I was (needlessly) worried about how that might be viewed at the time in a senior management role. The manager was so understanding and cared. He also knew me well enough to realise that (at that time after being off for a year) I needed his encouragement to ask for something which would allow me to have work-life balance.

Rolls-Royce has been incredible in supporting me working flexibly since that time 9 years ago and I am very grateful to all the managers who have enabled me to work in a trusting and empowering way.

EZ: What’s the worst?

NATALIE: Before I worked for Rolls-Royce I worked for a manager who believed that creating a sense of distrust amongst team members would help drive healthy competitiveness and lead to financial performance. I was too young to realise the manager was operating out of fear and control and that wasn’t the way to inspire a team towards high performance.

EZ: Which person (dead or alive) would you love to be able to come in and speak to your workforce/colleagues?

NATALIE: Damian Hughes @liquidthinking has done some great culture work in the world of sport and I think he is a living breathing role model for walking the talk and authentically engaging teams. I’ve been privileged enough to be trained by him as a coach and have bought and most of his books. I love his podcasts too. Damian is a really NICE person and just ‘gets it’. I think he’d inspire an audience by bringing examples and stories from an entirely different world (of sport) – but which one which most people can relate to.

EZ: Favourite song to crank up after a tough day at work?

NATALIE: This is Me from the Greatest Showman is a great, feel-good tune which is quite current. I think it’s a great reminder to each and every one of us to embrace our own and other’s difference!

EZ: Best place in the world you have visited?

NATALIE: Kaikoura in New Zealand. I went there with a friend during a 3 week holiday and travelled the North and South Island in a camper van. We went whale watching and spotted dolphins and penguins in Kaikoura. New Zealand is so majestic and full of natural beauty. I adored every twist and turn of the mountain paths and beach retreats. Plus all the people we met there were very inclusive, authentic and caring. They made us feel very welcome. It will always have a special place in my heart. That was over 10 years ago. My lucky friend ended up staying there& lives there to this day!

EZ: The place you’d most like to visit?

NATALIE: I haven’t ever been to New York and so would love to go there – I think it would give me huge amounts of excitement and energy. I’d also love to explore India for a more symbolic and spiritual experience.

NOTE: Entries for the UK & European and ANZ  Employee Engagement Awards are now open. For your chance to be recognised as a great place to work, click the link here.