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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 Peter Wakefield, Founder of Loving Monday.

EZ: What does employee engagement mean to you?

PETER: For me, the phrase ‘employee engagement’ has always been a problem, I’ve never liked it, it’s never sat well with me, but it took me a while to really understand why. The problem I have with it is that so many people try and make it complicated or over-engineer it. For me the opposite is true, engagement should be simple, extremely simple. A long time ago there was a piece of research that stated that 80% of an individual’s engagement can be attributed to the relationship they have with their immediate line manager. So that’s where I feel we should look first to define what it all means, anything else is secondary to the effect of that relationship and what makes it mutually engaging.

So, ask yourself who was the best manager I ever had? and why was that, what was it about that relationship that made it engaging to me? What did that person to do to support, encourage, understand, stretch, develop and engage me? In the answer, you’ll find what real employee engagement means to you. The challenge, of course, is that fortunately, we’re all different, so what it means and what delivers it for you won’t be the same for everyone.

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

PETER:

1. In the 20 or so years I’ve been working in this field, the single biggest thing I’ve learned is that employee engagement has absolutely nothing to do with ‘employees’ and everything to do with ‘people’. If all you’re doing is trying to ‘engage your employees’, then you’re missing the point. You’re missing the one thing that it takes to engage them and that’s to understand them, everything about them, not just the bit of them that spends time doing stuff they get paid to do, rather understand who they are and what’s important to them.

2. We have a lot of conversations with new clients who are looking to develop engagement, some of whom have been trying for years, not making the progress they feel they should’ve seen. The problem is that many people are focused on the wrong things, getting too caught up in doing or buying ‘stuff’ and measuring things rather than the empathy, behaviour and good old social skills that create trust and build relationships. So, we’d always advise, if in doubt, make it simple and talk to people before you do anything.

3. Don’t just focus on the numbers. Surveys and data are fine and still have a place in helping to prioritise things, but simply having actual conversations and asking employees ‘what can we do better?’ is much more valuable. If employees don’t feel they can sit down with their boss and have a conversation, it doesn’t matter how many surveys you run, you have a problem.

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

PETER: The biggest pitfalls come from where they put their resources and budget. I have a lot of conversations with organisations who come to us wanting to find out why when they’ve spent so much time, effort and budget to develop engagement hasn’t it increased. The answer is often where they’ve been putting those resources. Often spending too much of their budget on measurement and not enough or in some cases any at all in developing the skill set, behaviour, and ability of the poor managers who manage the very people they are looking to engage… remember the 80% figure? It matters more than anything else!

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

PETER: For many reasons really because we’re all different, but in my experience, a lot comes down to companies trying to ‘do’ engagement rather than trying to ‘be’ engaging. Theirs a fundamental difference between the two for me. Companies who simply ‘do’ engagement run the risk of losing sight of the fact that they need to tailor and translate what they are trying to do to the individual not just deliver a sheep dip approach to a programme or process in the hope that by spending time and money they’re going to engage people. it just doesn’t work like that.

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

PETER: In a nutshell, emotional intelligence and the ability to communicate well and adapt that communication to best fit the person or circumstances. I think that’s the key differentiator between an engaging environment and an average or even disengaging one. We also need to remember that engagement isn’t an outcome it’s an intention, we’re not engaged by ‘things’, we’re engaged by ‘people’.

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

PETER: Simplicity, empathy, inclusion, individualisation and for entrants to demonstrate how they are delivering on that with a commercial hat on as well.

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

PETER: Pretty vital, if we recognise that all organisations have a customer of some sort and therefore the need to deliver commercially the two need to come together. I think as we progress what we’ll see is engagement/experience whatever tag you give it will in all reality become part of the customer experience. In much the same way we’ve seen a shift in marketing from the emphasis being on the brand to now focusing much more on the employee of the brand, the same will be true of the employee and the customer relationship. They’re the same thing in the end: deliver on one and you’ll stand a far greater chance of delivering on the other.

Also, in my experience as soon as you can connect the effort and budget required to develop engagement to a reward in the customer data executive teams and boards get a lot more interested in employee engagement… funny that eh!

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

PETER: There are so many over the years but the best I think is when the organisation really make it matter. For example, changing recruitment, performance measurement or bonus criteria to reflect the drivers of engagement. As soon as you make it really matter to individuals you get some really good traction.

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

PETER: I once had a Chief Executive explain to me what he described as his ‘engagement strategy’ that consisted, and I kid you not of putting fruit bowls by every printer… I waited for the rest… there was no more, that was it! He said he’d read an article on ‘wellbeing’ and that was what he took from it…

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

PETER: I used to work in retail and had become a store manager. Six months into the role I had a review with my area manager at my appraisal. His opening line was ‘Peter you’re never going to set the world alight as a store manager…’ I realised that the next thing he said was going to be quite important, and it was. He said to me “The reason is that theirs’ parts of the job your just not interested in and therefore no good at because you don’t apply yourself. But it’s the people aspect where you excel, so why don’t we see if we can move your career in that direction so you’re doing more of what you want to do and less of what you don’t?”. That was my first experience of an engaging manager and it led to him finding a secondment for me in head office that turned out to be project managing the first large-scale measurement of employee engagement outside of the US, that moment and that man changed my life.

EZ: What’s the worst?

PETER: I think having to make two-thirds of my team redundant whilst in one role. I learned a lot about myself during that six-month process and a lot about engagement, but it’s not a period I look back at fondly. It was not a decision that was made with a positive intent, it was one that was marred by organisational politics at the time.

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

PETER: Two come to mind, the first is my Grandfather, he was a man I learn so much from about ethics, integrity and treating others how you’d like to be treated and not pandering to hierarchy or status. And the motor racing driver Ayrton Senna I always admired his single-minded determination and how that came before anything else, like so many a flawed genius perhaps, but a genius all the same.

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

PETER: Thunderstruck by AC/DC or Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd depending on what sort of day it’s been…

EZ: Best place in the world you have visited?

PETER: New York, I think it’s just so full of life

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

PETER: I’ve always wanted to go canoeing in Canada… somewhere where there’s no mobile phone or internet reception.

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.