As our world becomes ever more polarised and divisive, it is vital that business leaders invest in and practice engagement like never before, writes René Carayol
Back in 2007, The Royal Bank of Scotland was the largest bank in the world, having gone from success to outrageous success every year.
But it soon overreached and gambled once too often. The fall from the top to the bottom happened in no time whatsoever.
It has been one of the toughest and most public recent leadership challenges in British business. The following 10 years have been humbling for the bank and many of those associated with it.
Ross McEwan, the current chief executive office (CEO), has been driving a carefully managed and pragmatic turnaround.
A few years ago, the senior leadership group was reduced from 200 to 100 top executives with many newly appointed to the group.
Those selected were invited to a meeting in London at IBM’s offices on the South Bank.
The executives didn’t know why they were invited, there would be no announcements and all they knew was that they had to be there at 8.30am.
There were no badges and there was no signage. I was already in the auditorium with Ross and his head of communications.
We had prepared a challenging day that would communicate the new vision for the bank and open up discussion with the group.
When the time came, Ross moved towards the door of the auditorium, and stood there waiting.
As the first of the attendees filed in, Ross shook each by their hand and called them by their first name and had a unique message personalised for every attendee.
“David, welcome, you have been doing a great job with the new retail products in Europe…” He warmly shook the hands of all 100 attendees and remembered every one of their first names.
It took him nearly 45 minutes, but what an investment in each of them and the team.
He had electrified the atmosphere and as they all sat down, they were excited, fully energised and more than ready to go the extra mile for Ross. He was definitely the CEO… the Chief Engagement Officer.
Engaged employees are fully committed and work with passion and drive. They feel a deep connection to their company and feel they are part of something special.
Not engaged employees act as if they have “checked out”. They turn up, but that’s about it. They lack energy or passion in their work and leave the building as soon as they can as everything else is more important than their work.
Actively disengaged employees have gone way beyond being unhappy at work – they spend their energy on actually letting everyone know just how unhappy they really are. They can and will undermine everything positive that occurs in the workplace.
“Here’s $5,000, now quit”
Amazon have implemented a completely different form of modern engagement targeting the commitment of those who work in their massive fulfilment centres.
If any of their team members no longer want to work for Amazon, they will pay these disgruntled employees $5,000 to leave forever – those who accept the offer, can never work for Amazon again.
“We want people working at Amazon who want to be here,” says Melanie Etches, an Amazon spokesperson.
“In the long-term, staying somewhere you don’t want to be isn’t healthy for our employees or for the company.”
Amazon doesn’t actually want anyone to quit, of course, and the memo is titled “Please Don’t Take This Offer.” But it forces people to think about what they really want.
This may sound like a strange way to enhance employee engagement, but that’s precisely the effect it has. It encourages all to consider their commitment to Amazon.
Top engagement tips: From best practice to next practice
- When questions are asked of you, it is critical to respond in real-time, whether it be in person, on a video conference or through social media
- Share all the information you possibly can, and do it often, listening to all the feedback
- Hold regular town hall meetings that are known for dialogue NOT monologues
- Give all your employees access to you in person – technology can enable this, allowing anonymity as appropriate
- It is important to be visible and speak out when the business is in crisis – it is even more vital to be visible and speak out in the good times
- Consider the words of Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell’s Soup: “To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace.”
René Carayol is a leading executive coach who has advised the boards of organisations including Marks & Spencer, Pepsi, IPC Media and the Inland Revenue. A bestselling author, he is a regular broadcast media commentator and business speaker. renecarayol.com
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