The simplicity of engagement…

You may have heard of Engage for Success, a government backed and Industry led initiative led by David MacLeod and Nita Clark to look at how we can improve overall levels of engagement within organisations and turn that into a competitive advantage for the UK.  I recently attended a meeting of engagement “guru’s” (Yuk!) and sat at the back in the heckling seats with my good friend and trouble maker @dougshaw  I’m not going to detail my thoughts on the initiative so far as Doug has already done an excellent job of that here.  If you are at all interested in the subject then I strongly recommend you read Dougs take on proceedings so far.

Listening to David and Nita and talking amongst ourselves in the group, my eye was drawn to the pretty diagrams up on the screen, and the multitude of sub task force groups all led by distinguished figures in the field of HR and engagement..  As I sat there looking at it, and hearing the call for ‘evidence’ from David, one word just kept spinning around in my head.


Subgroup for this, subgroup for that; the desperate call for more case studies, more detailed evidence.  It kind of reminded me of the smoking lobby saying “Im going to carry on smoking until you PROVE its bad for me.”  How long are we going to keep banging on about the need for proof?  As I recall, we have case studies coming out of our ears, globally, about the commercial benefits and otherwise of having a truly engaged workforce.  Why then, are we making this so complex?  When in reality it is so simple?  I left the event feeling mildly excited but a tad frustrated too.

These thoughts came flooding back to me last Wednesday night when I was fortunate enough to attend an evening session called “loves to likes” – a seminar hosted by Lithium, a community platform provider.  The lions share of the evening was taken up by several leading branded companies – including Skype and Vodafone – extolling the virtues of engaging customers through community.  There was much falling on swords and talk of how, previously, both companies had failed to engage the customer base and been worse off for it.  Both talked eloquently about a shift in thinking, where they introduced open customer communities, engaged the customer directly, allowed open dialogue – including complainers and dissenters – and engaged in the conversation.  Both talked about the initial caution, the nervousness around engaging so intimately, allowing open feedback and the challenge of listening, and actually doing something about it.

However, both also talked about how this was transforming their businesses.  Skype in particular was incredibly interesting.  They had lots of examples of tremendous ROI, including the ‘super users’ within the community having a huge input in driving product innovation.  In one case, the community members actually designed and delivered a key promotional game mechanic for their joint promotion with angry birds.

They key?  Simplicity.  Create the community, let them in, let them have their say, respond accordingly and engage in the conversation. As a peer.  In short?

Listen.  And Talk.


So, as I’m sitting there, I can’t help but think that organisations across the globe are missing out on a huge internal opportunity here – it seems they can’t see the engagement wood because of the complexity we have built around the engagement tree.

Some of the biggest companies around the world are engaging their customers directly, and turning that engagement into competitive advantage, seeking out innovation, getting valuable feedback, getting diverse opinion and above all, getting the right steer on what really matters to the customer.  And delivering it.  And they are doing it through the simplicity of community.  Or rather, open conversation.

Yet, internally, many many companies are closing down social conversations, denying access to social platforms, ignoring the water cooler conversation, finding all manner of excuses to avoid implementing internal communities “for fear of what they might criticise their boss or company”.  And at the same time the leadership are scratching their heads on the lack of engagement with employees.

12 years ago, organisations didn’t want to hear what the customer had to say about their products and services, but wrestled with a need to increase customer acquisition and increase market share.  Now, they have no choice – they are forced to engage.  Forced to address the appalling issues with customer service, failing services and faulty products.  Forced by the customer.

Perhaps we are now at the same stage with employees.  Perhaps the prospect of hearing about the appalling management practices, shoddy communication and ill informed employment decisions is just too much to bear for company leaders.  Just like it was 12 years ago with our customers.

From what I heard the other night, the route to excellence in customer engagement was a pretty simple one.  Brave, and possibly emotionally challenging yes. But simple nonetheless.  So why are we building so much complexity into engaging employees?  I wonder if its because, when all is said and done, we can’t face the consequences that excellence in employee engagement brings with it.


  1. I agree, I recently interviewed some of the leading lights of HR software providers who are creating community platforms to tap into employee engagement to share knowledge, peer and innovate.
    In an interview with Sunil Senan, associate vice-president at Infosys, we talked about the rise of the new ‘digital employee’. Here’s a snippet:

    As a nation of ‘social shoppers’, we don’t think twice about purchasing the latest gadget from Amazon, tapping up reviews on TripAdvisor before booking a hotel, or ordering our weekly groceries on the internet. Born out of online social consumerism, we now peer with strangers, post our customer queries and use word of mouth recommendations found on the worldwide web.

    Social enterprise and connectivity

    “With organisations facing increased pressure from a competitive marketplace and not much capital to spare, multimedia allows you to put your employees at the centre of your enterprise,” argues Sunil Senan.

    “It’s about fostering and promoting innovation. Employees can create online profiles and build up a professional network of their own, as well as join other recommended communities. They can also ask questions, float ideas, create debate, chat, share, rate, co-author and recommend documents, get hooked up to mentors or put themselves forward to volunteer for projects they wouldn’t have heard about before.

    As employee activity and contributions are tracked, the platform helps individuals take ownership of their own careers by allowing them to promote their expertise and get noticed for their innovation. HR and managers can build in social reward against ideas that contribute to the success of the business, as well as spot new talent and identify future leaders. Senan explains that as an employee of the business, I could use this tool to get associated, interact and work with experts in my field. I have access to non-intrusive mentoring and can be recognised for my online contributions. “This is what enterprise is about − capturing conversations and allowing employees to collaborate, which leads to increased engagement, job satisfaction, and productivity,” he explains.


    1. Hi Natalie – great example! There are so many advantages – with innovation being at the core. Taking this approach provides a real opportunity to break down internal silo’s in a way that has never been possible before – simply because in the past, leaders and managers have been in control of the silo’s and held the key to breaking them. This approach frees up individuals to collaborate and co create across the business and also outside the business, bringing value in.


  2. It is simple. And simple is not easy. I’m learning this as I take employees from the front line to the board through a series of conversations on this very subject. Open conversations leading to action, leading to more open conversations and more action is shockingly straightforward, and yet often exhausting to achieve.

    You say ‘Perhaps the prospect of hearing about the appalling management practices, shoddy communication and ill informed employment decisions is just too much to bear for company leaders.’ That may be the case and yet it’s easy to blame someone else. My biggest experience as an employee was that if you get off your arse and do stuff you don’t (well OK only very rarely) get into trouble. What you do is create opportunities for colleagues, customers and others to engage in different ways, if they want to. And when they want to, cool things happen. Keep practicing, practicing, practicing. The consequences will be faced 🙂


    1. I hear you on the difficulty, but not the complexity. It should be easy. The conversations can be difficult, but the problem is we rarely create the circumstances for the conversations to take place and support the people properly, giving them the confidence that they can have the conversation without it coming back to them in some way.

      I do agree that its a shared responsibility, but leadership has to say “its ok”. Ok, that doesn’t stop me trying anyway as an employee. But you, like me, are a trouble maker so you had the balls to do it and also get away with it cos you are a cheeky bugger 😉


  3. Completely agree that we don’t need anymore case studies, we don’t need more proof, we don’t need numbers and stats. Engagement, whether a company wants to ignore it or not, is happening every day, with every employee, every office, every interaction, management decision or miscommunication.

    Engagement can’t be ignored because whether it’s internal engagement with your employees or external engagement with your customers, every move you make affects engagement.


    1. Well said Steve – and its all being amplified through social so over time it will become so much harder to ignore. Only the dumb ignore their customers now. Pretty soon, that will be the same for their employees.


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