Driving performance


One of the top three reasons that CEOs assiduously nurture

their organisation’s reputation is its ability to attract talent.

Some of that energy has to translate into ensuring that talent is

appropriately engaged. The CEO makes promises to customers

and stakeholders that rely for their fulfilment on employees.

Fulfilling these promises enhances reputation and helps attract

investment and talented employees. The CEO therefore has to

be totally invested in engagement—not just the rhetoric but the

holistic reality of the experiential system. It is the number one

business imperative in the knowledge economy, and without it,

there will be no future success.

There is a small but growing number of organisations keen

to use engagement as a performance metric, and this will be

used in part to determine management bonuses at all levels. If

institutional investors see the benefit of an engaged workforce,

there will be more pressure on CEOs to adopt that approach.

If the CEO’s performance bonus is in part based on workforce

engagement, you can be sure that leaders at all levels in the

organisation will be similarly assessed. This may also lead to

the demise of short-termism and focussing solely on profit.

When profit becomes the main focus there is a danger of failing

in strategic intent—or failing period. We all know this to our

cost in recent years!

No one expects the CEO to spend a lot of working time

on this issue; it has to be delegated but delegated with a clear

strategy and mandate aligned to the organisation’s core ideology

(the engagement manifesto). Most likely, this will fall to human

resources; after all they have many of the levers to pull, and

they will be supported by internal communication wherever

that sits in the organisation.

But engagement is everyone’s responsibility and it goes all

the way to first-line supervision. There is no point in lumbering

someone with engagement in their role title: head of people

and engagement, head of human resources and engagement,

head of communication and engagement, or worse, head of

employee engagement.


Why? Four reasons:

• First, others will think that it is that person’s


• Second, no single job role has the influence to create

engagement in a workforce, especially if it is two or

three steps removed from the CEO in the organisational


• Third, engagement will be consigned to tactical

interventions or initiatives, which may provide

short-term benefit but which cannot drive sustainable

competitive advantage;

• Fourth, it may have influence or control over process, but

it can’t have control over the employment experience.

And that’s what drives engagement—or not.

We all have to raise our game and indulge in some joined-up

strategic thinking if our engagement practices are to deliver

on a sustainable basis. It requires policy makers, functional

heads, and operational management working collaboratively

and cohesively to drive the desired outcomes. Engagement

won’t be effected by an individual, but it could be affected by

an individual. Engagement is powerful, but it is also fragile.

Many years of good work can be ruined by a bad decision, poor

execution or an ill-advised comment.

What’s in a name?

And so what about engagement? How do we ensure that when

we use the term, hear it, and especially if we want to measure it,

ensure that we understand what it means? One just has to read

the comments on LinkedIn groups on the subject to see that

90 percent of contributors are looking through the wrong end

of the telescope—exclusively tactical and often misdirected.

Is there a difference between engaging with employees and

employee engagement? Yes, and it is a significant one. The

former, which includes communication and involvement

activities, can influence performance positively and can

contribute significantly to employee engagement. However,

practised on its own, the impact is unlikely to be sustainable;

other parts of the experiential system have to be aligned and


Is the former ‘engagement’ and the latter ‘Engagement’?

No. The former is ‘putting old wine in new bottles’ as some

academics have suggested—it is actually communication done properly.

The latter is engagement as defined

in ‘The Engagement Manifesto’, where it is described contextually, systemically, and

experientially in subsequent. Mostly engagement has

been treated as a synonym for communication and involvement.

As if communication wasn’t an important enough discipline!

This author has also been guilty of that in the past, but beware

of the implied promise that ‘engagement’ carries.

If we have to delineate, think of the systemic approach

described here as macro-engagement; and all the individual

strategies or tactical interventions around leadership,

performance, reward, communication, learning and

development and so on; as micro-engagement activities.

These areas of focus can all contribute to overall workforce

engagement. And only if they are properly aligned, congruent

and mutually supportive, will they produce a whole that is

greater than the sum of its parts. Ideally, the macro-engagement

philosophy will drive and sustain everything else.

Engagement is not a strategy. It sits alongside core purpose

and core values; it should be part of your core ideology, not an

ex-works retro-fit. It is a way of being; a practical philosophy. It

is memetic, a fundamental guiding principle that informs your

policies, processes and behaviours.

If we allow the engagement game to be played by the wrong

rules then it will wither and die as just another management

fad that failed to deliver on its promise. Maybe we can’t change

what it’s called but we can change the rules. And if enough of us

hold this to be true it can become true for everyone.


“When we dream alone, it is only a dream. When we

dream together, it is no longer a dream, but

the beginning of reality.”

Brazilian proverb


The following are some rules of engagement to keep in


1. Be clear about what you mean by engagement.

2. Ensure senior executives are fully invested in it.

3. Clarify how you will measure engagement and identify

the contributing factors.

4. Ensure that everything you do supports your core

purpose and values.

5. Where action is required, acknowledge that a single

intervention is unlikely to be successful. It will have to

be supported elsewhere in the system.

6. Keep the lines of communication and consultation


7. Wherever you sit in the organisation, collaborate with


your colleagues. They may have more useful levers to

pull than you do (see No. 5).

8. Engagement is not an event; it is a never-ending


9. Look for and measure the impact of engagement in your

business results and link them to objectives.

10. Recognise, reward, celebrate and reinforce what you are

doing well—and keep doing it.

Following the engagement manifesto can enable your

organisation to attract, truly engage and retain talent. Your

engaged and behaviourally differentiated employees will

delight your customers, who will provide you with repeat

business and referrals, and the resultant financials will keep

your shareholders happy.

Your employees, as well as being engaged, will feel fulfilled

and satisfied. You have created the essence of your employer

brand; no other effort is necessary in its pursuit, just decide

with your advertising agency how it should be articulated and

promoted. You will have created a sustainable competitive

advantage and in the process enhanced your reputation.

It is a virtuous circle.