Interview: The State of Employee Engagement with David MacLeod (Part 1)

by David Zinger | Posted | Engagement

Interview: The State of Employee Engagement with David MacLeod (Part 1)

This is the first installment in a two-part interview David Zinger conducted with David MacLeod. David MacLeod has been the co-leader, along with Nita Clarke, of the Engage for Success movement in the UK. The lively conversation between David and David ranges from the stand-out features regarding employee engagement to questions about the future of engagement.


David MacLeod served as a CEO, managing businesses in five European countries and served on the boards of companies in Europe, North America, Korea and Russia. David taught at the Cass Business School and was a fellow of the Ashridge Business School. He is the co-author of The Extra Mile: How to Engage Your People to Win, with Chris Brady. In 2008, with Nita Clarke, he reported on engagement in the U.K., resulting in the publication of Engaging For Success (also known as the MacLeod Report). David was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his work and contributions on employee engagement.

Engagement is not a magic wand, it is a mindset that should run from the top of your organization to the bottom. Each employee is called to willingly give just that little extra, the sum of which makes up an extra mile. (David MacLeod, The Extra Mile, pages 6 and 7)

What is currently engaging you, David?

What engages me the most and gives me energy is when you see people move from a poor situation at work to where there is light in their eyes and a bounce in their step. They are energized, making progress and progress is recognized. Their horizons are getting bigger and they are growing. They are great energy givers because work and the environment is so positive. It is wonderful to see people who have gone from a place where work drains their energy to where there is a mutual reinforcement of energy and a strong focus on making contributions. That's what engages me-when I see that happen and when I am around it. Monday morning should not be a trauma for people going to work.

When did you start with engagement?

In 2008, we did work for the Engage for Success report for the U.K. government. Before that, I wrote a book with Chris Brady, The Extra Mile: How to Engage Your People to Win. I have been directly involved in engagement for 15 years and I worked in line management on these issues even when we did not use the term employee engagement.

From where you are today, what most stands out for you about the history of employee engagement?

I have witnessed general momentum in seeing that people matter-that they are not human resources or factors of production to be slotted in. We are human beings. The difficulty is to create realism about how well we are doing with our people. Real insight translating to engaging action has been much harder to establish. I believe we are generally drifting in a positive direction, but it has been slow.

What have we been most successful with in employee engagement?

When people decide at an emotional level that engagement is important and fundamental, that makes a big difference. In numerous cases, there has been real energy and engagement helping to achieve fantastic things and people get engagement emotionally. There has been power in the fusion of analysis and experience when employees are both emotionally and intellectually committed. We view engagement not as another activity for an overflowing action list but as "this is how we do what we do."

Engagement has been patchy-a lot more organizations don't get it than do get it. Very few people would think or say that engagement is a bad idea, rather they struggle with authentic implementation and action. Success has been in seeing how engagement can improve customer service, innovation, establish new markets and do what we do more efficiently.

If you are going to conduct business well, it is based on your people. You need agile, committed people to make it happen. When leadership and organizations see engagement as good for the business and good for their people, everyone is farther ahead in achieving solid engagement.

"If you are going to conduct business well, it is based on your people." David MacLeod.
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What are the barriers or stumbling blocks to engagement?

I think the biggest stumbling block is people don't get it. They don't see it as a route to improving business or success. They only see it as an activity rather than how we do what we do. To get at transformational improvement, you need to go much deeper. You need to do your research, visit engaged workplaces and hear and share success stories.

Is there any magic pixie dust that gives a leader or leadership team an epiphany on engagement to realize this does matter?

A few consultants may think there is pixie dust but I don't believe there is. The best thing we can do is get to the front lines of the workplace and see what is going on. Be inspired by the importance of this, see people doing it and achieving it. When you get under people's skins you are inspired by the stories you hear in different factories, branches and offices. Find spots of energy and authenticity. See where employees are treated as agile human beings. When you look at business numbers, you realize the places with engaged people are also the ones near the top or at the top of other performance measures. If we can make employee engagement the average as opposed to the exception, all our business challenges will be addressed.

Watch for Part 2 of the interview with David MacLeod on employee engagement.

Driving Business Performance Through Employee Engagement

Manage high performers in a way that can raise the performance of entire teams.

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Cover of the book
Cover of the book

Driving Business Performance Through Employee Engagement

Manage high performers in a way that can raise the performance of entire teams.

Watch Today

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