Interview: The State of Employee Engagement with David MacLeod (Part 2)

by David Zinger | Posted | Engagement

Interview: The State of Employee Engagement with David MacLeod (Part 2)

This is the second 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 U.K. The lively conversation between David and David ranges from the stand-out features regarding employee engagement to questions about where we are headed in the future of engagement. Read part one here.


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 to employee engagement.

Pay attention to your people: the rewards are great when in turn they focus their attention for you. (The final sentence in The Extra Mile, page 262.)

As we approach the year 2020, where do you see employee engagement headed?

Well, I think it goes back by analogy to the safety culture that now exists in most organizations. Everybody was clear on the vision of safety even though the way we worked with it changed every couple of years. Nobody was ever confused about making the workplace safer. Everybody believed it was important. We changed our focus and approach to keep it fresh and sustainable.

I hope we never lose the visions of making work and workplaces better and improve well-being so people can offer and experience more of their potential. But as things evolve and progress over time, there will be different ways or paths to engagement. Some may focus on employee experience, others on talent management or retention. In tough situations, some organizations are exploring how you encourage more efficiency with fewer resources.

The emphasis on engagement changes over time and with different contexts. I hope engagement itself as an umbrella theme continues to develop and stay relevant and appropriate.

Creating a safe place where people can speak their mind is terribly important. That brings with it a responsibility to not just complain. We need open and respectful conversation. Trust is vital. Are the values that management goes on about manifested in the behaviors observed? Trust comes when values are consistent with behaviors. We create trust so people speak up if things are going wrong. Engagement may be the cheapest smoke alarm you can get for your business or organization.

From your viewpoint, is engagement growing, declining or stable?

The statistics would say it isn't growing. I think broadly it is receiving more attention. Fifteen years ago, it was a challenge to talk about engagement at the board level. It wasn't on their radar. I think most boards now have "are our people engaged" as an important part of the scorecard for a business. Engagement is being taken more seriously. That sometimes just leads to transactional activities but others work with the emotional level: increasing trust and transformational engagement.

How would you differentiate between transactional and transformational engagement?

I think transactional engagement typically looks like this: "We do a survey and give some feedback to teams of 10 or more people to protect anonymity and expect those teams to act on that feedback." I am not against those surveys but it is transactional.

In the transformational approach, we also do a survey, but the survey prompts a conversation about how we are doing. We need all our people engaged because they are the solution to our business challenges, not a problem to be managed. In transformational engagement, the attitude is that our people are the solution to our challenges, they can be brilliant and they must be respected.

Some of the younger generations seem to capture this approach quicker than those who have come up through command and control. We need to work together. We need to treat people as human beings, not resources. Leadership understands it is important to have voice permeate through an organization. They understand the importance of trust. Command and control are gently eroded by the expectations younger generations have for work and workplaces.

I am a busy leader reading this post. I'm nodding in agreement. What's my next step?

Go and talk with your people. Get to the front line. Find out what gets in the way of engagement. Learn about what works here. Walk the floor. In so doing, you will get many good ideas. You will be inspired. You need to shine a light on what's working. You will learn more about what needs to happen to improve work or a work group. You will feel the atmosphere and learn about what is going on in your organization.

If you want to understand the culture, immerse yourself in the culture. If you want a good question, ask people, "How do you get on around here?" That is the best question I've ever come across to understand a culture as you walk around. That culture will have advantages and disadvantages and you will be able to address the cultural factors of work better by being fully involved in it.

Sometimes I think senior leaders forget that first and foremost they are employees, too. What can an individual employee do to develop or enhance their engagement?

I think you need to decide whether you believe this is important and you'll do that by whatever your learning style is. For example, you can find resources, attend conferences, read books, visit the Engage for Success website, network with others or watch leadership or engagement videos. Go deeply into your organization and witness engagement in action. Decide for yourself what is important. Explore engagement for yourself; get an authentic experience of it.

Can you continue to be curious? Do you get energy from-or do you give energy to-work? If you get energy from the work you are doing, you will keep being engaged; but if you are tired out in a bad way, with work sucking the energy out of you, it is not a good thing. The mixing of energy and curiosity is like a barometer for engagement.

Any additional thoughts or considerations about engagement, David?

Work on engagement in the U.K. carries on. There is the focus on good work by Matthew Taylor. There is an ongoing push for productivity. CIPD is focused on improving trust and positive work. There is more focus on employee voice. It all goes back to people being at the heart of the organization which is encouraging while the extent of the challenge is enormous.

Thank you, David.

To learn more about the work on engagement in the U.K., visit the Engage for Success movement site.

The Ultimate Guide To 1:1 Meetings

If you want to understand your people, you have to immerse yourself in their world. Get started with great conversations!

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Cover of the book
Cover of the book

The Ultimate Guide To 1:1 Meetings

If you want to understand your people, you have to immerse yourself in their world. Get started with great conversations!

Download Now

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