Monthly Archives: September 2014

Why Employee Engagement Matters to newcaslte United


Businesses are forever bombarded by former professional sportsmen and women about the what we could learn from professional sport. I for one have always been sceptical, for many reasons. Now we have a current example of how the tables can be turned.

Newcastle United have recently grabbed the headlines for a host of reasons, from the fan protests, to potential managerial changes, and mistrust of the fans in the owner and his motives. Relations with the media are at best antagonistic. Performances are criticised for lacking passion and intensity. Confusion and mistrust reign. The team have survived for a few seasons in the Premier League with the accompanying riches that this brings, but star players are sold at the end of every season with seemingly little reinvestment in the team.

Pundits seem to conclude, that to sack the manager would be useless because no one in their right mind would take the job because of the resources available and the atmosphere at the club. In a business context, we can see that these are classic symptoms of poor engagement. No one seems to care enough or in football parlance, ‘play for the shirt’.

Performance by any standard is ok…but it seems the only measure of success for the owner is money and that can never sustain performance in the long run. Nor can it breed followers who are wiling to put everything on the line.

In Engagement terms we can see that the club lurches from crisis to crisis because it lacks a number of things. Firstly, there is no long term vision or mission that is clearly understood by al stakeholders (least of all the players). For them, the only motivation to play well is to be spotted by the competition and transferred at a future date. Trust is missing at all levels which means that any sort of mistake by managers or players brings criticism and abuse, resulting in the inability to plan for the future.

The fans have no confidence because they don’t trust owners, managers or players to go the extra mile. The fans are realistic in that they don’t expect their club to be at the top of the league, but they crave something to believe in. They want to know that the club is striving for improvement, has some philosophy, that isn’t just a vehicle for other businesses. The lack of communication from the club to the fans via direct channels or the media deepens the mistrust.

John Lewis, Google and Innocent have a worked hard to create a mission and a culture where everyone understand what the company is about and what is expected. This hasn’t happened by accident. These organisations have invested time and resource into developing the specifics of mission, purpose and culture. They are great communicators. They might be in very different industries with different histories, but the have dedication to get this right.

Newcastle United have a proud history and legacy in all senses and the fans and I suggest the staff want to be able to draw on this as something to galvanise behind. Management is looking for the empowerment and trust to do the right thing and work in an environment that breeds opportunities for development, learning and innovation. For Newcastle United substitute many other football clubs and businesses. All stakeholders are craving authenticity and want the reason to rally behind something with meaning and purpose.

Its not rocket science is it?

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Where is the New Deal?


The Future Talent Conference was a grand event with a host of witty, entertaining and erudite speakers, ranging from the former head of HR of the BBC, Sir Anthony Selsdon and a range of commentary on leadership, resilience and other topics that vex leadership. The pretext of the conference was the pending crisis that industry and society faces of a lack of skills and the curse of youth unemployment and the cost of lost opportunity.

They all queued up to tell us that the ‘Old Deal’ of employment was over. This is defined as no longer a job for life, secure employment, pensions and a share in the companies’ success. It seems no one was a fan of the bad old ‘paternalistic bad old days’ of strikes, low productivity and no control. Recent research from the LSE suggests that UK productivity (eg amount of product produced per worker) is still lower than in 2008 and worse than the rest of the G7.

The voices, although from different industries, were homogenous. The same message, broadly, speaking repeated. Having attended a similar conference in Berlin last year, I couldn’t help notice that whilst the challenges voiced were similar, there were different voices on the podium eg those of the Works Councils and Trade Unions. This is a complete anaethema to us in the UK.

Employee Engagement is said to be the number one priority for all Executives in the UK but only very few firms actually get close reaching a level of engagement that is acceptable..Recent research by the CIPD suggests that anything up to 50 Percent of employees hate their jobs or managers or both… This seems to lead to more and more activity with consultants, training leaders, analysing data whilst little impact is made. Engagement and loyalty seems to be on the decline…. Trust is at an all time low with our politicians, and so it seems to be the case with business leaders, when in reality business is a critical contributor to society and not only exisiting to create mega profits.

It seems that nearly everyone is willing to point out the death of the old deal, there was a complete vacuum regarding articulating anything resembling a new deal. For many years now workforces have been told to take control of their own development, learning and this in the face of low pay rises and relatively worsening benefits, unless you are very lucky.

With this in mind is it any wonder that the ‘’Psychological contract’ between organisations and employees is weak and that in a strengthening job market loyalty is low. The flexible labour force we so cherish also has these hidden costs in business. Low levels of Engagement mean lower discretionary effort, which leads to lower productivity and ultimately unhappy customers. Is it any wonder that British productivity levels are at the lowest for a generation?

This may create opportunity to fill the gap, and for HR to find its voice and play to our strengths,
putting people at the heart of the strategy. This does mean creating a change of mindset in how we as professionals can help create meaning in peoples’ work and how we measure the impact of managing talent, and fundamentally, how we interact with other stakeholders such as unions.

Much of employee dissatisfaction stems from the lack of career progression, security or lack of understanding in how to develop. (See 2011 CEB Research on drivers of engagement). The financial impact of not retaining talent is documented but can we also make the case the talent that we fail to develop? HR/Talent professionals can play a huge role in developing hard measures to win this case. In this ‘big data’ world of ours, we HR and Talent professionals must be able to synthesize the available data and build compelling arguments to make the case for all leaders to take responsibility for developing talent and not see the issue as an HR ‘add on’. For this to happen, HR also needs to develop a business mindset and not be seen as policing the process.
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In a world where employment may no longer be for life, just maybe the Unions/Works councils can be engaged to help business and employees through this. When businesses need flexibility and up to date skills, surely Unions can become a valued partner. With co funding and consultation, can they become a training partner of choice and conscience of the organisation? With closer relationships, can they help employees bridge the gap for their members through periods of uncertainty and into new employment?

If the idea of a flexible, but engaged workforce, is nothing more than a pipe dream, perhaps we need a radical shift in behaviour from all stakeholders?

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