24th September 2009
After 10 months of research and consultation, the MacLeod Review published its conclusions in the report 'Engaging for Success'. Nita Clarke, IPA director and vice chair of the review sets out what they found out about engagement and why she and David MacLeod don't plan to leave it there.
As readers of the IPA Bulletin may be aware, the Macleod Review on employee engagement was published in July. As vice chair of the review, I am delighted that the government has endorsed the report, and that Lord Young, the responsible minister has already begun the work of making our recommendations a reality. David and I are very pleased to have been asked to continue to spearhead the work. We have also been heartened by the warm reception the report has attracted, from business leaders, practitioners, academics and other stakeholders in the employment field.
David and I were asked to look at the potential benefits of employee engagement for companies, organisations and individual employees; we were asked to examine in particular whether the wider adoption of engagement could help the UK come through the recession and meet the challenges of a global economy, by impacting positively on workplace performance.
Our answer is an unequivocal yes. During the eight months working on the review we saw many examples of companies and organisations across the economy, in the private public and third sectors, where productivity and profitability have been transformed by engagement. We met many individual employees whose working lives have been transformed by engagement approaches. And we read sufficient studies and saw conclusive evidence which demonstrated a correlation between engagement and performance – and most importantly, between improving engagement and improving performance.
As we say in the introduction to the report, ‘if employee engagement and the principles that lie behind it were more widely understood, if the potential that resides in the country’s workforce was more fully unleashed, we could see a step change in workplace performance and employee well-being, for the considerable benefit of UK plc.’
How the workforce performs determines to a great extent whether organisations succeed or fail - so whether or not employees are encouraged to perform at their best should be a prime consideration for every leader and manager, and the people strategy should be given the same importance at board level as questions of investment or marketing.
The review includes more than fifty case studies highlighting different aspects of engagement. It also reflects the views of eminent academics and of research houses, and includes the insights of respected practitioners and professionals who have been engaged with engagement in UK workplaces.
We look at some of the specific challenges in implementing engagement in small and medium size organisations and at the crucial role engagement can play in delivering improvements in public services, if the knowledge and experience of staff are listened to in delivering change.
We also make the case for why engagement is all the more important when faced with the challenge of recession. The report includes examples of how companies have taken their workforce with them in implementing difficult changes, ensuring that major restructuring and even redundancies do not leave the organisation on its knees, but able to take speedy advantage of the coming recovery.
The report highlights the importance of employee voice and involvement as a key component of engagement, and looks at the important role trade union and workplace representatives can play. It also makes a strong case for employers aligning their industrial relations strategies with their wider workforce approaches.
We did not set out to write a ‘how to’ guide, although the report does deal in detail with the common barriers to engagement. It also looks in depth at some of key enablers for successful engagement. We highlight the need for real and sustained understanding and buy-in from senior echelons, for managers at all levels to be enabled to engage, through effective training in engagement and people skills, for employee voice to be sought and listened to, and for trust and authenticity where the espoused values of an organisation are lived for real.
We listened closely to the input from colleagues in the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development and the Chartered Institute of Management among others about how some of these key challenges could be met by professionals in the field. It is clear that knowledge and experience is out there, as the case studies demonstrate. There is no need to reinvent the wheel – but strong efforts need to be made to collate and spread best practice, to enable learning across the economy.
That is why our core recommendation to government was for a concerted effort involving all the stakeholders in the employment field to raise the profile of the topic, so more and more people ‘get it’. The Department has accepted our proposal for a national awareness campaign, and resources are being identified to make it happen. We are delighted that a high level sponsor group of leaders from the public and private sector, including the CBI and TUC will be spearheading this effort.
At the same time, the government has begun the work of aligning the considerable resources it spends on employment and workplace issues – for example through skills support, Investors in People, ACAS, Solutions for Business, regional development agencies and so on – to reflect the significance of engagement approaches. Business schools are being encouraged to include more people skills in the curriculum.
Respondents to the review reflected a strong demand for improving the quality and quantity of support available for those who want to develop engagement. Among the requests were opportunities to visit workplaces achieving high levels of engagement, access to evidence of the success of engagement approaches and the drivers behind it, coaching from those who have done it, and learning from others’ journeys, as well as networking opportunities. Many of the practitioners and thought leaders we spoke to have agreed to join in this work, enabling these resources to be designed and developed in collaboration with those who will be using it.
Employee engagement, going to the heart of the workplace relationship between employer and employee, can be a key to unlocking productivity and to transforming the working lives of many people for whom Monday morning is an especially low part of the week. It could play a significant role in boosting economic recovery. David and I hope that our report will play a part in making these opportunities a reality.
The report can be accessed via the DBIS website on http://www.berr.gov.uk/files/file52215.pdf