I was speaking to a client a few weeks ago who posed the question “Matt, can you do a session on employee engagement for our whole company?”

I thought for a moment, then again, and realised that this would be an incredibly tough gig for anybody.  Of course if it were just a leadership group talking about how to get their people more connected to the business that would be a different matter.  The challenge here is you can’t talk to people about being more engaged. If you do the danger is you’ll get boo-ed out of the room. You also risk making people feel paranoid thinking “I thought I was engaged. What more do you want from me?
Is something wrong?”

However, the whole question made me think. Is engagement an important thing and what are the first steps to getting your business buzzing?

Consulting firm Towers Watson recently conducted a survey talking to thousands of business people from across the globe and found that 40% of people were actively disengaged at work and only 20% were fully engaged at work. I guess the remaining 40% are sitting on the fence saying ‘prove it to me’! They are an alarming set of stats. I personally worry about the people themselves rather than the business they work in. If you’re not engaged at work that’s probably over half your waking life not connected to what you are doing. I think, as individuals in this day and age, we need to take more active responsibility to getting a connection to the work we do and the people we work with. However, I’m currently risking getting boo-ed out of the room.

But what about the business side of things? How does this have an impact on performance? I remember working on a project with a large pharmacy chain who had done lots of internal work on process and product knowledge but had neglected the ‘staff engagement’ bit for quite some time. They were fairly famous for service, and so customers noticed that their staff weren’t as attentive as before, and started voting with their feet, choosing to go to their competitors who were slightly cheaper.  We ran a project which was all about getting staff more connected to the customer and more human in the way they could serve them better. We would measure the impact through their customer satisfaction scores and it created an immediate increase and so it is true – your customers really notice whether you’re engaged or not. What was even more telling was that any increase in customer satisfaction scores was matched in the store’s revenue increase.

My friend told me a story about Best Buy (the US electrical retailing giant). Now these guys are a volume business where they stack electrical goods high and sell them as cheaply as possible. They used to measure employee engagement annually and noted that a 0.1% increase in employee engagement in one store is worth on average $100K per annum. This is clearly a not insignificant amount. They then looked at the entire US business which showed a 2% increase in employee engagement resulted in an additional $70 million in profitability. Guess what? They now conduct employee engagement surveys quarterly rather than annually as they feel it’s so important.  It allows them to boost things when any dip occurs.

So, how do you get your people more engaged?  It would appear it’s important stuff.  In visiting lots of high performing organisations, I would say the first step is to make sure that everybody understands and connects with your higher purpose, the reason you exist. If you’re at IKEA, driving a forklift truck for hours on end, there’s a clear line of site to you ‘creating a better life for everyday people’. If you’re designing the bottle at Innocent Drinks that attracts people to smoothies rather than sodas you are ‘helping people live well and die old’. However it still amazes me that some people don’t know what their company’s purpose is in the world.

The best way of making your people feel more engaged is to empower them … but not to over-empower them.  People still need clarity around what needs to be done and enough structure to get on and do their job effectively. The trick then is to allow space in their day-to-day activity where they have to think for themselves.  This brings out an individual’s creativity which is something that is largely untapped for most people in their work. It also requires that people need to collaborate and connect with other people. Having done leadership development and training all around the world I often hear people talk about the reason that they love work is because of the people more than the job itself. This is the stuff of creative leadership.

Everybody can lead a bit of their own patch and need to be flexible in the way they do.

Ultimately, you want your people to be happy. I was reading in the Sunday Times that a study by the London School of Economics showed that going to work leads to the biggest drop in happiness, beaten only by feeling ill!

The study also showed that friends make us happier than family. So, the answer to your engagement worries may be about getting people to be better buddies at work, creating the future together and feeling more connection to what they do.

But most importantly, don’t underestimate the power of your people being more engaged. They will go the extra mile for you when you need it and you can’t just ask people to do that.


Matt BoltonMatt Bolton-Alarcón
Matt Bolton-Alarcón left school and became a banker. Although he enjoyed solving customers problems he couldn’t get on with the itchy polyester suits. He therefore made an about turn and headed off to work in media for EMAP working his way up from creative writer and producer to marketing director. It was here that he learned that keeping creative and fresh whilst answering client briefs day in day out is both a challenging and damn fun pursuit. In this time Matt worked with clients such as Amstel, ASDA and O2 and was part of a leadership team that successfully turned round one of EMAP’s oldest brands from loss to profit making in 3 years.

In 2006 Matt realised that he loved generating energy in people and pulling out their creative potential and so joined both Jim and Chris in the innovation capability team at ?What If! Matt has designed and delivered large scale capability programmes for the likes of Johnson & Johnson, Boots, Google and Abbott Pharmaceuticals.

Matt has a talent for spotting the hidden potential in individuals as well as helping businesses to get focused on what they really want. He uses humour and empathy to connect with people whether it is in small group sessions or large scale events.
Matt is a keen guitar player and singer having played to audiences of up to 70,000. He lives in Camden Town, London but loves nothing better than heading off into the countryside in his campervan and hanging out with his wife Delia, baby daughter Frida and dog Taco!

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