I used to be cynical, but now I don’t trust anyone or I used to be a werewolf but I’m alright nooowwoooooooo!!

A lot of work I have doing recently has been about engagement. There’s lots on the web (and on my blog) about this although the best book title has to go to “I Quit But Forgot to Tell You” by Terri Kabachnick. I haven’t read the book but God bless you Ms Kabachnick.

There are two threads to my work on this – one is as a group facilitator and the other training managers about engaging but it’s the same really. My job is to promote conversations and help people to take on the skills and attitudes which will help their staff to come alongside them.

I was sharing information by email with someone from a well-known and successful training company based in the South East of England. On hearing about my proposal about working on engagement he sent me an email to say that he liked it and to share some of his experiences. It’s hard to put a deep sigh into an email but if I put my ear right up close to screen I think I could hear it. Ken (for that is his name) went on to describe how tricky it is working with who groups who were a bit cynical had lost trust with their organisations and tended to respond attempts to engage them – well a little wryly..

Ken’s comments were heartfelt, genuine and I can immediately relate to them.

To be honest I couldn’t get them out of my head. If I am trying to build a business around this kind of work, what am I basing my confidence on? How can I articulate to others – indeed how can I convince others to let them free on their staff?

Let’s take a scenario where a company has asked me in to help them with a change project. Let’s say they are going to move offices for various sound business reasons and is viewed very dimly by staff because of the general uproar and inconvenience it will cause, proximity to local shops etc. How are my going to approach this?


Firstly some underpinning beliefs

People are doing the best they can with the resources they have – I think that I got this on the Master Practitioner in NLP course. I don’t know who first said it but I’m grateful. I like it as it helps to know that people are trying hard really (even if it doesn’t always look that way) it also helps me as I know that when people get new resources they’ll be able to do other things.

When I am with people who are angry I know even more certainly that they are trying their best – it’s a sign of their commitment – why else would they be cross. which leads me to the next one

People want to find what they do meaningful – including work. There have been some significant research projects on this – people are absolutely gagging to be engaged in their work.

I don’t evaluate – The Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti once remarked that observing without evaluating is the highest form of human intelligence. There’s lots of time in my life when I do evaluate….you know nutty brown ale or glistening lager, prawn cocktail or salt and vinegar, but not when I’m facilitating. I observe, listen and feel – however I find that evaluating tends to lead me down dark alleys such as “they are off-message”, “I like him” etc.

The best outcome for my clients is best for me – this is easier said than done. It implies something about the future outcome is what I’m after, not necessarily a let’s-pat-you-on-the back Phil kind of outcome on the day but more long-term value from my intervention – this is not necessarily the same thing.

It’s easier to get what you want rather than not get what you don’t want – it’s simple this really but surprising how often when you ask people what they want they tell you what they don’t want.

I have faith in a co-constructive approach – I have an idea, you have an idea, they are not the same – however with some time, goodwill and a little energy we can come up with something which may not look like what we started out with but will meet our needs. Hell – it may be even better than we first thought of, we’ll have learnt something along the way, have formed a new relationship and now have a new shared history!

People are more motivated by their imagination than their will– which leads me to be a bit unsure about action plans….

So how does this help me, help others, to facilitate engagement?

Commissioning process – the above ideas kick in at the earliest stage. I know that the people buying me in want the best for themselves, their business and their staff – even for me (although they of course may be anxious about doing a good job). From early on I’m asking what they want the best possible outcome to be, I may use some creatively framed questions to help them think, I’ll look for ways to make their hoped-for outcomes to really come alive, what would they notice, what would people be saying, what would the MD see the next time he came in? I’d allow them to think outside their normal ways of doing things (note – this is not the same as fantasising)

Forming rapport – bags of stuff on this from the nlp’ers – take a look here and here and here

Eliciting “Best Hopes” from those involved – this term is borrowed (stolen lock stock and barrel) from Solution Focused approach in organisation and relates to the conversation that we are now having. Quite often I will go to an event, the parameters of which have been set by senior management at the commissioning stage – i.e. if we are talking about an office move then the meeting will be about successfully moving the office. At the start of the meeting I’m going to ask questions about if this was to be a useful meeting for those present how would they know? I’m looking for a number of things here. I want it to be an authentic conversation (people say things sometimes at this stage which appear negative – as I have adopted the beliefs above, I can authentically smile in response – I know that this is part of the process). I want them to give me some ideas (and permission) as how I should act. I want them to design how they’ll be when they’ve had a good meeting. It’s a neat trick which get’s them thinking in a constructive way (not manipulative as they want the conversation to be meaningful). This conversation also sets the agenda

Constructing a “preferred future” – again jargon pinched from Solution Focused approaches. If we take our earlier example, I might ask “Ok it’s 3 months time and the office has moved. If this move happened in the way that was best for you – how would you know?”.

Now one of the great things about such facilitated sessions is that people say all sorts of things that maybe they think that they couldn’t in other milieu. Responding to this question has led to people saying things like – “not being shafted by the company” or “if I have got the Directors office with my own walk-in Jacuzzi and parking space”. As in the “best hopes” discussion I know that this is part of the process and this can help me, and by association, the speaker. If I respond to the first answer by asking “so what would it mean to not be shafted by the company?” and follow the answers I will reach a point where the speaker is articulating what he or she wants (a guess would be respect, security, fair treatment – hardly revolutionary).  

It’s important to note here that this is a realistic conversation – this is not airy-fairy stuff at all and there’s some difficult to negotiate along the way (I call them dirty conversations). The group may want things to happen which aren’t – “we don’t want to move”* may be one such response – however they are! I may re-frame/re-state the question “I recognise that you would prefer to stay where you are where and I think we all know that the company will move – however If this move happened in the way that was best for you – how would you know?”.

One of the criticisms I’ve heard of leaders during change is that they retreat to their office and understandably people are worried about taking-the-lid-off something nasty like real resentment about an office move. I wonder if people are less anxious about taking-the-lid off something, than doing it when they are present. However you’ll notice my questions are about things being OK, or even good, for those concerned.

Small Signs of Progress – once we’ve got a sense of the preferred future – e.g.  “Ok I understand that we are going to move, however these are the things that are going to help this process” – we can think a little about what is already in place and/or the small signs of progress. Such answers here may be, “a detailed project plan”, compensation for a longer journey”, “regular updates on the plan”, “fair allocation of desk space”, “for the move date not to interfere with my holiday plans” etc etc. These are more meaningful and bite sized and generally manageable than the intransigence we initially met.

Hope that’s of use – got to a go and clean out the guinea pigs



More on employee engagement

 Each year I’m lucky enough to have a family holiday in a seaside cottage next to a sandy beach in North Pembrokeshire. Early one morning I came across a team of beach cleaners who had just done an early morning sweep across the sand. As I walked alongside them I remarked to one that it was a beautiful beach. He nodded and we turned and looked together across the bay. The expression on his face was poetic. He sighed deeply and replied with evident pride in that yes it did look lovely.

I would guess that this man was on the minimum wage, he was certainly dirty and sunburnt from his work and up at 6.30 am picking up the rubbish that other people had thoughtlessly left on the beach. However he was fully engaged in his work.

In September 2008, Will Huttonannounced a major review of Employee Engagement in the UK to be spearheaded by government advisor, Towers Perrin Senior Consultant and former ICI CEO, David McLeod. The review aimed to define effective employee engagement, examine how it can be achieved and produce useful advice for UK business.

I can imagine that across the land business owners threw up their hands in despair. Working hard in the to ensure that people are getting paid, have safe, legal and comfortable working conditions in the worst recession in living memory and now some here’s some expensive waste of tax-payers money on some possibly irrelevant nonsense about keeping people happy in their work.

However before we dismiss this it may be worth looking at some of the figures. Research indicates that income of companies with engaged staff is 20% higher. Engaged employees are said to be 47% more productive and over 40% more likely to make a good impression on customers. The CiPD calculates that 85% of disengaged staff are planning to leave their employer.  Only 12% of UK employees are said to be fully engage with their employer. Just consider the wasted talent – it’s a tragedy!

It’s more than keeping our workers happy. In his earlier book “The Extra Mile” McLeod explains –

“It’s not about employee happiness; it is about untapped potential. In the end organisations are not factories and buildings, they are the sum total of the efforts that their employees put in.”

So what’s the way forward? I’ve written an earlier blog post about this, but let’s return to our beach cleaning friend and take a look if we can learn from his experience.

In his case there’s a clear and straight line between effort and effect – he picks up the litter and the beach looks great. This may be trickier in your business, however how often do we explain to our employees the benefits of their efforts on the final product, the customer, the reputation of the company and ultimately its success and profitability? In terms of knowing that your work is benefiting others, many companies now use their Corporate Social Responsibility approach to bring extra meaning to the daily grind.

He was obviously enjoying being out and about with his work mates and we could guess that team working was big for our friend too. Combine that the customer contact he had with people like me, made for a satisfying day. Not all of us get to spend all our working hours in the middle of a national park and but I’m sure a pleasant working environment helped.

I also like to think that my comments helped contribute to the culture of appreciation which (I hope) our friend worked in.

So knowing how you contribute, helping others, team working, customer contact, a good working environment and being appreciated – where do I sign?

: – )

Workplace Mediation

Unhappy workplace relationships interfere with your ability to get things done and risk formal action. Workplace mediation can bring about good solutions for everyone

Take a look at how I work

Team Facilitation

Your greatest assets are your staff. With team facilitated sessions I can enable you to access untapped resources. Help your people find their motivation and use these to deliver more for the business.

Find out more

Support for Managers

Specialising in building staff engagement and better relationships, I can provide training and coaching for your managers on how to get the best out of, and for, your staff.

find out more