Last week I, and around 50 other practitioners, consultants and academics attended a meeting chaired by David MacLeod and Nita Clarke. This group had been asked to convene in advance of the first engagement taskforce meeting due to be held in early June.

David and Nita set the scene stressing that folks at Number 10, BIS, and the CBI see “employee engagement” as a hot topic. We are told the engagement taskforce is most definitely NOT a government initiative though it has government backing. The engagement taskforce companies have committed to putting forward resources, as yet unspecified. David and Nita acknowledged that the weakest part of their original report “Engaging for Success” was the section on barriers to engagement, which had attempted to understand why the concept is not better understood and more widely practiced.

So why were we there? To answer two questions:

#1 since the publication of the Engaging for Success Report two years ago – what has changed?
#2 what stuff did we think the taskforce should prioritise and address first?

I’ll come back to the second question later this week. For now I want to focus on #1. We were sat in small groups at tables and this question was answered by anyone who had a point of view – hands up style. I’m not sure this is the best way to draw insight from such a large group, but that’s how it was handled. As people offered their views, and answers to the question I scribbled like mad trying to capture as much as I could. As you can see from the transcript which follows, a lot of folk didn’t answer the question; nevertheless some interesting points were made. Here is what I heard (with any additions in brackets).

Transcript from the Engagement Taskforce Guru Group Meeting held at 1 Victoria Street London on 19 May 2011

Question #1 since the publication of the Engaging for Success Report two years ago – what has changed?

There has been a proliferation of events, seminars

Strong emergence of social tools and new media (my observation – well come on you didn’t seriously expect me to keep quiet about that did you)

There is dissonance caused by pressure on living standards

Capturing where it is happening already

We are getting more C Suite (this term came up an awful lot and it makes me choke so I shan’t use it again) – senior level engagement

Command and control is an issue particularly in bigger more established organisations (I wonder how many of the taskforce organisations this may apply to?)

Is the person responsible for engagement committed to real change or is this just a part of their career progression (I worry that someone is responsible – surely we all are?)

The taskforce – what is the point of it? Can you integrate HR middle management with top level management?

Downsizing has not been handled well

We need to make a connection with brand and communication

The score or measure goes up yet folk don’t actually feel any better (indeed – comes from fiddling with numbers instead of trying to create any real meaning around the working relationship methinks)

Engagement is seen as a problem to fix, not a way to be

Surveys are not acted upon so people lose faith, think – why bother (murmurs about linking scores to bonuses – don’t get me started!)

Making changes in the way we educate children could be an opportunity (for new thinking and new behaviour)

Generations matter – perhaps younger people are not interested in authoritative leadership? They may have different expectations of a leader, pearls of wisdom and war stories bore younger folk.

Engagement is person specific – not a model

Engagement = compliance to retain your job

Tension around engagement versus short termism and the need to satisfy shareholders and deliver profit (perhaps we could use that to accelerate and drive change rather than shy away from it?)

Investment in middle managers has decreased – can we bring them together to reflect and learn from each other? (great idea something I hear other organisations talking about – so let’s do it!)

Aspire to be a social community (hmm – sound familiar?)

Pride, loyalty and effort come from the employee to the employer, what comes back? And how do we fit this into and around wellbeing and sustainability?

Participative working practices, involvement, converge

Why all this talk about the top level buy in – how about we infuse this stuff virally, further down?

Take a strength based approach

Collective behaviour change needed, mix passion and proof

Stories – what is being engaged? The organisation – no. Employees – yes.

Other observations which struck me about this invited group were: I saw no representation from the black and minority ethnic communities among the guests (there were a few empty seats so maybe some were invited and couldn’t make it) and I think I was one of the younger folk in attendance. I’m 46.

One further point that interests me is that I “advertised” the fact that I was going to this meeting on several forums. I encouraged folk to contact me with ideas, opportunities, concerns etc. that they might want to get on the table. The response barely registered a murmur.

So – I’ll write up question #2 and share that with you in a day or two. And now that you’ve seen the emerging thinking about what has changed in the last two years – is there anything in this so far which interests you? Anything you’d like to add? A number of folk have dropped by here and added some interesting views in case you want to take a look and delve a little deeper?