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If your unchanged twenty-year mission statement is “Unlocking People’s Potential” you might perhaps be excused a small glow of satisfaction reading the latest government report on Employee engagement which early on announces “This report is about Unlocking People’s Potential”.

From a Maynard Leigh Associate perspective, the MacLeod report on engagement feels as much a vindication as an encouraging call to action. It urges the government to take positive steps to promote an approach that unlocks potential because “there is convincing evidence of a correlation between an engaged workforce and improving performance.”

Engaging for Success is a robust and credible investigation into the issue and in some ways is an extraordinary document. Confronting head on what many hard-nosed managers might regard as touchy feely stuff, the report brims over with previously unavailable evidence and case studies showing the benefits of investing in developing people’s engagement and their potential.

The report recommends the government “uses its unique power to convene a nationwide discussion involving all stakeholders to ensure the widest possible understanding of the case for engagement and to encourage more organisations to adopt this approach.”

While most organisations seem to be aware of the importance of engagement, less than half know how to implement it. Hopefully therefore we will now see a debate around how to unlock potential, rather than whether this is a desirable or critical company goal.

This seminal report in fact stops short of tackling the essential and difficult issue of how to develop the skills, expertise and confidence to engage others. It points towards the blocks to employee engagement and lists the enablers of engagement, yet never explains the practical steps that one might follow to win hearts and minds.

However, there is available know-how on how to translate the concept into action. It involves coaching leaders in new ways of thinking, increasing their emotional intelligence and creating environments in which they learn and rehearse new ways of acting.

How much longer for example can command and control leadership style retain any remaining credibility? Yet as Macleod explains: “there are still too many chief executives and senior managers who are unaware of employee engagement or are still to be convinced of its benefits.”

An inescapable implication of engagement and particularly managing talent is that companies must give attention to two critical factors that are often ignored in the frantic rush for profits:

Answering both questions in practical ways requires more than paying lip-service to engagement or talent. It means paying careful attention to how managers and leaders generate work that people can feel is worthwhile, and secondly it means investing time in developing the corporate culture, in “how we do things round here.”

Unfortunately there remain formidable pressures preventing companies addressing these issues seriously. For example, the stock market does not fully value intangibles like employee engagement even when it is strongly associated with stronger company share price performance. And under half of chief financial officers seem to understand the real benefits from investing in developing people.

For many of us in the HR field the MacLeod report is surely an inspiring and thoroughly encouraging step in the right direction. There are signs that many organisations recognise this and are moving forward to capitalise on the evidence that engagement makes all the difference in individual and company performance. Those who do not risk not merely being left behind but going out of business.

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