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Paul Carter

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Employee engagement: the greatest story ever told


Interested in employee engagement? We’re running a one-day conference on September 10th in London focused on the business side of engagement and how you can drive value across the whole organisation. Hear from people-focused CEOs, board-level HR directors and people experts and come away with practical, actionable tips to improve engagement efforts in your organisation. Find out more today!

Why did the great eagles in Lord of the Rings not fly Frodo Baggins to Mount Doom to destroy the ring? Because there are no shortcuts on the journey to success.  It’s time to look for inspiration from film and TV for improving employee engagement.

If your staff survey scores have more ups and downs than the classic three act story structure then maybe it’s time to change the way you engage with your employees before you end up in an organisation far, far away.

Although the increasing use of broadcast and social media in employee engagement has provided a platform to tell your story, if you want to be the star of the show and gain a loyal following you need to know how to sell the organisation’s journey.

In the director’s hot seat

Director Quentin Tarantino has entertained audiences since the Nineties with his cool, on-the-edge dialogue and non-linear storytelling. Bums on seats, posters on walls, fans repeating their favourite quotes as the films became enshrined in popular culture. He achieved his dream of becoming an iconic filmmaker, creating profit, brand loyalty and a global fan base as he seized the moment to make his mark.

Business leaders expected to make a difference within two years can emulate the former video clerk from Tennessee. He borrowed ideas from his favourite films, galvanised and discovered talent and set a benchmark for peers to follow as established directors looked over their shoulder to assess the competition.

Never a smooth journey

The screenplay paradigm of a call to adventure, overcoming the odds, the point of no return, fighting back when all seems lost and the final push to complete your mission lends itself to the business world. Although in office parlance it is more commonly known as problem, conflict and resolution. The challenge for business leaders is to see the bigger picture. To understand what will happen after the climax of the adventure when the new world order has been established and the supporting cast want to know what happens next.

Active not passive leaders

Leaders have to be the protagonists of their journey, instigating action, rather than reacting to events happening around them. Christopher Keane in How to Write a Selling Screenplay says, “…your main character always wants something and will do anything to get it. He goes after it.  He’s blocked.  He tries another approach.  That one’s blocked.  He knows he needs to get creative.” Every action has to propel the story forward, even when setbacks lower morale and make achieving the goal seem impossible.

Cut the conflict

For any genre there is no story without conflict, whereas business leaders and their teams have to resolve conflict to create a united organisation. Breaking down the stages of change management to increase understanding of the journey and gain employee participation mirrors the commitment millions of people have to their TV box set dramas. Once people are committed they will be reluctant to walk away before the end as the organisation’s journey has become their journey. They want to be part of the new world.

While you may be the star of the show, employees expect to respond and have their own shows too. Two-way engagement to create a better, flatter organisation.

Learning from The Wire


The Baltimore-based TV drama The Wire helps convey the end of the command and control culture with a scene between a ruthless gangster Snoop and a young streetwise rebel Michael who knows he has been marked for death for not conforming to the gang’s code.

Snoop: “…it’s how you carry yourself. Always apart. Always askin’, “Why?”. When you should be doin’ what you’re told. You was never one of us. And you never could be.” Bang! Michael ends the argument and leaves the gang, while his former cohorts see their empire crumble.

If this article helps organisations adopt a ‘show don’t tell’ approach to employee engagement then my MA in screenwriting and never-ending mission to write a hit film or TV show have been worthwhile.

3 Responses

  1. Hello, thank you for your
    Hello, thank you for your comments. I will be using CHOICE principles in my CIPD exams.

  2. Fostering Employee Engagement
    Fostering Employee Engagement is really simple. Create an environment of ‘trust’ so that employees really believe you’ll behave ethically and will always ‘do the right thing’, together with demonstrating in all of your behaviours that you really care for your employees – mission accomplished. CHOICE principles…

    1. I think trust is a very
      I think trust is a very underrated aspect of employee engagement – until your employees believe that your intentions are genuine and long term, they won’t have any effect.

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Paul Carter

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