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Nigel Purse

The Oxford Group


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Getting employee engagement on your CEO’s agenda: Create actionable steps


This is the concluding article in the series How to secure employee engagement on your CEO's agenda – make sure you've read parts one and two your case before you carry on with this article.

In your role as a HR leader, it is likely that maintaining employee engagement and striving to improve it are recognised as important. But unless employee engagement is engrained as a part of your company culture, it is unlikely to resonate with CEOs.

So how can you work around some of the most common issues people face when introducing employee engagement, and how can you successfully work it onto your CEO’s agenda?

What prevents engagement

When trying to pave the way for your CEO to get involved, it is important to understand what motivates leaders to actively support employee engagement, and what leads them to resist it. A report by Ashridge Business School suggests that three distinct barriers prevent CEOs from participating with employee engagement:

  • Leadership abilities: struggling to identify new leadership techniques and the general two-sided nature of leadership, fear of comment and correction.
  • Character of the Leader: their own character, values and beliefs, self-belief and motivation, and guardedness over vulnerabilities or insecurities
  • Company Culture: the ways in which the company operate, business heirarchies, old-fashioned business models and economic circumstances

While many struggling CEOs experience all three of these barriers in combination, it is impossible to tackle them all at once.

It is about looking at the layers of your CEO’s personality and professional status, and finding effective ways of communicating that work for them. Here it is worth considering what motivates employee engagement, and exactly what steps can be taken in moving things along.

Encouraging engagement

Oftentimes, leaders and CEOs trip up on poor communication, which can give them false perceptions of what employee engagement will entail and turn them off the idea. It is important to communicate the benefits in an understandable way. A good standard of employee engagement is encouraged by several factors:

  • Interaction with leaders who set out a company narrative with clarity, covering where the company has come from, where it stands now, and where it will go in the future
  • Reporting to leaders who encourage and grow their employees and treat them as individuals
  • Belonging to a culture in which employees’ voices are heard, and communication is open across all levels
  • Company values being lived and exercised in the daily operations of leaders and employees

Extensive research into the benefits of employee engagement suggests that these are highly effective ways to motivate employees and generate the best performance out of them. But misconceptions often applies to who accountability lies with when putting these conditions into practice, which can be a discouraging influence for CEOs.

Shared responsibility

It is commonly believed that the responsibility of implementing employee engagement is that of the corporates up top, but this is simply not the case.

The factors listed above rely on the ways in which CEOs behave and interact on a personal level with each team member. The corporate centre’s role in all this is to give line managers all the tools they need to make it a reality.

High employee engagement is not created via corporate communications, regular company blogs or cycle-to-work schemes; these are simply tokenised forms of attention from upper management and are no substitute for a company full of close relationships between colleagues. Effective employee engagement allows each member of staff to:

  • Identify their particular place within the company and what they contribute
  • Be clear about management’s expectations and resources for improvement
  • Voice their opinions to the whole company
  • Feel involved and valued within the business

CEOs play a crucial role in influencing the behaviour of line managers, and in upholding a good example. They must support the expectation that every leader and line manager within the firm is doing their bit in encouraging improved employee engagement levels through closer relationships with employees.

Action plan

Now, these simple principles can be worked into a plan of action for your CEO to introduce and endorse, and this is nowhere near as daunting as it sounds. When putting your plan into action, remember:

  • If needed, instigate an employee engagement survey to measure the current levels and how much work needs to be done
  • Have your CEO be clear on a public platform about how accountability rests with all managers to form strong relationships with all staff members, and ensure it is emphasised as a priority
  • Demonstrate how this core value can be incorporated into talent and leadership programmes, starting with First Line Management and working downwards
  • Establish a list of proposed training schemes for all management levels, with particular emphasis on holding open and honest conversations and building professional relationships.

As management, you need to champion high employee engagement, and by introducing some of these ideas into your company culture and your employees’ everyday experiences in the workplace, you can start to build a strong and supportive team with proud employees, proud board members and a proud CEO.

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Nigel Purse


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