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Jamie Lawrence


Insights Director

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Interview: Laura Temple, Head of Leadership Engagement, SABMiller


Laura is a judge at the inaugural Employee Engagement Awards which will recognise the very best in engagement programmes publicly.

Who is Laura Temple?

Laura Temple heads up leadership engagement at the world’s second largest brewer SABMiller, famous for beers such as Peroni, Grolsh and Pilsner Urquell.

Laura is a strategic communication and engagement specialist and has worked globally and across sectors in banking, professional services and retail with both internal and external audiences.

Laura loves: the new space emerging around digital, leadership and organisational development as well as scuba, yoga, neuroscience and nutrition.

1) What does employee engagement mean to you?

Employee engagement means two things for me –it’s a management philosophy and practice on the one hand and an outcome of that practice and philosophy on the other. The outcome is tremendous, its when you have employees who are willing to input a high degree of discretionary effort to help the organisation achieve its goals.

One thing is for sure it can’t be achieved without a ton of effort, focus and motivation, it definitely doesn’t just happen organically.

2) What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learnt about employee engagement in the past year?

I’m not so sure how new this would be to any HR professional but the line manager has a disproportionate impact on employee engagement – so focusing on management capability to create the conditions for engagement and recruit those with a bias for employee engagement at the recruitment level is critical.

I also believe that you can recruit those that are more likely to be engaged when the conditions are moderate to good, than those who would perhaps be disengaged in a similar environment. In the organisation that I work in which has systematically psychometrically tested everyone at entry level since the 60’s — I can tell you that we have a high bias of engagement embedded in the organisation. This saves a whole lot of effort if you have a majority of people who are more likely to be engaged than not.

3) What are your three tips to companies looking to ramp up engagement levels in their organisations?

  • Find out from employees themselves what the key barriers / issues are
  • Find out how the customer experience is –low engagement and low customer satisfaction are closely correlated
  • Develop your engagement strategy but make sure leaders and managers are able to execute this – all too often this is the hardest part of the plan, but you won’t get results without it

Another consideration I’d give is that leaders and managers can hugely help drive engagement by embracing new technologies. Activities such as blogging, yammering, tweeting all break down ‘access’ barriers and at the same time they hugely accelerate the leaders ability to share a vision, share progress and success and get employees involved in brainstorming innovations or exchanging  ideas on how to overcome collective challenges. In today’s world – every single CEO can maintain almost a one to one relationship with employees. A hugely valuable asset which is majorly untapped in most organisations.

4) What do you feel are the biggest mistakes that companies make when trying to develop an engagement culture?

The question implies that there isn’t an engagement culture there in the first place, therefore management to date have either been unaware of the need for it or unable or unwilling to create an engagement culture.

Leadership buy in and commitment driving from the top is what will produce a sustainable outcome – in a perfect world of course. If the commitment is not there then I'd suggest building a pretty strong business case located in fact and suggesting a burning platform.

5) Why do employees fail to buy in when companies try to ramp up engagement?

Engagement has to be embedded in management philosophies and ways of working. In other words, consistently evidenced in action. If it’s just rhetoric then you’ll create cynicism. That’s why I think one has to be careful that the engagement strategy is driving at a level that leadership can keep up with, if the comms say one thing and then employee experience is another then you’ll end up in a worse position than you started in.

6) What soft skills are most useful for everyone to have when trying to move towards a culture of engagement?

I’d like to ban the phrase soft skill, in the same way as Sheryl Sandberg is trying to stop outspoken young girls being called bossy. It implies that it is less valued than hard skills.

These so called soft skills or perhaps we should just rebadge this as ‘emotional intelligence’ will be more in demand in the next century than any other skill. Computers can copy hard skills, but they can’t create ideas and listen and interpret lots of different sorts of visual and behavioural analysis.

I’ll get off my soap box now, to answer your question I’d probably say listening and spending time regularly empathising about your team members/ people. Both of these things need to be worked at. 

7) You’re a judge for the inaugural Employee Engagement awards, which seeks to recognise engagement efforts across the private, public and charity sectors. What will you be looking for in entries?

I'm so excited!  I’m looking for three things: innovation, sustainability of the programmes and true outcomes. I’ve judged a few of these things in the past and its always great fun, a great learning experience but most of all a wonderful way to celebrate game-changing practices as well as wonderful people. 

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Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

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