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Gary Cattermole

The Survey Initiative


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Senior leader buy-in is fundamental to employee engagement


This piece was written by Gary Cattermole, co-founder and director of staff survey provider The Survey Initiative.

It’s a common issue, organisations are eager to run an employee engagement programme but find it tricky to get their Chief Exec or members of the board to buy-in to employee engagement. Some board members may think it’s silly to spend money on ‘happy employees’ in a time of recession. But if you can open your boards’ eyes to the positive effects of employee engagement, they’ll be investing in action to boost productivity, profitability and create a physically and emotionally healthy place for their employees to work. So what is the main stumbling block?

Engagement, like happiness, can be a word that actually turns off a Chief Exec, board or senior director. Employee engagement needs to be positioned as being about an organisation’s people, the need and benefits of creating an environment where your people naturally, subconsciously go the extra mile and put themselves out for their customers, colleagues and ultimately the business. Talk your Chief Exec’s language and spell out the benefits in cold, hard financial stats.

It’s well-known that organisations with higher levels of engagement have better dividends for shareholders, have higher levels of financial turnover and profit, increased productivity, lower levels of staff turnover, sickness and absence, lower rates of accidents and higher levels of wellbeing. Something all Chief Exec’s will want to achieve. Bring their attention to a company in your own field that has taken to task employee engagement and reaped the benefits. We all know that Marks & Spencer, GlaxoSmithKline, Serco and Sainsbury’s are strong supporters of a highly empowered and engaged workforce and all reap the rewards year in year out. But by bringing your Chief Exec’s attention to a similar company in your area will help them see how it could work in your industry.

The key stats:

Those organisations with employee engagement in the top quartile (top 25 percent) can benefit from: (Source: Engage for Success: Nailing the Evidence)

  • 2 x net profit
  • 2.5 x revenue
  • 12 percent higher customer advocacy
  • 18 percent higher productivity
  • 40 percent lower staff turnover

Once you’ve got the Chief Exec’s interest in employee engagement don’t let them pay ‘lip service’ to it. Merely appointing a Head of People Engagement or running an engagement survey or benchmarking activities alone, isn’t enough. Employee engagement needs to be embraced and led by its leadership team to allow an engaged workforce to flourish.  It cannot be a simple initiative – all within the organisation must embrace it – engagement must become a core part of your organisation’s culture, how it treats its people, customers, and clients, and how it goes about its work.

Your first steps will be to understand and benchmark levels of engagement within your company. The easiest and most efficient way to do this is to undertake an engagement survey. To capture your staff’s attention and to demonstrate commitment from the top the first step is for the invitation to take part in the survey to come from the Chief Exec – that way they’re taking responsibility for the move and will also be seen as responsible for listening to staff feedback too.

Keep your Chief Exec engaged in employee engagement. Once you’ve undertaken an employee engagement survey, ensure they are involved in the survey feedback presentation so that they can see at first-hand what is going on in their company. Interrogate the data and gain advice from your staff survey provider on what are the ‘real’ results of the survey and look into the reasons why the responses are what they are. Create an open discussion with the Chief Exec and staff on what your company should do to move forward, having prepared them for the possibility of some uncomfortable feedback. Be realistic and honest about what you can achieve, but make sure that you can link the actions you take to increase employee engagement to also improve business performance.  On an on-going basis show the board the link between increasing levels of engagement and increasing levels of customer satisfaction, retention, turnover, productivity etc. To embed the principles of employee engagement you will need to link the engagement scores with your key business indicators so that employee engagement becomes part of your core business measures of over all company performance and achievement.


  • If your Chief Exec is turned off by the term ‘happy employees’ use other terminology to get them on-board.
  • Talk their language and provide hard stats on how engagement will boost the business.
  • Demonstrate how companies in your market sector have boosted their bottom line thanks to employee engagement.
  • Once they are on-board make sure staff feedback is acted upon to ensure the new engaged culture thrives.
  • Create key business indicators where you can measure how your business has been affected by employee engagement.
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Gary Cattermole


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