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Jasmine Gartner

Jasmine Gartner Consulting

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Using engagement to rehabilitate young offenders


Employee engagement has so many benefits for both the individual and the company – the oft-repeated facts are out there: companies are more productive, employees more fulfilled; creativity and innovation soar. Customer service is better. Staff are less likely to take sick days. And so on.

In a 2014 McKinsey article, Redefining Capitalism, Eric Beinhocker and Nick Hanauer propose that we replace GDP as a measure of prosperity with a new measure: “Ultimately,” they say, “the measure of the wealth of a society is the range of human problems it has solved and how available it has made those solutions to its people.” And, what else is business if not the solving of human problems?

What if engagement were to grow beyond the workplace?

This idea of engagement is actually being explored by the Northern Ireland Prison Service in Belfast, who have embarked on an engagement project with social entrepreneur, Philip Dundas. Dundas has done a lot of work with young people – for example, he ran AmbitionUK, which addressed the social impact of unemployment, as well as Creative Partnerships, a government programme which sought to introduce creativity into the school curriculum.

But if engagement is so good for the workplace, imagine what it could do on a greater – a societal – scale.

At the prison, he is working with young offenders to create a pop-up restaurant, which will open towards the end of May or the beginning of June.

The prison service has had a lot of problems with reoffending, and the director general, Sue McAllister, wanted to rethink the way the prisons run. “My role,” explains Dundas, “has been to look at how rethinking the food culture in the prison might transform the prison experience for everybody; not just for the inmates, but also for the staff.”

The strategic narrative has been one of rehabilitation – instead of punishment, and the self-fulfilling destiny that that creates, the current prison governor has transformed the prison into a college, so that it becomes “a place of learning where these young people can get a better start and start to become fully functioning adults, with aspirations and ambition.” In other words, where they can learn to be contributing, engaged members of society.

As you know, if you’ve been reading my column or my book, I believe that having a strategic narrative is one key ingredient for engagement; the other essential ingredient is listening to people.

And this is exactly what Dundas did. He spent a lot of time listening. He listened to managers, to governors, to inmates,  “What works is actually people feeling that their voice is heard,” he says. “I’m asking them to join up their thinking, because my work is based on their thinking.”

Dundas’ vision is that, by connecting strategy and voice, a space is opened up that allows for:

  • Creativity: “everyone is creative – it’s what makes us tick”
  • Innovation: “the ability to think about things in a new way”
  • Collaboration: “knowing when somebody else has got a strength you haven’t got”
  • Leadership: “everybody has a little something to offer some of the time”

“It’s that lovely image,” he says, “of geese flying overhead. They’re in that V formation, and then – they swap.”

And so, whether it’s in an organisation or in society, helping people by nurturing them and listening to them has an impact both individually and societally.

If engagement is so good for the workplace, imagine what it could do on a greater – a societal – scale.“

An intelligent organisation knows that to exist in the future means you must be aware of what you’re doing in the present. Today’s actions have consequences.

And a truly intelligent organisation knows that it is a part of society. It’s in the best interest of companies to make sure that society is healthy and working well so that they’ll have employees with the right skills, and competitors who challenge them and ensure their products are the best, and they’ll have communities who need and can afford their products.

If they in any way act destructively towards society, rather than nurturing it, they will in the long-term destroy themselves too.

Jasmine Gartner © 2015

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Jasmine Gartner

Training consultant

Read more from Jasmine Gartner