Or… the key things you need to have in place to stop these interferences!

Part of the ASPIRE Talent Management series. Retention and Engagement is the ‘RE’ in ASPIRE: Acquisition, Succession Planning, Improvement, Retention and Engagement. This article starts to explore the huge subject of Retention and Engagement, and looks at a number of interferences which will impact your retention and engagement levels, and stop you from being able to unleash your people’s potential and achieve performance and productivity.

Engagement is the emotional, intellectual and social commitment to your company’s culture, values and beliefs. Talent retention is your reward.

Global engagement levels have halved in 4 years!

The topic of employee engagement has been around since the 1990’s, and there are many organisations who have established themselves as thought leaders and experts in this field. Gallup, an analytics and advisory company who specialise in public opinion polls, is one such organisation. Back in the 1990s, Gallup developed a set of 12 questions it called Q12 to help businesses gauge employee engagement, and their reports and research pieces are some of the most recognised and respected sources of data used in business today.

According to Gallup’s 2017 release of the State of the Global Workplace report (access here through the Gallup website) worldwide engagement levels have dropped to 15%. Reported to stand at around 30% in 2016, this is showing a significant drop in a relatively short space of time. For Western Europe this figure is just 10%.

With just 15% – or just over one-eighth of the global working population – engaged that leaves a massive 85% not actively engaged and a percentage of these actively disengaged.

So what? Why do you need to know what engagement levels are in other parts of the world, or even at the company next door? Apart from an interest in global economy and productivity, the most important thing is to have sight of and understand engagement levels in your own organisation. As we know, higher levels of engagement within your organisation will lead to better retention levels and ultimately improved performance.

So how can you get this figure? There are many different tools in the market to measure employee engagement. Gallup have their own Q12 Survey, we use Harrison Assessments, and there are many other survey tools available to suit each organisation and budget – something we will cover in more depth in future articles and videos!

However you decide to objectively measure and assess engagement levels in your organisation, and however they compare to the global statistics – whether higher or lower – your results will provide a useful benchmark to measure against in the future, and enable you to determine any improvements, or deterioration.

3 types of employee

Gallup have categorised employees into 3 different groups, depending on the level of commitment displayed:

·        Engaged – those who are actively engaged, who work with passion and feel connected to your business. They will put in that discretionary effort, and go the extra mile. In an average organisation this group will make up a minority, perhaps 15%, which mirrors the global statistic – this is often the camp where you’ll find your HiPo’s (high potential talent).

·        Not engaged, or ‘on the fence’ – this largest group of employees (around 70%) are neither actively engaged nor actively disengaged; they will show up to work and do their job. They will put the time in but not the energy or passion. These people can be swayed fairly easily into either of the other two groups

·        Actively disengaged, or ‘hecklers’ – those with something negative to say about everything, who will always find an issue, those negative voices are usually the loudest and can bring others down with them.

Beware of the heckler!

No doubt you will recognise the term ‘heckler’ from a stand-up comedy context. That ‘funny guy’ in the audience who constantly pipes up, trying to bring down the ‘main act’ – in this case, your organisation. You’ll know who they are – those people who are actively disengaged in your business, and vocal with it. The ones who will always oppose new ideas, finding any reason to disagree with suggestions, who blame poor performance on the tools, their colleagues, the processes. The ones your managers always seem to be spending the majority of their time dealing with.

Hecklers, again often a minority in your organisation, won’t have much impact on your actively engaged employees, but they’re dangerous when they have an opportunity to influence those who usually make up your largest group – those who are not engaged, who are ‘on the fence’. This is where your biggest variable comes in, the 70% of your workforce who will move between the actively engaged and the actively disengaged camps, based on the culture and where the strongest messages are coming from. And, as often the most vocal group of all, that’s why hecklers can be the most dangerous.

It is worth looking deeper at these hecklers, their behaviours, and look to understand the reasoning behind this. Hecklers will often appear negative, and it will seem that their comments or viewpoints come from a place of negativity. This is not always the case. The deeper need, which manifests itself in negativity, is often a desire for significance, one of the fundamental human needs. Having one of these fundamental needs left unmet or unsatisfied can produce converse behaviours. If someone is driven by a desire for feeling significant, this can often be displayed in a disruptive and unhelpful manner.

How can you combat this? Getting them involved, show them how they can be significant in a positive way can reduce their negative impact. It can be helpful to get these people on board with new projects first, give them a role to play in some way, and they may just surprise you in becoming some of your greatest allies.

P = p – i

Performance = potential – interferences

Optimum performance will come when you consider potential minus the interferences, an equation posed by Timothy Gallwey in his book ‘The Inner Game’.

Naturally we are constantly striving to improve performance in our organisations, and one of the best ways we can do this is by unleashing our people’s potential, something we give a lot of focus to.

What can prevent people realising their potential, and can prevent good performance from either an individual or organisational point of view is interference. In this article we are going to mainly describe this interference as the lack of having the following key things in place.

The four enablers

Originally commissioned by Tony Blair, and progressed by David Cameron in 2009 the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) published Engaging for Success (more commonly known as the MacLeod Report), a study by Engage for Success founders David MacLeod and Nita Clarke of organisations across the UK demonstrating high employee engagement and high performance. They concluded that the common factors in all these organisations were the Four Enablers of engagement:

Strategic Narrative is your business story, the purpose of your organisation; where you’ve been, where you are now and where you are going. It is critical for an organisation to have this in place, as this creates a line of sight for each individual employee to be able to see how they fit into the organisation and how they can contribute to the organisations performance and success. This can seem like a daunting initiative to put into practice.

When we’re working with clients we simplify this by talking about the 3V’s – the organisations vision, values, and an accompanying visual which helps when communicating this across the business – we all know a picture paints a thousand words! When a team is aligned with a common vision, values and visual representation, everyone is working towards the same objectives and goals which will drive engagement and retention. (If you’d like to know more we will be focusing on the 3V’s in our next article, video and podcast – follow our company LinkedIn page to access our latest articles)

Engaging Managers – or as we call it the Power of 95. Typically, frontline managers make up 5% of a workforce, and it is this cohort, who with focused investment in their development can really influence the other 95% of the workforce. You may have heard the phrase ‘people leave managers, not jobs’ and it is said that 70% of the variance in engagement levels can come from the relationship between a manager and employee. If you want to improve engagement and retention levels within your organisation, investing in your managers to ensure they have the skills set and behaviours to drive engagement within their teams is a good place to start.

Employee Voice: This is where you really need to understand individual expectations (see below), and to make sure your employees feel valued and listened to. It’s one thing to ask your employees opinions in an annual survey format, the important thing is to act upon the responses and, where this may not be possible, provide an explanation.

Organisational integrity is about living your organisational values and demonstrating them on a day to day basis. The values in your business should not be confined to a poster on the wall in the reception area, but built into the behaviours expected and demonstrated across your teams. A useful way of incorporating values and behaviours in an ongoing and practical way is to include them in your job descriptions during acquisition and succession planning phases, and in performance appraisal discussions as part of your employee improvement and development.

Personal expectations

As the business has a set of expectations that employees will be required to fulfil, so will each individual employee have their own set of personal expectations they will be looking to be met. Failure to do so, or to take these into consideration as we have discussed in previous article, could result in your HiPo’s looking to have their expectations met elsewhere.

These expectations form the core intrinsic drivers, personal preferences, natural tendencies, interests and motivators which are important to each individual. This can be expectations for themselves, expectations from others and expectations from the organisation, and cover what the employee want from the organisation, and from that particular job. The 8 expectations are as follows:

  • Development – the desire to have work opportunities to learn new skills or increase abilities. This expectation will be prevalent in your pool of HiPo’s
  • Remuneration – ambition to earn higher pay
  • Appreciation – from others at work, whether from peers or line management – this includes feeling valued and listened to
  • Recognition – positive feedback from others, for the work done,
  • Work life balance – an opportunity to have flexibility between work and home lives
  • Communication – styles and types of communication aligned to the individual’s preferences.
  • Social – opportunities to interact with others in a social context
  • Authority – desire for decision making authority and autonomy within a role

Psychological contracts

Psychological contracts, which first emerged in the 1960s, notably in the work of organizational and behavioural theorists Chris Argyris and Edgar Schein, are where we try and match those business expectations with the individual’s personal expectations.

We can never expect a 100% fit, but the better matched those business expectations and employee expectations are, this becomes very visible in the organisation and tends to improve engagement and performance, particularly for the individual which will then feed into your organisational performance.

This Psychological Contracts Iceberg Model by Business Balls is a useful visual representation of this essential, yet implicit, agreement between employer and employee, which sets out how the employee is treated by the employer, and the expectations of what the employee is required to put into the job. Instances where either party deviate from this mutual agreement could create a situation of interference which will impact on both potential and performance.

Get rid of the interference!

It’s really important to understand this interference, and to consider those few key things that you need to have in place to stop them from holding back your organisation, or your individuals from realising or unleashing their potential, and delivering that performance…

It’s vital that you have your business story, your vision, in place so that your employees can align themselves to this and understand the role they play, and the values and behaviours they need to demonstrate to contribute towards achieving business objectives. The values should be demonstrated on a day to day basis

Your frontline leaders and managers can play a key part in engaging and motivating the majority of your workforce, so we would advise investing energy, time and resources ensuring the key influencers in your organisation understand engagement and have the skills and behaviours needed to be able to build those relationships which will bring the most benefit.

Make sure that your employees feel valued and listened to, and feel that they are part of the solution rather than the problem. Understanding their expectations and what is important to them as individuals either by measuring it, or at the very least by encouraging managers to open these conversations with their teams will help your people feel more engaged if their expectations are met. Having expectations met from both the business’ point of view and the individual’s point of view will improve alignment and encourage performance.

If you improve your engagement rates, you’re more likely to improve your retention rates and the more fulfilled your employees are they better they will be at delivering performance.

With engagement being such a wide-ranging subject, we will be doing further articles, videos and podcasts going into greater depth on many of the topics we’ve just touched on here, so please look out for those – you can find links below to follow our content!

This wheel provides a reminder of those 4 key elements of ASPIRE: Acquisition, Succession Planning, Improvement, Retention and Engagement, which covers the full talent management cycle.

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If you’ve enjoyed this article, watch our video chat where we go into further detail. You can find our previous articles here, or check out our You Tube channel and our podcast channel. If you’d like to know more about what we do please visit our website.


Peak Performance Partnership Ltd (3P) is a Business Performance Consultancy specialising in Talent Management. ASPIRE by 3P is our talent management solution which supports the talent life cycle of Acquisition, Succession Planning, Improvement and Retention & Engagement.

Co-authored by Lindsay McGhie, Trevor Norman and Michelle Manning