Engage or Bust Conference

I was at the “Engage or Bust” Conference earlier this week.  It’s put together by Engage for Success (http://www.engageforsuccess.org/) and they had gathered a very impressive array of speakers.  

This blog post concentrates on the main ideas and thoughts shared by the two big names in the employee engagement world – David MacLeod and Nita Clarke.

They opened (and closed) the Conference; first to provide some context and then a summary of the ideas that had been put forward and where the movement was heading.

Cultural Collision

David and Nita spoke from the heart and warned of the impending collision between what business wants from its staff and what the staff want from the businesses they work in.  The business environment is constantly changing and whilst we struggle to come to terms with the “VUCA” world (Volatile-Uncertain-Complex-Ambiguous) we are heading towards a situation where something has to give.

I think David and Nita are spot on.  Business is striving to unlock extra profit having ridden out most of the previous economic hardship.  Short-termism is king for many organisations and with customers becoming ever more-demanding, the pressures on the workplace are mounting rapidly.  The speed of technological change and the expansion of competition (global supplier bases) are other factors which just add to the stresses of business.

So whilst CEOs, MDs and entire Boards grapple with generating more shareholder value, the employees are continuing to demand (and that’s not too strong a word) more from their employer.  People strive for fairness (to trust and be trusted), they want meaning and purpose in their role and need to feel they empowered to do their job.  Interference and micro-management are not the way forward.  People at work are certainly increasingly diverse but decreasingly deferential.  The workforce want a voice, demand a voice and need to be listened to.

David and Nita suggested the impending collision represents a choice for business between two approaches;

People are the problem (a world of control, monitor, business squeezes every last drop of effort out)


People are the solution (inspire, respect and trust your employees to work smartly  and deliver)

I don’t think it’s as simple as that.  We don’t live (or work) in a world where businesses choose one or the other path.  It’s not a good cop / bad cop choice.  There has to be a compromise.  Businesses relax control and reduce monitoring – but still keep some of both – whilst at the same time provide inspiration and trust to their workforce – who in turn accept that there needs to be some control and monitoring because people want to see their performance measured and rewarded (not necessarily financially). 

Only a careful balance between these worlds results in real employee engagement and real business performance.  It’s not easy, but you knew that.