A recent #nzlead featured the question “How do you use engagement as an employment branding tool?” After a few of us admitted to being baffled, it was replaced with “how do you spread the word about how cool a place it is to work, so that other people want to work there?”

I think the change was a great improvement, primarily because you don’t have to be an HR professional to understand it. Too much of our language is starting to exclude people rather than include them, an unfortunate change give our line of work.

As a profession we are growing, developing and finding our way all at the same time. We are trying to find a way to describe what we do so that it has at least a whiff of validity about it. We are, unfortunately, undermining our credibility –  attempting to make what we do seem more complicated than it actually is. You notice I say ‘complicated’ and not harder. What we do is (quite often) tough, so explaining why it is to people in straightforward language, rather than attempting to remystify HR, is key to helping ensure our offering to the business and the people we work with is transparent.

‘I held a structured post initiative review of our performance management year, focusing on the unexpected level of differentiation in performance ratings from the half yearly data extract and concluded there were systemic adjustments we needed to make for the next cycle’  – complicated to understand


‘some of us got together and looked at the data because it seemed everyone’s ratings were jumping about and they shouldn’t have been, we’ve agreed some changes to make things better next time’  – the same thing, but you sound like a real person dealing with a real problem for real people, rather than a professional regurgitator of management textbooks

Some of the hardest things we have to do are restructures/ consultations/ downsizing/ scaling/ organisational reviews – by which I mean telling people that they don’t have a job anymore. Some of the best things we get to do are engagement programmes/ organizational alignment campaigns/ Employee Value Proposition reviews/ employer brand work – by which I mean creating better places for people to work. We turn both the good and bad of things that are intrinsically about people into things that sound like we are dealing with systems and process. If you lose sight of the fact that everything we do is about people (even those systems and processes…) then it is no surprise that, all too often, we end up in circular ‘what are we here for?’ debates.

If we want transparent and inclusive organisations (most people do) then HR should have a key role in making sure language isn’t a barrier – we should be adding value – better still, we should just be helpful. “As simple as you can make it, but no simpler. We need to make sure the language we use is to benefit the person we are talking to, not our own sense of professional worth. Who are we trying to impress? Impress them by talking to them in a way they are comfortable with, not that you are.

So here are some questions to stimulate your thinking

Q1) Where do you believe we benefit from using technical terms to describe what we do?

Q2) What are your least favourite terms that are in common usage in HR?

Q3) What would be simpler ways of describing that activity or concept?

About this week’s contributor…

David D’Souza. I’m an experienced HR professional, formerly Head of People Development at MetroBank. I’m intrigued by the opportunities that improved analytics and technology provide to enhance people’s ways of working – and therefore business performance. I’m also in favour of companies’ work practices being designed around people – rather than attempting the more challenging feat of redesigning people around work practices. I blog at http://ddsouzadotcom.wordpress.com/ and am currently supporting a crowdsourced book of HR blogs, as well as the #CIPDHack


#NZLEAD RECAP: Engagement and Performance

AlisonnzleadWeek three of July’s spotlight on engagement saw our focus move to the link between engagement and performance.

After three weeks of discussion there is still a lack of consensus as to what it actually means to be ‘engaged’.   It clearly means different things to different people and subsequently, is perceived to be more or less valuable by different people.

Does it matter if we can’t agree on the definition of engagement? Provided that organisations that measure the concept have a solid understanding and definition of what engagement means to them, what they hope to get out of it and most importantly that they do get outcomes from going through the process, perhaps not?

Experience tells us that pursing anything without having a clear idea of what we are trying to achieve and what it will look like when we get there is likely to result in lessor outcomes than if clarity and purpose was defined at the beginning. Which leads to the link to performance.  Once we have defined what engagement means for an organisation, surely one must then define the outcomes that can expect to flow from achieving it?

There is oodles of data and insight out there that prove the link between engagement and performance, an example of which was kindly provided by Scott Duncan  here  but as Richard Westney pointed out, “do any orgs ever measure engagement alongside productivity? Doubt it”.

So do these lack of performance metrics within organisations make the measure of engagement redundant? Absolutely not, but certainly there is the opportunity for organisations to get clearer on what internal performance metrics they link with engagement to better target interventions and demonstrate true ROI.

Organisational performance metrics are one thing but performance at the individual level opened up another debate.  In response to Andrew Burner’s comment that “people with the capability to perform do when engaged, and don’t fulfill their potential @ work when not”, Neil Usher asserts that “its quite possible to perform to your max for yourself, you don’t have to be “engaged”.

Is engagement a prerequisite condition for good performance, or is it more about your individual motivation and work ethic?  While the latter can certainly be true, as Amanda Sterling points out “it would take a boat load of intrinsic motivation”.  And, while high performers may perform at their best regardless of climate or culture, how likely is it that they will be able to maximize outcomes that involve collaboration with others in a low engagement environment?

Finally, as a follow up to this energetic discussion Perry Timms contributed his Motown blog, his take on a highly successful organisation where people, he asserts, were rarely engaged with the organisation itself.

To my eyes Perry actually makes a strong case for engagement  – enabling employees to be part of something bigger than themselves, in an environment where they can be brilliant is what creating highly engaged organisations is all about. The organisation then reaps the rewards of having invested in creating a place where people are energized, committed and contributing more.

Agree or disagree, it’s a great read and rounds off what was a great discussion on engagement and performance.

#NZLEAD RECAP: Introduction to engagement

It is entirely coincidental that the same week #nzlead starts talking about engagement is the first week we ask two members of the community to step up and facilitate. Thank you to Zoe Mounsey and Rebecca Smith for going the extra mile for our weekly tweet chat. Shall we now measure how engaged you are in #nzlead and correlate that with your performance? (just kidding).

Generally speaking, engagement is about wanting to go the extra mile for nothing in return. Engagement is contributed to by respect, feeling that you are involved and listened to and that someone, generally the powers that be, are genuinely interested in what you do and say. But, and that’s a big BUT, Engagement means different things to individuals and companies. It is therefore difficult, and entirely subjective, to pin down what engagement really means. Therefore, as Simon Jones asks, does the fact that we struggle to define it mean that it doesn’t mean anything?

If you can’t define it, how do you measure it for comparison and correlation? Then, how do you consistently correlate engagement with performance? Employees can be engaged, but not necessarily performing. Performance is more likely to be a consequence of a great culture but geesh, that’s another can of worms, how do you measure culture? And should you?

Instinctively we know that when people are engaged they are more likely to contribute discretionary effort, but this instinct just validates that it’s all about a feeling. Great cultures FEEL good, and you FEEL like going the extra mile. How one person feels and what causes this might be quite different from someone else. What came up consistently throughout the tweet chat was the notion of tailoring engagement to the individual because every individual is going to FEEL differently about it.

To further complicate things, measuring engagement is often a lengthy and once yearly process. How can you get value from that? And if we’re talking about individual perceptions, wouldn’t we get more value from having regular conversations with employees instead? As Neil Morrison pointed out, you shouldn’t need a survey to know what your people think. However, if you do use an engagement survey, it’s what you do with that information that really makes the difference. As Daniel Harrison suggests, use them as a starting point for a conversation.

Honest conversations and authenticity appear to be the cornerstones here. Much more so than throwing around HR terms like ‘engagement’ and one size fits all quantitative surveys that don’t necessarily capture individual motivations.

I liked the way this article by Matt Monge spoke to the authenticity concept; “the challenge is to engage your employees in authentic ways that spark in them the desire to create, innovate and push your organization and our industry forward”.  You can also find one of the most comprehensive summaries of engagement by Michael Carty here.

Over the next few weeks we are going to explore the engagement topic further. We will delve into how culture and values shape engagement, hear from a consultancy who works on engagement (in the interests of a rounded argument), and talk about what this ubiquitous term ‘engagement’ means from a talent attraction and retention perspective. So whether you agree with the term or not, please join us to continue the discussion.