Thursday, 1 July 2010

Engagement Is Strategy

In recent years many senior executives have iterated that more than strategy or vision, managing or engaging employees is their foremost priority and is probably a much tougher job than charting out a strategy for the business. There is also a school of thought which claims that if an organisation can get its ‘people’ act together, the business would take care of itself. Vineet Nayar’s new book Employees First, Customers Second has once more brought employee engagement issues to the fore. There is a certain romance in putting employees above all else in our scheme of things and we HR professionals feel vindicated when the industry acknowledges the truth that we had always believed in. We however need to ask the tough questions – is it possible to put employees first at all times? At what cost? Will we be able to convince non-employee stakeholders about the sound business logic of our employee engagement initiatives? We have seen some research lately suggesting direct linkages between employee engagement and company profits, but the industry and financial markets need more empirical evidence and standardised measurement tools before we can go full-steam ahead with an ‘employee first’ strategy.

In today’s fast changing business climate where employee loyalty can no longer be taken for granted, the new school of thought says that leaders and managers should focus on managing the relationships among people rather than managing individuals. This philosophy does bear reason; there is hardly a single piece of organisational work that an individual employee can today perform without the help of a team. In Robert Putnam’s seminal work Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital, Putnam defined social capital as “the connection between individuals-social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trust worthiness that arises from them,” and claimed that social capital was so important to an organisation that it defined the difference between stagnancy and dynamism. Creation of this social capital or interpersonal relationship between employees and the organisation as well as between individual employees and employee networks is the goal of employee engagement initiatives. In essence a good leader is one who is to able to create and leverage these emotional bonds to produce business results whose sum is greater than the value of the parts put together. When the direction, objective, and values of individual employees, their networks, and that of the organisation are synchronised, leaders can expect a resonance effect in terms of productivity and profitability from the social equity that is created.

In this edition, you will be surprised to see that we have interacted with and interviewed stalwarts of marketing. We have always been intrigued by these individuals who have stood apart through their knowledge, deep consumer insights, and creativity; individuals who have created a niche for themselves beyond their organisations. While we wanted to know about their success stories and creative triggers, we also wanted to understand their views on success factors in the workplace. What was interesting is that they all stressed on the basics and fundamentals of management like meticulous planning, teamwork, communication, and ethics. As Jack Trout said, the best advice that he has received is “Solutions are Easy”. As we start our various initiatives it would be wise to keep this thought in the background.

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