Getting the most out of your people

Sep 25 2009 by Charles Helliwell Print This Article

For all the talk about its importance, the vast majority of organisations simply don't take employee engagement seriously.

There are a couple of reasons for this. First is the perception that it simply takes too much time and effort and the second is that it is a low priority compared to everything else the organisation has to contend with.

OK, so they might fiddle around at the edges, say the right things and create an impression of employee engagement, but that's about it. All in all, it's a whole lot easier to just upsize and downsize with the economic cycle and focus time and investment in retaining and developing the top 20 per cent whilst discarding those who are considered to be poor performers.

That's NOT employee engagement. Call it performance management, executive development or staff assessment, it is a process which is notoriously subjective and often little more than a crude measure of individuals' popularity with their manager.

Real employee engagement starts with the recognition that your workforce stands on a tightrope between being viewed as an asset or as a liability. The employee at 3M who invented Post-It Notes, for example, was likely viewed as an asset by senior management. Staff at British Airways being asked to take a pay holiday and pay cut are clearly seen as a liability. Every organisation faces a delicate balance in how its workforce is perceived.

The hard work is not what organisations choose to do about employee engagement. The hard work starts by recognising that every employee you hire is a potential asset. It starts with a fundamental change in behavioural attitudes from those who run these organisations.

If you, as a business owner or business manager, truly believe that every employee is an asset to your organisation, then that's how you will see them and behave towards them. That change in behaviour and attitude will then reap its own reward, as employees will want to give back more than just 'their jobsworth'.

This simple change in attitude towards your staff and colleagues, coupled with an understanding that trust, respect and recognition and appreciation is a two-way mirror. If you expect your employees to trust, respect, recognise and appreciate you for the leadership and direction that you provide, then you must pay them the same compliment by return. There's nothing more complicated to it than that.

Getting the most out of your people is not just a case of fitting the right peg into the right hole. Shaping a round peg from a block of wood, just so that it fits snugly into a round hole, discards the potential from what remains. Smart employers and business owners recognise that limitation, and ensure that the full potential of all the original material in every employee is used to maximum.

They have to, because in the world of competitive business, you just can't afford the luxury of employee potential sitting there unnoticed, just waiting to be discovered.


About The Author

Charles Helliwell
Charles Helliwell

For almost 20 years, Charles Helliwell has been enjoying a lifestyle and making a living as a behavioural and relationship mentor specialising in the personal and professional development of individuals and teams in the workplace.

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For practical tools and exercises designed to inspire higher employee engagement and change, readers might like to see:



rob U.K

I agree, employee satisfaction can either make or break your team. Employees are on the front line dealing with your customer’s everyday, and if they do not feel that their company is delivering, their dissatisfaction is pushed onto your customer. Employee satisfaction is not merely a tool used to bring in potential new hires, but it also shapes your company or product. I agree that companies should spend more time recognizing their employees, but employee satisfaction is also connected with making people feel that their opinions are valued. If you have a happy team that feels well respected and needed, your customers will notice.

Kara Vickrey

Thank you Kara for your perceptive and valued contribution. Would that all managers and business owners thought and acted as you have suggested, then it wouldn't take that much to see a huge difference in workplace behaviour, performance and productivity. But alas, were you to re-write your contribution substituting 'IF' with 'WHEN' and 'SHOULD' with 'MUST' then we might stand a chance of seeing this happen sooner than later.

Sadly, however, your premis, of an 'IF' and 'SHOULD' society, which is probably a true reflection of where we are today, suggests this will be a long time happening.


Charles Helliwell London, UK

Very interesting post. I would add two points:

1) Who is responsible for engagement? I believe the company (management, leadership, HR, everyone) is responsible for creating an environment in which employees want to engage ' one in which employees know what is expected of them, understand how those expectations help the company succeed, and are encouraged to recognize and appreciate achievement of their peers and subordinates in delivering those expectations. Once that's established, then it's up to the employee themselves to engage.

2) Employees are more than an asset; they're your competitive advantage. Without your people you have nothing. They are truly your greatest competitive advantage. Yet survey after survey, article after article, shows the majority of employees are planning to jump ship as soon as they safely can ' largely because of the way they have been treated during the recession. Note that employees often understand why company leadership had to reduce headcount, cut costs, freeze pay, and other actions. It’s the lack of respect and recognition for what the remaining employees were able to do that is behind this mass desire to “find someplace where I’m appreciated.

Derek Irvine, Globoforce