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Jeff Grout: When it comes to employee engagement, the small touches make the difference

As the England rugby team prepared to meet the All Blacks at the end of November 2008, a group of senior HR professionals gathered for their own team talk from leading business speaker Jeff Grout.

During one of the Sunday Times HR Business Network’s member events, Jeff used his experience as the former UK managing director of recruitment consultancy Robert Half International, business manager to Sir Clive Woodward, and an independent business consultant to bring the issues of employee engagement and leadership to life.

“Engaging employees is about them having insight into your organisation and feeling included. That way, they become an advocate of the business,” he commented, before quizzing members of the audience about how well they know their own line reports.

“What makes them sad, mad or glad? What’s the name of their partner? What’s their passion outside of work?” he asked.

Jeff’s insight into the world of elite sport provided some powerful examples of engagement and leadership:

* Although Lewis Hamilton was alone behind the wheel when he took the Formula One world title recently, more than 250 people at McLaren helped to put him there. After every race, McLaren acknowledges this by getting every employee together in the canteen to share the experience and get the “insider feeling”.

* Following the success of the British cycling team at the Beijing Olympics, their psychologist revealed that the word “medal” was never mentioned during training. Instead, the team focused on creating a “pressure-less environment” where the cyclists felt in control, knew what was expected of them, and developed the confidence to deliver.

Jeff also introduced some of the tactics used by successful UK business leaders to motivate and engage their employees:

* In his first 100 days at the BBC, former Director-General Greg Dyke, toured BBC offices around the UK canvassing opinion about how the BBC could offer a better service to the public and what he could do to improve his employees’ working lives. He avoided being London-centric and successfully engaged with employees at all levels of the organisation.

* Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, included red envelopes in employees’ induction packs, in which they could put ideas, and placed whiteboards in The Body Shop bathrooms, on which they could “graffiti” their comments. Every week, her PA made notes of what had been written, giving the leadership team insight into what was going on at the company and helping to empower staff.

These examples backed up Jeff’s advice that employees should be made to feel like human beings rather than headcount.

“There can’t be a downside to knowing what your employees are feeling, because they’re feeling it,” he added.

Jeff stressed that it is even more important to gauge the mood and morale of your employees during an economic downturn. If there have been redundancies at your organisation, for example, the people who remain might be under additional pressure or feel guilty that they survived the restructure.

Jeff concluded his fascinating speech with another sporting analogy, encouraging members of the HR Business Network to think like a sports coach:

“Tough times demand strong leadership. Ask yourself ‘what does my team need from me to perform at their best?’ and remember that it’s the small touches that make the difference.”

What are your views on employee engagement and leadership? Are you worried that the current economic downturn could demotivate your staff? Take part in a Debate with other members of the Sunday Times HR Business Network.

The next free event for members of the Sunday Times HR Business Network is ‘Best Companies To Work For Briefing’, which takes place on 19 March 2009. Please contact Gemma Cook on 020 7602 6675 for further details or book your place in the Events section.