Are CEOs paying lip service to employee engagement?

The article ‘ Are CEOs paying lip service to employee engagement?’ originally appeared on


Employee engagement: a subject of much debate, confusion and, occasionally, derision. Ambiguous. Over-complicated. Siloed. Yet with engagement and culture cited as no.1 global business issues by Deloitte, executed in the right way, consistently, it’s a sure-fire way to achieve competitive advantage and business success.

So why aren’t more CEOs propelling it to the top of the board agenda?

Perhaps it’s because in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous climate many are still fighting to keep their heads above water; consigning employee engagement to the ‘too difficult box’. Or maybe there’s a lack of understanding around what it’s all about, how to do it, how to quantify return on investment?  Maybe they have the wrong HR leader in place – one who is focused on transactional rather than transformational HR? Or possibly there’s a bit of a tick-box mentality with isolated initiatives that fail to deliver a return on investment, turning CEOs off this subject?

Understanding the disconnect

With this in mind, the company I founded and am now chairman of, Purple Cubed, set out to find out why there was such a disconnect between CEOs and employee engagement; despite very few arguing that people are not, in fact, their greatest asset. We also looked to prove that, with the right formula in place, employee engagement can generate significant business growth. Though research is only half the story. It’s all about the actionable plan, so clear recommendations and solutions became an objective too.

The research was carried out via qualitative interviews with thought leaders and CEOs (12), a quantitative online study (220) and a focus group of future leaders at Hult International Business School (10).

Key findings included:

  • Employee engagement is universally seen as confusing, ambiguous and misunderstood – with the research throwing up many varied definitions (13 from 12 interviews alone!)
  • Whilst business leaders agree that employee engagement is critical to business success and survival, a huge 86% of board directors admit they are not developing adequate strategies for it
  • 70% of business leaders recognise and agree that engaged employees lead to improvements in overall business productivity
  • Provisions consist mainly of isolated solutions which vary depending on their understanding of the term, rather than a cohesive approach
  • The means in which engagement is measured is ineffective in the majority of cases; just 12% measure regularly

When we looked deeper into these findings, it was clear to see that this disconnect between strategy and engagement was as a result of a lack of understanding, lack of investment and a lack of robust analysis and return.

Creating a people-centric business

While this may seem like a complex subject, and without the right attitude or leadership in place it can be perceived as ‘fluffy’, it is critical for business and Team UK as a whole. We only need to look to our European counterparts, such as Sweden, to recognise that a focus on the ‘people stuff’ can generate a significant return through increased productivity.

Those who have the greatest success through a people-centric business strategy do so because they break down the whole into manageable activities. In my experience these centre on three robust yet simple bottom-line focused areas:

1.     Ensure all business leaders understand and accept accountabilty for employee engagement (this comes and is led from the top)

2.     Work to a really great plan; simple, phased, comprehensive and cohesive (a blueprint for ‘how we all do HR around here’)

3.     Invest in digitising and socialising HR – because employees expect it and the business needs it

Engagement is not ‘an HR initiative’; it’s not dealt with via a survey, having an uber-cool office environment or some great benefits. It is a way of life, an all-encompassing on-going blueprint for 21st Century business. It’s a work in progress and has to be well managed and seamlessly delivered, over and over. It’s a tough call, though with increasing competition in finding top talent and challenges in retaining it, one that must be tackled head on.

2016-06-08T10:08:43+00:00 June 8th, 2016|