Tag Archives: employee engagement

Creating and finding those inspirational managers for our teams – a Cambridge Network event

People leave their managers not their companies

“70% of people leave their managers or supervisors, not their company”.  These were some of the research findings shared with us this morning by Sue Gibson, Human Resources Consultant at DoubleG Assosiates LLP, in a Cambridge Network Breakfast meeting on retention and motivation of staff.  She also told us that mediocre managers can do a lot of damage ‘under the radar’ and can pass on stress and stifle employee engagement through inappropriate authoritarian attitudes.

As a trainer and consultant who focuses on ways to relieve the pain of people in teams, by working with inspirational managers who want to improve the way they support team members, as well as equipping the team with tools to improve their work, I was very interested to learn more about this topic!

So what makes for an inspirational manager?

We all shared our own experiences of those managers that we remember to this day or, as Sue described, ‘have a following’.  Those that have inspired us:

  • Have vision
  • Can relate and communicate with everyone in their team
  • Empower individuals
  • Speak from the heart, with passion about what they are doing
  • Have integrity
  • Are happy to recruit people better than themselves
  • Focus on the career progression of the people in their teams

They are also, in the words of one of the delegates who is a school governor: “a critical friend”.  They will give honest, timely, constructive feedback, and are consistent in doing so.

technical competence is not a criterion for becoming a manager

We have all come across situations where people have been promoted to management roles as the only route to reward their technical competence, and that of course is not necessarily the right solution.

People forced into a management route will not necessarily have the passion or aptitude for it and may spend their time trying to find opportunities to still use their technical skills.

Enlightened organisations, and there were some in the room, have developed 2 branches for promotion, so that people can progress according to their preference and strength along a technical or a management route.

How to find and develop those inspirational managers

Sue described how one organisation she supports identifies their existing inspirational managers and asks them to act as talent scouts to spot potential new talent.  These people can then choose whether or not they would like to progress up a management or a technical chain and trains them accordingly for active succession planning.

Another delegate described how they use a buddy system for new managers to help them get up to speed more quickly and effectively.

There was a general consensus that some form of active management training is needed, rather than expecting managers to just learn on the job.

other key considerations for retention and motivation

The seminar was not just about inspirational managers, but about what can be done to retain staff.  Sue stressed that this is not about rules, processes or restrictions but about getting a number of things right.  Her list included:

  • Culture
  • Interesting work
  • Development
  • The mindset of leaders and managers (which brings us back to the earlier points on inspirational managers)
  • Making sure that people know what is expected of them
  • Having clear organisational goals
  • Pay
  • Benefits

We discussed examples of individuals writing their own objectives based on the organisational goals and relating to performance (things they need to do for the job) and also their own personal development.  In Sue’s experience people have also been asked to assess their own performance against their objectives.  I mentioned that this had hints of the situation at Morning Star described by Gary Hamel in the Harvard Business Review, which I wrote about in one of my other blogs: “Why is employee engagement such an important topic?”

We also discussed the importance of showing people that they are valued, and giving managers the scope and authority to show recognition.  Sue gave examples of giving someone a meal out with their partner, including making babysitting arrangements with a professional Nanny, or paying for a week-ends Italian lessons for someone who wanted to learn. As she pointed out, the cost of these kind of recognition packages are far less than the value delivered by an employee going beyond routine requirements, or indeed the cost of replacing someone and of the knowledge lost when they leave.

In the work that I do with teams, retention and motivation is also about creating an environment where people can thrive, where they have time to think and be creative as a result of being able to focus on the key priorities of their business.

managers need to be aware of generational differences in their staff

This is a fascinating area to explore.  I didn’t quite catch everything Sue was saying at this point, so some of the following notes are a bit improvised, but it was along the lines that those aged between 30 – 40 expect to be taught, are generally technology ‘savvy’, will be tolerant of their managers and are OK about change.

Those aged 30 years and under though are more likely to teach themselves, are technology ‘wise’, will work hard if they are interested, expect their managers to collaborate with them (because they are equal) and are likely to be more actively mobile.

So these considerations reinforce what we already know, that managers need to understand their staff and relate to them as individuals, in order to manage them well.

Concluding thoughts

We finished with some discussions in small groups.  Some of the thoughts that came out of these were:

  • In small organisations, when people go on holiday, it gives those left in charge the opportunity to develop. (We’d touched earlier on the importance of giving people challenges outside their comfort zones for the same reason.)
  • There seems to be an optimum ratio of 1 manager to 8-10 staff in order to be able to build rapport, engage with team members and generally manage them well
  • Managers can be blockers!
  • The importance of empowering staff to improve the way they work as they are the ones who will best understand the opportunities to do so.
  • In start-ups, HR should be a foundation stone, not an add on: people can be the biggest asset, as well as the biggest cost!

Were you at this seminar?  If so, and you’d like to add any material that I’ve missed, do feel free to do so as a comment.  Also, if you think I’ve misinterpreted anything that was said, do please set me right!


Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. Elisabeth has 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry where she has held line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and in Lean Sigma and is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals), and APM (Association for Project Management).

Elisabeth Goodman’s 2012 blogs in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for my blogs.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog (Recognising reactions to change, and responding to them) had 14,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 3 Film Festivals

These were the top viewed blogs:

  1. Recognising reactions to change, and responding to them  November 2011
  2. What can Lean and Six Sigma and Dilts’ Logical Levels of Change bring to effective change management? March 2012
  3. Why is employee engagement such an important topic?  March 2012
  4. Top Tips for Motivating Teams  January 2012
  5. Lean and Six Sigma in R&D and Service Delivery – opportunities and challenges  February 2011

Click here to see the complete report.

Banishing the Monday morning blues: Being Exceptional

Holidays are an excellent time to catch-up with my reading, so I have just had a very stimulating week reading Rob Yeung’s “E is for Exceptional”.  I’ve previously enjoyed Yeung’s books on networking, and emotional intelligence, and picked this one up at random, not really knowing what to expect.

It’s a gem!  Like his other books it’s extremely readable – with anecdotal illustrations from the many exceptional people that he has interviewed, backed up by references from the literature, exercises to start developing our own capabilities for being exceptional and summaries at the end of each chapter in case we missed anything.

I would strongly recommend everyone to read this book, but in the meantime, here’s my own interpretive summary.

(By the way, the key capabilities in this book are aimed at individuals, but many would apply to businesses or teams – so I’ll be writing the next issue of my company newsletter based on this too.  Look out for ‘Creating Exceptional Teams’ on http://riverrheeconsulting.wordpress.com)

Banishing the Monday morning blues (authenticity)

I’m always sad when I come across people who feel glum or worse at the start of the working week.  I’ve wondered if I’m naïve to think that people have a choice: that they could take the plunge and go for something different.

Rob Yeung backs me up: he calls this ‘authenticity’ and suggests that we should absolutely be true to ourselves and find work that is inspiring: what we enjoy most and are good at.  It’s what will help us feel fulfilled and, whilst doing it, put us ‘in the flow’ – where time just goes by without us noticing.  If we find and do what is authentic to us, Yeung maintains that the money will follow!

Being ‘authentic’ does not necessarily mean completely changing what we’re doing – it may be possible to craft a current job or role to bring it closer to what we enjoy doing the most.  This relates to other blogs that I’ve written about taking a self-employed attitude when working for an employer.  Fostering this may also lead to greater employee engagement and empowerment.

Having a vision

The idea of writing a business or team vision is well established – that of writing one for ourselves as individuals is less so.  Yeung makes a strong case for both developing and writing down our personal vision.

A vision acts as a framework for our ‘authenticity’.  It helps us create work-life balance so that we give enough time to all the things that are important to us: family, friends, physical health, social activities or anything else, as well as our work. It helps us enjoy the ‘here and now’ and avoid ‘destination fixation’.  And it puts our shorter term goals into a longer term context so that we can make sure we don’t get inappropriately side-tracked.

Up till now my personal vision has been very much in my head – but I’ll be writing it down, referring to it and refreshing it as Yeung suggests.  I’ve written my first draft.


I’m following a different order in describing these capabilities than the one in the book, because I believe that finding our area of ‘authenticity’, and then putting it within the context of a personal vision gives us the focus from which everything else can flow.  Daring is then all about taking action: pursuing opportunities that come our way even if they’re scary, but with the conviction that they’re the right thing to do – as I did in starting my own business!

Being daring is about doing things that we would otherwise regret not having done.  But it’s also about articulating these daring activities as individual goals, with specific measures (so we know when we’ve succeeded), timelines (to avoid procrastination), and a series of steps that we can follow one at a time and so maintain and build our motivation as each step succeeds.

I love Yeung’s suggestion of having a ‘setback manifesto’, so that we can constructively review what’s happened if things go wrong, identify actions to take to reduce the likelihood of reoccurrence, and know how to behave if something similar happens again!

All the ‘C’s

Yeung describes 5 other capabilities of exceptional people, which would seem to ‘feed’ and sustain our authenticity.

Curiosity or ‘awe’ enables us to develop our knowledge, pick up new ideas, be more creative.  In a work situation this is what enables us to ‘work smarter not harder’: solve problems more effectively and innovate.  Yeung encourages us to read widely – not only in our area of expertise, but across disciplines too.  Incidentally he challenges the group approach to brainstorming, saying it is less effective than individual brainstorming and suggesting a new (4-tier) model, which combines the two.  I will definitely be trying this different approach with teams.

Connecting with people to achieve diversity in our contacts, but with an emphasis on ‘netfriending’ rather than ‘networking’ so that we build relationships with the people that we get to know.  Yeung talks about ‘seeking the spark’ with people where connecting comes easily rather than forcing ourselves to try building relationships with everyone we meet.  He also reminds us that making connections with people can come through speaking at and running events or courses, writing, joining committees, going to conferences etc. not just attending pure networking events.  For those working within an organisation, connecting can come from going to lunch with people, joining task forces, or simply stopping by to say hello to colleagues.

Cherishing is about building that rapport with people; having the emotional intelligence to put ourselves in other people’s shoes; really listening to others and giving them space to express themselves.  Yeung also encourages us to look for the ‘3rd way’ in conflict situations in that both people could be right in their views, and the way forward could build on both views, rather than on only one or the other.

Centredness is also a form of emotional intelligence.  In this case it’s about developing our inner calm; cultivating more positive than negative inner thoughts; recognising that ‘thoughts are just thoughts’; and developing a mindfulness or focus on the here and now.  Yeung has some very helpful exercises on how we can help ourselves feel better about both short-term and more serious emotional setbacks.

Citizenship is all about integrity, being a responsible member of our community, and respecting the environment (sustainability).  It’s about focusing on our personal legacy and managing our reputation.  Without it, all the other efforts we might make at being exceptional could be wiped out!

Closing thoughts

“E is for Exceptional” has been an inspirational book.  There are lots of ideas that I have taken away for developing my own capabilities, and I’m looking forward to exploring how these ideas can be applied to ‘Creating Exceptional Teams’ in my RiverRhee Consulting newsletter.  Hopefully some of you will also pick up Rob Yeung’s book, and/or follow my newsletter.

I do hope that anyone suffering from Monday morning blues will discover a way to banish them forever, and will be daring enough to follow it through!

[Footnote.  It’s interesting to compare Rob Yeung’s “E is for Exceptional” with Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and “The 8th Habit – From Effectiveness to Greatness” – there is a strong overlap in the capabilities covered between them and I may re-read Covey’s books in that light on my next holiday!  I would also mention Michael Bungay Stanier’s “Do more great work” as another easy to read, exercise based approach for helping you to find your ‘authenticity’.  I wrote a blog some time ago (Building Strong Personal Careers)  inspired by “The 8th Habit” and “Do More Great Work” which readers might also find interesting.]


Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, enhancing team effectiveness through process improvement, knowledge and change management. Follow the links to find out about how Elisabeth Goodman and RiverRhee Consulting can help your team to work more effectively for greater productivity and improved team morale.

Read Elisabeth Goodman’s blog for more discussions on topics covered by this blog.

Why is employee engagement such an important topic?

By Elisabeth Goodman

My blog on employee engagement (Employee engagement – some interesting data and perspectives for Lean and Six Sigma practitioners) is, of all the blogs that I have written since 2009), the one that has attracted the most attention.  I wrote it in response to an article I read in the business section of the Sunday Observer1 – a very informative study that the Observer had commissioned, rich in case studies and data from FTSE 100 companies.  So why has this blog attracted so much attention?

Employee engagement is the key to organisational and team effectiveness

The Observer article caught my attention because employee engagement, or involvement is intrinsic to business process improvement through such techniques as Lean and Six Sigma.  If people are not engaged, they won’t be committed to the organisation’s goals, won’t be able to communicate those goals as part of building strong customer relations, and won’t be looking for ways to achieve those goals through efficient internal processes.

People also need to be engaged in order to achieve effective business change.  Participants in my Change Management courses sometimes find it a revelation to hear that resistance from those experiencing change is a good thing, something to be welcomed.  Resistance is an indication that people are actually beginning to engage with a change:  that they are considering what the impact will be on them, rather than oblivious to or ignoring it.

And without engagement, people will find it impossible to identify and share the learning and insights, which are essential to healthy and thriving teams and organisations if they are to learn from their mistakes and build on their successes.

As I wrote in the December 2011 version of my RiverRhee Newsletter, “The answer comes from within… with the help of others”, it’s only possible to have an effective team or organisation if people are engaged.  Employees have the key!

‘Empowerment’ and ‘Intrapreneurs’

One of the big themes in my life as a corporate employee was ‘empowerment’: encouraging employees to appreciate and act upon the idea that they had ‘the power’ to make decisions and carry them out without necessarily referring to their managers.

As someone who is now self-employed and runs my own business, the idea of acting otherwise makes no sense at all!  I work in teams in an associate relationship, and we collaborate in our decision-making and actions.  I meet a lot of entrepreneurs, and have often wondered what it would be like if people took an ‘intrapreneurial’ approach to working within organisations.  In a 2010 newsletter (‘Finding our voice’ – a route to greater employee engagement and empowerment?), I suggested that what might help people to do this is to take a more active perspective of their careers – so that they view their current job as one that they have chosen, and are in control of, rather than something that they are being subjected to (to put it a bit bluntly!).

What if there weren’t any managers?!

I really enjoyed reading the case study of Morning Star in the December 2011 edition of Harvard Business Review.2   Gary Hamel describes a leading food processor, with revenues of over $700 million and 400 full-time employees, which functions entirely around the principles of self-management.

At Morning Star, no-one has a manager, each employee negotiates responsibilities with their peers and is responsible for finding the tools that they need for their work, everyone can spend the company money, there are no job titles or promotions, and compensation is decided between peers. The only ‘boss’ is the overall mission of the company.

This model works at Morning Star because it combines an individuals’ responsibility (and freedom) for managing their work within the context of the overall mission, and collaboration between peers to define and review individual roles and expected performance.

The article goes into a lot more detail, but one of the many interesting aspects of this model is that engagement and empowerment are not issues at all in this kind of scenario.  As a result of this approach, every individual inevitably has to:

  1. Use their initiative
  2. Continuously develop their skills to enhance the quality of their work
  3. Display flexibility to respond to the changing environment of the organisation
  4. Work in a collegiate way to fulfill their role in relation to their peers
  5. Make decisions that directly affect their work

These are wonderful illustrations of process improvement / Lean and Six Sigma (1,2,4,5), Change Management (3), and Knowledge Management (2, 4) in practice.

Some final thoughts about thriving

I love my work, and welcome Monday mornings as the start of another week of new discoveries, opportunities to work with others and practice and develop my skills.  I meet many others running their own business that feel the same.  It sounds like the employees at Morning Star may also feel like this.

Another Harvard Business Review article3 suggests that giving employees a chance to learn and grow will help them and the organisation to thrive.  This time the managers are in charge again, but some of the themes re-occur:

  1. Providing employees with the discretion to make decisions directly affecting their work
  2. Ensuring that people have the information they need to understand how their work relates to the organisation’s mission and strategy
  3. Encouraging good (civil) behaviour – positive relationships
  4. Offering performance feedback

The authors suggest that these 4 mechanisms will foster vitality (or energy in individuals and in those with whom they interact), and learning (or growth from new knowledge and skills).


It seems that, unless people are running their own business or are self-managing themselves in an organisation such as Morning Star, employers need to study and support the mechanisms that will enable employee engagement and so help individuals and the organisation to thrive.  We’re obviously not there yet.

Why are you interested in employee engagement? It would be great to read your comments.


  1. Are more firms listening to their staff or are they just paying lip service? Observer, 22 August 2010, pp38-39
  2. Gary Hamel.  First, let’s fire all the managers. Harvard Business Review, December 2011, pp49-60
  3. Gretchen Spreitzer and Christine Porath.  Creating sustainable performance.  Harvard Business Review, January-February 2012, pp93-99

Elisabeth Goodmanis the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. Elisabeth has 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry where she has held line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and in Lean Sigma and is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals), and APM (Association for Project Management).

Top Tips for Motivating Teams

By Sue Parsons1

When times are tough, some teams sink into lethargy, feeling anxious about the future. Alternatively, the business may have been restructured or downsized, with the remaining team members feeling vulnerable for their own positions. Whatever the cause, it’s exactly at these times, that teams need to feel valued and motivated.

There are some simple things business owners and leaders can do to improve team motivation, and therefore business performance:

1. Create an atmosphere of trust

Trust enables people to admit to weaknesses and ask for help. Leaders can create this atmosphere by being open and honest with them, and not “punishing” weaknesses or mistakes.

Encourage team members to share with each other.

2. Involve the team in your planning

Talk to your team members about your business plans. Ask for their ideas, what they believe the key issues are, and how they can be solved.

This will also help build that atmosphere of trust.

3. Set clear realistic goals

The goals will come out of the planning. There will be goals for the team as a whole, but each team member should have their own set of objectives, which will feed into the team goal. Make sure the goals are “ SMART2 ”.

4. Get to know your team members as individuals

Spend time talking to each of your team members. Find out what’s important to them, both inside and outside work. Get to know their individual strengths, and their preferred way of working.

5. Recognise your team members individually

Having got to know your team members as individuals, use this knowledge. Everybody likes to be valued and recognised for their contribution. Give praise where it’s due.

6. Make sure each individual knows the part they play

Once goals have been agreed, then ensure progress is reviewed.

7. Seek feedback from team members

There are a number of ways of achieving this, during reviews with individuals, through regular team meetings, or on an ad hoc basis.

8. Concentrate on strengths

We all do better when we’re doing things we’re good at! You’ll get a better performance from a round pin in a round hole, rather than complaining that the square pin doesn’t fit!

9. Communicate, communicate, communicate!

Keep your team informed. Consider how you make sure your team knows what’s happening. A daily or weekly briefing is a good starting point. And the best communication is always two-way! So make sure there’s opportunity for the team to contribute.

10. Make time to have fun!!

A happy team is a motivated team! “Fun” means different things to different people, so it might be about friendly competition – meeting targets. Or it might be taking time out to have a chat about non-work stuff. It doesn’t necessarily mean going for a drink after work.


  1. Sue Parsons is owner and principal trainer at Vámonos Training & Development, a training organisation specialising in team and leadership development. Sue has over 25 years experience in retail in management and training roles, and wide experience in the third sector, as volunteer, trustee and paid member of staff. She is a qualified MBTI Step 1 practitioner, and an associate member of the CIPD.
  2. SMART  goals or objectives are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic / Relevant, Time bound
  3. Editor’s note: as Sue says, maintaining motivation is essential when times are tough, in times of change, and indeed throughout the life of a team.  Although motivation is not a main offering of my company, RiverRhee Consulting, it is one that comes into a lot of the work that we get involved in, in enhancing team effectiveness.  So it’s great to have the opportunity to host this blog from Sue on this theme alone.  Our latest RiverRhee Consulting Newsletter made several references to individual motivation and the role it plays in enhancing team performance, and a previous blog on employee engagement, may also be of interest to readers.

Employee engagement – some interesting data and perspectives for Lean and Six Sigma practitioners

Employee involvement is of course fundamental to the success of any business process improvement initiative: without the close involvement of those who are involved in an organisation’s process, it would be futile to try to identify opportunities for improvement, let alone to try to implement them.  So it was with some interest that I read the results, in this Sunday’s business management article in the Observer : “Are more firms listening to their staff or are they just paying lip service?” (22 August 2010, pp38-39) – commissioned research on how the FTSE 100 companies report on employee engagement, and of how they ranked the top 30.

The research on employee engagement and the findings

The full report carried out by Transparent Consulting, with assistance from Snap Surveys, Call Britannia and Tomorrow’s company is available from http://www.transparent-consulting.com/engagement-index/.  It evaluated the FTSE 100 companies’ annual reports up to June 2010, and compared them to the 2006 Companies Act requirements, which include the need for companies to report on their impacts on employees.

Amongst the report’s key findings are, that: “Companies and sectors which prioritise customer satisfaction are also the ones that seem to find it worthwhile to give attention to employee engagement.”  (Banks, insurers, utilities, telecoms and media were the highest-scoring sectors.)  Such organisations are thus addressing some aspects of the two key components for effective business process improvement: customer relationship management, and employee involvement.

The report’s detailed data make for an interesting review of the FTSE 100 companies.

Examples given of how companies engaged with their staff fell into the following categories:

  • Communication – 80% used company intranets or newsletters; 13% sent senior executives ‘back to the floor’ (e.g. Marks & Spencer, Tesco, J Sainsbury, Kingfisher); only 4% conducted exit interviews when employees left.
  • Employee surveys – nearly 70% conduct regular surveys, with 41% of the total conducting annual surveys, and some conducting quarterly ones (Lloyds Banking Group, British Airways, BT and J Sainsbury).

There are also other important aspects of employee engagement covered by the report such as diversity policies and Health and Safety practices.  Pharmaceutical companies: GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca are also mentioned in the report.

Case studies on employee engagement and customer satisfaction from BT, Sainsbury and Centrica

The following extracts from the Observer article’s description of the case studies in the report speak to aspects of employee engagement and customer relationship management that could support a business improvement culture:

  • In BT, each manager gets a report on their team’s collated responses to the employee engagement survey, and is expected to work with their team to address the results.
  • Sainsbury operates a process for collecting ideas from employees and putting suggestions into practice.  They also have a “daily huddle” where employees talk directly to managers, and senior managers / executives are expected to visit their stores on a weekly basis to talk to front-line staff.  Sainsbury also have an online “community” to collect employee feedback.  Finally, they also conduct monthly customer surveys.
  • Centrica ensures that clients’ opinions about their service are fed back to their employees.

Closing thoughts

As Simon Caulkin points out in his aptly titled accompanying commentary to the Observer article: “Britain’s companies can’t afford to continue wasting the human capacity in their grasp”, it’s time for companies and financial analysts to think beyond economic efficiency, and recognize that “in a knowledge-based economy it’s worker’s ideas and inventiveness that matter most.”

Companies’ focus on employee engagement and on the tools to facilitate and measure this engagement are important, but will only work if the people involved are: doing the jobs that they enjoy; supported in the skills that they need to do them effectively; ‘empowered’ (or have control over) how they do their jobs and can improve them; and have a belief (endorsed by their managers) that what they are doing is worthwhile.

Although neither article, nor the report mention this, a strong awareness of what is important to the success of the organisation, including up-to-date information on the needs and views of customers, are all key complements to effective employee engagement, and to the success of Lean and Six Sigma initiatives.


Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, enhancing team effectiveness through process improvement, knowledge and change management. Follow the links to find out about how Elisabeth Goodman and RiverRhee Consulting can help your team to work more effectively for greater productivity and improved team morale.

Read Elisabeth Goodman’s blog for more discussions on topics covered by this blog.