During your time in business, what employee engagement story sticks in your mind most?
Understanding people’s strengths is really important, irrespective of how close a relationship you might have with them.
An example of this is spending time to know successes throughout teams and recognising them, irrespective of whether you’ve had a direct involvement, or indeed contact with that individual.
Another example is prompting someone to come out of their comfort zone because of their positive work which they would have otherwise just seen as normal. Having done this in the past, I have seen people grow in confidence, succeed in their career and take paths they thought weren’t possible… and develop into fantastic individuals delivering value to their roles, businesses and colleagues.
How do you like to show recognition of people’s strengths or positive work?
I tend to make it quite clear and thank people, whether that be in public, in a group environment, or individually. Some people take it for granted – I don’t; I constantly thank people, and it makes a real difference.
If somebody does something exceptionally well, we also tend to buy something for them, like a bottle of wine or a bouquet of flowers if they’ve gone above and beyond. But I always tend to thank people personally.
And how do you encourage recognition between your teams/colleagues – is there a lot of that going on?
Yeah, there’s loads of recognition that goes on – everyone uses the Friday Thanks feature on their Wotter app, and we also have a Monday morning huddle where the whole business gets together for 20 minutes to go through some points ahead of the week.
I make a point of reading out all the Thank Yous employees have sent to each other at the Monday huddle, and I give everybody an opportunity to thank each other in person.
Having worked in vastly different company styles in the past – some more traditional, others more contemporary – how would you describe the merits of each approach in terms of employee engagement?
Employee engagement is all about building relationships, listening to people and empowering them. Strong relationships build trust and belief in a business and between colleagues, and so follows positive engagement.
Irrespective of the size and culture of a business, I have always put relationships at the heart of what I do, with that follows positive engagement.
And when you are leading a larger team – say of 100 versus 10 – how do you form those strong relationships with your employees, and encourage them to bond with each other?
So making sure that those relationships are forming across lots of people – I think it’s about being clear about what your values are as a business and the behaviours you expect.
If you’ve got 100 people, it’s difficult to individually impact every single one of them personally in terms of speaking to each of them, but here at Fiscal, whilst there are some technical expertise people need, we recruit heavily on strengths and behaviours so all of our employees naturally fit into the team. And we’re clear from day 1 what our values and our expectations are in terms of behaviours, so we start off on the right foot and encourage the right things.
It’s also leading by example – if you exhibit and live the values and behaviours you expect from others, you’ll have an impact on them. If I have a management chain of 10 people who’re each looking after another 10 (so that’s 100 total), the example you set filters through.
You can’t put things in writing about how you want people to behave, it just doesn’t work – and I’ve seen that. It usually drives the wrong behaviour. So we just lead by example with the values and cultures of the company, and we remind people of those regularly.
How do you go about that?
We have a quarterly update, and, whether the update is on performance, the business, the financials – we always open up with what our values are and what we expect of people.
There’s a lot of studies showing that people only hear things for the first time after you’ve told them 7 times, so it’s important to keep reminding people.
What would you say inspires your personal management style – and what does that look like?
I get inspiration from seeing people thrive. I get a lot of comments about how I relate a lot to others – so I’ll listen, understand, and get feedback. I always tell people that I’m not the only person with ideas or the only person making decisions – if anything I’m the least important decision-maker, because you all have to be on board with what we’re doing, so you probably know better.
And like I said before, leading is about showing people what the boundaries are. I use this comment quite a lot: if my expectation is for someone to do 10 pieces of work a week, I don’t care if they do it in 1 hour, or in Timbuktu, as long as they know that the work needs to be done to a certain standard, I don’t care.
I think that’s giving people empowerment, and they’ve got the boundaries to work within that’ll make them enjoy not only their work but also coming to work for the company – both of those things are equally important.
When someone comes to you with a problem, how do you find a solution?
If there’s a problem and other people could see a way things could be done better, I tell them to think about it, get to understand it, and think about what the solution could be – and it is a collaboration, it’s not a yes or a no. I might have a different view on it, and equally if I see a problem that needs to be fixed I’ll have my thoughts, but I’ll go to the team and say ‘What do you think we should do here? I’ll give you my view on it, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right or that’s the direction we’re gonna go, just my thoughts on it.’
If you’re trying to change something, and you just unilaterally change it and put it upon people, you’ll get a demographic of people who’ll just push against it, and humans don’t really like change, do they? The approach I take is that if people are part of the decision, they have a say, and they can see the part they’re playing in it, they’ll see the benefit of it.
What’s something you wish people would realise about employee engagement?
I think the positive impact it can have on employees themselves.
A lot of people can be suspicious of management taking a new approach, thinking ‘Why are you all of a sudden doing this, why are you interested in employee engagement?’, but it’s not the management team trying to find a way in, I think it’s the management team trying to empower employees.
When you’re using Wotter, you see a range of anonymous comments from employees – some positive, some negative. How do you take a negative comment and turn it into something positive?
I think the way we use Wotter shows people that we’re listening, even if the comment isn’t something we necessarily agree with. And whilst negative stuff (or stuff we don’t really want to read/hear) is in there, it gives people the opportunity to say what they want to say.
And we do like to encourage constructive feedback, whether it’s negative or not. I’m not against negative comments, there’s just situations where somebody might not be happy because they think they’re not being paid enough, or they think they’re being worked too hard, and they express it by saying something else – if these things are the underlying issue, we want people to communicate that so we can have a conversation about it.
And when you feel that an employee is expressing their underlying frustrations in a roundabout way via Wotter’s anonymous comments, how do you communicate with your team in response to that?
I’d have a look at the comments and see if there’s something there, and address that.
If the issue is pay, we can use market comparables to show our team that they’re being paid above the market average – we’ll always try to address the negative by giving context. At work, you’re in a bubble, and you’re not always aware of what’s going on around, so I put what I perceive is being said by putting it into context.
Can you describe a time at work when you’d have done something differently, and why that is?
Encouraging an underperforming but engaged team member. Whilst it was helpful for the underperforming individual it had a detrimental effect on the team. Whilst engagement and encouraging people is a given, it’s also important to understand the wider impact. If I had my time again, I would have taken a different approach and encouraged the team to help their colleague with actionable feedback.