Why high performing organisations foster and champion staff engagement

While leaders in most organisations would agree that our employees are more valuable and important to our business than any other asset, not all leaders drive a culture that encourages, values and recognises genuine employee engagement.

So what is employee engagement?

Trish Kelly executive coach
Trish Kelly, executive coach

Put simply, employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organisation and its goals.Engaged employees are not just working to earn money: they are actually motivated to do a good job and they connect with the organisation and its purpose.

Employee engagement occurs in workplaces where the culture is based on trust, is open, inclusive and transparent and employees have a clear understanding of the organisation’s vision, goals and targets. They feel motivated and connected to and valued by the organisation, they want to contribute to the organisation’s success and they are encouraged and feel empowered to provide their ideas and views to drive continuous improvement and innovation.

There are a number of benefits to the organisation from a highly engaged workforce.

Engaged employees are more likely to have high job satisfaction levels and have a high level of commitment and loyalty to the organisation. This in turn is likely to result in fewer staff grievances and less lost time to sick leave and workers compensation. It is also likely to lead to higher staff retention rates, and retaining high performing staff is a key success factor for most organisations. In addition, organisations that have a culture and reputation for staff engagement are more likely to attract high quality candidates when recruiting for new staff.

Staff productivity is essential in any organisation. Engaged employees are motivated to deliver results in the most effective and efficient way and, when the chips are down, they are committed to rolling their sleeves up and going the extra mile to deliver.

Successful organisations continue to grow and evolve. If they are great, they strive to become even greater. Among other things, these organisations foster continuous improvement and innovation. One of the best ways to generate improvements and innovation is to get input from the employees who do the actual work. They can often see problems and identify ways to improve business practices that are invisible to the leaders of an organisation. In addition, when employees see that their ideas and suggestions are listened to and implemented, where appropriate, they will become even more engaged and the organisation becomes more successful, a great win/win outcome.

Engaged employees are enthusiastic, want to do a good job and take pride in it. In jobs that have a customer focus this means that the employee will do everything in their power to deliver a high quality service to their customers which is yet another win/win experience for the customer and the organisation.

What are you doing to drive and foster staff engagement in your organisation?

Contributor: Our current featured member, Trish Kelly, is an experienced leader, change manager and facilitator with over 30 years’ experience in the public sector, working in very large organisations in both regional and central office roles.

Through her experience as the General Manager Human Resources for 8 years in the NSW Department of Education and Communities, the largest organisation in the southern hemisphere, Trish is well equipped to work with executives, aspiring leaders and others to support and guide them to achieve their goals and to maximise their performance and impact.

How executive coaching can benefit employees

Executive coaching can assist individuals in the performance of their current role, in identifying and pursuing their career aspirations and can assist them to improve their professional relationships.

Trish Kelly executive coach
Trish Kelly, executive coach

For executive coaching to be successful there are some essential foundational elements from the individual’s perspective that need to be in place. The first is that the individual needs to be open to taking part in the coaching experience to learn and grow. Another essential aspect is that there needs to be the right “chemistry” between coach and coachee.  In other words the coachee needs to feel comfortable enough with their coach to be able to open up and discuss and pursue their issues and goals in a frank and honest way.

The following case study shows how coaching assisted an individual to navigate issues they were dealing with in their role.

Peter* was unhappy in his role and felt unsupported by his supervisor.

During the coaching sessions, Peter was able to unpack the situation. He began to more clearly articulate the different issues that were occurring and intersecting to make him feel unhappy and unsupported. This included some critical self-reflection and a new awareness and deeper understanding of how his own workplace communication and attitude was perceived by his supervisor. He realised this was a significant contributor to the situation.

As a result of focussed self-reflection, Peter was able to explore different options for addressing each of the issues he had identified and, most importantly, develop and prioritise an action plan to move forward with these options, including how he would modify his communication and interpersonal style with his supervisor.

Over a 6 month period, Peter progressively put his action plan in place. At each coaching session, he was able to reflect on the effectiveness of these strategies as he tried them our and openly discuss those that had worked and, equally, reflect on any that had not been as effective as hoped. In this way, he was able to keep moving forward with his plan.

In this particular situation, at the end of the 6 month period, Peter had a much more open and positive relationship with his supervisor and, as a result, had been able to develop and agree on a work plan and professional development plan for the next 12 months that provided clear direct and accountability and opportunities for further growth and development. This is turn led him to being happier in his role.

One of the key reasons for the success of this coaching assignment was Peter’s willingness to openly participate in the coaching process and to identify issues and develop solutions he owned and felt comfortable implementing.

Contributor: Our current featured member, Trish Kelly, is an experienced leader, change manager and facilitator with over 30 years’ experience in the public sector, working in very large organisations in both regional and central office roles.

Through her experience as the General Manager Human Resources for 8 years in the NSW Department of Education and Communities, the largest organisation in the southern hemisphere, Trish is well equipped to work with executives, aspiring leaders and others to support and guide them to achieve their goals and to maximise their performance and impact.

* ‘Peter’ is a blend of several clients.

Why executive coaching can add to your organisation’s bottom line

Trish Kelly executive coach
Trish Kelly, executive coach

Your staff are the most important resource for achieving your strategic directions and delivering results. Successful organisations have motivated, engaged and high performing staff and low staff turnover.

At the same time, employee related costs are one of the highest line items in the budget – if not the highest. That’s why it’s in your organisation’s interests to invest in strategies that grow staff capability and enhance staff engagement and retention.

While some managers may argue that coaching is an expensive strategy, the contrary is true. Because it is focussed on the coachee’s needs, and can quickly and flexibly assist them to discover how to address those needs, there is no “down time” in coaching sessions. Instead, the coachee can return to the workplace to implement the solutions they have developed. It is therefore a very cost-effective development strategy for the individual, and provides significant benefits to the organisation.

Coaching, when done well, is a powerful strategy which provides a safe and conducive space for personal reflection, growth and development. It engages the coachee in identifying the specific goals and issues they want to address. It empowers the coachee to take responsibility for their development and

  • assists them to identify and reflect on their goals,
  • allows them to identify their own learning needs and
  • builds their personal awareness of how they are perceived by others.

Coaching is also a highly effective professional development strategy because it is client-centric. The coachee works with the coach to discover and develop ideas and solutions to achieve their personal goals and address their personal issues. This encourages innovation: rather than a “text book” response to an issue, the coachee works with the coach to develop an individual intervention that is going to work for them in their particular context. This creates a sense of ownership, confidence and buy in from the coachee. They are therefore more likely to follow through on implementing their ideas and solutions.

Benefits to the broader organisation from coaching include:

  • improved relationships
  • fewer grievances
  • improved team work and productivity
  • improved quality of work and
  • improved staff engagement, job satisfaction and staff retention.

Many capability development strategies can assist with the identification of goals and how to make progress towards achieving them. The power of coaching is that it helps the coachee to become more personally aware of their possible blind spots, particularly those relating to their behaviour in the workplace and the impact this has on others. Their growing self-awareness frequently leads to the coachee having a “light globe” moment and identifying ways to make a fundamental shift in their approach to their work and the way they relate to others.

So in determining the best way to use the organisation’s capability development budget, executive coaching is definitely a cost-effective and results-driven strategy to include in the mix.

Contributor: Our current featured member, Trish Kelly, is an experienced leader, change manager and facilitator with over 30 years’ experience in the public sector, working in very large organisations in both regional and central office roles.

Through her experience as the General Manager Human Resources for 8 years in the NSW Department of Education and Communities, the largest organisation in the southern hemisphere, Trish is well equipped to work with executives, aspiring leaders and others to support and guide them to achieve their goals and to maximise their performance and impact.

You don’t have to be a yes-person …

… but you don’t have to be a naysayer.

What do you do when a manager suggests a project that you have reservations about?

As we’ve discussed in an earlier post, it’s important for managers to create a culture where their reports don’t feel that they have to be yes-people. When you are the report, it’s also important not to be a yes-person, both for the organisation’s success and for your own feeling of self-worth.

Recently, though, we were discussing with a colleague the importance of using judgement in this situation. Sometimes, in avoiding being a yes-person, it’s easy to fall into the trap of becoming a naysayer. Have a look at the differences in attitude that these responses suggest, and the likely reception you will get from your manager:

Yes-person Naysayer What about …
Yes! What’s the point of this? I’d like a better understanding of the business imperatives for this project.
 Yes! I don’t have time for this. Can we look at resourcing to ensure we meet these timeframes?
Yes! Senior management won’t like this. I have some suggestions for issues you’re likely to encounter in getting management approval.
Yes! I don’t know how to do this. Can you work with me to coach me through this?
Yes! That’s not how we do things here. I think you are likely to encounter some resistance from our accounting and risk departments because historically we have taken another approach to this, which I can give you more information on if you’d like.


Our colleague had recently been leading a project with some very resistant team members. It was difficult to give their concerns full weight, because of the negative way in which they expressed these concerns. She didn’t want or expect yes-people, but the nay-saying was both unhelpful and uninformative. Even when the proposal was to take on additional team members to help with the workload, she was met with the response, “A new team member will just make more work for me”.

Executive Coach Exchange team feedback
Can you recast negative feedback to be more useful and informative?

With responses more like those in the third column – and note, these are not all positive responses – our colleague would have been better placed to address the concerns and make the project work for the team members as well as for senior management.

Our colleague remembered an occasion when she was just starting out, when she was surprised to hear a senior manager strongly recommending someone for a challenging role, despite explicitly recognising that the candidate wasn’t qualified: “She doesn’t have the skills or experience for the job,” he said, “but she’s an energy-giver not an energy-taker, and she’ll bring enthusiasm to the team.”

Our colleague said that after her recent experience, while still not sharing the view that enthusiasm trumps ability, she could understand how a manager could reach the point of wanting to be surrounded by positivity.

When you need to raise concerns or give feedback to management, it’s worthwhile thinking about the result you want to achieve.  You can be honest and forthright without being negative. When you are purely negative, without any suggestions for overcoming the issue, it can be tempting for management to disregard your opinions. If you are prepared to put the time and thought into answers more like those in the third column, this can benefit everyone involved, including the organisation as a whole.

An executive coach can help junior managers reframe their feedback to achieve a more positive outcome, and can help senior managers create a culture where staff feel more able to express their concerns in an informative and helpful way.

Leadership series – Phil Cox

This week we continue our leadership series with an interview with Phil Cox. Phil currently holds Directorships at the Hunter Valley Training Company, the Lake Macquarie Foundation and the Honeysuckle Community Group. Prior to this, Phil was the Director of Hunter TAFE, where he used staff development to achieve significant cultural change in his organisation. We asked Phil to talk to us about this.

Phil Cox – achieving cultural change through leadership development

Executive Coach Exchange Phil Cox
Phil Cox

Phil told us that when he was appointed as Institute Director (a position equivalent to CEO at an institution with around 60,000 enrolments), he found a workplace culture which suited the previous incumbent but did not suit his personal leadership style. He found the culture rather hierarchical, where successors were identified more on their seniority than through a structured succession plan. He also found senior people in roles that he felt they were not best suited to, so he commenced the change process using restructuring. While some people chose to move on, others found a new and more appropriate role within the organisation.

Phil’s next step was to create a Developing Leaders Program, with the focus placed firmly on emerging leaders, rather than the existing leadership team. A consultant was brought in to help develop the program and to collect extensive data on the participants. Phil emphasised that the support and involvement of the Deputy Institute Director was integral to the ongoing success of the program.

It was a full-year program, run over 5 years, with up to 45 participants a year. While some program elements will sound familiar, others will not:

  1. The program commenced with a process of research, assessment of current leadership culture and staff consultation to identify 10 leadership effectiveness behaviours.
  2. The program was open to everyone. All staff were encouraged to apply, whether they were permanent or temporary, full-time or part-time; and from all levels of the organisation.
  3. Phil launched the program personally, using emails, podcasts and visits to most of the 15 campuses to promote it.
  4. Applications were assessed against the 10-point behaviour plan, which ensured the focus was on potential rather than past achievement.
  5. Despite his demanding role, Phil personally interviewed all short listed applicants and devoted 3 days, 3 times a year to the program. He was involved in both the initial interview and in robust follow-up discussions on the participants’ development plans, ideas and innovation.
  6. Tools including the Birkman Method and Leadership Effectiveness Analysis 360 degree evaluations were used, and repeated during the year to assess progress.
  7. Development Action Plans were established for each participant in consultation with the consultant. All participants discussed these Action Plans withthe Executive Strategy Group – comprising the CEO, the CEO of a partner institution and a member of the Institute’s Advisory Committee, ensuring an external focus on the interests of clients.
  8. The consultant was available as a ‘help line’ for participants and discussed emerging issues with Phil regularly. The consultant also provided 1:1 coaching to all participants.
  9. Participants were given projects to undertake which allowed them to experience new roles and experiment with new ideas.
  10. Participants were also given opportunities to act in other positions, based on their career Action Plans rather than on seniority, and were supported in these roles.

Clearly, this was a program designed to implement major cultural change, with the CEO at the centre of the experience.

We asked about the outcomes. Phil said that the majority of the participants are now in leadership roles, either within the organisation or elsewhere. People who wanted a career change were encouraged to try new roles. Phil gave the examples of a part-time security guard who now works in a specialist support role; and two IT technical specialists, one of whom moved into marketing and the other into a faculty leadership role in Tourism and Hospitality.

The participants were highly motivated and were empowered to become change agents. Phil said he saw positive changes every week, as the desired new behaviours were increasingly adopted throughout the Institute.

The final benefit was for Phil, himself. Phil told us he found the enthusiasm of the participants infectious. For Phil, the program was exciting and motivating and it was very clear that this Leadership Program was one of the most rewarding aspects of his work at Hunter TAFE.

What messages are you sending when you refuse to delegate?

Recently I met up with a senior colleague who is a truly exceptional manager: great at leading, great at delegating and outstanding at bringing out the best in their staff.

Speaking with someone with such highly developed skills reminded me of the importance of delegating well. You can see that this is an issue we have written about frequently before, including in our series on effective delegation.

Executive Coach Exchange delegate
Are you prepared to take the time to delegate effectively?

Our discussion came around to the messages you are sending when you don’t delegate. The first is that you simply don’t trust your staff to do their jobs.

My colleague gave the interesting example of a second level manager intervening unnecessarily between their direct report – the first level manager – and the first level manager’s own team. When senior managers do this, they tell both the first level manager and the team that they don’t trust the first level manager to do the job well. What a terrible message to send!

The second message you send by not delegating, is that you don’t think your staff are worth the investment of your time. To delegate effectively means supporting people as they learn to do their jobs, helping them grow as technical staff, managers and leaders. This takes time – delegating isn’t only about lightening your own workload. You need to dedicate the time, and be prepared for the fact that, in the early stages, delegating will actually slow down workflow and increase your workload. The payoff comes later in the form of a skilled, motivated team.

As well as sending messages about your staff, you also send messages about yourself. When you do the work of the people who report to you, you are saying that you can’t manage them and their performance effectively. If you are in a management role, you need to be a manager.

The fourth message you send about yourself is potentially the most destructive to your career. You are saying that you are not comfortable working at your own level but only at the level of your reports.

If you send this message, your own manager has every right to wonder why you have been promoted to management when you are not working at that level.

An executive coach can help you work on strategies for good delegation. In the meantime, you will find some suggestions to explore in our posts on scaffolding and helping your team rise to the challenge.

Controlling your emotions during difficult conversations

Imagine that you are about to have a difficult conversation in the workplace. For the sake of this discussion, let’s imagine it’s someone who reports to you and who has annoyed you by their behaviour or actions. The specifics don’t matter.

Marg Lennon, Executive Coach
Marg Lennon, Executive Coach

Something to guard against is this. When you talk to them about what they have done you may find your emotions get the better of you. You will want to avoid this and focus on achieving the outcome you desire. How can you achieve this?

The first and most obvious point is to apply the Boy Scout motto: Be prepared. Certainly you will want to be clear about what has occurred to upset you and why. But beyond that you can try to anticipate the responses that you may receive from the other person.

Secondly, think about the sorts of reactions that you may have unconsciously inside yourself. You may find yourself getting defensive and fearful. This is natural. However, the better you have prepared, the less likely it is that these emotions will overwhelm you.

Now let’s remedy this situation with a good dose of curiosity. Think about what caused their behaviour or action, because you can be sure that they feel self-justified. In fact, you can be confident that they see their own actions and behaviour as proper and correct.

Don’t judge too quickly, don’t blame, rather listen to them.

Of course, this is not in any sense to diminish the need to achieve the outcome you want. After all, this person reports to you and you are supposed to be in charge.

However, this approach should allow you a stronger sense of control so that your emotions don’t impede your ability to achieve your objective.

This way, both parties can walk away feeling OK about the outcome.

Contributor: Our current featured member, Marg Lennon, is an executive coach who provides coaching, mentoring and leadership development consultancy services to clients across a variety of industries, including Health, Financial Services, Insurance, Pharmaceutical, Mining, Telecommunications, Education, Architecture, Medical Devices and Public Relations. Marg’s measured approach and insight coupled with her innate ability to build rapport readily enable her to help others minimise risks, operate more strategically and gain critical perspectives to make significant positive changes.

What to do when you don’t get along with your boss or a team member

Marg Lennon, Executive Coach
Marg Lennon, Executive Coach

Often, although we judge ourselves by our intentions, we judge others by their actions. How can we slow down enough to try and understand the intention behind other people’s actions, particularly when they upset or annoy us?

Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnson, in their book “Simple Habits for Complex Times”, encourage us to take multiple perspectives and to remember that, whatever others do, they tend to do it because they think it’s the right thing to do. They ask us to remember that, in real life, each of us is the hero in our own story. No matter how challenging or difficult someone else’s behaviour may seem to us, the odds are quite good that they might see their behaviour as perfectly reasonable, even heroic.

If we can accept this view, then it might cause us to ask ourselves about their motivations and the rationale for their behaviour. We might ask, “What might be going on for them that I didn’t know about?” or “How am I making sense of this?” and even, “Could I possibly be wrong?” By constructing a number of potential stories to help widen our perspective, we may find we improve our problem-solving ability and our relationships.

Contributor: Our current featured member, Marg Lennon, is an executive coach who provides coaching, mentoring and leadership development consultancy services to clients across a variety of industries, including Health, Financial Services, Insurance, Pharmaceutical, Mining, Telecommunications, Education, Architecture, Medical Devices and Public Relations. Marg’s measured approach and insight coupled with her innate ability to build rapport readily enable her to help others minimise risks, operate more strategically and gain critical perspectives to make significant positive changes.

Uluru statement from the heart

This week we are stepping aside from our usual themes to ask you to read, and support, the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Executive Coach Exchange Uluru Statement from the HeartThe Statement asks us to walk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples “in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.”

We support the Statement wholeheartedly and consider that its importance for leadership and transformation, in the broader sense, cannot be overstated. You can support the Statement here, and here, by sharing it from here, and by contacting your Member of Parliament.

Catherine Burrows & Elizabeth Burrows
Founding Partners
Executive Coach Exchange

Workplace bullying – interview with Philip Carroll – part 2

Last week we interviewed Philip Carroll about workplace bullying. He talked about what it is – and isn’t

This week, Philip shares his insights on preventing workplace bullying.

Executive Coach Exchange bullying
St George & the Dragon, Bernt Notke, Storkyrkan, Stockholm. Photo: C Burrows

To begin, Philip said, the leader needs to model the behaviour he or she wants to see and then require every single person in the workplace – not just the managers – to model the same behaviour. Fundamentally, he told us, it’s an issue of respect.

A leader must create a good culture within their organisation and follow through on that culture, irrespective of the size of the organisation. Philip says that you can’t assume workplace bullying won’t happen, even in small organisations, because it happens in real life.

Philip believes that organisations of every size can and should address the issue of bullying, though this would be done in different ways. The essence is for the leader to create, model and promote good cultural values.

The next thing to do is to recruit to that culture. Philip noted in last week’s interview how much bullying can cost an organisation. It has also been found that, “A mistake in the recruitment process that leads to an early employee resignation or dismissal can cost an employer between half and two-thirds of the employee’s annual salary.” This means that an organisation needs to set their culture and ensure their recruitment process is robust enough to allow them to appoint people who will support and promote that culture.

Once you have done this, he says, you need to manage to the culture. A leader can do this by:

  • Developing a behavioural standards framework;
  • Communicating that framework to all the employees;
  • Demonstrating that the leader knows the framework applies equally to them;
  • Ensuring new staff are made aware of the organisation’s behavioural standards framework;
  • Making the behavioural standards framework part of the contract of employment; and
  • Embedding the behavioural standards framework as part of every employee’s day-to-day workplace experience.

Philip says the next step is early intervention. Leaders and their managers should watch out for warning signs, such as general behaviours which are not aligned to the cultural values of the organisation; or poor behaviour in stressful situations. Philip says you should act early without over-reacting. “I’m a big believer in early, appropriate and proportionate intervention.” He notes that this doesn’t have to be a manager; a peer who sees things starting to go wrong can simply ask, “Are you OK?”

However, despite everyone’s best efforts, workplace bullying may still occur. We asked Philip what people should do.

He told us it’s essential for every workplace to have a procedure for managing workplace bullying. For a small organisation, it might be a very simple document while for a large corporation, it could be a set of workplace policies and procedures. The important thing here is that it is fit for purpose. If someone is subject to or aware of bullying, these procedures should be the first things they refer to, in order to find out what to do and who to go to. They should form part of the behavioural standards framework.

The next step, he believes, is to seek advice from an appropriate source and this kind of information should be in the procedure. Philip says places people can look to for advice might include:

  • A designated complaints handler within the organisation;
  • A respected, experienced colleague;
  • A union representative;
  • A member of the organisation’s human resources staff; or
  • An external expert.

People then need to make a careful and informed decision about what to do based on that advice, because the next step is often a formal investigation.

Philip believes workplace bullying is a high enough order issue to form an integral part of an employment relationship, so that a breach of the relationship may lead to dismissal.

He believes that, fundamentally, the key to addressing workplace bullying is to prevent it in the first place and the link here is to leadership. A leader who sets the right cultural values and follows through with these is far more likely to act swiftly and appropriately when bullying does happen and to lead a harmonious workplace where bullying scarcely, if ever, occurs.

Philip spoke to Catherine Burrows, a Sydney-based executive coach and our current featured member.