Matt Manners
Written by
Matt Manners

This interview can also be found in our eBook Creating the best workplaces: Insights from global #EmployeeEngagement Influencers which features 25+ interviews and much more. Download now.

Following yesterday’s publication of the completed inaugural #Engagement101 list, we sat down with #Engagement101 fellow Lewis Garrad – Employee Engagement & Research at Mercer-Sirota.  

EZ: What does employee engagement mean to you?

LEWIS: Most of the time we talk about employee engagement as the energy and commitment that someone brings to work with them every day. However, in reality, Engagement is whatever you are measuring it as. If you use a survey to measure it, then most of the time it is the extent to which people say they are proud, motivated and committed to staying with their employer.

EZ: What are your three tips for companies looking to drive engagement in their organisations?

LEWIS: First, focus on core employee needs. Everyone has 3 key things they want from work – to achieve something meaningful, to have camaraderie with others (feeling a sense of belonging) and to be fairly and respectfully treated. Meeting these needs is vital.

Next, promote the right people into management positions and use good talent data to identify the best people managers. Don’t rely on the instinct of subjective judgements.

Last, give and get better feedback – effective two-way dialogue requires leadership to genuinely care about what people think. Likewise, giving good feedback is about improving employee self-awareness. If leaders can do both of these things, then they will see better results.

EZ: What do you feel are the biggest pitfalls that companies should look to avoid when executing their engagement strategy?

LEWIS: There are 5 main ones which you can read about here, but the biggest one in my view is thinking of engagement as an end in itself. Employee Engagement should always be in service of higher levels of organization performance. It’s not a score to chase.

EZ: Why do employees fail to buy in when companies try to ramp up engagement?

LEWIS: Because companies do it badly and focus on the wrong things. I see many organizations pursuing ineffective engagement strategies focused on superficial activities to improve employee “happiness”. This is foolish. People are engaged when they see the company making real efforts to make work better – through improving leadership (mostly by eliminating toxic leaders), improving efficiency, and enhancing learning opportunities.

EZ: What skills are most useful for everyone to have when trying to move towards a culture of engagement?

LEWIS: The most important thing is self-awareness. I’m not sure if it’s a skill but, as an attribute, it’s extremely desirable. The best way I can think to build self-awareness is to get better feedback. This means asking the right questions and to genuinely listen to what people think. Maybe those last two things are the skills you can develop!

EZ: You’re a judge for the Employee Engagement awards. What will you be looking for in the entries?

LEWIS: I’ll be looking for organizations that really moved the needle by creating better jobs, a more productive culture and better managers. I’ll also be interested to see companies that took a broader perspective, potentially looking at the impact on employee health and wellbeing.

EZ: How important do you think it is to connect Employee Engagement to Customer Engagement and why?

LEWIS: Very. In fact, I think that unless employee engagement is having a direct impact on your customer experience then you shouldn’t be doing it. At the end of the day, organizations should exist to make their customers lives better. In his recent letter to shareholders, Jeff Bezos at Amazon talks about “Customer Obsession” – I think this is what real employee engagement should be in service of.

EZ: What’s the best EE idea you’ve seen a company roll out/attempt and wish you’d had that idea yourself?

LEWIS: Lean startup – which is where employees work in quick cycles to experiment with new ideas, often directly working with customers. It takes a user-centric point of view about new product development. To me, this sort of working is impactful for both the business and the employees. It is meaningful (because it’s focused on experimentation and new ideas) and creative. We learnt this from a very engaged client and we’ve used this method at Sirota.

EZ: What’s the worst and glad that you didn’t?

LEWIS: Fruit bowls in the office. They go bad too quickly.

EZ: Since you entered the world of work, what’s the best experience you’ve had?

LEWIS: Well, for me the “best” experience I’ve had is the one that caused me to learn the most. I think starting the Sirota business in Asia and helping it grow was probably the best for that. I had to build a brand and a team from scratch – I wasn’t even 30 at the time. It was very tough but taught me a lot. I have people on my team now who have been with me from early on in that process. They are very important to me.

EZ: What’s the worst?

LEWIS: Presenting to the CEO of a very large company who just wasn’t interest in the views of his employees. He was obstinate and unconstructive in how he responded to employee feedback. I remember it was relatively early on in my career and I felt so disappointed. I think I’ve come to realise that perhaps it’s not that uncommon.

EZ: If you could only roll out only one programme, which of the following would you choose and why? Wellbeing, Leadership Development or Recognition.

LEWIS: Leadership development – but done well. Not the usual nonsense that most leaders get put through. If you want to read a good book about why leadership development isn’t working then I highly recommend “Leadership BS” by Jeffery Pfeffer. A very good read.

EZ: Which person (dead or alive) would you love to be able to come in and speak to your workforce/colleagues?

LEWIS: David Ogilvy or Oscar Wilde. Both witty realists.

EZ: Favourite song to crank up after a tough day at work?

LEWIS: “Bring it on down” by Oasis.

EZ: Best place in the world you have visited?

LEWIS: For cities, New York and Hong Kong. For everything else, South Island of New Zealand (where my much better half is from).

EZ: The place you’d most like to visit?

LEWIS: Yangon and Buenos Aires

EZ: Thank you, Lewis!

NOTE: Entries for the UK & European and ANZ  Employee Engagement Awards are now open. For your chance to be recognised as a great place to work, click the link here.

Read more insightful interviews on The Employee Engagement Zone.

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