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.

Continuing our series of interviewing #Engagement101 Influencers from around the world, today, we at The Engagement Zone sat down with Ruth Dance, Managing Director of The Employee Engagement Alliance

EZ: Good Morning Ruth. What does employee engagement mean to you?

RD: Employee engagement is about how we feel: on our commute to work, in work, thinking or talking about work or any work related activity. And how we feel affects the results we produce. Employee engagement isn’t the latest buzz-word, it’s dealing with people’s hearts and minds every day.

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

  1. Use employee voice – engagement should never be a HR or ‘Management’ initiative
  2. Lead from the top – never underestimate the impact of a ‘leadership shadow’ in your organisation
  3. Be tenacious – don’t give up.
  4. Make it fun! (Ok I cheated, that’s 4)

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

RD: ‘Doing’ engagement to people. Demonstrating it as a HR activity. Rushing it to boost survey numbers. Assessing yourself against your ‘once a year’ survey results. Treating the disengaged people in your organisation as poor performers.

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

RD: Because it’s almost like an initiative that’s being sold to the employees e.g. “We’re going to do a football tournament and introduce fruit baskets in every department so you’ll all feel much happier here at work.” It needs to be something that’s designed by your people, for your people and be lived and reviewed daily.

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

RD: Understanding how our brains work and how we as humans function. We’re all different with different backgrounds, cultures, motivations and personalities. There is never a one-size-fits-all approach to engagement.

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

RD: I’ve been a judge for 3 years now. Each time, I look to see how closely the entrants’ activity or campaign has linked to the purpose of the organisation. I also give high points for where I can see evidence of using employee voice (and where applicable customer voice too) at all levels of the organisation to help shape their activity in driving engagement.

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

RD: Without sounding too much like I’m quoting Richard Branson here – if you look after your employees, they’ll look after your customers which in turn will look after your bottom line. It’s incredibly obvious whenever I interact with a company as a customer whether they have high engagement levels amongst their people. When it’s a negative experience for me, I just don’t return and surely that’s got to affect their business.

Actually, there are so many correlations between what we see happening in customer experience departments across the globe that could easily be translated, or even better linked, to what we do. Look on the inside first

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

RD: I absolutely love the TV show “Undercover Boss”. Whilst a great CEO shouldn’t have to go ‘undercover’ to understand the engagement levels in their company, the concept in the TV show is not only funny, emotional (at times) but also educational.

Bringing the CEO to the front line on a regular basis is the best way to understand not only your employees’ day-to-day experiences but also your customers. Relying on your annual staff surveys which can be skewed by even the weather that day is rarely going to get true buy-in from the top when big things need to change.

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

RD: When I’ve been judging for the EE Awards I’ve seen a few companies start running clubs with the hope that not only will it improve general wellbeing but also increase engagement. Whilst it’s a bit harsh to call this the worst EE idea, this alone can do more harm than good by alienating all the non-runners in the organisation. I’m yet to see evidence where a running club has actually increased engagement and business results. Never say never.

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

RD: I got a new boss.

He gave me complete autonomy and fully trusted me despite barely knowing me. This autonomy led to me ending up in the CEO’s office discussing the importance of engagement amongst our front line and how this was directly affecting our customers’ experience. Something, at the time, no-one in our organisation had even considered.

EZ: What’s the worst?

RD: I got married.

It should have been an exciting return to work filled with happiness, sharing pictures and videos with my colleagues and showing off my wedding band. Instead, I spent 2 days, 12 phone calls, 17 emails and (what felt like) 5 laps of the building trying to sort out everything that went wrong with my pass, mobile, laptop, printer and software due to my name change. My husband had no idea what had gone wrong by the time I got back home! Maybe I should have just double-barrelled it to “Ruth Morris-Dance” after all.

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

RD: Summer of ’69 by Bryan Adams. I’d be singing that at full volume with some air guitar thrown in for good measure!

EZ: Best place in the world you have visited?

RD: Singapore is incredible – I only spent a few days there but loved how diverse the country is. The place is so well maintained and everyone who lives there seems to really love it – we could say they’re all highly engaged!

But I also love the peace and beauty of where I’m from – North Wales.

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

RD: Hmm…. Now, this is a tricky one. I’ve been lucky enough to see some amazing places but there’s still so much of this world I’d love to see.

Right now as I write this, I’ve just got my 11-month-old son old to bed and cleared up all the toys and I’d love nothing more than a Pina Colada on a hot beach in The Philippines.

EZ: Thanks Ruth and we look forward to future news from The Employee Engagement Alliance

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