MacLeod Review of employee engagement only gives half the story

When any review publishes its findings, we pore over the report and ask ourselves, was it worth it? Have we gained new knowledge or insights on the issues involved? And are we now better-equipped to move forward? In the case of the MacLeod Review, we can certainly see progress, but there’s also much further to go.

Let’s start with the progress. It’s hard not to be impressed with the body of evidence the review team has assembled. The blend of statistics and case studies creates a compelling argument for investment by showing how engaged employees make a major difference to areas such as productivity, voluntary turnover, absence rates, innovation and competitiveness. Even the most sceptical employers should be convinced.

However, the report’s strength ebbs away as the pages go by. Its analysis of drivers and barriers is sensible, but hardly ground-breaking. For example, one would hope most employers realise that leaders and managers have a role to play in galvanising their people, and that employees need to know they have a voice to feel involved and engaged in the business. It’s hardly news, either, that employees need to feel that their employer’s actions match its words.

But where the report really disappoints is in the lack of practical guidance for readers to work with. If you’re a sceptical employer that has been convinced by the statistics and wants to respond to the drivers laid out, you may not find enough to help you turn principles into practice. To take a couple of examples: to follow its analysis of the role of leadership, the report could have explored in greater depth the tools and mechanisms through which leaders can make the difference envisaged.

Core components

And while it espouses the importance of establishing an ‘employee voice’, the report stops short of discussing the core components that could embed this in day-to-day practice.

This means the report has less impact, and is less useful for employers than it might have been. It may not have been the primary purpose of the review, but the lack of practical support is a missed opportunity to help employers take action now and to stimulate enhanced competitiveness and productivity during the current economic climate.

What’s more, seeds for such guidance could be found in the report’s case studies and research evidence. If the report had just gone that bit further, and distilled from this raw material some guidance and steps, we could, perhaps, have had a more informed debate on the actions employers should be taking.

Instead, we have a call for the government to convene a “nationwide discussion” to raise awareness of employee engagement and a desire for practical guidance by March 2010. It’s a wait that could limit the role enhanced employee engagement can play in bringing Britain out of recession.

Concept to action

The challenge now is to try to move from concept to action as quickly as possible. This must mean focusing on the practical steps involved in enhancing employee engagement, and treating both evidence and guidance as two sides of the same coin.

We need creative ways of engaging employers with the evidence contained in this report – it’s compelling, so communication should reflect this – complemented by practical ideas, tools and support to help employers (particularly those without previous knowledge or many resources) address their own situations. In this way, momentum can be maintained (and even accelerated) through a communication programme that will both inspire and equip employers to respond.

There is no doubting the contribution the MacLeod Review makes to the body of evidence on employee engagement. It’s a comprehensive, authoritative tome on the benefits and some key drivers. But we need to lift that evidence off the page and blend it quickly with guidance and tools to help employers turn principles into practice.

Without this emphasis on action, the report, and any debate that follows, won’t change anything. At the moment, employers have only half the story.

Paul Sweetman, director, employee engagement, Fishburn Hedges