Va + L = Cu*(PX): The Employee Engagement Equation

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An Equation for Employee Engagement

I have worked in the field of Employee Engagement for 20 years, across both private and public sector organisations. More recently, I have undertaken values and culture work within the NHS and it has changed my understanding of how Employee Engagement comes about.

Employee Engagement as an Outcome

In line with established thinking, I used to think that Employee Engagement was an Output from adjusting various organisational levers (e.g. Strategic Narrative); something that one could control and calibrate. But as Engagement levels have remained fairly static across the UK, I began to wonder if we are tackling the issue the wrong way. Perhaps Employee Engagement is more of an Outcome from a positive workplace culture. If we get certain things right, they will create the conditions for Employee Engagement to grow naturally.

Values (Va)

Workplace Values are a key part of helping articulate the desired culture and behaviours within an organisation. I have successfully used the Barrett Model to refresh values in two NHS organisations.

At Bolton NHS Foundation Trust, I worked with over 200 frontline staff in focus groups to create a shortlist of 10 new values. We selected 5 of these to give good coverage at the upper levels of the Barrett Model; Vision, Openness, Integrity, Compassion, Excellence. The acronym was VOICE; signalling that as an organisation we listened to the voice of both staff and patients. Furthermore, we had a distinctive voice within the evolving health and social care landscape of Greater Manchester.

More recently, I developed CIRCLE for the Argyll & Bute HSCP; Compassion, Integrity, Respect, Continuous learning, Leadership, Excellence. This reflected our aspirations around health and social care integration and to provide values-based leadership during challenging financial times. The CIRCLE metaphor was drawn from local Neolithic cup and ring stone markings and reflected the various community circles across our remote and rural landscape. Embedding these Values and associated Practices (Behaviours) across recruitment, induction, appraisal and reward will enable the HSCP to become a values-based organisation.

Engaging staff in selecting the right mix of current and aspirational values, then ensuring they become the golden thread through all people processes, creates a solid foundation to positively influence the workplace culture.

Leadership (L)

The quality of leadership is key to building high Employee Engagement levels. Consequently, senior leaders need to act authentically and role model the desired values and behaviours they expect throughout the organisation.

The CEO at Bolton NHS FT, Dr Jackie Bene, is a naturally engaging leader. Consequently, she got right behind VOICE and role-modelled the new Values to her senior team and operational managers. This created a positive tone and direction for how Bolton NHS FT would move forward. However, the leadership team at Argyll & Bute HSCP have been more cautious around their support for the implementation of CIRCLE. Time will tell if they have the courage to become a truly values-based health and social care provider.

Culture (Cu*)

Clear values supported by authentic leadership help shape positive workplace culture. Although traditionally regarded as a nebulous concept, tools such as the Barrett Cultural Values Assessment (CVA) can help make the culture of an organisation more tangible. At Bolton NHS FT, I used CVA data to create a cultural map of the Trust. This uncovered areas with positive practices, but also highlighted the services or professional groups where constructive interventions were required.

Developing a positive workplace culture requires an iterative process of measurement, improvement and re-measurement. But a values-based organisation with strong leadership can achieve continuous improvement through time.

Women in a meeting are happy and positively engaging with their work
High engagement and happy faces are good signs of a positive workplace culture

People Experience (PX) 

The second outcome from having clear Values and Authentic Leadership, within a positive workplace Culture, is enhanced levels of Employee Engagement.

But I prefer to talk about the Staff Experience and how this links to the Patient Experience, the Customer Experience or the Student Experience. Research has demonstrated a relationship between a positive Staff Experience and corresponding improvements in the other three. For example, at Bolton NHS FT, we were able to show that regular feedback from line managers and the autonomy for staff to develop and implement ideas, were the two elements of the staff experience that were most closely associated with enhanced patient satisfaction and a reduced number of complaints.

Hence the term People Experience (PX) as a holistic outcome. If it’s Employee Engagement you desire, then work on Values and Leadership. Create a positive Workplace Culture and an enhanced People Experience will follow.

That’s my Employee Engagement Equation, Va + L = Cu*(PX). Give it some thought in your own organisation, apply it and see where it takes you.

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