Book: Change Management

Building employee Engagement and a Collaborative Workplace Culture

Senior leaders change jobs more frequently than employees. How do we create a high-performance culture so deeply employee-owned that it sustains itself despite inevitable changes in senior leadership? Author Frank Devine advises.

Frank Devine, author, Rapid Mass Engagement

Creating a Culture that Sustains Itself

Determining the key elements to achieving a self-sustaining and high-performance culture required 40+ years testing the questions::   

  • What interventions moved the dial – productivity; quality; ROI; growth; employee opportunities – the most?  
  • How do we maximise employee engagement while also creating competitive advantage?

This ‘diagnosis – hypothesis – testing – diagnosis – hypothesis’ loop led to a process called ‘Rapid Mass Engagement’ where the key combination of levers was: 

  1. deep and wide employee engagement and enablement 
  2. a Systems Thinking approach to leadership  
  3. a ‘Predict and Prevent’ approach to Improvement Science.

The leverage effects of aligning these three focus points as an integrated system are outlined below:

These leverages have been delivered, regardless of sector, size and organisation. Examples in services include ICBF in Genomics; Topflight in Travel; Promed in Medical Services and Mater Private in Hospital Care.

Leading from the Bottom?

Even in the most radical version of this approach, a lot of leading is done from the top. To initiate Rapid Mass Engagement, the senior leadership team agree: 

  • the particular form of engagement and enablement best suited to deliver organisational goals 
  • scope 
  • a Higher Purpose designed to maximise discretionary effort 
  • how to maximise employee solution space 

Once a new employee-owned culture is created, leaders’ key role is to both model and reference it in their day-to-day interactions. Leaders also help ensure it is sustained by multiple sustaining mechanisms such as: 

  • decisions on who gets promoted/recruited 
  • redesign of existing high-impact employee processes to align with the new culture  
  • the training of internal facilitators representing all key interests (professional groups; shifts; locations; service groups etc.)

Buy-in From Leaders and Employees

The buy-in of senior leaders develops over time and accelerates as they see the reaction of employees. Boston Scientific used an 18-month benchmarking process culminating in visiting sites where Rapid Mass Engagement had been implemented. They then widely socialised the concepts among key middle and senior leaders. In unionised organisations that latter group includes union leaders.

Buy-in from employees involves creating trust quickly (hence ‘Rapid’). Key to this is: 

  • ensuring the engagement approach used is strong enough to match organisational goals – conventional approaches rarely pass this test  
  • as in the movies, creating curiosity about what is happening by doing things that employees did not expect to happen and which cynical employees have loudly proclaimed would never happen 
  • trusted external facilitation by someone with a track record of creating consensus among large groups in conflictual situations 
  • creating engagement and enablement, not mere involvement or consultation.  The significance of this distinction can be seen below:

Why Enablement as well as Engagement?

Rapidly engaging all employees is futile if all that energy and discretionary effort, all that innovation and commitment smashes into an unresponsive wall of existing management-owned systems, designed to suit the previous culture.

As leaders, we must park our ego and our ownership of the systems we create and ride the tsunami of creativity unleashed by rapidly engaging all our employees in a system they trust. The more we can meet employees’ desire for a Higher Purpose in work and jointly deliver tangible benefits for their families and communities, the greater the engagement will be … and the greater the corresponding need to enable that engagement to translate into systems as well as culture change. In this way, your organisation can do what hasn’t been done before giving you an edge on your competitors that is very difficult to copy.

In summary, be brave, don’t settle for involvement and learn from what organisations as diverse as Coca-Cola, Rolls-Royce, Johnson & Johnson and Boston Scientific have done already in engaging and enabling their employees.

Frank Devine, author of Rapid Mass Engagement: Driving Continuous Improvement Through Employee Culture Creation, is Founder of Accelerated Improvement Ltd. and specialises in creating a High Performance continuous improvement culture from the bottom-up. This deepens and accelerates employee engagement, removes barriers to enablement, systematically develops continuous improvement capability at all levels and rapidly overcomes resistance to change. In this process employees create and own their own High Performance culture; they are not “persuaded” to adopt a prescribed culture.

He has trained senior leaders and internal change champions in organisations such as Depuy, Johnson & Johnson (Shingo Prize 2014), Rolls Royce, Coca Cola, Boston Scientific, GKN, CarnaudMetalbox, Lake Region (Shingo Bronze 2012 and 2015), Vale (Shingo Silver 2014), GE (their high potentials), Delphi and Bacardi.

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Main image: Book cover, Rapid Massive Engagement by Frank Devine