Maximise staff potential through engagement and empowerment

Remove the outer layer of fluff from theories on staff engagement and you're left with a way to better manage your employees and improve operational efficiency.

At 7side, a Cardiff-based provider of company information and data, the decision was made five years ago to move from a partnership to a limited company structure. With a new board of directors, the culture of the 30-strong business could be shaken up.

Mary Lovell, a director at 7side, says, ‘It was a command-and-control structure. Staff turned up and they were instructed about what to do. It was an automated process.’

The decision was made to bring everyone together to explain that greater involvement was required. ‘We appointed managers and they went on intensive training courses, so all aspects of management were developed.’

In addition, performance was measured across the company. ‘Each department sees itself as a little business that contributes to the whole. They look at what things cost and where they can get better deals,’ says Lovell.

Rules of engagement

An independent report commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, entitled Engaging for Success, unsurprisingly finds that ‘engagement’ can only be good for a business’s performance. The report cites a poll from Gallup that estimates that in 2008 the cost of ‘disengagement’ to the UK economy, in the form of absences, sick days and lack of productivity, was between £59 billion and £65 billion.

The message is clear: empowering employees should lead to higher levels of motivation. Another benefit of allowing staff to take on more important roles is that it provides a chief exec with the time and space to focus on growing the business.

Related: Why it is time to let staff drive business leadership

Back in 2004 Andy Hooper founded Westlakes Engineering, a civil and structural engineering design consultancy. With a number of customers in the construction industry, Westlakes has done well not to lay off a single employee. Hooper says the company’s durability rests firmly on the decision he took last year to devolve authority to his staff.

‘When I got to employing 20 people, I found it incredibly difficult as I was managing the company in the same way as when I had three or four staff,’ he recalls. ‘I was working excessive hours trying to control everything.’

Attending a course at Lancaster University helped to crystallise ideas about the business. ‘Everything used to be channelled through me and I approved everything,’ he says. ‘Being completely hands-on would work if I wanted to keep the business at a certain level – around ten to 15 people – but I felt we had to expand.’ Once reporting lines were formalised, along with the introduction of a board of directors, Hooper could take on a more strategic role.

At its core, engagement is about extracting the full potential of your workforce. It may require investment in training, and the results may not be immediate, but your business will be stronger in the long run. As Lovell says, ‘It took around three years for the changes to bed in and then turnover shot up.’

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Employee engagement

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