Leading employee engagement
In this episode Craig Smith talks to Paula Leach who is Founder and Executive Coach at Vantage Points Consulting about leading employee engagement. Prior to setting up Vantage Points Paula spent over 25 years working in global multinational, large complex public sector and high growth entrepreneurial settings including FDM Group and The Home Office. Paula has had a wide-ranging career partnering with leaders to bring out the best in their people. She has held Executive level positions herself and as a Chief People Officer has coached, advised and mentored at the very highest levels. Paula is also the author of “Vantage Points: How to create a culture where employees thrive”.
Paula is based in Orpington which is on the south east border of Greater London. Vantage Points work in partnership with leaders who are high achieving and really want to make a difference in this new complex age. Paula says
“One of the most important aspects for anyone in a leadership position is that you have the ability to go right up close to where people are working, you have lots of different ways of being able to create perception. Using these different vantage points is the real opportunity for the leader.”
Paula works with leaders as an executive coach on an advisory basis, leveraging the different “vantage points” to make the most of the whole landscape to create space for reflection, great forward decision making and all the other aspects that a leader needs to have the space to explore. Paula says it’s also about knowing that these vantage points exist for you and this is the background to the name of her company.
The employee experience investment continuum
Paula is hugely passionate about employee engagement and says it is often the differentiator between organisations.
In Paula’s book she describes a model called “The employee experience investment continuum”. Imagine you have a line, the continuum, and you have an employee, and the line represents how much that employee costs your business, not in terms of salary or benefits but in terms of the experience the employee has, you can decide whether you invest that money proactively or reactively. Investing proactively means things like:
- creating a sense of belonging for somebody
- creating a sense of trust
- creating a sense of community
- investing in someone’s development
This investment shows that you value someone’s contributions. All these things might cost money, but you are proactively prioritising these things in your business. In Paula’s experience as a HR professional, if this money isn’t invested proactively, it will be spent reactively in employer relations cases, low morale, sickness absence, possibly tribunal cases and lower productivity.
The key thing is that if you spend the money reactively then there is a multiplier effect. Not only are you spending it on the things already mentioned but also on things like sickness absence starting to become endemic, this is the multiplier effect. There is also a multiplier effect on the other side and if you invest proactively in people, you will get it back in spades with discretionary effort as people feel valued and included.
During the pandemic of 2020/21, organisations who have cumulatively invested in their people were able to draw that down when they really needed it. They already had this co-creation communication mechanism with trust and creativity in the bank. They were able to ask for something back during the difficult times almost like an insurance policy.
The employee continuum and the cumulative effect it produces are about the tangible return you can get by engaging your people.
Two key roles for leaders
In her book Paula talks about how the greatest skill for anyone in leadership is to take what is complex and create simplicity. Paula has had the privilege of working alongside many different leaders in a variety of organisations all at different levels and the one consistent thing she observed was that amongst all the complexity there was only really two jobs that a leader needs to focus on. If you ever feel overwhelmed or that your week is running away from you, remember you have two things to do:
The creation of clarity is the ability to answer the following questions:
- Where are we going?
- Why are we going there?
- What does it look like when we get there?
- What’s the work that we need to do in between?
As a leader you need to make sure that this clarity exists in its simplest form. A repeatable message is the best message.
2. Get out of the way
Getting out of the way is about creating space, to curate a set of resources and inspiring people to do the work. It’s also about supporting and enabling them and be in service of them.
If a leader only ever does two things, then it should be these two things.
Leadership is a difficult thing to take on and none of us will be perfect at it every day from the start. The main thing is to try and be intentional about what you’re aiming to do as a leader. It’s also about mindset and what comes first, does being a leader come first? If so, then those two key roles become easier. People often fall into leadership roles accidentally to progress their career and haven’t given much thought to the actual job of leadership and this is one of the key reasons Paula wrote her book. It’s not uncommon for people to find themselves in a leadership role based on their technical ability but ironically this technical ability will be used less and less as they progress as a leader. This means people are often unprepared for their leadership role.
The fundamental work of leaders is self-awareness and working on knowing yourself is a constant process. You need to be able to understand your preferences and notice when you are playing in your field of preference.
The vantage points for leading employee engagement
The responsibility of any leader is to move something from A to B, this could be a standard operation or a massive transformation, in order to do this you are creating clarity and getting out of the way. The vantage points provide you with the ability and observational information to do these two jobs. You have to have symmetry to provide clarity and get out of the way, too much of one or the other will cause problems.
There are five different vantage points:
1. In amongst
This is about doing the job from the perspective of observation and seeking to understand it.
2. To the side and around
This is still very much at the level of the work but watching what’s happening.
3. From high above
This is about looking across all the things you are responsible for and seeing the connections and hand offs between different people. What’s working and what’s not working?
4. From high out and beyond
This could be seeing what’s happening in another department within the organisation or maybe what your competitors are doing.
This is the space for reflection, for decision making, listening and processing other things. It may feel indulgent but is the most essential vantage point.
The most engaged teams aren’t just problem solving as they go along, they’re innovating and creating new solutions. They are collaborating without the need for the leader.
True engagement is to understand where we are going and why, and as a leader you are responsible for creating the space and conditions for everyone to thrive. This is the link from leadership to employee engagement and everyone is a leader in some respect, you are the leader of your own life and these vantage points will be relevant to you.
How can internal communicators use these points to influence leaders?
Paula believes that hierarchy was created to organise resources in the pursuit of getting things communicated or getting work done. Hierarchy is not at its best when it creates a power imbalance. Are we acting as a parent and adult or as a child in the role we play within the organisation? If you want to influence a leader to lead more equally then one of the ways to do this is to step up yourself as an adult and not blame that leader but show them compassion. It’s also important to show up with a proposition or a solution rather than a passive view as this can alter the dynamic and you can change leadership from the inside out.
Rather than performance management, a great adult to adult conversation can help share expectations about what needs to get done and what we need from each other to be successful. It would be great if the leader instigated this conversation but if they don’t, you could instigate it instead. There’s then a chance that if it goes well then it will create ripples of impact across the organisation. You can be the change you want to see in others even if you’re not far up the hierarchy.
All the vantage points can be looked at from any perspective, we can all be aware of them in our work whether in a direct leadership role or not as we are all transforming something in the work that we do.
There is simplicity in the idea of creating clarity and getting out of the way and the symmetry of the five vantage points covers off all the areas we need to be aware of and how they exist within an organisation. It’s important not to reside in one of them all the time which does sometimes happen.
At the back of Paula’s book (Vantage Points: How to create a culture where employees thrive), there is a practical toolkit with 12 different tools. These tools help you as a leader to turn these concepts into a way of working. There’s also a troubleshooting section to help you with questions answered by Paula.
Later this year Paula will be launching The Vantage Points Foundation which is to support young women and inspire them in the career they want to pursue. Already up and running is a Facebook group called Leadership Space which is free and for anyone in senior leadership, or aspiring to senior leadership, to join and be a part of a group of like-minded people. In the group there’s micro coaching, thought-starters and discussion around the resources in the book.
Facebook Group is Leadership Space: (1) Leadership Space | Facebook
FREE GUIDE: 5 days to grow your leadership impact: https://leadership.vantagepointsconsulting.com/
Linkedin Profile: Paula (Ratcliff) Leach (FCIPD, MBA) | LinkedIn