Nigel Paine, Owner, nigelpaine.com

Nigel PaineNigel Paine has been involved in corporate learning for over twenty-five years. He was appointed in April 2002 to head up the BBC’s Learning and Development operation.  Under his leadership, his excellent team transformed the learning function and put it on the corporate map.

He left the BBC in September 2006 to start his own company that is focused on building great workplaces by promoting creativity, innovation, values based-leadership and learning and the link between them in many countries and many companies.

He teaches on the CLO Doctoral Program at the University of Pennsylvania. His first book is called, The Learning Challenge: Dealing with Technology, Innovation, and Change in Learning and Development. His most recent book is Building Leadership Development Programmes That Work. He is currently working on a new book on building and developing a learning culture.

He presents a monthly TV programme (Learning Now TV), shares a weekly podcast (with Martin Couzins) called From Scratch.  He regularly speaks at conferences, writes articles for magazines and journals about development, technology and leadership.


What does employee engagement mean to you?

Employee engagement is a really simple equation. It surprises me how few organizations have worked it out! An engaged employee offers discretionary effort over and above their role. Combine discretionary effort across an organization and you have a massive boost in productivity. That boost in productivity makes the organization more successful. People feel better working in a successful environment. This encourages them to offer more discretionary effort, and so it goes on in a spiral that turns an engaged employee into an architect of a successful organization, which in turn creates more engaged employees.

This is so much more than a nice to have. In the current volatile and uncertain environment, engaged employees are an essential component not just for success, but perhaps for survival.

How to measure employee engagement?

It is really easy to measure employee engagement. You simply ask! If you sit down and discuss the working environment with employees it is very easy to get a comprehensive picture of what it is like working for you. It is therefore very easy to judge the levels of engagement and disengagement.

What are the common causes of employee disengagement?

There are many causes of employee disengagement, but the triumvirate outlined by Dan Pink in his book Drive make a lot of sense. He argues that when staff have no autonomy, mastery or purpose in their work they become increasingly disengaged. The opposite is also true; if you allow individuals to do their job, to complete tasks with an element of autonomy – within guidelines – if they understand where their contribution fits into the bigger picture and if this gives a sense of achievement and a feeling that they are a making a contribution, and if they have the skills to do that job well, staff tend to be motivated, perhaps highly motivated and therefore engaged.

What are the drivers of employee engagement in today’s fast-moving world?

We live in a world that is increasingly uncertain. It is very hard for the leaders in organizations to have a complete handle on that environment. If an organization has many eyes and ears on the outside world, and an ability to pick up the weak signals of change and disruption, it has a better chance of reacting before those changes in the environment become catastrophic or the market is disrupted. Engaged employees are those eyes and ears.

But it is one thing knowing what has to be done, and being able to do it! Engaged employees are much more willing to embrace change. Have a bigger stake in the future of the organization, and care about its success.

If you want a simple metaphor, then engaged employees pull together and the combined force of that effort is very powerful. Disengaged employees, in badly run organizations, pull in different directions and tend to neutralize each other. That kind of organization is always less effective than it might be.

What makes a really effective employee engagement programme? Any best practices to share.

There are three or four lessons for building an effective employee engagement programmes. The first is quite simply to understand the reality of the organization. You need to know precisely what it is like working for you. You have to be able to see the organization through someone else’s eyes. Skip this, and it is hard to convince anyone there is an issue, and it is very hard to know what to do, beyond ineffective cosmetic changes, as a result.

Once you know exactly what the dimensions of the problem you are working on are you can begin the process of fixing the workplace. The next stage is to negotiate what steps should be taken to improve the working environment. Choose the simplest steps that have the greatest impact.

If you do anything without the consent of the line managers, indeed without their active participation, you are probably wasting your time.  These staffs are a really important part of the jigsaw.

You need to make changes so staff can see the difference. But not stop there. This is a continuous programme, over perhaps one or two years, where you build on what you have achieved and extend those changes and deliver on your promises.  And you have to pursue them regardless.  Commitment cannot be seen to waver in times of difficulty. Staff will spot the fudge.

Finally, it is crucial that you monitor the impact constantly. Zero impact equals zero engagement, it is that simple.


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