Change, trust and engagement – squaring the circle Dr Linda Holbeche

Marianne Curphey reports on the key issues of employee motivation and trust that summed up Dr Linda Holbeche’s keynote speech at the second day of Relocate’s Festival of Global People.

Relocate magazine summer 2019 issue
This article is taken from the latest issue of Relocate magazine.
– the must read for HR, global managers and relocation professionals.How do you engage employees, keep them motivated and energised, and encourage them to give of their best, even in tough times? That was the theme of the keynote speech given by Dr Linda Holbeche, established author, consultant, coach and developer, and an authority on change and agility in organisations.

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“We are now in a situation where organisations have to keep on changing,” she told delegates at Relocate’s Festival of Global People. “How do we reconcile the need for change with the need to maintain trust? Unless you have trust between employee and workers, you are not going to get engagement.”

Productivity at work

She raised the issue of productivity at work – something the UK has a particular problem with and asked: what is the missing ingredient and how do we build a culture where people are willing to change?  What are the crucial roles of leaders, managers and HR in improving governance, changing management practices and methods to maximize engagement?The implications for organisations where employees do not trust management can be significant:
  • Low trust affects productivity and performance
  • Employees in low-trust environments are discouraged from sharing knowledge and taking risks – wasting innovation potential
  • How a business treats its employees is one of the most important factors the public consider in deciding whether to trust a business
  • Rebuilding trust can take time
Based in the UK, Dr Holbeche was previously Director of Research and Policy for the CIPD, Director of Leadership and Consultancy at the Work Foundation and Director of Research and Strategy at Roffey Park. She is author of over 50 research reports and more than 100 articles.Relocate Festival of Global People 2019“When people are feeling good and energised about what they are doing, they produce better work,” she said. “People are at the peak of their engagement for the first two years after they start in a new job. Consider what happens after that to enable people to have a new phase of engagement.”She discussed the “psychological contract” between employer and employee, that may be reflected in the employment contract.“As long as you deliver what you promised, you have an environment of trust,” she said.

Employee engagement elements

She summarised the elements that make up employee engagement as:Intellectual: most people want a job where they are growing and learning, and which gives them a bit of intellectual stretch.Emotional: Do I feel cared for? Does anyone know I exist?Social: People want to feel part of a team where they are doing good work collectively.She challenged managers to think about how they energise people after the initial two-year period of their tenure.“There is the example of the not-for-profit sector where you have huge levels of commitment but people don’t necessarily want to change or give up what is important to them,” she said.

Treating employees fairly

As a case study, she described an example of how trust could be lost quickly. When she was working for Amex, market changes meant that unfortunately a large number of redundancies had to be made in Brighton where the main office was.“It happened in August when many people were away on holiday,” she said. “They returned to swipe their card and find that they could not get back into the car park.”Redundant employees were presented with a black plastic bag with their possessions in it.“The bad vibes spread for years around the town. People need to feel that they have been treated fairly.”

The cost of disengagement

She defined the hidden cost of disengagement as:
  • Reduced productivity
  • Decline in innovation
  • Stunted sales performance
  • Reduced quality and customer service
  • Attrition of key talent
  • Difficulties in attracting the best
  • Failed change initiatives
“We are now part of the fourth Industrial Revolution. There is now a lot of work that we don’t need to do, that machines can do and they can do it better than us,” she said. “What does that mean for people at work who are likely to experience change? These are questions around remote working, managing a virtual workforce and having real connections. We have to think of change as continuous. How do we accept that change is the norm?”

Trust is a casualty of change

She cited a recent OECD report which showed workers often displayed a lack of trust in senior management. The report found that 92 per cent of workers trusted their colleagues, 80 per cent trusted their line manager, but only 37 per cent trusted senior management at the organisation where they worked.“How well does senior management take an interest in their workforce?” she asked. “If we are talking about the old style of command and control – is that leadership model really the best option? What are we doing to stop managers with regular staff turnover? Managers need to be adept at getting the best out of people. We want people giving their best ideas and collaborating.”

Read an overview of Day 1 and Day 2 at the Festival of Global People

If people feel that there is a genuine connection, even if there are tough times coming, they are more likely to trust senior managers.Voice is vital for younger workers and they need to know what is going on, feel able to share their opinions, be involved, and experience people being treated as individuals.

Building engagement

She said managers could build engagement by:
  • Creating the environment where people can better connect and decide to work, learn and change together
  • Moving from command and control to direction and capability-building
  • Designing work that is meaningful
  • Supporting the team
  • Enabling diversity and employee well-being
  • Deliberately developing organisational learning

The important role of HR

HR has an important role to play in employee in engagement, she said. This could include follow through on employee surveys, addressing the most frustrating ‘pain’ points; helping line managers deal with stress and manage uncertainty; develop engaging managers through recruitment and coaching;  design better roles and challenge poor practice and find ways to help employees feel that their voice is heard and that they have the capacity to grow in their career.“In tough times, it is about two-way communication,” she said. “It is important to earmark the people you want to keep – get them involved in the change and to keep the lines of communication open with your staff.”

New ways of working

Dr Holbeche and Ben Renshaw, author of Purpose, then opened up the discussion to delegates, addressing questions on remote working, leadership models, and toxic management.“Remote working – the model of having your intact team in front of you all the time – is going,” said Dr Holbeche. “However, it is still a problem for managers managing people that they don’t see. It’s about building trust – asking what do we mean by good performance – what are the outcomes and do we agree these?”She cited the case study of EDF Energy, which has lost many of its physical offices.“They looked at the psychological effects of this and realised that not everybody enjoys working from home,” she said. “What people miss most is the social side.”

Peer-to-peer networking

One solution was to build peer-to-peer networking and encourage sharing on specific issues. Another possible innovation is to bring employees together, preferably for up to a week, to get to know one another and find opportunities to build trust.Another case study was the engineering company Atkins, which has offices across Europe.“As part of a cultural shift the CEO introduced a cadence call – sharing what is going on – with all of the 500 managers tuning in. It was supported by a Yammer feed (a social networking service used for private communication within organisations), and issues were addressed in real time. It led to everyone feeling much more part of the business.”Relocate Gala Awards Dinner 2019

Tackling toxic leadership

On the issue of toxic leadership, delegates raised the issue of psychological safety as being what drives engagement. The younger generation will walk away from this type of management, meaning that replacing a toxic leader is cheaper than retaining them, even if they are good.“Many of the scenarios I enter are the result of toxic leadership,” said Ben Renshaw. “In leadership terms, the sweet spot is high performer, high collaborator, but what if you have managers who prize success by silos?”He explained that at a recent Google conference, the vision for engagement was for: team first, psychological safety – creating a space for people to learn, fail, learn from their mistakes and move on – and the willingness to celebrate other’s successes.“Change is constant – meeting new people, doing new things, having new challenges, if they can stretch to it,” said Dr Holbeche. “It feeds the appetite for doing new things. People grow most through extreme examples of leadership – it helps people define what their personal preferences are. In the case of very good bosses, people remember them for a long time.”

Listening to different opinions

“It’s fundamental that you deliberately attract and listen to different opinions and new ways of thinking,” said Ben Renshaw. He described a coaching role where he went to help a government organisation where many people had 30 or more years of service and there were 16,000 colleagues.“There, the idea of training was met by paranoia and cynicism. When I showed up, people thought they were going to get fired.”He said it was important to redefine the role of the leader.“If you really think about it, the fundamental role is to engage. That’s a different mindset. High performance research is about focus. Most people are very rarely present. Most of the time we are distracted by noise, both internal and external. This takes away from our ability to focus.”

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Festival Supporters:
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Learn more about the 2019 Festival of Global People and the Relocate Awards

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