"More enagaged branches consistently out perform those with lower scores" Whitaker

Insights into Employee Engagement by Debbie Whitaker, Group Head, People Product Management, Standard Chartered Bank.

Standard Chartered has been measuring employee engagement globally for six years now and with a voluntary response rate consistently above 96%, we can proudly say that employee engagement is truly part of the Bank’s DNA.

There’s a lot of hype about employee engagement. Don’t confuse it with satisfaction – it’s not the same thing. It’s about psychological commitment, taking ownership for one’s work and going the extra mile – not just sticking to what’s on the job description.

In 2000, we introduced Q12, an annual survey and business improvement process designed by the Gallup Organisation to measure and leverage employee engagement. Why Q12? It’s one of the few tools backed by solid research – Gallup analysed one million employee interviews and every variable of business unit performance that organisations supplied to demonstrate its linkages with performance. Q12 is also short and simple, with 12 core questions (as its name suggests) that explore employees’ productive motivations at work, as well as some additional questions based on our own research. Managers get their own engagement scorecard. But as the Scottish proverb says ‘You don’t fatten a sheep by weighing it’, so doing something constructive with these scorecards is critical.

In practice, teams discuss and develop action plans which they drive throughout the year. The conversation and follow-through on action plans is the true output – not the engagement score. This output is intentionally actionable, allowing managers and employees to pinpoint where they should focus their attention to achieve the greatest impact on team engagement and performance. A key question, for example, ‘I know what is expected of me’, might seem easy for managers to achieve, but on average, only about a half of people on Gallup’s international database can say that they strongly agree.

So why has engagement become such a popular topic? For one, it’s a leading indicator of business performance. Having done our own research across our retail branch network, we know that the more engaged branches consistently outperform those with lower engagement scores, whether on measures of revenue and profit margin growth, employee retention and even transactions per teller. And this is true whether you’re looking at Ghana or Hong Kong.

Secondly, engagement has many practical implications for people management across the Bank. It’s one of the few tools that approaches management from an employee perspective, giving us feedback from individuals about the quality of their work climate. Looking at employee engagement is all well and good, but unless it’s translated into practical action, it’s nothing more than an interesting concept. So how do we improve employee engagement? Well, we already know engagement is strongly linked to business performance. The more complex issue is why significant variance in engagement exists across different teams within any country you look at, where employees are subject to the same organisational culture, the same HR policies and the same economic conditions.

Again, from our research, we know what makes the difference is the manager. They have the single most important impact on their teams’ engagement. At Standard Chartered, we conducted qualitative research around the world to study what sets the truly great managers apart. We found they do four things. Firstly, great managers know their team members. They identify their strengths and how to use these, and get to know people as individuals, not just employees. Secondly, great managers provide focus by setting clear outcome-based expectations and giving regular and ongoing feedback on how they’re doing. We call this coaching in the moment. They also show genuine care for their people, helping them overcome obstacles and supporting them to reach their goals. Finally, great managers provide inspiration and context, helping each person understand how their role contributes to the Bank’s overall performance. So in the Bank, we talk about the importance of ‘know me, focus me, care about me and inspire me’.

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Knowing all of this, there are some clear implications for HR. Our products and processes absolutely have to support managers in creating an environment where employees feel valued and that individually, they can make a difference. We also need to focus on how we select and develop our managers.

One example of how we’ve translated our discovery into practical applications is our aptly named “Great Manager” programme. It’s a scalable approach to building management skills, delivered just-in-time to support our people management calendar. Key to the Great Manager programme are conversations that count. Internal research tells us that managers who have quality conversations with their people on an ongoing basis create engaged teams. We know delivering great results is all about managing people and regular, planned conversations with employees about their contribution, development and future that set them up for success. We’ve also developed selection tools to assess managers’ abilities to put the four pillars – know me, focus me, care about me and inspire me – into action.