Engage, Retain, Lead


Watching rugby is a fantastic way to spend the weekend in South Africa and last weekend was no different for most … that is if you like drinking beer, shouting at the TV and eating Boerewors off the braai. For me it was a little less enticing but when the whole household is participating – you do feel obliged to quietly endure the afternoon. As the referee once more shouted out the instructions “Crouch, Touch, Pause and Engage” I got to thinking about the similes in life where a referee of our own, a parent, a pastor, a teacher or a manager, gives us the same instructions and how effective those commands are in reality.


The SHL Global Assessments Trends report for 2012[i] indicates that the engagement and retention of employees and leadership development respectively were the top two priorities for businesses in 2012. More than 5000 of the HR professionals that took part in the survey are from South Africa.


It is really encouraging to read that the focus of our industry leaders and major corporations is on sustainability in the workforce and development of future leaders.  The corporate executive “referees” in this economy certainly seem to have the right intentions and game plan in place.


The question is how much do we actually know about our talent? Are they the future leaders? Are they worth investing in career wise? Do these employees align with the purpose, culture, vision and values of the overall business? And likewise …Do the employees see themselves as part of the culture, growth and future of the organisation?


Interview assessments, personality profiles and performance appraisals can assist in providing some insight into these employees but how much of our selection process is based on less than objective decisions?  Decisions that possibly suit the direct manager or the bottom line, more than they suit the overall strategic intentions of the business.


The reason for this question arises from the basis of two further statistics in the SHL report:

•       More than 80% of respondents said their organizations link talent decisions to broader business objectives and goals. However, less than half indicated that their organizations use information about their talent to drive overall business decisions.

And secondly

•       Only over a third of HR professionals cited career development as a top priority. Likewise, fewer HR professionals are using it as a retention strategy and fewer are offering a formal way for employees to find new careers internally.


If we are not driving our business with the existing talent we ourselves selected and recruited and we are not allowing them to grow and develop in their careers either, then how do we expect them to stay on? Be loyal? Be productive? How do we expect fantastic retention statistics, great BEE scorecards, phenomenal ROI or sustainable succession plans?


As I ponder over this thought, my attention is drawn back to watch the scrum of 16 players lock heads and push hard and all 912 kgs of the South African team collapses in a very heavy heap on the field. Is this true for organisations too?  Is there someone standing with a whistle at the top of the corporate ladder, shouting “employed, work ,stagnate “ and employees do everything in their power to just stay on their feet, to stay in the game.


The reality is that unfortunately, this is true in some ways, as every person in the organisation has limiting beliefs that they may not even be aware of. These beliefs are pushed onto others unconsciously and they affect the way we speak to people, the “departmental and hierarchy cliques” we form, the people we employ and the people we work out of our team. These unconscious perceptions result in actions and behaviours that are damaging to both relationships and performance in the workplace.  They make our workplace scrums weak as we might just be working against each other, instead of driving forward together.


The time has come where leaders need to do more than just set the strategic objectives in place. Leaders need to understand more about themselves and their own natural leadership style and similarly more about their employees and their vulnerabilities too. They need to become aware of their stereotypes and biases, the glass filters that they wear when viewing others. They need to encourage difference of opinions and ideas, in order to generate creative solutions and see the potential in diverse personalities within their teams.


The ideal of course, is to work towards an organisation that is engaging to employees. An inclusive environment where people of all cultures can communicate, create and grow both as individuals and as part of the business, in a safe and productive way. An organisation with 21st century leaders.


David MacLeod, the UK co-author of the 2009 independent report for the Department for Business (BIS), Engaging for Success  said earlier this year “Conscious or not, this is the philosophy of most employees – ‘I am not a human resource. I am not human capital. I am a human being. If treated like a human being, I will make a greater contribution.’ Acknowledging that philosophy is key to employee engagement and therefore to economic success,” [ii]


Whose responsibility is it to action this Nirvana? This HR “defining moment”, that is far too often spoken and written about but ends up as idealist heresy from yet another desperate HR professional?


Actually it’s easier than we think. Shankar Vedantam, author of the Hidden brain, explains it as “the voice in our ear when we make the most important decisions in our lives – but we are never aware of it”.[iii] Becoming aware of our unconscious biases is the responsibility of each and everyone one of us, as individuals and as leaders. We each have a obligation to ensure that the decisions we make, we people we interact with and the organisations we lead are done so with a deep awareness of self – your own perceptions, thoughts and beliefs and furthermore an awareness and understanding of others.


It is time for leaders and employees to focus on accountability and action and to have those honest conversations that trigger the change we want to implement. Only then can recruitment become truly objective, performance management fair, retention mutually beneficial to the employer and employee and for engagement to become the essence of inclusion and great business practise.


“Engage, Retain, Lead!”


Written for The People Development Team October 2012

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