An Engaged Workforce Is The Great Advantage

Small Business Canada

Pamela Hackett is CEO of global operational management consultancy Proudfoot Consulting ( With offices in London, UK, and Atlanta, USA, and on-the-ground teams covering the four corners of the globe, Pam has lead Proudfoot through the pandemic directly from her Toronto home. Receiving numerous accolades over the years, including the global CEO award winner of the CEO Today 2019 Management Consulting Awards, Pam is a dynamic business leader who isn’t afraid to challenge the status quo. She’s a change-maker, people enthusiast and now author of Manage to Engage.

What was the inspiration and motivation behind writing your book “Manage to Engage”?

An engaged workforce is a great advantage. Everything you do as a manager requires people to be engaged. Transformation requires an engaged workforce.

Performance improvement requires an engaged team. Achieving your objectives requires engaged team members. Being a great corporate citizen requires you to engage your community. Engagement levels power up or shut down an organization. As a manager and leader, you have a direct impact on engagement.

There should be no debate. No coercing or cajoling to recognize this fact. Engagement counts. Engagement ignites competitive advantage, it creates change. Engagement enables talent to flow to your organization, innovation to flow through your business, and ultimately, money to flow and fund your efforts particularly during recessionary or post-pandemic times when money is tight.  Investors and customers alike, are attracted by engagement. Your boss wants to invest in a winning team.

And we all know the phrase ‘success breeds success.’ Engagement breeds results.

Engagement is the secret sauce of business. Engage your people, engage your teams, engage your organization and you will engage your customers and your marketplace. 

The problem is, as few as two in ten people are engaged at work. Pre and post-pandemic. The stats have remained consistently low for years. This is truly the inspiration behind the book. How can we build back better with a workforce so underwhelmed by us as leaders and so disenchanted by their work?

In 2019 shortly before a pandemic created a global crisis, the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitive Report noted “The global economy is ill-prepared for a downturn after a lost decade for productivity-enhancing measures. They went on to say “many of the structured reforms designed to revive productivity did not materialize”. They punctuated their Executive summary with a further statement: “Finding a balance between technology integration and human capital investments will be critical to enhancing productivity.’ The world was ill-prepared for a downturn in every way. The world has not seen a large-scale change in productivity because we haven’t seen a large-scale change in people’s engagement in work. We have by all accounts failed to engage people.

But fast forward to the back end of 2020 and the results are in. When push came to a pandemic, people changed in a heartbeat. We saw it everywhere. The under-engaged stepped up and made a real difference. They said we’re in it together. This is a call to action. The world needs a change in its management models as much as it does its operating and business models if it is to prosper and step up to the global societal, economic, community, and business challenges it will continue to face.

We need a fairer trade between our businesses and our people. We need to manage to engage. We owe it to our people. As leaders, we owe it to ourselves to do better.

 What are some key takeaways from your book “Manage to Engage”?

Oftentimes management is pointed to in a ‘blame game’ of why people are not engaged in their work. I don’t think it’s culpability that we should be discussing. I don’t believe your boss wakes up in the morning and purposefully thinks “Right then, today I am going to completely under engage my people and make them feel miserable”. No, I think they have so much come at them, so many plates spinning and balls bouncing, they simply don’t have the capacity or perhaps the capability to prioritize people.  It’s capability and capacity, not culpability. They want to but often don’t know-how.  

If you think about what we saw through the pandemic – all those people often labeled resistant to change, changed. And swiftly, speedily. What happened to all those stats about change failure?  Proudfoot has completed some 50,000 client engagements – 30,000 organizational operational assessments and 20,000 improvement and transformation programs. We’ve coached 1 million leaders. We know three things for sure: One, it’s less about people’s resistance to change and more about their lack of understanding of how they can participate, how to put their toes in the water when it comes to change. And that’s an engagement issue. We need to better engage so people see their place in their workplace; And two, nothing moves until people move.

Engagement powers everything and the person who has the most impact on your engagement is your immediate supervisor.

Suffice to say, that means the most critical person to get change at scale across an organization after the vision is clear, is the supervisor. The immediate boss. They hold the success of a business in their hands; And three, the businesses that have more success at change, at safety, at improvement, at transformation, and engagement, are those that have active managers who are visible (remote or not), prioritizing people connection in their day to day execution of their jobs – they manage to engage.

Now back to the capability or capacity issue. As managers keep their plates spinning and balls bouncing, it can be tough for them to see pragmatic solutions that enable them to manage to engage and achieve their results – and there are many. You start by knowing what triggers engagement and then adopting pragmatic solutions through your own behaviors to do just that.  

I offer up 9 triggers that I call the MI9 – the management innovation nine triggers of engagement. Because you’ve got to innovate how you manage as much as you do any other part of the business. Or just simply ‘my 9’ because the engagement triggers are in the hands of the manager. There are two bookends – Fair Trade and Freedom – and then the Cs – having a cause, a clean infrastructure, collaborating, connecting, building capability, as well as community and confidence.  Calibrate them to your teams, understand your role in bringing them to life and build your own capability in executing them.

If you want to be a great leader, you must first manage to engage, and this comes from the manager, not HR or policies and perks and ping pong tables.

Why is it important to find a balance between technology integrations and human capital investments?

Great things happen at the intersection of people and technology, but nothing moves until people move and technology will not move people. People will. Great managers do. And with the massive acceleration in technology and digitization, we are now experiencing, success will come to those firms that know and understand how to enable people to change their behaviors as rapidly and leverage that technology. 

Users don’t adopt, people do and that’s about behavior change, so the key is understanding that the beauty of technology comes when you can mobilize it. Technology becomes the multiplier when people understand its purpose in enabling them to be more effective. Whether it’s understanding how to use digitized data and make better decisions with it as it flows more easily across a business, or understanding how to more effectively use the digital business models that are emerging to serve customers better, or finally, how to better perform operations in a digitized world that provides the productivity increases required.

Humanize. Optimize. Digitize. In that order. People are the backbone of the great digital acceleration we are entering.

But, if we miss the engagement step again, as we have done in the past, we will again lose the productivity advantage, this time losing much more – talent, ideas, competitive advantage, market share. When you manage to engage, you will manage the changes ahead, because your people will help you through them, finding new and different ways to add value and create value in your business, and using technology to make it happen.    

What are some innovative tools and exercises that can be immediately applied in any management setting, in-person or virtually?

I have three great tools for you to use instantly.

One – The simplest yet most impactful change you could make in your management behavior immediately, particularly if you have remote teams, is to improve and increase your visibility with your teams – to go #headsUp. Take your nose out of your technology (in some cases use it to connect with people, not reports) and prioritize people – better connect with your people. Raise you’re to head up!  While there are some management capabilities you can develop to really be seen as a HeadsUp leader, like having presence and vision (converting the macro vision into team micro visions), being tech-savvy (using technology wisely), coaching your teams, and influencing teams outside your control, #HeadsUp is about truly being interested and active in your business, getting in the game.

Two, the real key is in developing a management routine. We call it 1.5.30. a rhythm you build into your day to help others perform. Check-in once a day for a quick catch-up (1). Check-in for 30 minutes once a week to talk about overall performance progress (5). Check-in for 60 minutes once a month, to deep-dive into how the job is going and talk development (30). When you move this routine into a rhythm, you earn the right to provide performance feedback, coach, and guide people. But you also learn what you need to do to help people be successful – finding out what’s holding them back and developing your own action plans to improve the ecosystem in which people work. It’s so much easier to say ‘I need to do my 1.5.30, rather than thinking in terms of annual performance reviews. Trash the annual and replace them with real-time, ongoing 1.5.30s and watch your people take off.

And three – what color is your day? In the book I describe the various activities managers invest their time in. For example, Red is the color of crisis whereas green is the color of growth (the time you invest connecting with people). There are many other colors. I recommend tracking your time over a day or better still a week and color each block of your time in a log that describes a Day in the Life of your work. By the end of the week, you’ll see what you really value by the color of your days. That becomes your challenge, establishing if you are happy that the way your time is invested is really giving you the results you want. If not, perhaps how you invest your time is not engaging. Your color will give you away.

Take the time to reflect on it and develop your own action plans to switch your colors to those that better engage. Invest wisely – the time you put in dictates the time your people will give you in return. 

How can entrepreneurs recognize and rapidly adapt to the post-COVID world of work where more people are working remotely?

As the leader of a business that focuses on hard, measurable, operational, results in improvement, people think it’s strange that I start conversations by asking how engaging the management in the business is? That’s because managing to engage is not only necessary today but it affects your results – people, profit and profitability go hand in hand. It’s not OK to only focus on the numbers. Firstly, if you only focus on the numbers, you likely won’t get results that stick. But secondly, no one has been through these times before and they can’t do it alone. You need your teams on the side and onboard with you, engaging. When you manage to engage, watch your teams take off and the numbers flow. 1.5.30 is key. 

In this new world, trust is also required. It’s understandable to fear that people won’t manage their time and effort effectively, but you have to let that go. Manage the team rather than the exception, that one person who hasn’t adopted and is not focusing can’t pull everyone else down and cause you to feel you must micro-manage everyone. You won’t keep your own sanity let alone that of your teams if you try to manage everyone traditionally. Frankly, checking up on people is a disengager – let that old world go. It’s key to check in but not up. That’s the difference between micromanagement and managing to engage. 

You also must recognize that small talk counts. Truly checking in with your teams. When you practice 1.5.30, you earn the right to talk freely. People become accustomed to your check-ins and it gives you the opportunity to talk about how people are feeling as well as how they are performing. Today, you really do need to get to know people for who they are. It’s not the old world of keeping a distance. Your people’s well-being is as important as their productivity. I’m not saying you need to become a psychologist. But you do need to bring your listening and empathy skills to work with you more than ever. And the more you practice HeadsUp and 1.5.30, the easier that becomes. 

At the same time, you need to find out what cheeses people off at work as well – and what better way to do that than through your 1.5.30 discussions. These are the things that trip people up and trip businesses up. The little things that turn people off – from the niggly things that get in the way of people performing to the broken processes, systems, and equipment that causes people to disengage, wondering how things can get done if the business can’t maintain its equipment or clean up its processes to enable people to be successful. 

80% of engagement comes from the direct manager, 20% from the ecosystem, the infrastructure that supports the business, its operating model.

But even that 20%, the manager controls and impacts by how they manage and how they learn and act on how the infrastructure works for people.    

What is your advice to women entrepreneurs during these challenging times? 

It seems everything comes in three’s:

One: To pull up their big girl pants, remove the doubt that can reduce confidence, and get in the game. This is a time to be present, active, and bold. To lean into your people and help them step up. To really connect with their people so they can leverage their support. You can’t be remarkable alone. It’s a team sport. Tell yourself that every day your job is to remove the barriers that prevent your people from being successful. When you look through that lens your actions become multipliers – you get 1 +1 = 3. You realize how much more can be achieved when everyone is in the game. 

Two: Never use flying monkey power. A flying monkey is that excuse you give someone as to why they need to do something. The customer wants it, the board wants it. No, if it needs to be done, no matter how hard, and you want it done, be transparent.

Don’t practice avoidance management by throwing out flying monkeys. Own what you need to be done because you need it done.

And three: So that leads to a really important piece of advice that took a long time for me to truly appreciate. Get the right people on the bus. The greatest mistake I made when I first became CEO was accepting the wrong people and thinking that someone in a role was better than no one. I’ve since learned that no one in a role will beat out the wrong person in the role, every time. Engagement can only come if you have the right team, and if you find yourself having to cajole and coerce people into doing things, particularly in management roles, they are not on your bus. Give people a voice about the things you’d like to do and achieve, but once a decision is made, if it’s not the one they wanted but the one you feel is more appropriate, they must agree or disagree but commit. You can not continue to push people to agree.

The key is understanding what commitment really is and what it is not. It is not someone saying to their team “I disagree with this but I committed to doing it anyway”.

No, Commitment is saying you agree and doing what then needs to be done.  Those who are not aligned with you will rarely bring their best selves to work, in fact, they may stop you from bringing your best self, worse still they will infect others. Take them off your bus. You don’t need them. 

I hate to end on a negative, so here’s a fourth – turn vision into verbs!  The way to achieve remarkable results and better manage to engage is to be an active manager in every way. Recall what I said earlier about people needing to understand how to participate in change? When you turn vision into verbs and purpose into plans, you help them see what they need to do to get in the game and go all-in. Then set them free to do it!  

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