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As our UK & European Awards Deadline slowly comes to a close, we at the Engagement Zone sit down with one of our judges: Duncan Howard – Engagement Lead of Brewin Dolphin. We ask Duncan what it takes to have a successful engagement program and what he will be looking for in this year’s entries.

EZ: What does employee engagement mean to you?

DUNCAN: I think engagement is many things, to many people. To me it’s about a feeling of ‘oneness’ with the organization, knowing that I am empowered each day to give my best, and perhaps most importantly about feeling good about coming into work.

EZ: What are your three tips for companies looking to drive engagement in their organisations?


Communicate – Don’t forget this is two-way; tell everyone what’s going on, and listen to what they are saying to you

Involve – Everyone has opinions and ideas that they want to share.

Change – You can’t change everything, but making changes and giving people the opportunity to make changes for themselves is vital.

EZ: What do you feel are the biggest pitfalls that companies should look to avoid when executing their engagement strategy?

DUNCAN: In my experience, companies tell their managers they need to drive engagement in their business unit when actually they should be empowering their managers to support the engagement of their people, a subtle but important difference.

EZ: Why do employees fail to buy in when companies try to ramp up engagement?

DUNCAN: I think there will always be individuals that are cynical when it comes to engagement seeing as just another fad or initiative that will be forgotten about shortly. Unfortunately, this can be reinforced when managers see it as a task that can be ticked off, rather than a culture they can influence.

EZ: What skills are most useful for everyone to have when trying to move towards a culture of engagement?

DUNCAN: This is difficult, there are so many things that are important, as each organisation or business unit will have a slightly different culture – to start with I would say communication, trust, empowerment, adaptability, problem-solving…but I could go on all day!

EZ: You’re a judge for The Employee Engagement Awards. What will you be looking for in the entries?

DUNCAN: I want to see the story of how organisations have embraced and made or tried to make, engagement part of their DNA. I want to see the difference it has made and the lessons they have learned on that journey.

EZ: How important do you think it is to connect Employee Engagement to Customer Engagement and why?

DUNCAN: I think it is very important; I am sure we all have stories where engaged employees have exceeded our expectations – and if we don’t have those everyone has a story about the disengaged employee who has made a routine hotel visit or shopping trip a conversation point for weeks afterwards! Personal anecdotes aside there is enough research to show the link between employee engagement and improved client outcomes.

EZ: What’s the best EE idea you’ve seen a company roll out/attempt and wish you’d had that idea yourself?

DUNCAN: Not an idea as such, but one of my previous employers trained all of its managers in team-based problem-solving techniques. This gave their managers the skill-set to deal with the local issues and support the engagement of their teams on a daily basis. Not surprisingly those that used their new knowledge saw significant increases in engagement compared to those that didn’t.

EZ: What’s the worst and glad that you didn’t?

DUNCAN: I could share lots of examples where good intent hasn’t quite worked out as it should, but it’s probably not fair to share them in this forum – ask me on a 1:1 basis.

EZ: Since you entered the world of work, what’s the best experience you’ve had?

DUNCAN: This is easy to answer; the best feeling is always seeing someone or something change for the better as a result of something I have done.

EZ: What’s the worst?

DUNCAN: Political battles!

EZ: Which person (dead or alive) would you love to be able to come in and speak to your workforce/colleagues?

DUNCAN: Bill Clinton – I have heard him speak before and he is really inspiring.

EZ: Favourite song to crank up after a tough day at work?

DUNCAN: After a tough day at work I tend to go out for a run, to clear my mind. My running music is quite eclectic so it could be anything from the Rolling Stones, Green Day, Lady GaGa, or Eminem. At the minute the Arctic Monkeys are a favourite.

EZ: Best place in the world you have visited?

DUNCAN: I have been fortunate to travel quite significantly, so there are lots of contenders for this for different reasons. My favourite country is Cambodia – a really fascinating place, closely followed by New Zealand which is spectacular.

EZ: The place you’d most like to visit?

DUNCAN: Hong Kong, the last time I was meant to go there was a Flu epidemic and we were advised not to go!

NOTE: Entries for the UK & European and ANZ  Employee Engagement Awards are now open. For your chance to be recognised as a great place to work, click the link here.