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Ep02: 4 elements of an amazing team

Building a highly engaged team might sound like a daunting task, but there are only 4 things you need to get right.

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In this episode, Business Psychologist (and the lead consultant of Oblong) Leanne Elliott outlines the only 4 things you need to do to build a team of people who care as much about the organisation as you do.

But beware: As Leanne says, “If you’re experiencing issues in your organisation and you think it’s your people, stop seeing them as a problem, instead see them as the solution – they are central to that solution.”


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The Transcript

⚠️ NOTE: This is an automated transcript, so it might not always be 100% accurate!

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Leanne Elliott 0:00
If you’re experiencing issues in your organisation and you think it’s your people, stop seeing them as a problem, instead see them as the solution – they are central to that solution.

Al Elliott 0:15
Hello, and welcome to the Truth, Lies & Workplace Culture podcast. This is episode two. I’m Al Elliott. And just give you a bit of context, this is a podcast for service based industries who have 15 or more employees, and they want their employees to care as much about their business as they do. Is that a fair summary?

Leanne Elliott 0:34
I think that’s a perfect summary.

Al Elliott 0:37
So what we’re talking about today – I’m quite excited about this one because I like practical application. So we’re gonna talk about today is the four things that you can do to improve your employee engagement. Now, we talked in episode one about what is employee engagement. I’m gonna ask Leanne in a second to summarise why listeners should care about employee engagement. But before we do, let’s just introduce ourselves a little bit more formally. So you are Leanne.

Leanne Elliott 1:04
I am. Next question.

Unknown Speaker 1:08
So, Leanne is the co founder of Oblong, which is a consultancy, which is based around engagement, culture, recruitment and management of great people.

Leanne Elliott 1:19
Yes, it is. And I’m a Business psychologist, I’ve been working with small businesses throughout my career, the odd large businesses aswell such as the DWP, the NHS on a consulting basis. But really, my experience has shown me that, to have success as a small business, to have growth as a small business, it really comes down to creating a team that cares as much about your business as you do.

Al Elliott 1:46
And so I’m Al, the other half of Oblong, but my background is all about sales and marketing. And that’s what I’ve been doing for 140,000 years. I’ve also started businesses, run businesses, had businesses go bankrupt, which is another story for another day. But I think what you’ll see the format of this is the very much I’m gonna be asking the questions. I will not be providing any kind of expertise because that’s Leanne’s job, because Leanne has letters after her name that are longer than my entire name. She’s very clearly…

Leanne Elliott 2:18
I’m not sure. Your name is really long. Mr. Two names in the middle,

Al Elliott 2:26
Should we should we tell everyone my stupid name is?

Leanne Elliott 2:28
Go on then.

Al Elliott 2:29
So my real name is Alastair Dallas Robert Elliott. There you go. Do with that what you will.

Leanne Elliott 2:35
Sounds very regal.

Al Elliott 2:38
I wish I was like Alastair Dallas Robert Elliott the third, or something? Anyway, let’s get back to this. So you take pride in your work, you’re a service based industry, you take pride in your work, and of course you do. But you should also take pride in your people. And you need to do that by ensuring you create an environment that ensures that your people are engaged. Shall we start with a very quick, like literally 90 second summary of what employee engagement is, and what happens when you don’t get it right.

Leanne Elliott 3:07
Yes, so if you want a more detailed explanation, go back to Episode One. If you starting in episode two, you rebel, I like you already. But maybe go back, find out a little bit more about employee engagement, but…are you alright there, love?

Al Elliott 3:20
I didn’t expect that. I liked that little riff.

Leanne Elliott 3:23
He just took a sip of water. So yes, go back and listen. But if you can’t by bothered fine, you’re a busy person, I understand. In a nutshell, employee engagement is something, is a phenomenon within your business,, and it’s about making sure that you are creating an environment that is nurturing the right employee attitudes, thoughts, feelings, that’s going to translate into employee behaviours, and that’s going to translate into business performance. As one of the, I guess the, probably the prominent voice in the psychology world on employment engagement. David McLloyd said that “employee engagement is a workplace approach, resulting in the right conditions for all members of the organisation to give their best every day, they’re going to be committed to the organization’s goals and values. And they’re gonna be motivated to contribute to organisational success.” Bonus, it’s also going to enhance their own sense of well being.

Al Elliott 4:18
So one of the things that Leanne said in a previous podcast or a previous episode was that she hates the F word. And it’s not the one you’re thinking of. It’s the, I love that word. We’ve had a discussion whether we should use it in the podcast, we’re only episode two. Let’s just pause that. But that’s the word fluffy. And I think that a lot of people, myself included, and possibly you who’s listening, is that you think of these things as like ‘a nice to have’, but there’s a direct correlation, particularly in service based businesses between engaged employees who want to create amazing work and, and profit and scalability. I mean, imagine if you had 30-40 employees who every single day. they came into work and they thought about either a better way to do what they’re doing orbetter work they can create, or how they can push the business forward and help you scale the business to where you want to be. We’re talking about real direct to bottom line impact here.

Leanne Elliott 5:18
Absolutely. And even the quickest Google search is going to show you that employee engagement has been empirically, scientifically, directly linked to better organisational outcomes from increased profitability, higher customer satisfaction, more growth, more creativity and more innovation, reduced turnover, higher wellbeing, therefore reduce absenteeism, the list goes on.

Al Elliott 5:41
So think back to Madmen. If you’ve watched Madmen? If you’re in the marketing advertising industry. I’m sure you’ve seen it. What made them want to stay till 11 o’clock 12 o’clock, work on a campaign ,work on the actual idea. Well, that well, it was down to engagement, they believed in the direction of the leaders. And although, actually that’s a great podcast episode

Leanne Elliott 6:05
There’s a fine line there betweenengagement and coercive leadership, but yeah, it was effective in motivating its people.

Al Elliott 6:13
I think what’s interesting, the episode where he injected everyone with LSD, was it LSD or something?

Leanne Elliott 6:18
Yes, but then micro dosing is also a thing in the creative world, another topic for another day.

Al Elliott 6:23
So let’s get back to the topic for today, which is the four things you can do to improve employee engagement? That’s not easy to say. So, Lea, do you want to start with number one?

Leanne Elliott 6:36
Yes, just to give a little context, before I dive into number one. The reality is there is no one fit model of assessing employee engagement in your organisation. And particularly if you’re a small organisation, I believe it’s very important to understand the unique drivers of engagement in your business, particularly in digital businesses, creative businesses, or even businesses that are recruiting more entry level roles out there likely to have a higher demographic of millennial, Gen Zed workforce. So people kind of age 38 and under.

Al Elliott 7:16
Sorry, I was about to ask you to define Gen Z and Millennial but I’m sure Yeah,

Leanne Elliott 7:19
So millennials, I think 1980 to 94. And then Gen Z is a generation after that. So 95, to, I can’t remember but 20 something. But the people, Gen Z are now the people that are entering the workforce and having quite the impact, they’re going to have slightly different drivers of engagement. So for example, we found with a client recently that corporate social responsibility was really important to this demographic. So it is important to look in your business and find those unique drivers engagement. That said, there is research that’s been done, and I’m going to reference my bessie mate David McLloyd, again, I’ve never met him, would with love to. Dave, if you’re listening, give me a call. But he did a really fundamental piece of research into employee engagement. It’s actually commissioned by the UK government back in 2009. Do you know why that was commissioned, Al?

No, I don’t know.

Al Elliott 8:17
It was commissioned because it’s estimated that disengaged employees, which we know are around 70% of the workforce claim to be disengaged. Yeah, the cost of that is estimated to be between 52 and 70 billion pounds per year.

Wow. That’s slightly more than you got paid last year.

Leanne Elliott 8:42
Only slightly, t but yeah, it’s it’s a massive economic problem, which is why this isn’t fluff. This isn’t nice to have, this is fundamental to business success, which is why the UK government commissioned this report. And what McLloyd found, he spoke to lots of different organisations, small, public sector, private sector, massive corporations, and he found that there are four general areas that organisations can concentrate their efforts to improve employee engagement.

Al Elliott 9:10
And just to check this is applicable, not this isn’t just the IBM’s and the Facebook’s of the world. This is applicable to someone who’s got 20 employees.

Leanne Elliott 9:17
Even more so applicable, I think, because when you think about a larger organisation, and we go back to that analogy of the boat last week. Again, if you didn’t listen, I’m not going to explain it, go back. But really think about that analogy again, you know, the the more people that you have rowing forwards, those people who are disengaged are potentially going to have less disruption or less impact in a larger business potentially. In a smaller business, if the mass majority, if 70% of your workforce are disengaged, you know, you’re talking you might have 4, 3-4 people that are rowing forward in your boat, and the rest aren’t. So I think it’s even more imperative that small businesses take note of employee engagement.

Brilliant. So let’s go get into the four. So, are you going to list them off in 1234? Or are you gonna go one explanation. Well, why don’t we? Do you know what I quite like when when you hear the four, and then you hear the context behind them.

So I’m gonna give you the kind of the psychological terms that were given. The terms are researchers gave which some make sense, some don’t, but we’ll go back through them. So the first enabler or driver engagement in your business that you have control of as a business leader. I think that’s an important thing to mention is that you have control over this. The first one is ‘Strategic Narrative’. The second is ‘Engaging Managers’. The third is ‘Employee voice’, and the fourth is ‘Organisational Integrity’.

Al Elliott 10:56
So shall we go through these one by one?

Leanne Elliott 10:58
Yeah. So strategic narrative is really about leadership. It’s about vision. It’s about empowering people. It’s about creating a vision that people can buy into, they believe in it, and that provides them with purpose, provides them with meaning. They understand the organisation, where it’s come from, where it is right now and where it wants to go. And I think there’s a really great. and we’ve talked about this a lot before, in terms of vision. Vision is not just something like amission statement, you write down. Does anyone really look at it? The reality is, when it’s done well, that translates to all levels within the organisation. And there’s a great, great story that’s been used across research and business when it comes to explain the impact of a vision. This is about JFK when he visited NASA, when they were trying to put a man on the moon. And he spoke to various different people, various employees different levels. And he spoke to the janitor, the person who cleans around, scrubs the toilets. And he said to him, what’s your role here. And the janitor turned around and replied, I’m here to put a man on the moon, sir.

Al Elliott 12:12
That’s so cool, gives you goosebumps doesn’t it.

Leanne Elliott 12:14
It does. Because there’s such a clear vision, and mission, and such great leaders that are making sure this is translated into all levels of the organisation, that even somebody who isn’t a technical role, they’re not literally going to be the person that enables that. But their role within that organisation is still so critical. And they understand that, they bring that purpose into themselves. That what’s my role – to put a man on the moon.

Al Elliott 12:41
So let’s just translate that then. So let’s just say that you are a web design agency, you own a web design agency, and there is someone in there, whose job it is to do the accounts. So if I understood this correct, that what they’re saying is, if the idea of the web design agency is to create the most effective lead generation websites that they can possibly do, possibly create for clients, then the person who just literally counts the numbers at the end of the day, is ensuring perhaps you might say, what’s your vision? What’s your, what’s your role? My role is to ensure there’s enough cash in the business so that the amazing designers can go and create amazing websites. Is that have I got that right?

Leanne Elliott 13:25
Yeah, but I think we can even take it one step further than that, if you’ve got an organisation that has such a clear vision. I remember doing some preliminary interviews before we launched an engagement survey with a client. And I was chatting with somebody who’d had various roles in thr business, been there for a number of years, and currently wasn’t in a management position. And I asked what his role was, what the purpose of his role was. And he answered me, and it was a Finance Agency. And he said, My role is to help business owners sleep at night.

Al Elliott 13:57
Wow. that’s cool.

Leanne Elliott 13:59
Really cool. Because that person understood that whilst they may be in a very technical role, and two removed from the customer, which is the business owner, everything they do is fundamentally contributing to the mission of that organisation. And the mission of that organisation was to help business owners sleep at night because they know they’ve got the finances to achieve what they want to achieve within their business.

Al Elliott 14:21
So I’m taking from this as a an owner of a few businesses before and I have embarrassingly written a few mission statements. And they’ve just been a bit bullshittingg. They haven’t really had any kind of practical application. So I’m taking from this that if you have a very clear mission statement, that can be summed up and replicated and what’s the word when you vocalise, that’s the word, and vocalised by every member of staff, every member of the team. Then you all have this shared vision. And what do you fancy Psychologists call this bit narrative?

Leanne Elliott 14:58
Strategic narrative

Al Elliott 15:00
So that’s number one. What about number two?

Leanne Elliott 15:02
And I think just to mention one thing on that strategic narrative as well, is that it goes beyond just having a good vision or mission statement. It’s then about how the changes you make either operationally, or process, or even just in terms of the terminology that you use in your business, can impact this. So for example, I worked for very progressive organisation in welfare to work that was founded simply through frustration, of seeing people who are benefit claimants not being treated as a customer, not having that customer experience. I’m here to help you. I’m not here to make sure you’re ticking the boxes you need to to claim your benefits. And one of the simple things that the MD did, and insisted upon, is that we’d never ever call the people we work with clients, ever. And that was standard in the industry to call them clients. No, absolutely, not. And if she heard it, she would come down on you so hard. The people we worked with were customers, they were our customers. When she was talking to managers, she’d say to us, how many customers do you have – and we didn’t work directly customers. But the point she was making was that if you’re a manager of a team, however many customers each member your team has on their caseload, add that together, and that’s the number of customers that you’re responsible for. And just that simple thing, built accountability to a level where, you couldn’t do anything other than then treat people as customers, encourage your team to, to promote that customer service, because you weren’t talking about your customer, Jane, where are they up to? You’re saying where’s our customer up to? And that is a simple example of just how it’s not just about having a fancy mission statement or values on the wall, it’s actually about how do you translate that into your business? What are the behaviours you expect from your people to see that vision manifest within your business?

Al Elliott 17:07
Okay, so that’s the first thing we can do to improve employee engagement. It clearly resonates with you. So what’s number two?

Leanne Elliott 17:15
So number two is engaging managers. And I think any person, business owner, psychologist, certainly HR professional, is going to be very clued in on the difference between leaders and managers. And I think that the difference is, as I mentioned there, that my director is phoning me as a manager. My role is to manage this operation with the business and what the vision is. And that’s what engaging management is. It’s the people who really focus their people, they give them scope, they understand how they can give their people responsibilities to deliver on this vision. They treat their people as individuals, there’s no one fits all approach. You know, they really, they have empathy for people – a genuine interest in people. And they’re a coach, they stretch their people, they help them develop their skills, apply their skills. They give them influence. The thing about managers, and although we’re talking about four things you can do within a business to support engagement. If you only do one thing, make sure you have great managers. Recruit great managers. Train great managers. Keep good managers. In research terms, the latest research, it’s actually 80 years worth of research gathered by Gallup, who you might remember I mentioned last week in terms of an engagement provider. They have found that, roughly speaking, about 67% of the variance of engagement within a business comes down to management. y 60 to 70%. And what I mean by variance is that if you do nothing else in your business, but you have great managers, then you’re two thirds of the way there to having great engagement. If you have bad managers, but you’re doing everything else to support engagement. At best, you’re having a 30% impact on the employee engagement in your business.

Al Elliott 19:15
So do we want to move on to number three then?

Leanne Elliott 19:18
Yeah. So number three is employee voice. I think this is really the root of engagement. And we chatted last week about how it’s one thing to give your employees a voice. But there needs to be authenticity behind that. If you’re not going to apply the feedback that you get, then you’re better doing nothing. Or you’ll do far more damage in terms of employee engagement and morale by asking for opinions and then not doing anything with them. But it goes beyond that as well. Yes, ask employees for their opinion, but also creating an environment where you allow them to challenge views, either between teams or externally. You know, this is as you said before about wanting people to create new ideas and be bold and want to work to improve things. They can only do that if they have employee voice. Employees and not the problem. And I think, which is why we’ve called this podcast pride in your people, you take pride in your work, you have to take pride in your people as well. So they’re not, they’re not the problem. If you’re experiencing issues in your organisation, and you think it’s your people. Don’t see them as a problem, see them as the solution. They are central to that solution. Involve them, listen to them, allow them to contribute, utilise their skills and experience and apply their ideas.

Al Elliott 20:38
I love that. And there’s so many examples in the sexy Silicon Valley where products like life changing company changing products have come from an engineer who was sitting there thinking this hasn’t worked for me, let me create my own solution. Hackathons within industries, where I go within companies, where people will create innovative stuff. And let’s be honest, if you don’t think that anyone’s listening, why would you bother talking?

Leanne Elliott 21:07
Ultimately, yeah, creating environments are gonna attract certain types of people. And that’s what culture is, you know. If you work at Ryanair, the culture may be very different than if you work in the NHS. You’re gonna attract different people. So it’s not a case of all we have to be listening to everybody in the room, implement every single idea. It’s empowering people to feel safe enough to offer those ideas, and having integrity as a leader that if it’s going to have an impact on your business, actually implementing them.

Al Elliott 21:33
Cool. Okay, so what’s number three?

Leanne Elliott 21:35
That was number three. You’re enjoying it, though. The time is flying by.

Al Elliott 21:41
I know, what’s number four?

Leanne Elliott 21:43
So number four is organisation integrity. Which sounds a bit…

Al Elliott 21:49

Leanne Elliott 21:49
Yeah, little bit, doesn’t it? Yeah. But I think what it’s really about is making sure there’s no ‘say do gap’. Promises made are promises kept. Or there’s an explanation given as to why not. I think this is so key. 1) making sure that if you have values on your wall, you live by them. So if you say, we promote a learning culture, there are no mistakes here, there is no blame. Yet, as a leader, as a manager, you see a mess up with a client, and you go charging in with an email or a phone call going, “What the hell is this? What happened? What were you thinking?”, Then you’re not reinforcing the values that you say your organisation has. A that inconcurrence is a massive source of disengagement. The other side to organisational integrity as wel is that promises are kept or an explanation given? Employee engagement is about having an adult to adult relationship or conversation. Yes, you know, you can have to make difficult decisions. As a business owner, you can’t always give people exactly what they want. And I think a great example of that, working with some of our clients was the impact of the pandemic, and particularly financially, you know, bonuses were promised and they’re not given with no real explanation. I understand the reason. It’s because we didn’t want to, bonuses were related to revenue, revenue performance has stagnated because the impact the pandemic, we don’t want to worry people, their jobs safe. But the problem with protecting people, is you create this power dynamic that isn’t adult to adult, it’s adult to child. And that in itself then breeds behaviours of ‘well, why won’t you tell me? Do you not trust me to know everything? Oh, everything’s fine. So why am I not getting my bonus?’ So integrity as an organisation comes from having integrity as a leader.

Al Elliott 23:45
I love that. I mean, you’ve talked time and time again about congruence and how the congruence is important in every single part of the business, whether it’s marketing sales, whether it’s leadership, whether it’s running teams, it’s hybrid, you know. Yes, you can work at home, but then, you know, I want you to clock in and out and use toggle to track what you’re doing at home. I think it’s, I think that’s really really cool.

Leanne Elliott 24:12
I think even with that, and actually saw that as an example as well during the pandemic, of organisations, not using toggle, but time sheeting l how much time has taken a specific task. And when I spoke to employees they were like “Oh, they just don’t trust us to work from home, they’re keeping an eye on us”. Then I spoke to the leaders and they’re like no, we just want to make sure that our employees aren’t spending, because we can’t see them, aren’t spending more time they should be at work on letting work bleed into home time. Or commercially, understanding the customers that are draining our time but perhaps not producing the level of income. But that wasn’t discussed. So this incongruence of actions and views was causing toxicity and once the adult to adult conversation was had everyone breathed out was like okay. That’s good.

Al Elliott 25:04
So I hope thatgiven you something, at least one of those four things that you could implement almost straight away, like in the next week or so in your organisation. If you are looking for a little bit more extended help on that, then as you probably know by now, we help businesses and predominately service based businesses, to build amazing cultures where the team cares as much about the business as you do. If you’re interested in that, then just go to our blog or you can email me And by the way, if you would like to listen to this very clever, lady, I’m biassed because she’s my wife, but very clever lady for 25 minutes for no money whatsoever – bearing in mind she normally charges about a million pound an hour. Just email That’s And we pick one person every week, who will get a zoom call to ask Leanne whatever they want. So is that everything for now?

Leanne Elliott 26:10
I think so yeah. And just to kind of recap the things we’ve talked about. The practical things that you can do within your business. And when we create roadmaps for our clients, they typically revolve around those four aspects. But to know exactly where the issues are, you might have an intuitive feeling you might have other cues in your business, it’s going to help you identify the areas that you need to focus in on. But really, the best thing you can do, action is only going to be impactful if it’s the action that’s required. And to understand the actions required, run an engagement survey, do an audit, ask your people how things currently are within the organisation. Because the risk of just jumping in with these four things without having the data to fall back on is you might be making investments that aren’t going to have the impact on your business that you’re looking for.

Al Elliott 27:00
Brilliant. And if you’re looking for a good solution for engagement surveys, and maybe you don’t have the budget to recruit us to do it, then go back to Episode One. At about the 15 minute mark, we start talking, Leanne starts talking about the alternatives for engagement surveys and some of those are very affordable or free and so if you haven’t got the budget for us then use one of those? Okay, guys really interested in your feedback If you want to tell us anything you want about the podcast, we’d love your feedback. And if you want to learn more, go to oblong All right, we’ll see you next time.

Leanne Elliott 27:38

Al Elliott 27:38
Bye bye

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