This time out, I decided to write some thoughts down around engagement, simply because over Xmas I met up with a good friend who has been operating as a senior leader for decades in various companies. He said something to me that struck a cord around this, he said…

“If you have an engagement level of 80% that means your people don’t start work until Tuesday”

My initial thought was, that’s a bit simplistic and it doesn’t really work like that but after thinking deeper around this I actually believe he’s onto something here.


 Water has an engagement challenge!

I decided to have a look at some of the annual reports form a few water companies and they often state the engagement score. I won’t put specifics in here as I don’t think that’s helpful, however, there are scores that are in their 50′ and 60’s floating around. When reflecting on this, there is both a huge opportunity here and also a massive risk if this goes unchecked, as AMP8 plans may look great on paper but they will require people to make them fully realise.

The challenge can also become a little better understand and also more complex if you start to look at how engagement looks across differing functions and teams. Typically, in companies that have head office and field functions you can find a disconnect between the 2 which impacts one or both in terms of their engagement. Variation in engagement between head office and field teams should be understood and an appreciation that what works for one may not work for the other is really important in this respect.


How we can think about the 80% he mentioned

To get my head around what he said about not starting work until Tuesday I started to think a little deeper. If I wasn’t fully engaged in an operational environment, let’s say I was running a treatment works, I would still get my job done so that doesn’t quite fit. But then I considered the whole rather than just part…

As a person I can bring 3 things to my work.

My Head
My Heart
My Hands

Now this made more sense.

If I’m not fully engaged I would still bring my outward effort, my hands BUT my heart may not be in it and my head may not be brought to thinking around how I could make things better.

So you may have my hands but not my head and heart.

This is the challenge for Water Leaders. To gain the head, heart and hands of their people, every day.

The engagement levels I’ve seen in those reports suggest head and heart may be missing in some respects.

Things that generally won’t work at least not on their own

I’ve been in and around this type of challenge for around 20 years now and some consistent ideas have emerged for me around what doesn’t work, at least not in isolation anyway. Here’s what I’ve learned:

– Doing a roadshow set of events to engage everyone – this alone will not work but could be part of it

– Giving HR the responsibility for creating the engagement plan – these tend to be late and run a bit like a project.

– Stopping at 80% – I’ve seen this celebrated as excellent in a fair few scenario’s with the 20% left un explored.

– Asking everyone else to get the engagement sorted without looking at what you need to do differently – if you lead you are responsible for this.

– Taking tactical approaches rather than strategic ones – strategic means leaders are more involved, tactical tends to be delegated



3 things that i’ve seen work well

To try and help balance this out a little, there are some things that I’ve seen work well over that period. Here are 3 for you to consider.

1. The adaption of leaders and leadership teams leading to higher levels of trust – if there are no changes in how leaders are leading then I would argue that the engagement level will not change. Leaders have a direct impact on the environment which is the enabler or disabler for engagement.

What are you doing to adapt leadership behaviours to positively impact engagement e.g. being more visible with people, following through on a promise, actively listening and acting on it etc etc.

2. Development of a system to support alignment, connection and empowerment of everyone – putting into place the right touch points, the right conversations, focused on the right things but done in such a way that allows everyone to build the system and participate together. Not rolled out, rolled in.

What system do you have in place to connect people in every single day and how effective is it if the dial hasn’t moved?

3. Reduction in layers of hierarchy to support more effective communication – water companies can have a vast number of layers between front line operative and director. This can really hinder communication and therefore ability to take action that builds engagement. I’ve seen hierarchies flattened and within weeks engagement has gone up. It’s also far to say that the opposite could be true if the hierarchy is protecting people away from a bad leader. See point one.

How does communication move up through the levels, how does it work the opposite way? What is it’s quality when thinking about how it engages/disengages?


If you are going to have a proper go at taking on this challenge, there first has to be an acceptance that it is the responsibility of leaders and managers to do something about this and it will inevitably require them to change.

You can’t tell people to get more engaged, it will emerge if you create the right environment, every day, and leaders have the ability to influence this the most.

Are you just playing at this and of so are you willing to accept you may be holding your performance back?