A Practical Guide to Demonstrating ROI through Employee Experience

This is promotional content. The guide is free.

“Proving the worth and the importance of wellbeing strategies is absolutely key; we want to make sure that people are taking employee experience as seriously as financial health in the organisation”

says Kim Atherton, Chief People Officer at OVO Energy. Find out more here
Employee Experience and Wellbeing have been dubbed the biggest HR trends of 2018. Wellbeing at work is based on people’s immediate work environment and their perceptions and experience of their quality of life at work. Employee Experience is moving increasingly into the focus of senior leadership in organisations across the globe, companies are looking to create a workplace environment that encourages employees to flourish and thrive.
The implementation of successful employee wellbeing strategies can not only have an effect on individual performance, but can also have a significant impact on overall business growth. Developing an employee-centric culture in the workplace requires a long-term strategy and on-going efforts to measure employees’ happiness and wellbeing.
In this exclusive Pocket Guide, Lindsay Beresford, Head of Employee Experience at Royal Mail, and Atherton, share their thoughts on what makes a good employee wellbeing strategy. It delves into how they measure employee wellbeing within their organisations, how they’ve incorporated digital throughout their employee wellbeing strategies, and of course, the ROI recognised as a result of improving wellbeing. View the full version here
The guide was created ahead of the upcoming Employee Experience Forum, taking place in London, 25 – 27th September, where both Beresford and Atherton will be speaking. Find out more information about the event here.
If you’d rather ask for a copy of the pocket guide or conference brochure to be sent straight to your inbox please email enquire@iqpc.co.uk

How to Map Out the Employee Journey

The lifeblood of the organisation is the employee, making employee journey mapping a crucial part of the HR toolset.
Journey mapping is a technique which Customer Experience Directors have come to rely on, but it’s still new to HR. Currently can you say that you know where your employee pain points are? And what causes most churn in your organisation? At CX Network they created an interactive map that allows you to map the employee journey on your own terms! View the full map here.
employee journey
Right from candidate stage, on to onboarding, training and upwards to their promotion or exit interview – how can we ensure the employee feels valued on their journey?
Did you know that 72% of interview candidates who have had a bad experience share it online directly or with someone! With websites such as Glassdoor where you can rate a company’s interview experience it’s now more important than ever to ensure you have a procedure in place for a good candidate experience.  By having a great reputation you are also most likely to see the best candidates applying for roles in your firm.
Onboarding is a key stage for loyalty and engagement. 69% of employees are most likely to stay with a company for three plus years if they experience great onboarding.  It’s been recognised that it is not enough to give yearly appraisals – Ian Woodward, Group HR Director at Caesars Entertainment has rolled out a coaching and feedback strategy which gives real- time feedback to front-line staff.
One of the biggest trends for 2017 will be to build an employee experience relevant to your customer experience, Niall Ryan-Jones, Head of Employee Experience at Harrods has merged the gap between CRM and ERM and seen fantastic results.
Recognition and empowerment are key things employees cited as needed in a workplace. 46% said they would leave a job they held for years for better job satisfaction even if it meant retraining.
Employee Mapping is key to shape the employee experience.

Discover more about improving your employee experience at the Employee Experience Forum 2017 – Download the agenda here or join the discussion online using #EmployeeXPforum

8 Trends in Human Capital Management

Deloitte Human Capital Trends
The Deloitte Human Capital Report

Hrchitects.net wants to provide a selected access to existing reports that can help you in your daily work. You can rely on hrchitects.net to only lead you towards high quality material.
The Report “Global Human Capital Trends 2016” is a must read for all HR professionals, business leaders and consultants.
The report describes 8 trends:

  1. Organizational design Leadership
  2. Culture
  3. Engagement Learning
  4. Design thinking
  5. Changing skills of the HR organization
  6. People analytics
  7. Digital HR
  8. Workforce management

This is a high quality report and can surely inspire you in your daily business. If you don’t like to read you can also watch some videos here.

Title Global Human Capital Trends
Author Various Deloitte people
YOP 2016
Link http://dupress.com/periodical/trends/human-capital-trends/
Language English

This article has not been sponsored by the authors of this report. Quality merits amplification.

Leadership Strategies for Engagement at Work

This blog is about the impact of leadership strategies on employee engagement.


John (not his real name) is a top-notch designer. He leads a team of designers charged with some highly technical work for some very particular and demanding clients. John has become extremely frustrated with his team. It seems that, throughout his workday, members of his team are constantly interrupting and checking in with John about issues that, based on the team members’ experience, they should be able to handle independently. John finds these constant interruptions aggravating. They undermine his ability to complete his own work. As a result, John is often irritable, dismissive, or perhaps even hostile towards his team members when they seek his help. As the entire team’s performance declines, John’s stress increases. Finally, John resorts to taking a sick day to avoid further interruptions and complete his work from home.

Internal Working Models

When examined as a cumulative set of experiences, John’s entire history of interactions becomes a set of memories, beliefs, and expectations about the thinking, emotions, and actions related to his role as a leader. These, in turn, influence how his future leadership strategies will be carried out. These patterns of behaviors are “internal working models” (IWM) (Bowlby, 1969). These are based upon how leaders treated him, how he saw leaders treat others, and John’s current history of interactions with others. These IWMs, which are both conscious and unconscious, serve several purposes in leadership.

  1. They help explain differences in the way people lead;
  2. They play an important role in guiding thinking, emotions, and behavior in leader-relevant contexts (i.e., engagement);
  3. They help one establish a view of the self (motives for supporting and leading others), as well as a view of others (recognizing others as worthy of support and protection).

If people lack clarity in their understanding of self or others, they will be likely to report different levels or patterns of engagement [word substituted] at different times.
Further, these mental models, when measured, are an accurate reflection of the range of both cognitive and behavioral strategies that can be associated with leadership (successful and unsuccessful). Engagement is affected because these leadership strategies can be adaptive (flexible and supportive) or maladaptive (rigid and unsupportive), depending upon the context.


We live in the most connected age in human history. Yet, our trusted relationships that serve to protect us, keep us safe, and help us to thrive in our careers are routinely ignored by leaders of all ranks. Research has revealed that the influence of trusted positive relationships continues throughout one’s lifetime, or as Bowlby (1979) put it, “from cradle to grave”. A recent Gallup’s engagement survey revealed that only 2% of employees who are ignored by their managers are engaged in their work (Gallup, 2016).
John’s initial behavior and response was geared toward avoidance of his team. This attitude is based on John’s perception of his team, or its members, as generally untrustworthy and undependable. On the other hand, he views himself as “unacceptable” or (defensible) “too good,” whereby his relationship(s) pose a threat to his leadership and control, and/or are simply not worth the effort (Sperling & Berman, 1994). Additionally, John provided the type of support that was more beneficial to himself than to his team.
From the leadership point of view today, organizations that do not pay enough attention to people and the deep sentiments and relationships connecting them are consistently less successful than those that do (Library.hbr.edu).
The moment that a leader can acknowledge that the goal of leadership is building positive trusting relationships, and that safety and security is as important as strategy and process, he/she has entered the world of engagement.


Engagement is as much about emotions as it is about actions and performance. Successful leadership is dependent on channeling emotions (one’s own as well as those of others) to support engagement and ultimately success. Unfortunately, traditional leadership theories have taught us to leave emotions and our internal self at the door. This suggests that leadership should be exercised (1) by coercion and force; or (2) compulsive self-reliance, requiring abdication of leadership in favor of distancing strategies from employees when anxiety-provoking events that need leaders to interact with others.
Do these kinds of leadership strategies make followers feel safe and increase or even maintain engagement? Empirical evidence and pertinent research convincingly show that when anxiety, fear, and coercion are lessened, and leaders and followers mutually protect, trust, and coöperate with each other, performance increases exponentially. According to Hassan and Ahmed (2011), this is the natural reaction to feeling safe and a central tenet of engagement.


Most people work under the premise, “If I cannot trust that you will keep me safe or look out for me, I must protect myself.” In the workplace, this “self protection” mechanism comes at a price, known as disengagement. As protecting oneself requires much energy, not much is left for work to be done (Kiel, 2015). This is clear in John’s case, who expended most of his energy on protecting his job (working from home), and not doing his job (leading his team).
The most fundamental, powerful, and enduring fuel for performance is a feeling of safety  in ourselves and in the world around us. Most of us spend the greatest percentage of our waking lives in the workplace. But how much energy and capacity is squandered each day worrying in conflict and competition with colleagues, or fielding questions or complaints.

Leadership Strategies

Avoidant strategies.
John exhibited “deactivating,” as one of three leadership strategies for dealing with the internal emotional disruption(s) from his team. Deactivating strategies are based on attempts to deny that interpersonal relationships (and the corresponding trust and cooperation) are important. John was unwilling to make too many emotional demands on his team. Thus, by staying home and on task, internally at least, he was under impression that he maintained his leadership position, as he avoided rejection or failure.
Anything that, or anyone who distracts the individual or frustrates what he or she is doing will make that individual feel anxious, agitated and cross so anyone who adds to the workload, demands a change in focus, threatens to fragment the task is likely to be viewed with hostility (Rhodes & Simpson, 2004).
Such distancing and defensiveness in service to oneself is hardly indicative of full engagement and successful leadership that puts safety and support of others ahead of one’s own. For John, keeping his “emotional distance” seems imperative; yet, it comes at some interpersonal and psychological costs. It means that John cannot bring all of his self (Kahn, 1990) to his leadership, severely restricting his engagement with his team and the team’s functioning.
Anxious strategies.
Another strategy type is known as “hyperactivating.” Individuals exhibiting this strategy tend to be characterized by intrusive behaviors; over involvement or micro managing of people, events, and situations; providing help and support that is not required; excessive demands for reassurance, and to pursue, often unsuccessfully, their own unmet needs for feeling safe and secure. Until these leaders are successful at feeling safe, they can do nothing else, compromising their relationships and their effectiveness. Their success would be based on shifting their focus to other’s distress and not to one’s own emotional state. These leaders may claim that they are fully engaged, but they are motivated solely by the desire to gain the favor and acceptance from the organization.
Secure strategies. Finally, a third strategy is called “secure.” Leaders that adopt secure strategies balance the needs of their followers and allow them to work independently or in groups, depending upon the circumstances. Secure strategies serve as “insurance for survival” (at least in a psychological sense). Flexible and adaptive, these strategies recognize, and leaders are willing to give, the wide range of types of support necessary to meet the needs of their followers, but not overly so! This behavior allows followers to feel safe, be more effective at problem solving, take on calculated risks and new challenges, be creative, and trust and coöperate with each other. Only after secure relationships have been restored or repaired can full engagement truly be achieved.
Leadership Strategies


Few attempts have been made to conceptualize leaders, their strategies for leading (leadership), and engagement in terms of relationship functioning. If organizations wish to improve engagement levels, they might do well to focus on the followers’ perceptions of the support, protection, and safety their leaders offer (Saks, 2006). The self-focused motives underpinning hyperactivating and deactivating leadership strategies interfere with those provisions of support, safety, and protection in relationships. Ultimately, they undermine the goal of a fully engaged workforce.
Contact the author directly about bibliographical references

Relationships matter for Engagement (3/3)

This is the third of three blogs under the title
Individual Differences in Leadership and Engagement: Why Relationships matter. 

Attachment Theory

Attachment theory or attachment is the foundation that helps explain not only the importance of leaders relationships but also an individuals functioning effectively and their ability to engage with their work. Attachment gives deeper meaning to the behaviors and emotions that leaders see in others everyday but struggle to understand and deal with. Attachment helps to explain how individuals “survive” internal bouts of uncertainty, confusion, and fear, as well as organizational conflicts, and engagement in their work and relationships. Attachment also explains how behaviors, once necessary to perform and succeed, are now interfering with productive relationships, and hinders rather than advances individual and team performance.
John Bowlby, a British psychoanalyst, originally developed attachment theory. Attachment Theory describes the formation and quality of relationships between individuals, particularly during times of stress, uncertainty, and confusion. Attachment is widely considered one of the most influential, scientifically tested, theories of human behavior and emotional regulation within the workplace. Seven decades of research has shown that attachment is a universal characteristic that predicts an individual’s development of relationship competence and positive self-image, essential elements of a leader’s ability to engage and inspire others and to be inspired and engaged themselves.
When you work with a public that is often very demanding and fickle at the same time ,  economic conditions, as well as the globalization and diversity of the marketplace, and you add in the uncertainty of shareholder concerns, supply chain disruptions, advancing technology, and new and expanding government policies and regulations, these struggles are quite likely to create the types of anxious, confusing, and threatening circumstances that activate attachment. Attachment has four defining characteristics:

  • The primary feature is to  and maintain physical and psychological proximity to the caretaker, that special individual who is stronger, wiser, and more capable.
  • The second characteristic is that the attachment figure or primary caregiver acts as a safe haven or a source of comfort and security for the individual so that they experience diminished anxiety and/or relief from threatening circumstances.
  • Third, the attachment figure serves as a secure base from which the individual explores the social and physical world. Here that means he/she is free to engage with coworkers, leadership and the organization, to be innovative, and problem solve. Just as Mitzi was free to continue on with our morning walk.
  • Lastly, the individual experiences increased anxiety during unwanted or prolonged separation from the attachment figure.

Mental Models

Our early experiences actually shape our brain circuits and become represented as mental models of how we feel about ourselves and how we feel about others. Through repeated experiences, our mental models become automatic, acting at an unconscious level, and they have a lasting effect on future relationships and interactions at work!
By viewing the world through our mental models, all of us enact or construe experiences to fit their particular model. These unconscious strategies shape the way we interpret our interactions with clients, our coworkers, and managers, and affect the ways we behave towards others. Positive mental models become a source of strength, confidence, flexibility, and adaptability. Negative working models are a source of rigid or chaotic thinking that can lead to inappropriate or dysfunctional behaviors, the results of which stifle a person’s confidence and ability to actively engage with others and their work.
Because our brains are constantly bombarded with information. In order to do our work, our brains need to filter out and prioritize the information it receives. And when information is missing, our brains, based on this filtering, often fill in the blanks. Again, so we can go about our daily lives and function at work. That’s the good news! The bad news is that the brain also filters information and works to exclude information that goes against what we believe and expect from other people and about the circumstances or situations that we are in. And it does this even when there is evidence to the contrary. This is one of the big reasons efforts at organizational change can be so difficult.

Attachment Styles

Mary Ainsworth, a colleague of Bowlby’s, documented that these powerful mental models become organized into different patterns of behavior she called attachment styles. Currently four attachment styles have been identified.
The first attachment style is called secure. When the mother or caregiver consistently engages with an infant in a timely and appropriate fashion, any perceived “threat” is reduced. Then, the infant is able to calm down and she experiences her caregiver as reliable, helpful and supportive. The infant feels safe and secure in her world. Just as Mitzi felt safe with me.
Securely attached people have positive feelings about themselves and others, and can fully bring themselves towards their work and towards working with others, as well as learning new things (i.e. a new computer system). Moreover, if they run into difficulties, they feel confident that they can problem solve and/or gain support and help from their supervisor, manager or leader. The individual understands and balances the need for working alone and working together as a team.
Further, research findings show that when employees have a supportive, secure relationship with their leader, one where they feel a sense of security, they are more likely to trust others, work harder and follow directions, and to willingly devote themselves to the goals and objectives of the organization.
The second attachment style is called insecure/anxious. When an employee is faced with stressful situations and the leader’s responsiveness is out of sync with the employees needs, the employee experiences the leaders, or attachment figure, as unreliable, worries about the attachment figures support and accessibility, and is uncertain that relief from the stress will be provided. Their success at seeking and maintaining proximity to their attachment figure has been experienced as erratic, causing the employee to remain in a heightened state of anxiety.
Internally, the threat of disappointing, making a mistake, or not knowing makes the employee constantly strive to cover every eventuality. They constantly ask themselves, “Have I?” “Did I?”   “Will I?” And “What if?” This constant anxiety takes a lot of energy out of us and our brains will not allow us to remain in this chronic state of heightened anxiety for very long. This can lead to excessive feelings and behavior based on guilt, agitation, and even anger, as well as poorer work performance.
The last two types of attachment style occur due to a leader’s ongoing or constant failure to provide support and comfort to their employees, they have abdicated their responsibility as the stronger, wiser, and more capable attachment figure.
The insecure/dismissing individual holds a positive image of himself or herself but a negative image or distrust of everyone else. They have an over-inflated view of themselves and attempt to control their fear, their surroundings, and their relationships. Exercising control over their surroundings gives this individual the illusion of safety and security. In some cases, they may engage in the bullying of others and/or pretend neediness or friendship as a means to control others and relieve their own fears or uncertainties.
The fourth attachment style is insecure/fearful. An insecure/fearful individual has a negative image of themselves and lacks trust in themselves or others. Evidence suggests that these individuals appear to be the most susceptible as targets of exploitation or bullying. Highly sensitive and fearful of rejection, these individuals are professionally very competent and skillful and because of this, most likely to be the first ones promoted.
Employees in all four attachment categories experience varying levels of stress, anxiety and confusion, however it is how their leadership responds to their distress that in part determines how well the employee ultimately copes with the stress, anxiety and confusion, as well as engaging actively at work.
Attachment provides the ideal framework for studying leadership and engagement because it stipulates that the need for security and protection is universal and a fundamental need for all employees! What this means is that leaders have their own attachment needs to be concerned with. Therefore, leaders have a dual role to play: one is that of a caregiver, available, supportive and helpful to the employees, and the other as a care-seeker, needing their own support and help to meet the demands of leadership and functioning work. Imagine the conflict resulting from a leader or manager asking and promoting engagement when everything inside of them is saying something different!
In general, as leaders, the feelings of anger, frustration, helplessness, confusion and anxiety that you experience in response to employees, are all useful tools for recognizing how various attachment styles are brought into the workplace and interact with each other to help or hinder inspiring and engaging others and engaging with others.
The principle objective here was to indicate the importance of positive relationship functioning between leaders and employees and its importance to active engagement at work. While there are significant challenges relative to leadership and engagement remaining, this post suggests three of those challenges might be:

  • Where are YOU when it comes to providing the safe and secure environment? Like all positive, well-functioning relationships, if the leader is secure, then the promotion of safety and security for the employees is somewhat assured, freeing the employee to learn, develop and perform (i.e. engagement). However if the leader is insecure, then it’s quite likely the employees may adopt mistaken behaviors or actions he/she gets from the leader, under the mistaken belief that these behaviors and actions are the norm. In the latter case, the cycle of disrupted relationships continues, affecting the engagement of both of you.
  • Once you are aware of how relationships can hamper your efforts at inspiring and engaging with others, then you are in a better position to do something about it.
  • That we have widely different levels beyond which we begin to feel anxious and unsafe, and relief from these threatening circumstances becomes the primary motivator of our behavior.

Engagement is a choice, not a process. Engagement is a feeling, not a command. When threatening circumstances appear, leadership becomes a choice, and engagement happens when leaders choose to look out for those they lead, to provide an environment and the types of relationships that makes everyone feel safe and secure—just like with Mitzi and me (see the start of the first blog of this blog chain).
Note: This post is based, and has been expanded, on a talk given by Simon Sinek that is available on Ted.com. It is also based on a presentation I made at a leadership conference, May 2015, hosted by the Midwest Division of Quest Diagnostics in Denver, CO. Slides and complete citations for the presentation are available upon request.

Relationships matter for Engagement (2/3)

This is the second of three blogs under the title
Individual Difference in Leadership and Engagement: Why Relationships matter.
You can find the first blog here.


Conflicting Targets

The leader’s main objective is to establish and maintain performance criteria focused on the needs of the organization and its success. This objective supersedes that of providing an environment that focuses on safety and protection and that makes others engaged and successful. It’s not surprising that engagement in organizations has remained at such low levels. In 2012, for example, Gallup reported engagement levels worldwide at a mere 13% and in the US, the cost to organizations for failed engagement and increased stress is estimated at between $300 and $500 billion dollars annually.
Today, the common form of leadership is hierarchical, top to bottom. Leaders expect trust and cooperation based on authority and power, and not based on a reciprocal need for help or feeling safe. Given these forms of leadership, you will do what is asked, but you will not support or engage with them. Given these forms of leadership, employees will lack motivation. They are less likely to provide discretionary effort. They are unproductive, and are likely to spread their negativity to others. Further,

“…the risk of employees not finding the safety and protection necessary to engagement [word added] is that people will sabotage the organization. These people will chant the corporate song, but will criticize and resist top management efforts at growth and success…” (Author unknown).

Is this the kind of leadership that inspires you? Is this the kind of leadership and engagement that you inspire in others?

The new CEO

I was witness to the following example: At a meeting with the entire staff, a newly appointed CEO announced that the organization had suffered massive financial losses due to possible criminal actions by former executives. Further, the financial difficulties meant government regulators were considering closing down the organization. Changes were going to be necessary. As you can imagine, the assembled staff was visibly shocked by this turn of events. Upon hearing the reassuring words from the CEO, the staff responded by saying, “what can we do to help?” “What do you need from us?” Almost to a person, the staff was willing to do whatever it took for the organization to survive, they were willing to give of themselves and go above and beyond their specific role and duties, to trust and cooperate with the CEO. The CEO’s announcement and the plan to save the organization made them feel safe and their engagement level was higher than it had ever been. But simply having a plan was not enough.   Five years later after unfulfilled promises by the CEO, massive restructuring and layoffs, and continued failing of technology and resources, a competitor acquired the organization. In addition, during this 5-year stretch, the CEO continued to receive yearly raises and bonuses (amounting to a 40% increase), while the staff received nothing. At the staff meeting to announce the acquisition, those same employees, those that still remained, responded to this news by saying, “What does this mean for me?” “What about a raise?” “Is my job secure?”
All that the staff members who spoke out were telling me was, they were feeling unsafe; all they were saying is they could not trust their leader. The staff’s lost and disrupted relationships caused by the layoffs and reorganization, and their experience with the CEO made them more sensitive to risks of engagement and less inclined to simply trust and cooperate with the CEO to protect their interests (i.e. make them feel safe). The CEO had sacrificed others for his/her own gain. For the staff, it was not the disparity of salary and bonuses, rather it was that leadership violated the single most important tenet leading to engagement—the essence of a social contract or a supportive relationship that says, “I will keep you safe, and I will protect you.” If the conditions are wrong, or our relationships become compromised, we are forced to protect ourselves, and that is inherently bad for the organization—leadership has failed—we feel and become disengaged.
Here is another example: Upon beginning her shift, the assistant manager of a national retail chain took photos of merchandise returned to the back storeroom that had been thrown around and piled up in a haphazard manner. She said, “I am taking this photo just in case my manager asks.” What she is really saying is that she feels unsafe and is protecting her own interests against those of the organization (determining the cause and solution to the mishandling of the merchandise). When leadership fails, we are forced to protect ourselves.

Relationships matter

We learn, we trust and cooperate, and we are inspired best from people who we are connected with in positive ways. And, at no other time is that trust and cooperation tested than when one party is feeling threatened. Indeed, evidence suggests that trust between parties, employees and leaders, is almost by definition an outcome of the quality of their relationship.
It takes considerable time, energy, and attention to maintain relationships that promote active engagement in the organization and that inspires everyone to perform at their best. It is not a quick fix, and most often, when things go awry, leaders will default to “performance” mode or:

  • Are overly concerned about how productive the group is;
  • Focus on the size of their bonus or;
  • How quickly they can be promoted.

We default to what we know, what has worked in the past, and what makes us feel safe even if it is now inappropriate or no longer works.
Here is a personal example: I was stocking merchandise on shelves for an international retail organization and the shift manager came by to ask why my task had not been finished in the allotted time. As I began to respond, I could see the shift manager was not at all concerned with the explanation, but had already formulated the response to the store manager about the unfinished work—after all, it had worked successfully in the past? The focus on looking good to the store manager took precedent over any explanations of what might fix my ability to finish this task on time, now or anyone’s ability to finish in the future. If employees are not being heard or listened to, then why should they listen or respond to their leaders or supervisors? If leadership is going to ask for an engaged workforce or spend resources on programs to increase engagement, what is the likelihood of employees following or doing what leadership is requesting? Leadership is a choice, and when leadership chooses to protect their own interests above those of others, engagement suffers and performance declines.
So, what is it about relationships that makes some successful and others not so? What is it about trust and cooperation that makes some people able to trust and others to distrust. What is it that given the same set of circumstances, some people can engage with their work, while others struggle and resist?
We all know people who are in a position of leadership but are not a leader, and we all know people who are not in a leadership position, but are absolutely leaders and that we can absolutely trust to help us—“I will watch out for you as you sleep, as you will watch out for me when I sleep.”
Leaders are constantly confronted with how important relationships are—how an employees attention and performance can be high jacked when a conflict in the relationship occurs, and how strong emotional reactions to situations at work can destabilize them for long periods of time. You see this everyday in your groups but you may not be aware of the origins of these individual characteristics that shape workplace engagement and performance.
Note: This post is based, and has been expanded, on a talk given by Simon Sinek that is available on Ted.com. It is also based on a presentation I made at a leadership conference, May 2015, hosted by the Midwest Division of Quest Diagnostics in Denver, CO. Slides and complete citations for the presentation are available upon request.

Relationships matter for Engagement (1/3)

This is the first of three blogs under the full title
Individual Difference in Leadership and Engagement: Why Relationships matter.
relationships (C) 2014 DDucheyne


We have a dog-named Mitzi. She is a 5 year old, seventeen-pound, miniature Labradoodle. The other day at the start of our morning walk, she suddenly stopped and looked toward a recently rented house. Her eyes met with those of a much larger dog—perhaps 3 times her size and weight. Neither dog made any aggressive moves toward the other. For at least a minute they just stared at each other.
Then Mitzi, who was up ahead and to the right of me, about 7 feet or so, walked back and around me stopping on my left side, but this time about 7 feet behind me. She then resumed her stare at the other dog. After another minute, Mitzi trotted off, tail waging; a sign of excitement about possible new sights and smells that might lie ahead. As I witnessed this, I wondered, why had Mitzi acted that way? Why had Mitzi positioned herself with me between herself and the other dog? Where did Mitzi’s reaction come from?


According to John Bowlby, creator of Attachment Theory, all species have an instinctual need to seek protection and safety when feeling stressed, anxious, or threatened. In the circumstances that Mitzi faced, two things stand out. First, Mitzi’s chance meeting with the other dog created a sense of heightened anxiety, confusion, and possibly even fear. Those feelings compelled her to seek protection and safety. Placing me between herself and the other dog made her feel safe! The quality of our relationship permitted Mitzi to rely on me as the source of that safety and protection. Second, only after regaining that sense of safety was Mitzi able to resume her exploration of the neighborhood, the sights and smells, and all the people that are delighted to see her. Mitzi was free to engage actively with me, others, and the neighborhood.
Humans are no different. Every single one of us has the capacity to engage actively with others and the environment around us. We engage, not because we have been coerced or forced to do so, not because your boss, manager, or supervisor has the power or authority to demand it, but because we feel safe and protected! John Bowlby said,

“…how we attach early in life is an extremely important aspect of human development…attachment is evident from the cradle to the grave...”

Our attachment patterns, the style we have of relating to others, affect us throughout all phases and all areas (work) of life. These styles determine the quality of our relationships and how well we cope with stress, confusion and anxiety that accompany our working lives.
Further, just like Mitzi felt confident to explore her surroundings, at work, we can feel valued and confident. We can positively connect with others, and we can cooperate and trust each other. Feeling valued and feeling confident empower people to make decisions about their work. Feeling valued and confident generates enthusiasm, which inspires people to try harder. Employees who are excited to be at work are not just there for the paycheck or the next promotion, they care about the organization and work to further its goals—they are actively engaged.
So, positive feelings such as trust and cooperation are really important to engagement. The problem is that the brain is wired to pay more attention to the emotions of confusion, fear, and anxiety first and foremost, before trust and cooperation, and with good reason—our survival depends upon it.

Feeling safe

Human beings are roughly 4 million years old. To reach such an age, our senses and our brains have developed is such a way as to alert us to any possible dangers or threats. Without such a system, we would be easy prey or fall victim to the dangers that surrounded us. But, simply being alert to possible danger is not enough. By himself, man could never hope to survive against predators that were bigger, stronger, and faster. We needed trust and cooperation from other humans to ensure our safety and survival. Management theorist Simon Sinek said,

…And when we felt safe amongst our own, the natural reaction was trust and cooperation.      There are inherent benefits to this. It means I can fall asleep at night and trust that        someone from within my tribe will watch for danger. If we don’t trust each other, if I don’t trust you that means you won’t watch for danger. Bad  system of survival.

The modern business environment is exactly the same thing. There are forces out there dedicated to destroying any competitive advantage, steal your clients, or at the very least disrupt your business activity. They are relentless, complex, and will not go away. The only variable, the only conditions that you have control over are inside the organization. There your leadership matters. It’s the leader that sets the tone. Leadership establishes the way the “activity of engagement” will be carried out. More importantly, it establishes the mood of the people involved. But, leadership alone is not enough. Leadership must have the trust and cooperation of everyone else. The entire workforce must be actively engaged, and to do that, the employees must feel protected and safe! Whatever uncertainty, confusion, or fear that existed for Mitzi in that moment, her instinctual need for survival, protection, and safety became the primary motivation for her behavior—at the expense of active engagement.
A principle feature of workplace engagement, I would argue, is the provision of a secure base from which employees are able to accomplish their work, either independently or in groups depending upon the context presented, and to which they are comforted by knowing for sure that when circumstances promote confusion, uncertainty, stress or even fear, help and support is available. For leadership, this role is one of being available, encouraging, and supportive, but to intervene only when clearly necessary (Bowlby, 1969). It’s about relationships.
Today however, many organizations have it backwards.
Note: This post is based, and has been expanded, on a talk given by Simon Sinek that is available on Ted.com. It is also based on a presentation I made at a leadership conference, May 2015, hosted by the Midwest Division of Quest Diagnostics in Denver, CO. Slides and complete citations for the presentation are available upon request.

How CSR can be a Part of HR.


I would prefer a higher income that allows me to contribute on solving the social and environmental issues within my community, rather than the company to take decisions for me.

If you are in HR, what will be your response if one employee will approach you with that statement? Will you try to convince him or her about the opposite or do you prefer to skip this subject?
In many organisations CSR is integrated in Communication or Public Affairs. It’s hardly ever a part of HR. In essence, CSR survives only through enhancing the social education of employees. The HR department has a crucial role in this. HR can change the system. HR can influence the top-level management of the company to support CSR initiatives.

It is time for HR to wake up to CSR.
Elaine Cohen

Currently, there is not enough HR involvement in the CSR strategy at corporate level. We live in an era in which the talented Millennials want to create a positive social impact. They search for companies that offer them a purpose in life. In fact, we are witnessing a change of mindset at every level. A job is not just a job anymore. Most of the employees want to contribute and make things better. We all want to work for organisations which stand out in CSR and go beyond those related to the environment and social causes. These companies take very good care of their own people.
Let’s think forward. There are several initiatives that the HR department in any company can take to embrace the needs of our times. And HR can adapt the existing strategy for creating a sustainable environment for the employees.

HR needs to get CSR Training

HR should be prepared for what CSR really means and for the related practices. If the company already has a CSR manager, this is already a step forward. HR and CSR can work together and develop the sustainability concepts related to employees.
Speaking with some of my friends working in multinational companies in Europe, they knew very little about the CSR actions of their organisation. These usually take place outside of company and have low involvement of the employees. The general approach to CSR is mostly related to compliance with ethical standards and with the law, protection of the environment, philanthropy and the support of social causes.
HR can change the mindset of leaders, can educate employees and can create a culture of social responsibility. This requires knowledge and partnering with the responsible for CSR.
Everything begins with people. On the long-term, the investment in people’s education has immense benefits for a company conducting business in an international environment. The employees could have a certain vision on what sustainability means, according to their own culture. HR can shape that vision through the company’s CSR oriented culture.

Set achievable Goals

People have to believe in doing right. HR can create short and long-term goals which are achievable and can be easily followed up. Involving employees in planning will be a great idea. This way they can feel part of the team and most likely they will want to contribute as much as possible.


“Transparent” should be the word standing next to communication. Employees should be in the loop all the time. It helps engaging them in the workplace and it creates trust in the company.
A starting point could be the redesign of the internal brand campaign to include also CSR. HR should work with the Communication & Public Relations department on this. Using social media and internal tools is great, but HR should not limit itself to virtual communication only. Face to face formal and informal meetings between HR, Leaders and employees are a good opportunity to promote sustainability at the workplace and beyond.
The most efficient communication is through action, though. Good reputation is based on what the company does and which efforts were made. The perception of the employees about CSR practices can be modelled through real facts and examples and not just words.

Inspire and engage Employees

There are many ways of engaging employees.  These can shape people’s behaviour and motivate them to embrace CSR and consider it part of their life, not only of their workplace.
HR can help employees to better understand what CSR is, how to be responsible on day-to-day basis and how to support their colleagues and the company. On the other hand, HR should be transparent about its own actions and about the efforts done for supporting the employees.
There are three approaches that can be taken towards engaging employees:

  • Creating or facilitating access to leadership development programs designed to build CSR knowledge.
  • Introducing mentoring programs between senior and junior employees focussed on sustainability practices.
  • Officially dedicating several hours to voluntary work or workshops. The special allocated time doesn’t necessary have to be spent outside of company. HR can arrange places within the organisation where employees can meet and hold brainstorming workshops oriented towards finding new and better ways of sustainable management.

If employees understand that participation to different CSR initiatives can improve their skills and can get them closer to their dream job, they will voluntarily take part in no time. HR can make them see the benefits, such as expanding their network, building relationships, breaking the daily routine and stimulating creativity.

Celebrate Success

Celebrations are always welcome. Recognising the efforts is a ‘must do’ for any organisation. Employees want to feel appreciated. Companies have many ways of doing this.
Successful CSR actions have to be officially reported at least on annual basis. Companies have to be consistent and transparent when reporting their achievements.
Internally, a good information system should be put in place. Employees will need to know first and in real time about successful activities. This is a great motivation technique.

Follow-up and improve

Online tools and internal newsletters can be used to track CSR actions. HR can invite employees to join dialogues on sustainable practices. HR can follow-up together with them and identify the weak and the strong points.
HR should use valuable information coming from the results of internal surveys and employees’ feedback when designing the next programs. Everything should be transparent and communicated in real-time.
Employees will definitely appreciate the efforts coming from company’s side on improving the practices and trying to create a better place to work.
Coming back to the first question it’s clear that skipping social responsibility is not an option for HR. Employees of a company with strong CSR practices related to human resources will not make such statements like the ones at the top of this blog. They will feel appreciated by the organisation. They will want to contribute to different CSR actions initiated by the company. And they will develop a passion for doing good.
One good resource to support the idea of CSR integration in HR is the book CSR for HR written by Elaine Cohen. Here is a summary presentation of the book.

Je suis Charlie

hrchitects.net is appalled by the attack on charlie hebdo yesterday in Paris, France.
We pay tribute to people who used their writing and drawing talent to express an opinion. Freedom of speech is a value that is inherent in a democratic society. You do not have to agree, but you can agree to disagree.
Je suis Charlie.
We pay our respects to the family and friends of the people who were assassinated. They will be missed.