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The UK needs the most engaged employees in Europe if it is to succeed in the post-Brexit business landscape. David MacLeod - the man who led the Government Task Force on employee engagement and co-authored the 2009 report which bears his name - says things are going to get tough for UK. But an engaged workforce can “compensate for the self-imposed own goal of making our markets more difficult”.

He says: “My overall view is that Brexit means the ease with we have carried out business in Europe is no more. It’s going to get tougher.
 
“We don’t know what form that’s going to be, but it’s highly probable that selling to the rest of Europe is going to get more difficult. Therefore, our businesses are going to need to become more agile, innovative, customer-focused and creative, and to improve efficiencies.
 
“In order to do this, we’ll need to move to the top of the international rankings in employee engagement - we’re going to need more agile and engaged employees who deliver more innovation, more customer service, more efficient ways to do business.”
 
David, who is co-chair of Engage For Success, adds: “Given that access to the markets will be more difficult, we’ll need to be better than the Germans, the French, the Spanish and so on. At the moment we’re nowhere near the top…”
 
Even though he has painted a bleak picture of the diminishing opportunities for UK trade with the EU, he says firmly: “It absolutely can be done…but things need to change drastically. As Einstein said, doing the same thing over and again and expecting a different result is the definition of madness.
 
“We need to decide if we want short-term wealth extraction or long-term, sustainable business success.”
 
He says the UK businesses that succeed in the post-Brexit world will be those that set up reward mechanisms and support mechanisms to deliver long-term sustainable success in a slightly more aggressive, slightly more difficult external environment.
 
“It’s possible, but it isn’t going to happen if we don’t change anything,” he emphasises, adding that organisations must transform from transactional engagement to transformational engagement.
 
“That means just doing surveys is not enough,” he says. “We’re going to have to engage employees in a thoughtful way – it must be at the heart of our aspiration because they’re the ones who are going to have to deliver the agility and innovation.
 
“We’re not going to get through this without highly engaged employees. High engagement has the potential to overcome the disadvantages that will derive from the trade deal that the Government is currently trying to work out.
 
“We don’t know what it will be but it won’t be good news for our exporters.
 
“However, the point is we are where we are. Can we rise to the occasion? We can, but we aren’t going to do it unless we change direction. The choice is ours.
 
“The ball is in our court as businesses to rise to transform levels of engagement – really engage our people so that we continue to grow and thrive. That’s what we’ve got to do.”
 
In practical terms this means introducing the four enablers already identified by Engage For Success – David says they were true before the Brexit vote and apply even more now.
 
1)    Strong Strategic Narrative: “Make sure everyone understands what the story of your organisation is, what your aspirations are for the future and what part you can play in creating that.”
2)    Engaging Managers: “The standard of management and managers has to rise to match the business so that everyone feels well managed.”
3)    Employee Voice: “We must get to the stage where everyone’s voice matters, where employee voice travels through an organisation.”
4)    Integrity: “We have to have a high level of integrity and trust where what we say is reflected in what we do – the values on the wall are reflected in the behaviour of our colleagues and bosses.”
 
“The enablers are not one size fits all,” he stresses. “Organisations need to develop their own specific versions of these.
 
“Also, as members of the public we must keep an eye on what the Government’s Brexit negotiating team delivers. I don’t think the public made the wrong decision as such, but they were sold a pup – they were sold things that weren’t possible – so now we need to hold those people to account when they announce any trade deals.”
 
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