Workers' passion wasted

Is empowerment just another meaningless concept in British management? Roger Trapp reports

MOST EMPLOYEES in Britain's biggest organisations feel undervalued and uninvolved, and they lack confidence in their leaders and their visions, according to research published by the Marketing & Communication Agency (MCA).

Though the findings may not be surprising at a time when industry seems to be reverting to the policy of shedding staff at the first signs of trouble, the survey, carried out by Mori, suggests that these feelings translate into poor business performance.

Staff with high levels of commitment and understanding - termed "buy- in" by MCA and Mori - are more than twice as likely to say it greatly improves their performance. They are also a third more likely to act as company advocates by recommending their organisations to others.

Kevin Thomson - the chairman of MCA, who published two books, Emotional Capital and Passion at Work earlier this year - hails the research as justifying his view that the true differentiator between one business and another is the attitude towards people.

Many organisations are tackling parts of the issue, but for the moment he can think of none that have mastered the whole concept.

The study, The Buy-in Benchmark, finds that the problem may lie in the fact that levels of commitment and understanding are almost as low among managers as they are for non-managers.

As the authors point out: "If managers lack understanding and commitment, how can their organisation expect them to manage and motivate others?"

A further indication of the general level of cynicism is the fact that, after all these years of consultants, gurus and executives themselves talking about "empowerment", only 9 per cent of the 350 employees questioned last month strongly agreed that their organisation valued their views and participation. According to Susan Walker, managing director of Mori's human resources research, this indicates that "empowerment is largely a myth in British business".

Alternatively, it may show that what business describes as empowerment is not really that at all, but in fact some way of getting employees to take on extra responsibility.

In other words, it is a one-way process - and, therefore, much like companies' traditional view of communication. For most organisations, communicating means instructing or informing, rather than involving, says Mr Thomson. His view is that communication is vital. But it has to become more of a pull and less of a push, he says.

Few chief executives do not acknowledge the importance of communication in their job, yet over the past quarter of a century, organisations' scores in this area have tended to be stuck at around the level of six out of 10.

Where companies have managed to lift it to just eight out of 10, the level of buy-in can double, he adds.

His organisation typically uses marketing techniques to improve this area. Noting that even uncommitted workers are more enthused about customers than about their general work, he proposes that employees in different parts of the organisations see each other as customers that have to be sold to, hence the use of such terms as "buy-in" and "advocates".

Some might feel that this implies an unduly commercial arrangement between employees. Nevertheless, Mr Thomson is not alone in thinking that this could be the missing something that helps to explain why some companies succeed even in times of turbulence, while others that look very similar are forever struggling.

Mike Rake, UK senior partner with the accountancy firm KPMG, and Lord Marshall, chairman of British Airways, are among those who are endorsing the findings.

"This is a critical message for British industry. The study's findings illustrate that UK organisations are not nourishing their intellectual and emotional capital," says Mr Thomson.

The report adds that "this is a dangerous scenario" at a time of economic uncertainty.

Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Life and Style
Martha Stewart wrote an opinion column for Time magazine this week titled “Why I Love My Drone”
lifeLifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot... to take photos of her farm
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

1st Line Support Technician / Application Support

£20000 - £24000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider of web based m...

Team Secretary - (Client Development/Sales Team) - Wimbledon

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Secretary (Sales Team Support) - Mat...

Accountant / Assistant Management Accountant

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an Assistant Management Ac...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices