My Employee Engagement Blog

Meeting with my mentor: Nita Clarke

This is the first in a series of posts I intend to write following conversations with my mentors ahead of me starting my new role as Head of Employee Engagement at Kier Services. This is partly an aide memoir for me but also - why not share so others can benefit from this sound advice?

This lunchtime I spoke with Nita Clarke.

Nita is Co Chair of Engage for Success, Director of the Involvement and Participation Association, previously advisor to Tony Blair on the Trade Unions, one of my mentors, with a mischivous sense of humour and all round good egg!

I have worked for Nita in my role on the Engage for Success team and have been learning as much as I can from her through the powers of osmosis! But I would be mad not to pick up the phone to her and pick her brains…

Here is a short summary of what I took away from our conversation:

1) Get underneath the skin of any survey results - using focus groups and meetings to probe deeply and find out what is really going on for people. What are the barriers to engagement? Take your time over this. You need to really understand what you are dealing with before taking action, you need time to reflect and digest to make quality decisions and to prioritise effectively.

2) Use the 4 enablers of engagement as a guide in your questions and observations

For example, if people say they don’t trust their managers - you know there are integrity issues going on.

If people go to the union as their first port of call when there is a problem then you know there is a problem with the relationship with managers.

If people are being Tupe’d across from councils that will involve all sorts of complex reactions, they will want to know what this organisations is all about and may need to be convinced of why they should give their loyalty to it. What added value can Kier Services offer employees, what is the strategic narrative etc

Do they feel like they are truly listened to? What channels are available for them to provide feedback, how are they used? What is the level of union membership? What is the relationship with unions like? What is done with survey? What examples of employees contributing to strategic decision making?

3) Who is currently involved in their employee relations? Talk to the union reps, talk to the employee relations manager, find out the current state of play, areas for collaboration

4) Very important - make unions a key part of employee engagement strategy, they can contribute so much.

5) Don’t try and boil the ocean - work out whats going on, start with things that you can have impact with quickly that demonstrate your commitment then work your way through priorities. Remember it is a journey - you have to take one step at a time. Listen listen listen!

A very useful chat - confirmed some of they ways I had planned to approach things and gave me some new food for thought too. Many thanks goes out to Nita!

Nita recommend I read the report above and here are some other relevant resources:

You can find Nita on twitter on @Nita_Clarke or why not follow @Engage4Success

I will also do short write ups of the conversations I have already had that include David MacLeod, Cathy Brown, Wendy Leedham, Amber Kelly.

Next Mentor Meeting is booked next week with Francis Goss so look out for that too!

Silent witness? 

This latest viral clip promoting a movie asks - what would you do if you walked in on an attempted murder? 

Would you would say if I told you we are all likely a witness to manslaughter?  

Every time we walk past dysfunctional behaviour in the workplace we are condemning that person to the increased chances of a heart attack!  

Bad management is not only killing our economy but it’s killing us! And the science backs it up.

Perhaps you are one of the 18% who trusts their manager?  

But for the majority the lack of trust, consideration for you as an individual, the lack of clarity about your goals and role expectations, the lack of information and feedback, the ridiculous hoops you have to jump through to bring about change, and the lack of encouragement of your real participation and self direction are all are literally killing you!  (The elements listed were what were included in the research) 

It is also possible that it is damaging your ability to sustain healthy relationships and even negatively impacting the behavior of your children.  

I first heard about all this through Kevin Kruse infographic and word is getting around! I heard David MacLeod say recently: 

"You up the odds of a heart attack by 30% if you have been managed for a long time by a poor manage.  Leave aside profit and success, its a huge responsibility to bear when you manage people”

I have personally witnessed the negative impact on the health and well-being of an individual with a series of bad managers.  I can tell you it  was very painful to see the damage it had caused. 

It is easy to tell ourselves ‘I’m sure its not all that bad”, or “It’s not really my place to say anything” or maybe we even acknowledge it “I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes” but how often do we actually DO something?   

I am not suggesting that managers should be hit over the head with a handbag or any other implement!  Far from it, they themselves need the support and skills to be engaging managers.

To help prevent the perpetual cycle of unhealthy behaviours impacting the health of people at work we also need to  support the development of new skills for all people such as the ability to challenge - without creating conflict, the emotional intelligence to give and recieve feedback effectively, developing resilience… and probably a whole lot of other skills! 

Watching this clip gave me shivers up my spine as I realised, currently the office is just as dangerous a place to be as the movies….

If we lovingly hold each other to higher standards when it comes to how we interact with each other and behave at work, then we might have half a chance! 

This is a thread of thought that has been sitting with me for a while, provoked by a number of things including the book I am currently reading Never Mind the Bosses by Robin Ryde and a blog post by Phil Whiteley  and subsequent conversation thread on LinkedIn

Do you have a perspective or point of view?  Do you have something to add to the conversation?  We are considering meeting up to take these thoughts on further so if you are interested in joining in - do let me know!

Employee Engagement Toolkit
See on - Engaging Managers’ News
Highly visual pdf explaining why employee engagement matters, what it means and what an ‘engaged’ employee looks like. The evidence infographic, how we get ther

Ali Godding's insight:

A brand new toolkit to help people have quality conversations about employee engagement.   Can be downloaded to use as you see fit - perhaps using elements for presntations or printing off to use as handouts.   Visually impactful and simple!  

See on
Remember, when you talk to 1 you’re talking to 1000!

I just finished watching the incredible debut mini series by Netflix ‘House of Cards’ based on the earlier political satire/drama of the same title.  Starring Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright and a cast of equally brilliant actors that captivate you right off the bat.  These dubious characters inspire what I can only describe as ‘addictive disgust’!  

Wow what a show! But enough of the gushing!  

What I really wanted to highlight was just one of the many memorable quotes from the show, that really made me think.  I suspect it will make managers all over the country shudder. 

Let me set the scene without any spoilers.

Zoe is a budding new reporter, struggling to break free of the mediocre stories she is being asked to cover, and find something to really get her teeth into. 

Soon enough the plot thickens and she finds herself with a willing and very powerful source - feeding her some of the best stories her newspaper has seen in years.  As she breaks story after story, soon it is her that becomes centre of attention. Much to her managers disdain.   After all she is only a ‘junior reporter’!  

Then comes the showdown scene. After disobeying a direct order from her manager to stay out of the lime light, he gives her a right dressing down. She argues back. He loses control and calls her a very very rude word beginning with ‘C’.  

Zoe being a street smart savvy young woman, tweets the offensive barrage, word for word, before telling her ‘superior’ 

"Remember, when you talk to 1 your’e talking to 1000"  

As David MacLeod and Nita Clarke have often said - “When you ask an employee to jump - they used to say ‘how high?’ now they ask ‘Why?’ and genuinely expect to get a compelling reason!”  They are not the only people pointing out this change in societal expectations (see recommended reading at the bottom of this post)

Anyway, the altercation between editor and junior reporter results in some very challenging times for said manager. Not only because of his hot headed reaction. Also due to his inability to adapt to the changing circumstances he finds himself in, and his denial of the long term relevance of social media for the news industry.  

In the heat of the moment we have all said things that we would not want repeated.  Does anyone have a completely clear conscience?  Of course not! We are only human after all.  

Even with that said, we could all do with remembering that the world is a far more transparent and connected place now.  Before we open our mouths, whether that be to a friend, colleague, employee or customer, lets ask ourselves… 

If everyone (colleagues, friends, family etc) could hear/see what I am about to say, would I still say it?     

This particular episode of House of Cards and a number of books I am currently reading have prompted thought on a number of themes:

  • The concept of obedience.  Good or bad?  Does it crush creativity and responsibility or create order and stability?   
  • The death of heirachy/deference - Is it a fallacy or are some just in denial?
  • The implications of socially connected employees.  What are the impacts on managers? 
  • The impact of and on those who just don’t  ’get it’ yet. How to help? 
  • The reality that some people have different ‘versions’ of themselves for work/home/play etc.  Should wholeness be encouraged i.e having one integrated version or is that unrealistic for some?    

Would love to hear your thoughts about any of those themes.   Please share in the comments box below! 



For some great reading : Never mind the Bosses Robin Ryde, Homo Imitans Leandro Herrero and The Shift Lynda Gratton 

About the series:  House of Cards 


Get Engaged - the making of the film

The Engage for Success Task Force had a vision that the work of the movement would speak to both the hearts and minds of people across the UK.  

The rational side of the case for engagement has been catered for well in the evidence report also released on the 12th November. However we also wanted something that would speak to the the emotions.   It is now commonly known amongst the scientific community that emotions rule the brain’s decisions

So, David and Nita had been in touch with Pete Stevenson at The Edge Picture Company  and had established that they were not only an award winning organisation that do fantastic work but that their values were aligned to that of the movement.  

Although we had no money to make a film it was always an ambition to do it.  The Edge Picture Company had produced some brilliant initial concepts.  Pete and the team really believed in this and wanted to help us, and they were giving us as much time and expertise as they could afford, but there were some costs that they simply could not afford to swallow.

The Dept of Business Innovation and Skills and Wates Giving both long time contributors to the movement realised what an important piece of work this would be in spreading the word about employee engagement.  They came to our aid and each pledged the sum of money required to cover the outstanding elements needed to make the film possible.  

So we were on!  

I was only a few weeks into my secondment when David asked me  to work with the team at The Edge picture Company and project manage this piece of work for the core team at Engage for Success. 


David, Nita, Russell Grossman (Communications Director at the Dept of BIS) and I, met with Pete Stevenson, and Andy Hardwick the producer to talk about the overall concept. 

They showed us examples of other films they had produced and we were able to indicate what felt right and what didn’t for this particular film. 

We consulted with various people from within the movement to get their thoughts and ideas. 

Agreement was made to progress an idea and the team at The Edge Picture Company got to work developing the script. 

I booked in a weekly meeting with the team as my role was really to be supportive, help them to get the resources, contacts and approvals they needed to enable the production to go smoothly. They were doing the hard work and I needed to support them in whatever way was needed. 

I co-ordinated the feedback on the script from various stakeholders from within the movement. The Edge took test shots of the potential actors and sent them over to us to review and choose the final actor, we agreed on all details down to what the main actor would wear. 

Soon enough it was time for  sign it all off! Everyone loved it too and so away we went! 


It was really important to the concept of the film that real workplaces were used. But the time frames we were working to were incredibly tight and we had to find a good spread from offices, to NHS, to warehouses etc. We reached out to our community of people from within the movement and we had a number of offers of support.   The team at The Edge had to go and reccie each venue there were specific requirements of each location. To add a further layer of complexity because of logistics they all had to be pretty close to each other to make each day productive where plenty of the footage could be shot.  

This was a real challenge and Sarah Baaker assisted by Laura Clarke just took it all their stride.  I really don’t know they co-ordinated that, with people offering up venues, last minute changes to deal with and and a challenge to find that end shot location!

BT, who have supported us enormously throughout, came through with that last locaton, more specifically Cathy Brown did some serious pulling of strings!  Although the shot is designed to look like it could be any city, as this is not a London specific movement, the shot from the BT Tower gave us the ending we needed.  

Post Production 

Ed Wright got to work on putting the footage together.  I am no expert, I can use iMovie and have ambitions to learn FinalCutPro but even from my limited experience I can imagine the amount of footage they had to work through, the piecing the story together on the screen.  Colour grading it just right, making the timings and the music work.  Even a short film like ours takes hours of painstaking attention to detail. 

The first screening

When the final cut was ready we were invited to The Edge Picture Company editing suite to watch it.  At one end of the room was the edit equipment, so many dials and buttons it looked like a cockpit!  Above it was a large flatscreen. The lights were turned down and the film set to play. 

The mix of emotions on watching it was unreal.  The story had come to life on screen even better than I had hoped, the picture was so crisp, they had clearly done an extremely good job of it.   I felt the actor portrayed our ‘everyman’ so well.  It dawned on me just how much work had gone into it, no matter how easy they make it look! No matter how easy they were to work with. 

But most of all, I was moved by the message behind it.  

I am an emotional creature by nature so it will surprise no one to hear that I welled up somewhat and had a lump in my throat the whole time.  The feeling that maybe, just maybe this film might inspire people to think more about employee engagement.  Question their interpretation about the concept and consider how it feels to be on the receiving end.  

After we saw it for the first time we sat back in stunned silence for a few moments.  This must have been really difficult for the team at the Edge as they waited patiently for our reactions. 

Then spontaneously we all clapped and laughed and said thank you to the team that had done the job.  

Although this was a pivotal moment the journey was far from over.  We might think the work of The Edge Picture company hit the nail on the head but what really matters is what everyone else thinks!  This is designed to be one of the tools we provide people to help start a conversation about engagement and their opinion counts the most. 

Sharing the film

Lorenzo Culora made sure it was available to us, in all the right formats, from files uploadable to youtube through to ipad versions.  He was so quick to respond to my often last minute requests. I thank him dearly for that! 

We shared it for the first time at a Task Force meeting. The feeling was overwhelmingly positive. Uses for it were being thought up from every corner of the room.

Shortly afterwards we shared it with the Guru Group - again it was warmly received by the majority. With ideas of how it could be used with their connections and clients being put forward. 

We agreed to keep it under wraps until the 12th November when the website went live, to enable it to have the biggest impact.  

The attendees of the CEO Breakfast watched it on the morning of the launch where it got a very positive reception.   Which is just as well as it is the support of this community which breathes energy into the movement in the form of much needed resources.

The rest of the community and beyond were also watching it at a great pace and today, 4 days into the ‘go live’ period it has been watched over 1500 times.  

Next steps

Although 1500 people seeing the video is a good start, we have a whole lot more work to do to get it into the hands of practitioners and employees accross the country! To help it get out there enough to really make a difference.  

Many in our community are helping to do this through blogging about it, including it in newsletters, sharing it on their intranets, with clients, on websites. I would encourage you to do so too.  

So what do you think?  Where and with whom might you share this? 

If you need any ideas or support please get in touch with me or one of the Engage for Success team.  

'Engage for Success' Task Force by bisgovuk on Flickr.Proud to see David Evans MBE, Chairman and CEO of Grass Roots Group at the Engage for Success Summit.

'Engage for Success' Task Force by bisgovuk on Flickr.

Proud to see David Evans MBE, Chairman and CEO of Grass Roots Group at the Engage for Success Summit.

Engage for Success - the countdown begins!

By this time next week the ‘Go Live’ phase of  Engage for Success, the movement that believes there is a better way to work, will be well underway.  

This phase is where the work of hundreds of people will be shared with the rest of the community and to the wider world through events, media coverage and our new website.  

Some might call it a launch but the truth is that Engage for Success was launched 18 months ago, supported by the PM but instigated resourced entirely by leaders of industry. 

Since that time approx 1000 individuals have been involved; some have attended practitioner events held up and down the country and committed to explore how employee engagement might be inspired within their organisations.  

Others have spent hours of their valuable time, in addition to their demanding day jobs, collaborating with peers from all corners of the movement.  They have developed valuable insight into topics as diverse as how employee engagement and innovation are related and how employee engagement can play a part in recovering from economic adversity.

Several other work groups and content teams have been producing and curating case studies, hints and tips and other practical ideas and tools.  It will all sit on the free to use website made possible by Thomson Reuters that will go live on the 12th November 

What is uplifting about being a part of this is is that the people involved have come together voluntarily, their energy and efforts given freely.  The energy and contributions of the people involved inspires me every day.

There is still a huge amount to do before next Monday -  so this is only a brief post to say the countdown has begun! 

As our website is on a holding page currently if you are interested in what has been going on connect with uson twitter @Engage4Success or search Engage for Success on LinkedIn to find our groups or browse the posts by others from the community here or read about the purpose of the movement here.

I look forward to connecting with all interested parties in the near future. 

The value of diversity - fact or fiction? 

Lana Wachowski  is a co writer/director of some of my favourite films including the Matrix trilogy,  and most recently Cloud Atlas which I hope to see soon.

In the video above Lana gives a captivating speech at the Human Rights Campaign gala.  

This is her first public appearance in over a decade.  She cherishes anonymity and says “it offers a level of access to civic space and participation in public life that I am not prepared to give up”.  Watching how the lack of anonymity many celebrities live with I don’t blame her! 

It is also her first appearance since her gender transition just a few years ago - she was previously known as Larry.

Her speech is as deeply moving as it is razor sharp and laugh out loud funny.   She shares with us the incredible personal journey she has been on. Including lows so deep it felt like suicide might be the only way out.  

The potential loss that can be incurred when we reject others for not fitting in with our own perception of ‘normality’ is not quantifiable but I think likely huge.  I am sure Warner Bros would agree with that.  Had they not accepted Lana’s desire for privacy, which went against the established  film promotions model of the press having access to directors, they would have lost what has turned out to be a very profitable team for them.  The audience would have lost out on some of the most thought provoking films of our time. 

I believe that Lana is (thankfully still) a living breathing example of the value diversity can have in the workplace.  I believe this applies equally on a film set as it does on a shop floor.  

My head tells me, rather selfishly, that without Lana many of my favourite films, the films that have influenced me in so many ways, would simply not exist.  What a tragedy that would be! 

More importantly, my heart says that without Lana, the world would be missing a creative, articulate, loving human being.

The world would miss out on who she is, not just what she does.

Each and every employee counts for who they are as not just what they do.  There are many common factors between engagement and diversity, engagement is mainly where my interest lies.  However,  I also recognise that in exploring related fields such as diversity,  that I can deepen my understanding of the complex topic of engagement.  

I have grown up with the value of diversity as a fact. To me it just makes sense.  This belief was further embedded when joining Grass Roots as part of the defacto induction you must take and pass a course in diversity. Lana’s example and others like it, go further to deepening this belief.

However I was discussing the concept other day with a contact where the ‘proven beyond doubt’ benefits of diversity have yet to be fully embraced by their organisation.  I found that fascinating and would be interested to hear other peoples views.  

Do you think the value of diversity is  fact or fiction?