Employee Engagement: Lessons from London Drunks and Disruptive Voices (#E4S)

Employee Engagement and Employee Voice

I am in London today for the Engage for Success event this afternoon. My wife and I are staying in central London on Charing Cross Road. It is a brilliant location in the heart of the theatre district but it is also a very busy area. After long sleep deprived travel I was jolted out of sleep last night by the loud drunken voices of people leaving the pubs and bars in the area.

While I was trying to return to sleep I thought about how disruptive those voices where but how they also caused me to wake up and I began to think about possible disruptive voices within an organization and how if they are embraced rather than stifled or ignored they may help an organization to wake up. Of course I must admit, I have employee engagement on my mind a lot.


Engage for Success has identified one of the four key enablers of employee engagement as employee voice: There is employee voice throughout the organisations, for reinforcing and challenging views, between functions and externally, employees are seen as central to the solution.


Clayton Christensen gained notoriety for his work on disruptive innovations. Christensen’s research explains why organizations have such trouble countering or embracing disruptive innovations that are on the horizon. His theory is that organizations customarily develop mind-sets and processes that revolve around doing what they already know. Once that pattern becomes established, managers have great difficulty justifying to others or even themselves the need to make any changes.

My engagement thought as I was trying to fall back to sleep was that what Christensen has identified in the field of innovation also applies to employee engagement and disruptive voice. We need to welcome and even embrace the disruptive voices within the organization. What seems at times as a frustrating annoyance may be the impetus to a new way or working, engaging, or organizing. We should not be wearing earplugs when it comes to hearing what all employees have to say.

Here are some ways to welcome disruptive voice:

  • Have employees develop the questions you ask on engagement surveys. I have always liked the line if you want to get everyone on the same page, give them the opportunity to write on that page. Also, never ask a question on a survey unless you are ready, willing, and able to share all responses and act on those responses. Make the results of all surveys including all employee anecdotes (good or bad) available to all employees as soon as possible upon completion of the survey. Do not have an external consultancy and senior management go through a process of sanitizing or justifying the results.
  • Cease using any form of anonymous feedback within the organization. Make it safe to be disruptive but require people to own their disruptive voice rather than taking shots at someone else under the veil of anonymity. Disengagement should never be a punishable offence rather it should be a trigger to a conversation.
  • Live the positive deviancy dictum for work with employees: Never do anything about me without me. One way is to ensure there is ample room and opportunity for employees be able to voice their perceptions, experiences, and thoughts.
  • After all organizational change, ensure employees have the opportunity to voice the impact of that change, especially what they feel they are losing because of the change. Stop trying to sell the change or get buy in, rather create conversation to engage with the change. As William Bridges so aptly stated, change begins with the end and the biggest failure of organizations in managing change is the failure to determine who is losing what because of the change.
  • Don’t allow senior executives to go away on an some isolated retreat to develop strategy — use the various internal social media tools and crowdsourcing to have all employees, the people closest to the work and customers, offer their contributions. McKinsey has performed some research that found that 25% of employee in healthy organizations cannot articulate the organization’s strategy and that up to 65% of employees in unhealthy organizations cannot articulate the organizations’s strategy.  Stop making organizational strategy a leadership decree and start making it a living conversation involving all employees.
  • Make used of an internal social platform and keep any censorship limited to disrespectful or spam-like messages. Develop guidelines to request that disruptive voice is paired with respectful communication

If you are looking for more tips on developing the voice of employees Engage for Success has created a list of 20 helpful tips. To download the pdf, click here.

Wake up to the disruptive voices in your organization.

David Zinger is a global employee engagement who is in London for the Engage for Success event. He will also be doing a workshop on engagement, strengths, innovation, and excellent on Wednesday. For more information to to register for that workshop, click here.



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