Employee engagement – transforming culture

Last week, senior leaders, HR professionals and other engagement champions gathered to learn more about the critical link between leadership and employee engagement.

After the Engaging for Success event that capped off her two days of work with the Civil Service, keynote speaker Nita Clarke sat down with Donna Bush from CIGTV to share what she learned while in the Cayman Islands and key messages as we move forward together.


DB: Hello everyone, I’m Donna Bush and I’m here with Ms Nita Clarke, who is in the Cayman Islands facilitating a series of workshops as well as giving the keynote address at an event that has been jointly organised by the Portfolio of the Civil Service and the Cabinet Office. Ms Clarke, let’s begin by talking a little bit about, and telling our viewers a little bit about, how the workshops went.

NC: It’s been a fascinating couple of days. I did some work with the team that’s working on engagement within the Civil Service, I then had a really interesting session with representatives from the police service, then I spoke to the Chief Officers, and then today we had the broader leadership team. And what really struck me was the enthusiasm for improving the lives of the citizens here, and improving the working environment for the people working in the Civil Service.

You had this dual win. You had this very strong sense of mission – which I thought was wonderful – but you also had a very strong sense that, if we can take some steps to develop and improve the culture, then life will be even better for the people working. And if it’s better for the people who are working in the public sector, it’ll be better for the community.

DB: Why is it important for this component to take place as part of the overall 5-Year Strategic Plan?

NC: Because, in a sense, the only resource that the Civil Service has is the people who work for it. Whether they’re working in the Prison Service, whether they’re working in education, in the central functions… it’s the people who not just make a difference but who make the Service.

If we can develop the culture here so that everybody is enabled to give their best, to really be engaged with the noble purpose of the Civil Service but also be engaged with their colleagues, with their communities, then this is a win-win.

It’s a win for the individual because we all know, don’t we, that when we feel good at work, when we’re contributing, when we feel positive, it’s great for our wellbeing. And the reverse is also true. When we feel stressed and frustrated it’s not good for our wellbeing.

So if we can create a circumstance where people feel very engaged and positive, confident about meeting the challenges, then I think it’s possible to really motor on some of the developments that people want to see, some of the improvements in the daily lives which the Civil Service is responsible for.

DB: Was there one thing that really stuck out to you, that you learned here today?

NC: I’ll tell you what really struck me. I do a lot of work with organisations, with their leadership teams, and when I walked into that room today and I saw the sheer diversity sitting there, it was stunning.

I don’t think I’ve ever walked into a room of a leadership cadre with that kind of gender and ethnic mix. It was wonderful. Because normally I walk into a room, and if I’m completely honest with you, it’s male, pale and stale. That was not in evidence today. And I thought to myself, “What a wonderful set of people you have here to work with.”

What a wonderful variety, both representative of the community but also people coming from very many different parts of the world. You’ve got a community here that speaks… what is it, over one hundred different languages? Now that is a wonderful, wonderful asset. And, in a sense, you could be the microcosm that teaches the world a great deal.

DB: So as part of the 5-Year Strategic Plan – and this being one component – what are some of the next steps that you suggest to the leaders that be?

NC: I would tend to suggest focussing on a couple of things. Firstly, making sure that the employees in the organisation understand the story. The problem with “strategic plans” is that they can be quite heavy documents. What’s the golden thread here? What is it that will make people feel part of something bigger? What’s the story of the organisation? Make sure it’s delivered in a way that people can understand.

The second thing I would say is really focus on management development. Because we all know, in real life, our relationship with our line manager on a day-to-day basis has such a huge impact. We also know that people tend – and nobody’s to blame, there’s no fault here – people tend to be made managers because they were quite good at the job they last did. So you have to help people be good people managers.

And I think the third thing I would say is carry on to build trust within the organisation by listening to people. The people who work in this organisation – all of them – they’re not “human resources”. They’re human beings. Being able to manage people, bring the best out of them… It’s interesting when you talk to people outside of work, the amazing things they do! They run dance clubs, they run football clubs, they’re caring for elderly relatives. People are extraordinary. Enabling them to bring all of that extraordinary-ness into work is one of the really important things that we can do. And one of the ways of doing that is by listening to the organisation. Not just communicating – though that’s extremely important – but listening.

DB: So, the civil servants who were in the position to be able to attend the workshops and to hear you speak, what do you hope their takeaway is from all of this?

NC: I hope their takeaway is, really, that the truth of the matter is there’s only one asset the organisation has, and that’s the people who work in it. And mobilising the people to deliver the outcome the organisation wants is the job of a manager.

There was a kind of magic there for the people who were in the room today. And that magic is this – individuals don’t know how good they can be. The magic of a manager, of a great leader, is to bring that out so people do more than they think they’re capable of.

So I guess my real message is this: This “engagement stuff” is not an initiative. It’s about how you do what you need to do anyhow. And it enables you to do it better. It’s not another piece of “tick-box”, you know? It’s about creating the culture in which people can succeed so the community can succeed.

DB: Ms Clarke, it’s been a pleasure.

NC: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you very much.

DB: So there you have it, our conversation with Ms Nita Clarke addressing one of the components that makes up the Civil Service 5-Year Strategic Plan.