What a difference a year can make! My Christmas visit to ScroogeCo International this year was in stark contrast to my visit a year ago. The Chairman/MD, Ebenezer Scrooge VI was looking relaxed and preparing for the very first Christmas Party where he would be staying for the whole evening, rather than putting in a short "appearance".
This time last year, Ebenezer had been concerned about a significant increase in staff turnover, especially amongst talented specialists and senior managers. However, he had been sure that the new performance-related pay structure would stem the "talent drain". He had dismissed my comments about people choosing or not choosing to engage with the organisation based on how they are led, by referring to the name of a well know boiled sweet! However, we had agreed on one thing - when good people leave, it affects morale and they often take customers with them.
To find out what happened to bring about this dramatic change, we need to wind back the clock to January 2012. We received a phone call from Ebenezer's secretary to arrange a meeting. It appeared that Ebenezer's confidence in the new pay structure had been mis-placed and one of the most talented members of the senior team had resigned.
The next day, I visited Ebenezer and he seemed in a strangely reflective mood - recalling our time together on a training weekend many years ago. Somehow we got talking about how his career had started and the two or three key people who had helped him on his way. As a member of the Scrooge family, he had always been destined to work in the "company firm". However, his father (who apparently also talked a lot about boiled sweets), had insisted that he should get some experience with another organisation first.
So Ebenezer had joined a medium-sized underwriting organisation, led by Fezziwigg Jones, known to everyone as "Fezz". A challenging but supportive boss, Fezz had given Ebenezer all the encouragement he needed. I asked Ebenezer how he had done this and his reply was music to my ears: "For the three years I was with him, he quietly built my confidence, competence and self-esteem, so that I was 100% committed to the organisation". What we now call Engagement.
Although I took the opportunity to connect the current challenge of losing a key team member with Ebenezer's early career experience, his view was that we were living in a very different world now. The recession was biting deeper and layers of management had been removed, so opportunities for taking time to develop people were limited. The phone rang and the meeting ended. However, I saw a glimmer of hope in that moment when he had reflected on his own development. The loss of two further key specialists in the next few weeks prompted another call to Wadenhoe. Seizing the moment, that very afternoon we had a meeting
and started to consider the first small steps he could take in changing the culture at ScroogCo International to be a more engaging for everyone.
Ebenezer's experience of working with leadership development consultants had not been good. The last organisation he had used, said that they tailored their solutions to the client and then provided an "off-the-shelf" programme, which paid no attention to the organisational context and appeared to have no connection with bottom-line business performance. He knew from our long-standing relationship that things would not be the same with us. At Wadenhoe we take time, working through The Wadenhoe Model® with the whole senior team to arrive at a measurable, integrated and sustainable approach.
These discussions resulted in series of one-day leadership workshops focused on Employee Energy and Engagement. Feedback was positive and things were starting to change, but much too slowly for Ebenezer, who had always been an impatient man. At least, now his impatience was not solely focused on financial performance, he was starting to see the connection between organisational change and an improved bottom line.
One really positive outcome was that Ebenezer and other members of the leadership team had started to see the informal relationships that were beginning to grow across the organisation. When he visited departmental meetings he noticed how the increased energy and enthusiasm of people at all levels was influencing their part of the business. Yet this was inconsistent and patchy.
So we got another call! "Without spending a lot of money, how can we capitalise on the new-found enthusiasm in certain parts of ScroogeCo and spread it across the whole organisation?" (no real change in approach, but at least no mention of boiled sweets!). We suggested that he consider mobilising these people, by bringing them together as a group and giving them some freedom to use their informal networks to spread positive engagement stories. Once Ebenezer had recovered from my use of the word "freedom" (a word he had not previously associated with the management of staff), he started to see the potential benefits.
His only question: "How much extra will we have to pay them?" We explained that having an honest conversation and making it clear that you can't do it without them is the key. They also needed to feel part of a larger group and developed for their new, informal role. For most people, increased recognition means more than financial reward.
In June, we started work with four groups of people that we called "Energisers" from throughout the ScroogeCo. Organisation. All of them shared some common characteristics - they were trusted, passionate, connected and influential. This started to produce much faster results. And once Ebenezer realised that he no longer needed to push so hard from above, he relaxed (as much as Ebenezer could ever relax).
So far Ebenezer VI had avoided all the unpleasantness experienced by his distant relative and Founder of ScroogeCo, Ebenezer I (see: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens -great reading when everyone has gone home after Boxing Day). However all of this changed with the Conference! For years Ebenezer had avoided spending money on attending external events, saying that most of it was.......yes you guessed it, that boiled sweet again. However, with some encouragement he attended a one-day workshop for senior executives which focused on thinking through possible future business scenarios.
In one of these scenarios, Ebenezer had a vision of several, long-established and reputable organisations, including ScroogeCo. going bankrupt and being acquired by unscrupulous asset strippers. Later, as he started to "nod off" on the train that evening, Ebenezer saw a reflection in the window of an entirely different organisation. He could see clearly what was happening, with highly engaged people, working together to meet client expectations and achieve business goals. Then Whoosh, he suddenly woke up. Realising what needed to be done, the very next day he rang Wadenhoe to discuss how each of his teams could share his vision for real and we started to talk about our "Back from the Future" team development workshops.
So, like his ancestors, Ebenezer VI was working his way through some turbulent experiences and starting to see a better future. He knew that this was just the beginning and there would be more change to come. But at least now the whole team was engaged with him in a magical way - they were starting to behave as if the business was their own and Ebenezer was happy with that!
As I left the City headquarters, warmed by a glass of mulled wine from the ScroogeCo Christmas Party, I couldn't help pinching myself to check that all this change had happened in just twelve months. Still a lot to do, but no more rattling of chains and no more distant wailing. Just the satisfaction of seeing a miraculous turnaround, not just in one man, but a whole organisation! Then the anticipation of another great family Christmas!