Employee engagement is about human relationships not human resources – Interview with Luis Suarez of IBM

connecting to each other, not companies

Today’s interview is with Luis Suarez @elsua, a leading thinker, Knowledge Manager, Community Builder and Social Software Evangelist for IBM. He agreed to talk to me about employee engagement following a Twitter exchange after I recently published Sustaining businesses successfully through Employee Engagement on the blog.

I warn you that it is a longer interview than normal but it’s worth it and you should take the time to listen to it as there is some great, useful and insightful stuff in there from Luis.

This interview follows on from my recent interview: Helping customers, standing out, being human and telling stories through blogging – Interview with Mark Schaefer – and is number sixty-nine in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things and helping businesses innovate, become more social and deliver better service.

Here’s the highlights from the interview I did with Luis:

  • Interview came about as a result of a recent post on my blog: Sustaining businesses successfully through Employee Engagement
  • Recent Gallup study says that 70% of all employees are not engaged at work.
  • The number one business problem today is employee engagement and that businesses have a huge number of people within their organisations that don’t care about what they do.
  • If your employees are not happy and engaged then your customers are not going to be happy or engaged.
  • However, the vast majority of businesses see employee engagement as a one-way street rather than being a two-way street.
  • Most businesses think that employees should be happy to have a job.
  • They should be but companies need to also embrace their responsibility for creating a happy workforce that is engaged and has meaning.
  • Most employees don’t feel that they have enough autonomy and responsibility as their organisations are still very autocratic and run top-down.
  • They also don’t have access to enough information.
  • In many organisations, knowledge is still perceived as ‘power’ and is controlled by management as they want to control the environment.
  • But, if you move that into the context of the social web, people are starting to share the knowledge for the sake of sharing the knowledge, learning and collaboration.
  • Management and executives are starting to feel displaced
  • As a result, management and executives keep coming back to the employee engagement issue but they are not doing their bit to make that happen.
  • Employee engagement is not just about communicating more.
  • Just because you are communicating more does not mean that you are communicating well or to the needs of the recipients.
  • We need to continuously challenge ourselves and ask: Are we doing the right thing/is this working?
  • Firms need to ask their stakeholders (but rarely do) what they think about how and what they communicate. The reason why they don’t ask is that they don’t want to face the ugly truth.
  • If you don’t change your behaviour then you won’t be able to increase your employee engagement or anything else for that matter.
  • The big ‘elephant’ in the room is that companies treat their employees as objects not as people.
  • Employee engagement is about human relationships not human resources
  • Social business is all about people so how when you claim to be a ‘social business’ you indiscriminately fire or lay people off.
  • You can’t do one thing and say another
  • You’ve got to prepare, train and educate your current and future talent.
  • And, if you don’t do this and treat your people better then there is no incentive for them to share their knowledge and when they leave their knowledge will ‘walk’ out the door.
  • Employee engagement for Baby Boomers is different to employee engagement for the younger generation.
  • Therefore, this begs the question: How are you thinking about creating sustainable growth in your business when faced with these challenges.
  • SMEs are taking this issue more seriously and doing better things than their large corporate cousins who are stuck in their ‘control’ mindset.
  • IBM is getting more and more involved with this and this was behind the recent acquisition of Kenexa.
  • People go to your company because of your expertise, both as employees and customers.
  • A recent report said that 40% of the whole workforce in the USA is ‘freelance’.
  • This is a growing trend and will have big implications for how work is done, contracted and delivered by organisations and networks of freelancers in competition or collaboration.
  • This is going to have serious implications for employee engagement too.
  • Money, regardless of what many people say, still matters when it comes to employee engagement and knowledge workers.
  • Like Syed Hassan said in a previous interview: Pay someone a competitive wage, give them work that matters and ask for their opinion.
  • Add to that what Alexander Kjerulf said at the Meaning conference last year, that we both attended, that: Happiness at work = Results and Relationships. Here’s the link to this year’s conference: 2013 Meaning.
  • An example of how one SME gets all this comes out of another interview conversation that I had with Henry Stewart of Happy that helps their employees move on to their next role regardless of their reason for leaving and how that creates real advocacy for their organisation.
  • That’s employee engagement beyond measure.
  • The one word that is key to employee engagement is care (How much you care about your employees and what do you do to demonstrate that).
  • Much of Henry’s story was inspired by the book: Maverick by Ricardo Semler.
  • Luis recommends Steve Denning’s recent article on Forbes: How To Be Happy At Work
  • Employee ownership and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) could offer interesting approaches to employee engagement as it introduces ‘ownership’ into the equation as people tend to care more about things that they own.
  • Companies are asking how they keep their customers engaged. The answer is you don’t. Customers will decide if they want to stay engage with you or not.
  • Luis as a radical knowledge worker has been operating a ‘Life Without Email’ for 6 years as a way of changing and challenging his and others ways of working. Listen to the end of the interview to find out how he achieved that and what he has learned along the way.
  • You can learn more and get involved at Luis’ Life Without Email Google Plus Community – the community is not just about life without email but is also about how we can generate the next generation of business.

About Luis (adapted from his LinkedIn profile)

Luis Suarez elsua

Luis has been working in the area of Knowledge Management for the last 10 years and throughout all this time has specialised in deploying successfully different strategies from the world of Knowledge Management Tools, Communities (Both physical and online communities), (Remote) Collaboration, Community building, eLearning, Social Networking, Personal Knowledge Management, social software, etc. etc. covering not only local groups / teams / communities but also large groups across different geographies and timezones.

Over the last few years he has developed a passion within Knowledge Management for everything that relates to social networking or social software tools that help improve the way knowledge workers get to share their knowledge and collaborate with others. So examples like weblogs, wikis, social bookmarking, tagging, podcasting, RSS / Atom feeds, people portals, etc. are some of the technologies he is really interested in and has had a large exposure to over the last 3 years.

He currently maintains three different weblogs, one behind IBM’s firewall and two external: one over at http://www.elsua.net and the other one over at ITToolbox: http://blogs.ittoolbox.com/km/elsua. All of them dealing with everything related to KM, Communities, Collaboration, Social Networking and Social Software.

You can also connect with Luis on Twitter @elsua and LinkedIn. Oh, and do check out Luis’ Life Without Email Google Plus Community.

Photo Credit: Will Lion via Compfight cc

7 comments On Employee engagement is about human relationships not human resources – Interview with Luis Suarez of IBM

  • Wow. Lots of great stuff here, Adrian. Thanks for this interview.

    Annette 🙂

    • Hi Annette,
      Thanks for that. A long conversation with Luis and I considered splitting it in two but think it works better as one longer conversation.

      What do you think is the best length for interviews?


      • Adrian,

        I think 10-15 minutes is a good length. Don’t get me wrong… I love the conversations… but I’m probably not too different from others who have long to-do lists and the attention span of a gnat. 🙂 (For the record, when I was younger, I actually did have a longer attention span. LOL.)

        Annette 🙂

  • Too much to think about Adrian, I could keep my blog flowing for a month with that (maybe I am a light weight)

    My (light weight) contribution – The solution to employee engagement is not to let them wear jeans on Friday.


    • Hi James,
      Thanks for your comment. We did cover a lot of ground and I think it will keep me going for ideas for much more than a month.

      As for your lightweight contribution……I think you’ve touched on a big issue there…….unless you are in a liveried/uniformed post, telling people what to wear to work is about control and people as objects rather than people as human beings and trusting them to wear what they believe is appropriate.


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