Employee engagement is like rolling a snowball uphill – Interview with Peter A. Hunter

Rolling snowballs uphill...

Today’s interview is with Peter A. Hunter, an author and leading authority on employee engagement. Following an exchange on the Engage For Success LinkedIn group, I arranged to have a chat with Peter about his thoughts on employee engagement and his new book: The Problem With Management – and How to Solve It.

This interview follows on from my recent interview: Learning from the university of the customer and the co-worker – Interview with Kevin Kelly – and is number seventy 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 are the highlights of the interview with Peter:

The Problem With ManagementPeter has written two books, the most recent is The Problem With Management – and How to Solve It. It is a collection of stories about workforce engagement and it’s subtitle is: The Employee Engagement Handbook.

  • The book tells the stories about what actually happened when people were allowed to engage and take pride in their work.
  • When staff engage their performance becomes amazing and the performance improvement is sustained in the long term.
  • It follows on from Peter’s earlier book: Breaking the Mould.
  • Much of Peter’s experience and his stories come from his experience of working in the Navy, particularly with Polaris and Trident submarine missile crews.
  • He was put in charge of a number of very experienced people and he quickly figured out that there was no way that he could tell them what to do as they knew much more than he did. Rather, he realised that the best way for him to operate was to find out what they needed to do to complete their work and then got it for them.
  • One team, known as the BBQ team, were not confined to their desks after completing their work so would spend a lot of time having BBQs or going sailing or diving or climbing…..
  • It’s not about time served, it’s about results achieved.
  • By creating the environment where his team were responsible for themselves they took pride in what they did.
  • However, they also took pride in passing on what they knew and helping others too. In fact, if they finished early and went sailing then, at least, half of the crew would be made up of other colleagues that they were teaching how to sail.
  • They cared about themselves, their work and the work of their other colleagues, not just in their team, but in the wider organisation.
  • The problem with management is that it was ever called management. If it was instead called facilitation then we would have a completely different idea of what management is about and what it entails.
  • Many managers tell people what to do because they are threatened by people showing initiative.
  • Management and leadership positions should be a privilege.
  • Any change that starts from the top is based on trying to make people do stuff and is a command and control approach. This rarely works as, more often than not, people resist being told what to do. Catch 22!
  • Goethe said “if we treat people the way that we think they ought to be that is what they will become”.
  • The culture we want to create already exists. We just need to let it happen.
  • People, generally, want to show up for work and do a good job. They want to be proud of what they do. They want to use their education, creativity and imagination to do work that they are proud of.
  • Pavlov pointed out that our behaviour is the sum of all of our experiences.
  • To get started: get a group of people who work together in a meeting and ask them a series of questions: What have you just done? What went well? What went badly? What can we do to ensure that things continue to go well? What can we do to avoid things going badly next time?
  • The answers to those questions will be the ideas that will start to make the process and environment better.
  • Every single idea/answer a person has about their work and how it is received has an impact on the way that a person feels about what they do.
  • If management acts on these ideas then their team will have positive feelings towards the work that is getting done. That feeling will lead to engagement.
  • But, change and transformation is not going to happen overnight and if you believe in it and want to make things better then you have to keep showing up.
  • Employee engagement is like rolling a snowball uphill. It needs managing all of the time and if you take your eye off the ball it’ll roll all the way down to the bottom of the hill and you’ll lose all of the ground that you’ve made up.
  • There is a complete industry that has sprung up around employee engagement offering surveys, training courses and the like. Much of which completely misunderstands what engagement is.
  • You can’t survey engagement.
  • Engagement is a feeling like love is. You can’t measure that. But, we know when we have it.
  • Steven Covey Srin Principled Centred Leadership quotes a figure of 500% performance improvement if your workforce is engaged. Peter thinks that figure is a bit low.

About Peter (taken from his bio on the HRIQ website)

Peter A HunterPeter Hunter has over 20 years of leadership and team building experience as an officer in three different Navies.

In the 70s, Hunter joined the Merchant Navy. Qualifying as a Navigating Officer, Peter spent the next six years circling the globe in oil tankers carrying everything from heavy crude oil in super tankers to jet fuel and kerosene in smaller ships around the coasts of Europe and the Mediterranean. Hunter took his first degree at Sunderland Polytechnic, then a Masters in Underwater Technology at Cranfield Institute of Technology.

He spent several years in the Royal Naval Reserve before finally joining the Royal Navy as an Instructor Officer.

Based initially in Portsmouth, Peter soon gravitated to the Royal Naval Submarine Base in Faslane, Scotland, where he spent the remainder of his naval career as a rocket scientist teaching at the Royal Naval Strategic Systems School.

After leaving the Royal Navy, Hunter settled on the west coast of Scotland from where he spent the next eight years commuting to South America and the North Sea as a management consultant working with crews on drilling rigs.

This experience formed the core of his first book, Breaking the Mould.

Peter took the lessons from those stories and created the repeatable process called “Breaking the Mould” that allows others to create the same performance by engaging the employees in their own organizations. Peter is now based back in Cranfield and spends his time writing, speaking at seminars and delivering training programs, allowing others to benefit from this same remarkable insight.

Peter followed up “Breaking the Mould” with The Problem With Management – and How to Solve It, a collection of stories about workforce engagement with the subtitle: The Employee Engagement Handbook.

Do grab a copy of Peter’s new book here: Breaking the Mould.

You can also connect with Peter on LinkedIn here.

Thanks to szczel for the image.

Comments

  1. Great interview. Peter is the only person I know who totally understands human nature. Peter knows that human nature dictates how people react to managerial actions and inactions and thus how and why they become engaged or disengaged. No manager or executive can go wrong following Peter’s guidance.

  2. Thanks, Adrian.

    Very compelling. I’ve put both books on my reading list.

    Annette :-)

  3. Me too

    Excellent interview

    • Thank you Annette and James,
      A couple of months ago following an exchange in a discussion thread on LinkedIn, I arranged to have a chat to Peter to get some of his thoughts on employee engagement and to ask him about his new book: The Problem With Management.

      He has some great insights to share.

      However, in talking with Peter, I came to understand that he is not very well so I am really happy to share this interview now.

      I wish Peter all the very best and want to thank him for sharing his wisdom and experience with us.

      Adrian

  4. I thought that this will be an anti-engagement post but it is actually the opposite. It just means that more effort must be given if you will allow employees to engage with management. But it is not really a bad thing as this will improve the business overall.

    • adrianswinscoe says:

      Thanks, Ivan.
      Rolling a snowball uphill is meant to imply that there is no easy fix, it’s never over and is something that you need to pay continual attention to.

      Adrian

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