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The monetary incentives approach to enhance employee engagement is out-dated – Ian Hutchinson on what makes employees tick!
Ian Hutchinson interviewed by Swati Gangawane Gujar - 04th May 2018

Ian Hutchinson is the Founder & Chief Engagement Officer, He is an internationally recognized employee engagement expert, speaker & trainer, honored with the Educator of the Year for Excellence Award. Ian has authored a number of books including: ‘People Glue: Employee Engagement & Retention Solutions That Stick!’, ’52 Strategies to Work Life Balance’ and ‘Your Life by Design – Kick Start’. For the past 20 years Ian has had the privilege of helping 100’s of organisations as an employee engagement consultant unlocking their potential. He has also worked with tens of thousands of employees and individuals, helping them become happier, more motivated, fulfilled and on purpose through his simple, easy-to-use innovative programs, tools & systems.

Ian Hutchinson shared his insights with the Bravo team on how clarity brings more employee engagement, the self-responsibility approach that makes employees engaged and why one-size-fits-all in never an effective strategy.

Q. Human capital has drawn a lot of interest. What strategies in your opinion would help manage human capital? How does it help in reducing staff turnover?

Ian Hutchinson: Flip the old school paradigm of parent-child whereby the organisation is the parent and the employee is the child on its head. Relying solely on the traditional old school top-down approach to employee engagement doesn’t work, it never really has. The reason? … HR have been trying to do the same old broad brush, umbrella solutions to enhance employee engagement.

Moving forward and certainly what we at have been doing for the last decade is helping organisations create a more parent-parent cultural dynamic and getting more balance back from employer-motivated to more employee-motivated, from leader-driven engagement to employee-driven engagement.

So the key is organisations helping employees get more clarity on what they want and what motivates and engages them.  We have developed the simple systems, tools and processes to do this – but the key is making it simple and easy.  Once this is done employees and individuals are more empowered to drive their own motivation and engagement, therefore maximising productivity and performance and thus reducing turnover because they are happier and more fulfilled.

“Most people know what they don’t want, but fewer know what they really do want.”

Q. In India work life balance is often overlooked by employers. Employees are expected to work for 10+ hours a day. How important is work-life balance in deriving the best from employees? On an employee’s level how does it unlock work and life potential?

Ian Hutchinson: The short answer is work life balance depends on the individual.

The longer answer is that everyone is motivated and engaged by a different order of The 7 Motivational Engagement Drivers, being (in no particular order):

  • Leadership – inspiring leadership keeps you informed and appreciated
  • Purpose – you feel the organisation has a meaningful purpose beyond just making money
  • Reward – you feel fairly rewarded financially
  • Opportunity – you have constant learning, development opportunities and hope for your career future
  • Relationships – you feel there is a culture of positive, open and collaborative relationships
  • Job Fulfilment – the nature of the day-to-day work and skills used energises you
  • Work Life Balance –   an environment exists where your life outside work is supported and encouraged

I have found these 7 Motivational Engagement Drivers vary in order from country to country, organisation to organisation, team to team and more importantly individual to individual.

So it is up to the individual to determine what their top three most important drivers are that make them the happiest and most fulfilled in their work. The problem and challenge is, and I say this all the time in my conference speaking as it is so important to understand, that “most people know what they don’t want, but fewer know what they really do want”. Psychologically if you don’t know what you want how can you manage it.

So find out what drives you.  If it is work life balance, then try and find a job that allows that and you will be more engaged. Personally for me, work life balance is one of my top three drivers, I even wrote a book on the topic called “52 Strategies to Work Life Balance”.

So in summary, if work life balance is important to the individual and they don’t have an employer who allows it, they will be more disengaged whereas the reverse is true and is the ideal to strive for.

“Successful employee engagement needs to have a cultural self-responsibility approach.”

Q. Could you enlighten us on your ‘self-responsibility approach’ to employee engagement and motivating individuals? How does it help in unlocking workforce potential and maximising productivity and performance?

Ian Hutchinson: Most employee engagement can be controlled, about 80% of the time in fact by the individual employee themselves. Individuals just need the tools to get clear on what motivates and engages them – because ‘clarity creates control’.

Employee clarity or the lack there of, is the major obstacle to why improving employee engagement hasn’t worked properly in the past for most organisations.

To get real momentum successful employee engagement needs to have a cultural self-responsibility approach.

This approach needs to incorporate self-leadership initiatives, to help employees get clarity, as well as personal empowerment and put them in the driver’s seat and in doing so, with their own buy-in it maximises their own performance, productivity, motivation and employee engagement.

This new self-responsibility paradigm shift is what I call ‘Employee Driven Engagement’ (EDE).

“Assisting individual employees to get clarity on what engages and motivates them is the key to improving employee engagement.”

Q. You spoke about employee clarity and employee driven engagement (EDE) in an interview? This is something that is unique in the way that most efforts are driven by organizations. Could you elaborate on what you mean by this and why is it effective in driving productivity and performance?

Ian Hutchinson: To be truly successful with employee engagement you need to assume every employee is motivated by different motivational drivers (meaning different variations of the order of the 7 motivational engagement drivers as mentioned earlier).

The goal therefore is to help employees discover and get clarity on what motivates them, so that they can take responsibility and control it for themselves – Employee Driven Engagement (EDE).

Enlightened organisations, are increasingly realising that assisting individual employees to get clarity on what engages and motivates them is the key to improving employee engagement.

There are three problems if employees don’t have clarity and therefore don’t really know what engages and motivates them:

  1. Individuals will default to financial reward as their primary employee engagement driver and can easily reinforce a ‘whinge entitlement’ culture.
  2. Managers and leaders will have virtually no chance of really engaging them.
  3. Individuals can’t take responsibility for their personal engagement because they don’t know what’s really important to them.

Again, very few employees really know what truly engages and motivates them in their work – most think they do, but they don’t. If employees don’t know, then HR and managers can’t know either. In this scenario, as mentioned, the default engagement driver then usually becomes ‘give me more money’, which is a very expensive and ineffective way of trying to engage and motivate employees.

Again, employee clarity, or the lack there of, is the major obstacle to why improving employee engagement hasn’t worked properly in the past for most organisations.

The good news is, after years of working with hundreds of organisations, my research has identified that 80% of employee engagement can be improved by individual employees themselves – it’s just that most aren’t aware of it yet.

Employees just need the tools to get clear on what motivates and engages them – clarity creates control.

Providing of gifts and benefits creates ‘spoilt brat employees’ and borne a ‘whinge entitlement culture’.

Q. “The more you give, the more it creates an entitlement culture.” This is a very interesting thought. Asking employees to take responsibility for their own engagement is not something they would like to hear. How do you get them to do it?

Ian Hutchinson: Organisations over recent years have misguidingly got into the habit of sometimes showering their employees with superficial gifts and ineffective benefits with the hope of trying to improve employee engagement scores. In more cases than not, providing of gifts and benefits has simply created ‘spoilt brat employees’ and borne a ‘whinge entitlement culture’ leaving employees with the mind set of “great, what are we going to get next Christmas.”

The quicker human resources and organizational leaders understand that the ‘one-size-fits-all’ concept hasn’t ever really been effective (and never will) the better.

The key is first getting leaders to understand that they can control their own engagement once better clarity is gained, then filtering the approach down through the workforce and helping each individual to be more empowered and in control of their own motivation.

The traditional approach to employee engagement has always been: the research is complete, let’s implement broad brush, umbrella strategies to try and solve the weaknesses (and then cross our fingers that the workforce will be relatively satisfied). That’s the ‘top-down approach’ to engagement strategies which help some but not everyone.  To reverse the entitlement culture you need to embed the ‘bottom-up approach’ and flip traditional employee engagement on its head, all for the better.

Q. Personal engagement plans is a very interesting concept that you have put forth. A bottoms-up approach to employee engagement seems very unique in approach when most programs are top down. How does this drive employee engagement leading to better performance and motivation?

Ian Hutchinson: As already mentioned, the ‘bottom-up approach’ to employee engagement with everyone doing and having their very own personal engagement plan is the most effective win-win way forward.

This ‘bottom-up’ approach or as we call it Employee-Driven Engagement (EDE) using a self-leadership philosophy and tools is where every employee is seen as an individual.

So instead of traditional general Organisational Engagement Plans (OEP) being the focus, individuals create Personal Engagement Plans (PEP) where the emphasis is on individuals being encouraged (and in many occasions, facilitated) to be responsible for getting clarity on what personally engages and motivates them, and then putting in place strategies, that they have created and bought into to ensure they can drive their own fulfilment, motivation and ultimately performance and productivity.

As I have alluded to a number of times now, the overall objective is to shift the paradigm of the employment relationship to one of Employee Driven Engagement. Employers should start to move away from relying on extrinsic benefits to employees, and shift to having individuals taking responsibility for their own engagement and motivation intrinsically with self-leadership and personal responsibility. But it all starts with getting your people clear on what engages and motivates them.

The key is to have solutions for individuals with simple tools for change that stick, rather than just a fad that is here today and gone tomorrow. Successfully embedding this employee driven engagement approach has been proven to be the new employer-employee ‘win-win’.

“Everyone is different. What motivates and engages one employee may not motivate and engage another.”

Q. Millennials are challenging the status quo at most organizations. Their needs and motivations are entirely different to the baby boomers. How do you reckon organizations could gear themselves for engaging them better, especially since the average time they stay at a job is 2 years?

Ian Hutchinson: I don’t like to focus on generational differences; rather I encourage organisations to focus on individual differences (PEP).

The reason again being that everyone is different. What motivates and engages one employee may not motivate and engage another not matter if they are Gen Z, Y, X, A, B, C …baby boomers or whatever.  Individuals are individuals and employees need to start realising this.

I have seen over the last decade or so too many organisations falling in the trap of trying to come up with engagement strategies for different generational sectors. It doesn’t work.  Invest in getting the individual to develop their own Personal Engagement Plan (PEP) and blend it with their Key Performance Indicators (KPI) to create the best chances of a win-win and an employee staying longer because they are more engaged.

If you can’t do that, then brace yourself for the inevitable heart-arch and high cost of lost human capital and expensive turnover, recruitment and retaining costs.

“Clarity creates control”

 Q. In your book ‘People Glue : People engagement and retention solutions that stick’ you talk about tools that help employees leverage their own motivations to achieve better performance at work. Could you elaborate on some of those tools.

Ian Hutchinson: Firstly when talking to employees I never use the word ‘engagement’ as it is too employer-centric. “Oh you just want to engagement me to maximise productivity and performance” they will think.  With individual employees I only use the work “motivation”. “What really motivates you in your role’ is much more empowering that “What can we do to better engage you in your work”.

It is important to get employees understanding that they can take responsivity and much more control of their work and life motivation once they first get clarity around what they want.  “Clarity creates control” is one of my key mantras.

We have developed highly effective tools over the years to help employees and employers get more clarity and control in areas such as:

Tools for Individuals:

  • The 7 Motivational Drivers and developing their own Personal Engagement Plans (PEP).
  • Job Fulfilment Tools
  • Work Life Balance Tools
  • Personal Cashflow Management

All of which are available in our Self-Leadership programs

Tools for People Leaders/Managers:

  • The 7 Engagement Drivers and developing their Team Engagement Plans (TEP)
  • The 7 Driver Card System
  • Quick and easy strategies for each of the 7 drivers

Most of which are available in our People Glue programs

All the tools are about quickly and easily getting clarity around what motivates and engages people and what they can do about it themselves.  The good news is that once people get clarity and 80% of the strategies they can control themselves, which is great news for employers and the employee.

Q. From being in marketing to being a leading voice in HR, that has been an interesting transition. What made you change paths and be an active evangelist of employee engagement?

Ian Hutchinson: In my marketing career I saw so many people in my team who were success in their jobs but not necessarily happy in life. It led me to be fascinated in human potential and life & work engagement and inspired me to do further study in career development and psychology at university.

After that I started up almost 21 year ago now which helps organisations and individuals become better engaged in life and work and unlock their potential. We work with individuals/employees helping them take more control of their work and life (“self-leadership”) and organisations/employers understand how to engage and motivate individuals for maximum productivity and performance (“employee-driven engagement”).

Employee-Driven Engagement (EDE) works from the top down and Self-Leadership works from the bottom up. But ultimately they work hand in hand with each other creating a win-win for the organisation and employee as it creates a culture of self-responsibility whereby the individual is much more empowered, motivated and therefore engaged.

For more information or to get Your FREE People Glue Book 48 Page Extract by Ian Hutchinson simply go to

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Pozitive” a Product Division of SpadeWorx is next step in taking forward our mission - “Employee Engagement To Drive Productivity & Innovation”. We have been privileged to work with lot of customers over the last decade and have learnt a lot when it comes to the increasing importance of Employee Engagement as organizations are getting on the digital transformation journey.

Increasing Employee Engagement requires a cultural transformation at many organizations and we believe reimagining recognition is a good start. For this purpose, SpadeWorx launched “Bravo – Workplace Recognition Reimagined

With our research, surveys ,participation in expos and conferences a very clear message has emerged which is voiced by thought leaders in HR space that Culture is the most important catalyst in a company for vibrant and positive work place which can bring increased productivity and efficiency.

Bravo is aimed at promoting desired cultural traits which is so very essential for strategy execution.