Turning hierarchy upside down

Over the past few weeks I’ve been featuring 2013 reading lists and photos of your bookshelves with recommended reads on all things internal communication and social media related.

Today Gloria Lombardi has written for my blog to share her review of The CEO: Chief Engagement Officer: Turning Hierarchy Upside Down to Drive Performance by John Smythe (Gower, 2007). I heard John speak about this book back in 2010 and his book is one of the ones on my shelf.

Employee engagement is a topic I write regularly about, particularly the Engage for Success movement, and you can see some articles I’ve written at the foot of this page. I’ll be publishing an article on news about a secondment opportunity within Engage for Success later this week.

Gloria has a BA in Science of Communication, MA in Business Communication, post-graduate certificate in Management Studies and post-graduate certificate in Internal Communication. She’s currently studying a post-graduate diploma in internal communication focused on employee engagement, is a keen researcher and writer on both topics and a CIPR Inside member. Over to you Gloria…

Turning hierarchy upside down

Many of us who passionate about employee engagement, internal communication and keen on observing developments on the subject, are looking forward to reading the new book by John Smythe, ‘Velvet Revolution at Work’.  It will be available from March 2013, but while we wait, I thought I’d review his previous work, The CEO: Chief Engagement Officer.

In that book, Smythe sends messages that are worth us as internal communications professionals remembering and keeping with us. Through this post on Rachel’s blog, I would like to write down some notes, which are Smythe’s concepts and ideas presented in his book. While doing this, I also invite you to read and fully enjoy the original work.

In the book, he stresses the importance for leaders of any organisation of replacing a command and control approach with a more inclusive and well-governed co-creational one.

Employee engagement is an expression of a more inclusive approach to opening up day-to-day decisions to those who will add value, albeit in a well managed way…a sharing of power is a prerequisite to real engagement”.

This is based on the view that “positive engagement is marked by creative energy and personal ownership” that cannot be released within an organisational context characterised by a manipulative leadership.

“The spirit of employee engagement is not about coercion and manipulation. Nor is it about a chaotic free-for-all. It is about inviting the right people to contribute to decision making to bring their wisdom and experience to bear and by so doing create a creative and compelling place to work.”

In the author’s view, being a chief engagement officer means:

  1. Advocating the company’s vision
  2. Focusing people on the right work
  3. Knowing and delivering what engages their people (defined as ‘pastoral care’)
  4. Power sharing
  5. Authentic presence – having insight and exercising discipline about personal communication style and tone
  6. Attractive values – including fairness and transparency
  7. Being good at the day job

“Workers respond well to authentic engagement. They will volunteer and give their creativity if it is honestly sought and if value is added by their labours; and they will enjoy their work more and be inclined to stay and repeat the experience”.

Smythe also shares his opinion with regards to a leader who ‘communicates well’. He suggests the behaviours that good communicators should have. Some of which are:

  1. Knowing that they cannot achieve their vision without engaging the right people
  2. Understanding that communication takes place within the context of a relationship where past experiences will influence success
  3. Recognising that secrecy destroys credibility
  4. Planning the engagement and communication from the perspective of the other party
  5. Making the invitation to participate very clear and allowing people to see the impact of their contribution
  6. Showing how initiatives are connected to the big picture
  7. Knowing that listening means saying little and being very interested in what the other party is saying

“The engagement experience should be characterised by learning through self-discovery, rather than by instructional communication and indoctrination.”

The CEO: Chief Engagement Officer: Turning Hierarchy Upside Down to Drive Performance presents many more concepts that reflect Smythe’s view in 2007 of employee engagement and internal communication.

I’m wondering what we will discover from the Velvet Revolution at Work this coming March. Within a few months, after reading the new book, it will be good to look back at this one and reflect on the major developments – from the author’s perspective – that this fascinating discipline has undertaken over the past six years since it was published.

Let’s wait for the ‘Velvet Revolution at Work’ to come…

Thank you for sharing your review Gloria. If you’ve read a book that you think other comms pros would be interested in knowing about, do see my guest article guidelines and get in touch with your idea, Rachel

You can buy The CEO: Chief Engagement Officer: Turning Hierarchy Upside Down to Drive Performance via Amazon and it’s also available in Kindle format.

Post author: Gloria Lombardi

Further reading:

Engaging workplaces for a sustainable future
Engaging for success in the UK economy
The Sunday night blues

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