Build It: The Rebel Playbook For World-Class Employee Engagement by Glenn Elliott and Debra Corey

The Blurb On The Back:

The old way of treating employees at work has failed.  Only 30% of employees are engaged in their jobs and, in this fast-paced world, that’s just not enough.

The world’s most successful companies have been quietly doing things differently for nearly two decades.  Over that time, they’ve generated stock market returns of twice the norm and the’ve had half the employee turnover of their peers.  Their staff innovate more, deliver better customer service and beat the competition.  These companies outperform and disrupt their markets.

They break the rules of traditional HR.  They rebel against the status quo.  Build It has found the rebels and the rulebreakers, and shares their best secrets for engaging their people.

A decade in the making, the Engagement Bridge is approved model for building an engaged company culture.

Developed from working with almost 2,000 organisations worldwide – big to small, public to private – the model is a lens that will help you examine the places in your business where engagement is made, or broken. 

You can order Build It: The Rebel Playbook For World-Class Employee Engagement by Glenn Elliott and Debra Corey from Amazon USAAmazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Glenn Elliott is a writer and founder of Reward Gateway (a company dedicated to improving employee engagement).  Debra Corey is a HR director with 30 years of experience, including Gap and Honeywell.  This book is a thought provoking, high level look at how companies can build and change their culture to improve employee engagement and productivity featuring plenty of real life case studies but be aware it’s light on potential negatives.

I’ll start by saying that I completely agree with the central premise of this book, i.e. that the more engaged and committed a company’s employees are with its enterprise, the more productive they will be and also that engagement is not just a matter of paying them more money because corporate culture is so much wider than that (although, obviously, pay and remuneration is always going to be a factor – just not the main one).  Elliott and Corey bang this message home constantly throughout the book but I think it’s one that merits it because so often it’s something that c-suite level directors don’t realise.

The book is structured around what Elliott and Corey call the Engagement Bridge, which is a model based on the following planks:

– open & honest communication;

– purpose, mission & values;

– leadership;

– management;

– job design;

– learning;

– recognition;

– pay & benefits;

– wellbeing; and

– workspace.

Each chapter then takes each of these planks in turn, explaining what each plank means and incorporates, looking at ways of delivering on it and then taking the reader through some real-world case studies using the experience of difference companies.  Each chapter begins with a summary of its objectives and the key points that the authors want the reader to take away, which I found very useful as it helps you focus on the main messages up front, which in turn structures the way you engage with the chapter.

I have to say that there was an awful lot that I found helpful in the book in terms of suggestions for different ways of engaging.  For example the chapter on management had some interesting suggestions on how to focus on performance objectives and putting people first and the case studies (e.g. how Talon Outdoor discourages emails between 7pm and 7am) were very interesting.  Similarly, I found myself giving a loud “Amen” to the chapter on job design as the authors are bang on the money when they point out how poor job adverts are and how they in turn adversely impact on internal recognition.

What’s good about the case studies generally is that Elliott and Corey have used a variety of companies of different sizes so wherever you work, there should be something here that is of relevance to you.  However, the case studies are very high level and only focus on the broad principles and how it was rolled out with no analysis of any difficulties or push back during roll out.  I know that the idea of the book is to spark off ideas in the reader, but I did feel that there would have been some value in acknowledging any difficulties faced in putting ideas into action so that people can evaluate them more in the round.

I did take issue with how the authors frame a company’s in-house legal support, which I thought was somewhat misleading given that I have performed this role myself in a number of companies.  In particular, the authors suggest that it’s lawyers who play a role in driving conservative mindsets when it comes to how to treat employees, e.g. by wanting to have restrictive contracts or handbooks that are prescriptive and punishing.  In my experience, this could not be further from the truth and I thought it would have been hopeful had the authors instead pointed out that lawyers structure their advice based on the culture and objectives of the people instructing them.  If you tell a lawyer that you want something that belt and braces protects a company then that is what you’ll get.  If, however, you tell a lawyer what your objectives are, they’ll point out potential pitfalls but otherwise work with you in order to achieve that.  Therefore the authors’ suggestion that you have to “manage them carefully” is, for me, counterproductive and ironically anti-engagement.

The other observation that I have about the book is that with its focus on making sure that you have a culture that employees are engaged with, there is a danger of making the workplace a little cult-like.  I have no issue with the notion that employees who believe in their employer and what they are doing are going to be more engaged, but there are points where it feels like some of the techniques in this book could tip over into group think, i.e. you have company values that employees are expected to engage with and reflect but it’s not clear how individuals fit into that mix.  I like how the authors make the point that people need to trust in their employer and how it lives by its values (and they’re right to point out that this needs to start with the top) but I would have liked to see some kind of case study on how this works within a company in a problematic industry (e.g. defence) or how it works for a company that has been hit by scandal.

The only other point to make about this book is that – as is common in the field – it is there in part to promote Reward Gateway, so there are constant references to its website and Elliott draws on his own experience with the company.  I liked the fact that they have further video interviews with some of the people mentioned in the case studies because if you want to go into something in more depth then the option is there, but I equally get that some people will roll their eyes at the open marketing.

Ultimately, I did find this a useful book that made me think about different ways of encouraging employees to become more engaged with their employer.  I think there’s a danger that this could be viewed as just something for HR specialists but there is material here that’s good for anyone with a leadership or supervision role within their company and certainly some of the pragmatic, easy to apply tips that Elliott and Corey suggest are “easy wins” for anyone in that kind of position.  On that basis, I think this book is worth a couple of hours of your time. 

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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