Three thoughts about bringing your engagement strategy to life

Drew McMillan

Drew McMillan, Director of Colleague Communication and Engagement at British Airways provides three ideas on how to bring your engagement strategy to life. Drew is speaking at the CIPD Employee Engagement Conference and Workshop which takes place on 30-31 January 2020 in London. Book your ticket today.



Here’s my three thoughts to bring your engagement strategy to fruition:

1. Take a holistic view

I’m puzzled at the notion that engagement is something we ‘do’ as opposed to something we achieve. It’s an outcome. And it’s an outcome achieved through the alignment of a wide range of elements of the colleague experience: clarity of organisational purpose and understanding; great line management; effective recognition; health and well-being; diversity and inclusion… the list goes on. If you’re going to create a brilliant engagement strategy it requires a holistic view. If you focus solely on internal communications or performance management or any other single element, I suspect your strategy is doomed to failure. 

The most rewarding aspect of my job is that I have a remit that not only allows me to take a holistic view of the organisation, it demands it. The more ‘total’ you can be in the alignment of the components of your engagement strategy, the better. 

2. One size does not fit all

It’s so tempting to consider organisational culture as one, homogeneous, consistent set of guiding thoughts and behavioural norms. And, when trying to bring engagement strategy to life, who doesn’t want to make it happen in an entirely consistent way across their organisation? One approach, delivered the same way everywhere and to everyone. Trouble is, I’ve never found an organisation that has one culture and therefore one approach to delivering a strategy. 

Organisations – large and small – have plural, coexisting cultures. They overlap and intertwine, but, are distinct in their own ways and require careful consideration. This inevitably means hard work (more hard work!) for you and your colleagues tasked with creating and delivering the engagement strategy, and it can be quite overwhelming in organisations of real scale. Get it right, though, and you’ll reap the rewards in the long term.

3. Managers, Managers, Managers

It’s not new thinking: the biggest single influencer of engagement is our line manager. We’ve known it for decades. And yet it still feels so very difficult to harness the full power of the management population as a coalition for good in the organisation, and to supercharge the engagement outcome. I still haven’t learned the magic formula, after years and years of trying. All I can do – and I encourage others to do, too – is to consider line managers as solid gold. 

Yes, it’s true, there are bad line managers. We’ve all worked for one, right? But if we create and deliver our engagement strategy on the premise that a minority of bad managers will mess things up, rather than working with the belief that most line managers do a great job and want to do even better, then success will be so much harder to achieve. The more you can do in your organisation to trust line managers, to empower them, to get them excited and energised, the better. Let them overcome a fear of failure, hold their hand, and let them create amazing an engagement outcome with their teams, in their own way.


Drew is presenting the case study titled “Bringing your engagement strategy to life” at the CIPD Employee Engagement Conference and Workshop which takes place on 30-31 January 2020 in London. Book your ticket today.