INTERVIEW: Jim Abbatt CEO of A2B Excellence

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Why are you so passionate about Employee Engagement?

We’ve been preaching about people since long before ‘employee engagement’ became a fashionable term. We’ve built our reputation for fixing problems in large organisations and improving business outcomes, mainly by rolling up our sleeves and mucking in rather than looking at spreadsheets. And a major component of that has been through working with employees from boardroom to shop floor, and tapping the latent talent, motivation and goodwill in engaged workforces. The reason employee engagement is rightly making an impression as a business discipline is that it makes great commercial sense.

How can investing in Employee Engagement help enhance a business?

How can it fail? I guarantee that your employees are the most powerful and flexible asset in your business. They are also likely to be your most expensive. When people are disengaged or under-utilised, you’re throwing away value. Worse still, disengagement is viral: demotivated people bring down the effectiveness, talent and productivity of the team around them. Hard though it may be at the start, investment in engagement is a dead cert, because an engaged team will similarly be exponentially more effective, productive and happy.

Drawing on your work with companies like TFL can you give us one example of an initiative that really helped engage staff?

Our Business Improvement Teams programme was a set of workshops that provided a forum for change across a 100+ department. Every individual was empowered to solve not just business challenges, but challenges which affected themselves. It’s a huge win-win: employees were authorised to work beyond their job descriptions and get credit for doing so, they solved real-world problems from which they would benefit, they took away skills which will last their whole careers, and the business solved a raft of problems. What’s not to love?

One example of what you have developed which you think others could adopt as Best practice?

Think about time out. At A2B, we’re brutally efficient, and we are certain that engagement is about business value as much as it is about happy employees. But nothing we do will ever work without being given the space and time to do so. We allocate time for everyone in our workshops, and we’re realistic about delivery schedules. If you think nobody can afford an hour out of their workday, then your business model is wrong. It’s far better to give everyone an hour out to work together effectively and gain maybe 20 hours back, than to maintain a status quo that’s broken.

One example of the tangible business value delivered by your programme?

At TfL, we’ve removed waste and bureaucracy, empowered teams to recommend their own solutions, improved governance and record-keeping, and raised fiscal management standards. We’ve been credited with saving thousands of man-days and millions of pounds – all without wielding the employment axe.

One example of how the programme improved the lives of employees?

Our teams are empowered to help shape their own departments and working environments. They have the satisfaction of ‘building the house they’re going to live in’. They are masters of their own futures, appreciate that they are part of an excellent and valued team, and have been exposed to parts of the business which they might otherwise never experience – picking up lifelong skills along the way.

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