Category Archives: Engagement

NZ Health and Safety Legislation; Fostering Wellbeing and Resilience

With the recent changes to Health and Safety (H&S) legislation, New Zealand employers need to ensure that they are taking all practicable steps to ensure both the mental and physical well-being of their employees is being protected within the workplace. This includes adopting proactive and developmental approaches that foster wellbeing and resilience; which is not only an obligation under law, but is also instrumental in facilitating higher levels of performance. Continue reading

The Adaptive Skills and Behaviours Required to Succeed in Future Work Environments

There is a lot being said about the future of work, and what this means for the type of skills, attitudes, and behaviours we will require to succeed.  With this future already upon us, it is important that we pick up our pace  of change, and look to build capability that helps us to adapt, thrive and succeed within an ever changing world.  Best selling author, Jacob Morgan, describes in his latest book ‘The Future of Work’ five trends shaping the future of work;

  1. New behaviours
  2. Technology
  3. Millennials
  4. Mobility
  5. Globalisation

These trends are bringing a dramatic shift in attitudes and ways of working; new behaviours, approaches, and workplace expectations.  Whilst many of us are sensing these rapid changes, we aren’t necessarily sure why these changes are happening, what they mean, or how they will impact us.

As Jacob Morgan says:

“The disruption of every industry is also causing a bit of unrest as people struggle to define where they fit or if they will be obsolete.  It’s forcing us to adapt and change to stay relevant while giving rise to new business models, new products, new companies, new behaviours, and new ways of simply existing in today’s world”.

So, the burning questions are:  what exactly do these changes look like for employees, managers, and organisations?  And, what skills, attitudes, and behaviours do we require to succeed?

What we do know is that modern employees are more self-directed, collaborative in their approach, and want to shape and define their own career paths instead of having them predefined for them.  They are continually seeking out learning opportunities that fit with their personal purpose and professional aspirations, and are looking for development opportunities that benefit them holistically as a ‘whole person’.  They seek the skills, confidence and healthy mind-set to challenge the status quo, to think on their feet, and to continually adapt within highly fluid and ever changing organisational environments.  They are looking to learn and develop emotional and social intelligence;  to work within increasingly networked communities;  to lead, collaborate, innovate and share.

Consistent with the above is five crucial behaviours, identified by Morgan, as being required by employees in the modern workplace;

  1. Self-Direction and Autonomy – to continually learn, and stay on top of important tasks within manager-less organisations
  2. Filter and Focus – to be able to manage the cognitive load associated with increasing amounts of pervasive information
  3. Embracing Change – to continually adapt to new working practices whilst demonstrating resilience and healthy mind-sets
  4. Comprehensive Communication Skills – to support collaborative work practices, and to communicate ideas and provide feedback succinctly
  5. Learning to Learn – to be willing to adopt a pro-learning mind-set; to step outside comfort zones, reflect, and make meaning of experiences.

Organisations also need to adapt to the future of work to support these trends and demands, and ensure they are attracting, developing, and retaining top talent.  A good place to start is by fostering and embracing the principles of organisational learning.  Peter Senge suggested in his book ‘The Fifth Discipline: The Art of the Learning Organisation’ that in order for an organisation to remain competitive within the complex and volatile business environments that we find ourselves operating they must build their capacity for continually transforming.  This involves developing cultures that;

  • Encourage and support employees in their pursuit of personal mastery (the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, and seeing reality objectively)
  • Encourage employees to challenge ingrained assumptions and mental models
  • Foster genuine commitment and enrolment through shared visions.

Here at OPRA we are developing a carefully selected set of best-of-breed, soft skill learning and development programmes to help individuals and organisations embrace these current and future trends. Our programmes are designed to equip professionals with the emotional intelligence, healthy thinking, learning agility, collaborative team behaviours, and motivation required to demonstrate exceptional performance within the modern workplace environment.  We have grounded our programmes on the principles of positive psychology, and an understanding that REAL learning and engagement only occurs when self-awareness, participation, and a tangible sense of progress are present. Therefore, and in light of this, all our programmes are designed to;

  • Develop self-insight and raise awareness of individual and collective strengths
  • Utilise proven research based content, delivered by expert and accredited practitioners
  • Provide access to on-going professional coaching opportunities to further deepen learning
  • Incorporate social learning methodologies to encourage and enable collaboration and sharing
  • Provide applied on-the-job challenges and reflection to embed and sustain behavioural changes.

Watch this space for further announcements about OPRA Develop over the coming months. In the meantime, if you would like to discuss how OPRA can support your learning and development with proven, researched based soft-skill development programmes, then please contact your local OPRA office:

Wellington: 04 499 2884 or

Auckland: 09 358 3233 or

Christchurch: 03 379 7377 or

Australia: +61 2 4044 0450 or

Singapore: +65 3152 5720 or

Emotionally Intelligent Leadership

Emotionally intelligent leadership:

Game changing for business, life changing for people.
By Ben Palmer

If you are a leader in business looking to improve your organisation’s performance you might want to consider improving your capacity to identify, understand and manage emotion, that is, your emotional intelligence. A wide number of research studies over the last decade have shown there’s a direct link between the way people feel and they way people perform in the workplace. For example, research conducted by the Society for Knowledge Economics here in the Australian labour market, found people in high performing workplaces typically feel more proud, valued and optimistic than those in low performing workplaces. Conversely, people in low performing Australian workplaces people typically feel more inadequate, anxious and fearful. Leadership is fundamentally about facilitating performance. Research on emotional intelligence has proven that a leader’s emotional intelligence is key to their capacity to facilitate emotions in employees that drive high employee engagement and performance.

To illustrate this point Genos International, part owned by Swinburne University (a human resource consulting company that specialises in the development of leaders emotional intelligence, together with Sanofi (the worlds fourth largest pharmaceutical company teamed up to investigate whether the development of sales leaders emotional intelligence would improve the amount of sales revenue generated by their sales representatives. In order to control for market influences Sanofi randomly placed 70 sales representatives (matched in terms of tenure and current performance) into two groups:

1.The control group, this group and their managers received no emotional intelligence development training) and
2.The development group, the managers of this group participated in Genos International’s award winning emotional intelligence development program.

The Genos development program involves an emotional intelligence assessment for each person before and after the program (to create self-awareness and measure behaviour change) together with a number of short, focused development sessions over a six month period on:

  1. How to improve your capacity to identify emotions, and 
  2. How to improve your capacity to effectively regulate and manage emotions

Development in these areas makes leaders more self-aware, more empathetic, more genuine and trustworthy, more personally resilient, and better at influencing others emotions. Ultimately it helps leaders make their employees feel more valued, cared for, respected, informed, consulted and understood. On average, the emotional intelligence of the sales managers improved by 18 percent. As can be seen in the graph below this helped facilitate, an on average 13% improvement in the Development Group’s sales performance in comparison to the Control Group’s. There was a 7.1% improvement in the first month following the program, a 15.4% improvement the month after and 13.4% improvement the month after that (as measured by retail sales revenue by territory). The revenue of the Control Group stayed flat an in the same revenue band during this period.


The improvements in revenue generated by the Development Group returned approximately $6 dollars for every $1 Sanofi invested in the program. The findings of the study have been published in a peer-reviewed journal which can be downloaded from the Genos website (

Feedback from the participants showed the program not only helped improve the sales performance of reps and their managers. It also helped them improve their relationships with each other. At the time employees were navigating a difficult time within the business as bumps from a merger were ironed out and two different company cultures integrated. As one participant put it I have seen improvements in behaviour that have increased the bottom line with sales reps. From a management perspective, increased skills that have lead to more buy-in, acceptance, spirit improved, and better communication. However the greatest benefit I received from the program was an improved relationship with my 14yr daughter”.

This participant feedback highlights the added benefits of improving your emotional intelligence. Your capacity to identify, understand and manage emotions contributes to your life satisfaction, stress management and the quality of your relationships at home and at work. That’s why developing your emotional intelligence can be game changing for your business, and life changing for you and your people.

 To improve your skill at identifying and understanding emotions you can:

  1. Stop and reflect on the way you feel in the moment. Take the time to label the feelings you are experiencing and reflect on the way they might be influencing your thinking, behaviour and performance.
  2. Become more aware of other characteristics that interplay and indeed cause you to experience emotions such as your personality, values and beliefs. By understanding these you can become better at identifying different emotional triggers and they way you (and others), typically respond to them. This awareness is key to adjusting the way you feel and respond to events.

  To improve your skill at managing emotions you can:

  1.  Eat better, sleep more, drink less and exercise (if you aren’t already).
  2. Adopt a thinking oriented emotional management strategy, like Edward Debono’s 6 thinking hats, use it when strong emotions arise.
  3. Adopt a relationship strategy, someone who’s great at listening and helping facilitate perspective on events.
  4. Search the app store, there are some great emotional management apps out there today. For example Stress Doctor, a revolutionary mobile app that helps you reduce your stress level in just 5 minutes via a biofeedback technique to help sync your breathing rate with your autonomous nervous system (ANS).

If you would like more information on Enduring Impact Leadership Training please contact

Why Bother with Employment Branding?

If you were to ask a child which organisation they would most like to work for when they “grow-up” chances are you would get an answer along the lines of “Coke” or “McDonald’s”. However, it’s unlikely that they are cognisant of what has influenced their choice.  As we go through our working lives, it’s not surprising that when we are looking at a potential employer or ask someone what their ideal organisation is, they may still not be fully aware about what has influenced their choice. We will often make a decision based upon an organisation’s reputation, a role/organisation which matches our personal characteristics and organisational values. Ever-increasingly decisions are influenced by an organisation’s employment brand.

Recently I read an article that proposed when an organisation incorporates Sustainable Human Resource Management (Sustainable HRM) with their employment brand, they can differentiate themselves from their competitors and enhance their attractiveness to employees.

Sustainable HRM is described as “the pattern of planned or emerging human resource strategies and practices intended to enable organisational goal achievement while simultaneously reproducing the HR base over a long-lasting calendar time”.   

Now admittedly research around employment branding and Sustainable HRM is relatively new, and at this stage fairly limited.  Nevertheless it made for interesting reading and had some points which resonated with me.

Traditionally an organisation’s employment brand has been a combination of their corporate brand (based upon values and culture) and corporate social responsibility policies.  Many organisations have an employment brand to attract potential employees and then assist the organisation in remaining attractive to, and thereby retaining, current employees.

In order to tie in an organisation’s current employment brand to Sustainable HRM the authors have looked back at existing theory:

  • Signalling theory suggests all communications with an organisation during the recruitment process send out signals, by which a candidate uses to form their opinions of an organisation.  They have suggested that by incorporating Sustainable HRM within the employment brand this sends a positive signal of preparedness to invest in the candidate/employee and an understanding of the employment relationship.
  • Social identity theory suggests that an individual’s self-concept depends on their membership in different social organisations and that an individual’s self-concept is strongly influenced by the reputation of an organisation.  They have proposed that by integrating Sustainable HRM within the employment brand this enhances the self-concept of current employees and candidates.
  • Person-organisation fit suggests that job seekers match their personal characteristics and values with the organisation’s culture and identity. The article has suggested that the perceived fit between employee’s and candidate’s values and Sustainable HRM moderates the relationship between Sustainable HRM and organisation attractiveness i.e. higher fit may mean a stronger positive impact of the Sustainable HRM.

From here they have suggested that integrating Sustainable HRM practices into the employee value proposition enables an organisation to address employees and candidates in different life and career stages.  Additionally the different needs and expectations of its workforce are addressed without compromising its consistent employment brand.

 An organisation’s employment brand and how it’s created varies vastly from organisation to organisation. What is your organisation’s employment brand?

App, S., Merk, J., Büttgen, M. (2012) Employer Branding: Sustainable HRM as a Competitive Advantage in the Market for High-Quality.  Management Revue, 23(3), 262-278

Employees Get Creative!

Written by past contributor, Ali Dwan

Many people invest a lot of time and money into their homes, creating spaces which are perfectly suited to their needs. We spend a lot of time in our homes, so it makes sense to ensure we are comfortable and happy in that space.  We spend a lot of time at work too, yet we rarely have much control or even invest much time into the aesthetics of our work environment. Why is this?

Some organizations adopt a conservative approach to the design of their work environment. Managers create a ‘lean’ environment that reflects a uniform, corporate identity. However, a recent study conducted by the University of Exeter’s School of Psychology challenges this approach. The study suggests giving workers the freedom to personalize their offices because ‘employees who have control over the design and layout of their workspace are not only happier and healthier, they’re also up to 32% more productive’ (Science Daily, September, 2010). The study showed that when people feel uncomfortable in their environment they are less engaged, with both the space and what they can do with it. Give them some control of that and everything changes. People in the study reported being happier at work, identifying more with their employer and being more efficient in their work when given the chance to arrange their own work space.

The freedom to control the design and layout of a workspace didn’t require changing the colour of the walls: simply hanging some paintings or having a vase of flowers in the officepromoted happiness and helped people concentrate on the task at hand’ (Science Daily, September 2010). This doesn’t seem like a lot to ask of employers, particularly when there is something in it for them! Being aware of employees’ needs will help employers increase staff wellbeing and productivity at a minimal cost to the organisation. It’s a win, win outcome.

Employee Onboarding – The Total Picture

In recent years there has been a proliferation of software on the market all claiming to assist in the employee on-boarding process, and in doing so, deliver various organisational returns such as increased employee engagement, commitment, productivity, as well as reduce intentions to leave and turnover.

On-boarding refers to the process by which a new employee acquires the attitudes, behaviour, and knowledge to become a productive, contributing member of the team and is a process measured by months and years not days and weeks.  From what I have seen, much of the onboarding software being touted in the market relies heavily on electronic portals filled with document libraries, forms, and links to various corporate branded content.  Much of this material usefully fills the pre-start and initial-entry phase of onboarding, yet is a very small part of the total onboarding process.

Unfortunately, no amount of organisational hand-holding and support will assist the adjustment process of a new employee if they don’t have the initiative, and self-starting intent to make use of available information!  To facilitate the success of an onboarding process, a better place to start might be the selection of proactive employees, since this group are more inclined to ask questions, seek feedback, socialise, and build the networks necessary to facilitate a speedy adjustment into an organisation.

Electronic forms do not negate the hands-on role of the manager and team in supporting an employee’s integration into an organisation.  Indeed, a wealth of research highlights the importance of carefully selecting (and training) in-house staff to assume the role of buddies, role models, and mentors for your new employee.  It would seem the more that a new employee feels they are informed, listened to, and encouraged – be it via one’s manager or colleague, the more likely they are to develop the confidence required to carry out the role that is being asked of them.

To ensure the long-term success of an onboarding programme, the process must extend beyond week 1. Long-term onboarding options might include job rotations, E-learning courses, targeted assignments, regionally based learning forums, 360 degree feedback, and refresher training.  Be prepared to measure the success of an onboarding programme as well and track the indicators that are most predictive of success at regular intervals.

Motivate Me

I read an interesting article from Genos founder Ben Palmer last week titled “The Me Factor” recently published in the Australian magazine, HR Monthly.  It discussed the emerging trend of engagement not just being a factor relevant at the organisational level anymore, but something that needs to be looked at , at an individual level as well.  With the war on talent heating up again, Palmer states that “employee engagement is back on the top priority list of many organisations”.

Recent research into the individual determinants of workplace motivation by Palmer and his team uncovered some interesting findings.  Specifically, 24% of employees surveyed over a range of organisations reported that they were unmotivated by a fast-paced work environment with tight deadlines; 37% were neither motivated nor unmotivated by this; and yet 39% very highly motivated by it.  Along the same lines, 43% were unmotivated by a technical specialist as a manager, yet 18% were highly motivated by this.  Such figures clearly demonstrate differences in individual motivational needs.

So how can we continue to drive employee engagement?  Is the traditional group surveying followed by large-scale initiatives still paying the same dividends?  Or is it as simple as taking the time to sit down person to person and talk about what it is that motivates us?   It comes as no surprise to hear that we all have different things that excite and drive as at work.  Is now the time to concentrate more on the “me” in each employee?

*Palmer, B. (May, 2011). “The Me Factor”.  HR Monthly, pp. 33-38.

Is There Value In Valuing Employees?

Many things have come from the February earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand.  Of particular note have been the varying reactions of both employees and employers to the natural disaster. Specifically, some employees have shown uncompromising commitment to workplaces where they feel valued, the flip side has also been true. In the days following the quake many people worked extraordinary hours in the emergency services to deal with the aftermath. I have heard stories of people returning to ex-employers to help with the company’s workload when most of the current employees were too traumatised to return to work. Additionally, many employees were back at work within days out of pure loyalty to ensure the business kept functioning over such a unique and stressful time.   From the organisational side, some Christchurch business’s offered their employee’s basic needs such as food, water and shelter. Other companies brought in washing machines and dryers and portable showers to be used by their employees and families. It was also not uncommon for organisations to provide paid-time off to allow employees time to recover.  Such displays of support from both employees and business’s leads to the question : why is it that some employees and organisations exceeded what might have been expected of them, when others did not?

In my opinion the answer is simple really – value your employees and they will value the organisation they work for in return. I recently found an interesting website which conducts annual employee satisfaction surveys in Canada. They reported that employees who feel valued and invested-in are clearly more likely to place higher levels of value and investment in their company. The findings also stated the obvious – companies which implement internal communication initiatives have higher levels of productivity.  I can hear companies now retorting that they can’t afford the large amounts of investment that it requires to put such initiatives in place. Interestingly, according to the survey, the top places to work are also some of the highest grossing in Canada.  Why do companies often only see the initial ‘cost’ to implement something and yet fail to see the long-term benefits?

Valuing employees doesn’t always mean cold hard cash. Simple programs such as flexi-hours and promoting a work-life balance were suggested.  As an employee, sometimes just knowing that your input not only matters but is listened to, is the greatest reward of all. How much does it really cost to value your employees when the return on that investment can be so high as was demonstrated by the Canterbury Earthquake? It’s worth thinking about.  Who knows when you will next need to rely on your employees in a difficult and stressful situation.

Motivation: Why Doesn’t Business Do What Science Knows?

I caught up with a friend last night, who was telling me about her job situation. She is on a high base salary and has just been rewarded with a substantial bonus. She explained to me that despite these financial rewards for her achievement, she still felt flat and unmotivated. Her situation got me thinking – if she’s so well paid, why isn’t she motivated?

If you’ve found yourself asking this question before, you’d enjoy Dan Pink’s book, Drive. Pink explains that rewards based on achieving a particular target narrow the focus and concentrate the mind. Sounds good, right?

Sure, if performance is based on the number of widgets produced per hour. Incentives work for tasks that are simple and clear-cut – but my friend is a senior lawyer, so her job clearly doesn’t fit that criteria.

With jobs like hers, which require thinking outside the square and conceptual problem solving, the narrow focus caused by incentives actually blocks creativity and impairs performance.

The secret to high performance in this context isn’t rewards; it involves tapping into unseen, intrinsic drives. A person who is intrinsically motivated to perform a particular task feels a sense of enjoyment and satisfaction from the task itself, irrespective of external rewards. Pink’s research has consistently identified three universal intrinsic motivators; autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Basically, we are most motivated when we are directing our own work, becoming an expert in a particular area, and contributing to something larger than ourselves.

In light of this, it seems counterintuitive that businesses everywhere are designing financial incentive systems to reward high performance in an effort to motivate people.

Is it because it’s actually easier to throw money at people and hope for the best? Is intrinsic motivation put into the ‘too hard basket’, because people don’t know where to start?

I’m not suggesting that money doesn’t matter; I’m convinced that for most of us, it does – to a point. Employers need to pay people fairly to get the issue of money off the table. That’s the easy part, and should prevent disengagement and frustration, but is that enough? After delving into Pink’s book, I look forward to asking my friend if her current role gives her a sense of autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

What is Engagement and What Does it Mean for Business?

One of the words that is bandied around a lot here in England (where I am currently based) is the word ‘engagement’. Organisations want staff to be engaged but often don’t ask what this means for business. Presumably what people really want to have are more loyal employees leading to greater productivity.

The problem with engagement is that the relationship between engagement and output is not as well defined as people may think. In this regard, it is often important to remember that there are three major forms of engagement and these are well covered in psychological literature. In particular, a paper by Macey and Scheider (2008) notes three types of engagement: (a) psychological state engagement; (b) behavioural engagement; and (c) trait engagement.

The essence of this argument is that like all areas of I/O psychology, engagement requires systems thinking. Engagement itself is just a psychological construct, and like any other psychological construct will only produce outcomes when systems thinking is applied. Psychological constructs are rarely simple and do involve psychological and behavioural components which interplay in the work environment in different ways.

Engagement is more than likely to be a positive thing for employees to have. However, engagement that is not reinforced within a well thought out system will not lead to any greater outcomes for business than non-engagement.