Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Engagement is king

Staff need sense of involvement, guru says

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John Izzo, bestselling author and behaviour expert, says regardless of the individual qualities necessary to become an excellent leader in the business world, they will fall short if they can't get buy-in from employees.

Vancouver-based Izzo will be speaking in Winnipeg today at the Human Resource Management Association of Manitoba's two-day conference, Connect 2013.

Izzo, a psychologist with a PhD in communications, is a popular speaker and a bit of an evangelist when it comes to getting employees to work together to create a better workplace.

He was a pioneer 20 years ago in the idea of people power and instilling a culture of ownership in the work environment, regardless of the size or type of operation.

"Honestly, I think it was just words people used 20 years ago at a lot of companies," he said. "But I think most companies now get it... that engaged employees matter (for the success of the business)."

Even though lots of his work is with leadership groups within large companies, one of the general themes of his message is no amount of leadership skills will matter if employees do not feel they are part of the story.

"We all make the culture of the companies we work at," he said in a telephone interview from his Vancouver office. "Leaders matter a lot, but we create (corporate culture) together. If you have front-line team members and professionals as well as leaders saying, 'I am responsible for creating this thing or at least part of (it),' then I think the game changes."

In his latest book, Stepping Up: How Taking Responsibility Changes Everything, he writes about how one of the real keys to success is creating a culture where everyone acts and feels like an owner, no matter how big or small the enterprise is.

"In Winnipeg, I am going to be really challenging leaders and HR professionals to be thinking about how do you really become a leading-edge employer when so many other companies are paying attention to this," he said. "Have you truly created a culture of ownership?"

Through his career, Izzo has worked with leadership groups in some of the largest companies in the world, from IBM and Microsoft to Marriott Hotels, WestJet and Telus, but he believes his message of employee engagement is even more germane for small companies.

For one thing, he said, a small-business owner has no one but himself or herself to blame if the workplace is dysfunctional.

"In small businesses, the thing I teach is that it is even easier for those leaders to set a tone of purpose," he said. "It's not just about making money. It's about making people feel appreciated and listened to... to be treated like owners."

Just as he believes there's been a lot of progress over the last 20 years when it comes to employee engagement, he's also of the mind that the up-and-coming leaders of business will have an even broader community-minded sense of what makes a good corporation.

"I think there is a sea change taking place," said Izzo. "In a few years, we are going to see many companies started by young generation Y and generation X entrepreneurs who, from the very beginning, had a social-purpose agenda -- making a difference in the world and in the lives of people -- that is at least as important (or in the same ballpark) to them as making money."

Izzo said he is realistic and understands that especially with public companies, there is an obligation to the shareholders to generate profits, but he said there is a growing number of companies where part of their DNA or goals is not just to make money.

"I'm not a Pollyanna about it," he said. "It won't be a straight line. But it's happening in larger and larger numbers."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 22, 2013 B5

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