Employee Engagement

I’m a student of history… which contains MANY lessons.

One such lesson relating to employee engagement comes from WW II - when the larger and technically superior German Luftwaffe (Air Force) was soundly defeated by the RAF (Royal Air Force) in the Battle for Britain. How could this happen? The German commanders refused to listen to their pilots and NCOs with first-hand knowledge of how the RAF was winning.

The battle lasted almost 4 months - from July 10 until October 31, 1940. In the end, more than 1,700 Luftwaffe planes were destroyed. The 2,662 German casualties included many experienced aircrews, from which the Luftwaffe never fully recovered. The (RAF) lost 1,250 aircraft, including 1,017 fighters. In all, the RAF suffered just over 1420 men killed (during the period of the battle 520 men were killed serving with Fighter Command, Bomber Command suffered more than 700 fatalities, and another 200 men were killed flying with Coastal Command).

Was this because the RAF had better planes? No.

…the Me 109F has a slightly superior performance to the Spitfire V
~ Air Vice Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory, September 1941.

I also thought the Bf 109F was slightly superior to the Spitfire V”,
~ Squadron Leader Douglas Bader, circa 1941.

In fact, there are MANY myths surrounding how/why the RAF was able to defeat the Luftwaffe during the Battle for Britain.

And while there were many factors involved, the most significant advantage that the British held was their radar system. Comprised of only 20 major sites, the British radar system allowed the RAF to quickly deploy aircraft to areas where German planes were approaching. Knowing when and where the German aircraft would appear, allowed planes to be refueled, restocked with ammunition, and British aircrews to be well-rested when the German planes arrived from their long flights.

While Luftwaffe command knew about radar (and had a more technologically advanced but more dispersed radar system), the German officers were more concerned about obtaining the required fuel and munitions for their planes than worrying about British radar. The German commanders refused to listen to their pilots and NCOs telling them that they needed to “knock out” British radar sites. Instead, the Luftwaffe was initially focused on destroying infrastructure and shipping ports. Ironically, just when RAF Fighter Command was on the brink of destruction as a result of German air raids against its ground organization, Hitler (frustrated by British night bombings of Germany - and against the objections of Hermann Göring) ordered the Luftwaffe to shift its focus to bombing London instead! This began on September 7, 1940, and it gave the RAF time to repair its destroyed installations (as protection of London was not considered militarily significant). Ultimately, not a single British radar site was damaged… and the Luftwaffe was dealt a devastating defeat!

Performance Reviews

Take a page out of history and seek to learn what your employees know about your business - that you don't. For example, rather than perform traditional “Performance Reviews”, invite each employee to meet with their managers for an annual “One-on-One” meeting (as no one likes to be under a spotlight… such as a “Performance Review”). This should be more of a 2-way conversation.

Managers should ask these employees for ideas on how to improve the company. Ask them what could be done to make their job “easier” (which often translates into “more efficient”). Resist the urge to challenge or correct the employee… instead, listen to what they have to say.

And ask them about what the company can do to mitigate or eliminate any risks that the employee may be observing. Ask whether the employee needs or would like, additional training… or more responsibility (e.g., taking on greater challenges). People with ambition like to take on new challenges and advance. However, some people may have ambitions outside of work - such as with their family, church, coaching local sports teams, mentoring, etc. These external goals should have no impact on the business, provided that no conflict of interest exists and the employee adequately performs their job tasks.