employee engagement

What Sir Tom and the Dragons can teach us about employee engagement…

By February 11, 2014 No Comments

There are admittedly some engaging shows on our TV screens at the moment. There’s the strangely captivating car crash of a show that is The Voice, while the new series of Dragon’s Den has given my Sunday evenings a focal point beyond the usual post weekend-induced self pity. The only cloud on the horizon of my viewing pleasure are rumours that the new series of The Apprentice has been pushed back to the autumn to avoid clashing with the BBC’s World Cup coverage.

But, I can live without Lord Alan Sugar dimpled mug for a month or two in return for a feast of international football that – and you read it here on the Southerly Blog first – will end in heartbreak for England and see Belgium cause a few surprises in Brazil.

What has football punditry got to do with employee engagement? Not a lot, but The Voice, Dragons’ Den and The Apprentice (when it does finally return to our screens) all contain elements that should be part of any business’s employee engagement strategy.

Here at Southerly HQ, writer Jonathan Bright would prefer Will.i.am to be his singing mentor because he’s quirky and often very innovative, whereas Toby Rosenbloom prefers Sir Tom Jones to share his immense amount of performance knowledge. I’d rather ram my head repeatedly into a brick wall than spend more than a minute with the bruised ego of a The Voice judge, but, you know, different strokes…

Lucy Uren, Southerly’s account manager extraordinaire, took the debate a stage further when she suggested recruitment interviews could combine elements from all three shows in question. She proposed we could all position our Mad Men-style swivel chairs with their backs to the contestants (I mean, candidates). Each could then deliver their pitch and we could then swivel round and shout “You’re hired!” to any candidate whose presentation hit the right note.

This idea may need a bit of ironing out before it becomes part of your engagement or recruitment strategy – perhaps a touch less of an in-your-face approach – but Lucy hit the nail on the head by identifying that all three shows offer employee engagement lessons because their success revolves around effective communication.

Here are five, well six, questions you should be asking to discover whether your business is creating a culture of engagement…

1 Do you communicate your business’s vision and direction in a way that excites people? And how does that impact the energy of your staff?

A key plank of a successful employee engagement strategy is opportunity. Engagement occurs when staff feel they are part of something important, and have something to believe in. In the case of The Voice, Will.i.am is particularly good at this because his general demeanour inspires the contestants around him to believe they are creating something innovative. 

Employees need to believe in the future. They need to see potential for the organisation and believe they can contribute value. How your business tells its story about its vision, mission, strategy and goals is key to creating a culture of employee engagement.

2 Do you communicate clear expectations to your staff that eliminates confusion about what is expected of them?

Employee engagement also involves personal accountability. When your staff are clear about what is expected of them in terms of performance goals and behaviour, they are more likely to hold themselves accountable.

3 How often do you ensure individuals are connected across functions and operate with mutual interest?

Engagement happens when employees feel connected with each other, focus on mutual interests and operate with shared responsibility. Conversely this is something that often breaks down very quickly on The Apprentice tasks when you don’t have a solid, confidence-inspiring, competent project manager.

There are two aspects to this when it comes to employee engagement. First is the feeling of working with colleagues who trust and support each other, and demonstrate interest in not only their own success, but in the success of their colleagues. It is difficult to sustain engagement when employees feel disconnected from their colleagues.

The second is to operate with a mindset of collaboration, the process of integrating different perspectives to accomplish a common outcome.

4 Do you ensure there is an open and honest flow of information about your business?

Engagement happens when employees are well-informed, involved and have an opportunity to openly express thoughts and feelings. Put simply, staff are engaged when they feel ‘in’ on things. On Dragon’s Den, for example, it happens the other way round, in that the better informed and prepared the Dragons are with your pitch from the off – in terms of the numbers they need and how your business has fared thus far – the more likely they are to be engaged with the product.

Don’t pride yourself on having an open-door policy; pride yourself on how many people come through that door.

5 What are you doing to demonstrate that you actually care about your staff?

Engagement happens when staff feel they matter – that they have a valued place in the business. This only occurs when a company communicates the interest it has in its employees, such as offering recognition, rewards, support and learning opportunities. Look at The Voice: softly-spoken advice from the likes of Tom Jones will give the singer enormous confidence, and if he tells you you’re doing well, then you can be sure you’re doing really well.

You don’t need to cover all of the points above to create a successful and engaging TV show. One of the most entertaining aspects of The Apprentice is when there is a communication breakdown and a team fails to grasp what is expected of them in a task. That’s often the point when Lord Sugar points his finger at the project manager and says: “You’re fired!”

Of course life’s slightly different in the real-life workplace. Clear and effective communication of your company’s vision – be that implementing quirky innovation or the trust in you as a stalwart of longstanding success – is the key to a successful employee engagement strategy that will ensure you and your staff stay ahead of the competition.

About Southerly

We are a creative content agency. We are storytellers.


WeWork Central,
30 Stamford Street,


+44 (0)20 3397 4971



All suppliers please contact us at: