Ladies and Gentlemen,
Over the past year you may have been receiving communication from my company regarding the progress of an initiative “Breaking the Mould”. This has involved examining new and alternative ways to engage and develop people in the workplace.
Following almost three years of research, dialogue with a range of organisations and their people I have decided it is now appropriate to release the findings to my contacts and subscribers.
My career has so far been dominated by working with people including many years acting as an international corporate trouble- shooter, business interventionist and coach. Latterly my interest had been stirred by my front line experiences which indicated a growing problem with Australian business relationships between employers and their staff.

I think we can all agree that the rate of change in our society in the past 20 years has been tumultuous from major world events to other matters in our everyday lives together with deep structural movements within business. Our country has been the beneficiary of sustained growth and wealth for all of that period.
Only today we are facing new challenges seldom experienced in that above time frame. There has been a discernible change in our business outlook adopting a rather pessimistic attitude to the future which is surprising given the opportunities which are unfolding in our economic region.

There can be no doubt our fabled reputation for displaying stoic resilience during times of adversity is currently being tested.

This initiative’s intent was to really “mine” for the issues which on the surface painted a worrying trend of disengagement within the workplace. This was to be achieved by speaking to as many representatives as possible in businesses together with other collated and external research.
One must point out the great majority of my interviews have been held in my home state of South Australia which is itself is struggling to survive during a period of deep economic lows; although I do not believe this is just confined to this state and it is can also witnessed in other parts of the country, making it into a national problem.

Key Findings

1 Confidence
In the course of the various interviews and conversations I have had in the past three years it is evident that confidence from leaders to employees has been quite seriously eroded and that people are struggling to come to terms with our new circumstances and operating environment.
It appears that many of the reasons for this are connected to external factors which have come into play effecting how we have traditionally lived in Australia. Additionally changes in social practices and behaviour have had a marked impact.
It would be wrong to paint too morbid a picture regarding confidence as many of the new technologies being introduced are being embraced by some sections of the population but the fact remains the gap between our optimism and negativity seems to be widening.

2 Disengagement
One of the most alarming discoveries of this initiative has been the decline of trust levels between senior leaders and their people with serious consequences for relationships and productivity. For the organisations who have recognised the changes and have embraced a transparent and strong culture they have been rewarded with improved retention and engagement levels.
Furthermore a recently released study by * SACS Consulting & Deakin University ( The Disengaged Nation) has confirmed that sections of the Australian workforce are the most disengaged in many years, this especially applies to our middle managers who are displaying signs of major frustration and demotivation.

Most managers felt they had been exposed as the “meat in the sandwich” having to sustain increased demands from their respective leaders together with huge pressure now emanating from a very vocal and opinionated workforce under their responsibility who seem to increasingly demand attention to a whole host of issues. This situation has been relayed to me in a number of conversations I have been engaged in over the period.
The absence of the development of appropriate skills designed to assist in the management of people appears to be lacking at a time of some generational tension together with a strong shift in employee attitudes and views. The style and application by a manager can have strong effect on retention and engagement of staff.
Such skills include:
Self –awareness
How to manage and work with people today
Learning how to work with your leaders
Knowing your business

3 Inherent Danger
In a period of poor economic conditions there has been a tendency for employees to choose to “lie low” until they improve even though they feel the relationship between them and their respective employer is not good. From this study it appears this is certainly the case in the minds of a wide cross section of people. This could lead to an explosion of additional recruitment costs for employers together with organisational disruption if this situation is not rectified before the next cycle of growth in our economy.

4 Behaviours and transition of generational leaders
The study reports strong evidence that sections of the soon to retire baby boomer generation (ESTIMATED 2023) have not yet come to terms with the changing landscape and are resisting the call to be part of the process in determining how we go about engaging people today and in the future. This is unfortunate as they possess a great amount of knowledge and wisdom that can be utilised in the coming years. Actual comments recorded indicate an unfailing resolve to maintain the status quo and that their methods have worked satisfactorily for several decades and are still appropriate. It is unlikely any meaningful change to their respective attitudes can be achieved as they seem entrenched in their views although education of the possible consequences for their businesses continues.
The interactions with younger generations tended to be much more positive with an acceptance that the landscape was rapidly changing and there was an imperative for relationship building change.

5 Leadership
The subject of leadership brought several issues to the fore although there was consensus that it is an important aspect of our businesses.
Following the twin events of globalisation and the global financial crisis the “call” to promote leadership has been extremely strong with most resources being directed towards senior management training and development. This strategy appeared to be a good approach except due to the deterioration of trust levels mentioned above the intended messages are not as effective as one might have thought and many organisations are struggling to find the answer to restore engagement levels.
Leaders expressed the opinion that the subject of leadership has been devalued following It’s seemingly over promotion for commercial means and has lost its potency as it was not providing the outcomes desired.

Observations & Conclusions
Australia not unlike a number of countries around the world is experiencing a period of extreme profound change in the way we live and work. Perhaps other parts of the globe have absorbed the effects of globalisation to their economies slightly earlier than us but on the other hand we seemed to have avoided some of the financial pain of the global financial crisis contagion until now.
Our sustained economic performance (Average 3% GDP) over twenty plus years is highly commendable and a great achievement; except in the current environment it is rather acting as a millstone in getting the population to accept much needed change to cope with the current day conditions. The memories of a much easier comfortable life still resonates with a great majority of Australians and dictates their attitudes. The future for our businesses will revolve around flexibility, competitiveness and the ability to look forward, something we are still yet to achieve.

Operating on a global platform has seen a reduction in employment levels, increased competition from overseas and pressure to adjust national revenue and expenditure to meet the estimated future challenges such as supporting an ageing society and increased education and health costs.
There is no doubt having lived through a very fruitful economic era sections of the populace are finding it extremely difficult to come to terms with a dramatically altered lifestyle. The means to display their disenchantment has widened by the growth of technology and development of the ever growing social media network and can be clearly evidenced in the workplace.
The actions and behaviours of some sections of the corporate world have further fuelled anger and fury in destabilising trust, the latest example being the Volkswagen case. Add this to respondents views about our domestic political turmoil we have been experiencing and you have the potential for a very unstable environment.
The culmulative of the effects of all of the above points clearly points to a breakdown of trust in a number of organisations and is presenting major headaches especially for business who to be fair are having to deal with some issues out of their direct control.
So the real question is how do we “Break the Mould” and introduce new thinking to reverse the trend of disengagement?
What has emerged from this study is the need for the greater utilisation of our managers who have a unique position in the organisational structures of most enterprises. As I have mentioned earlier currently they feel marginalised but possess the opportunity to effect changes of behaviour if they are equipped with correct tools to fulfil the task.
It would require a better understanding between leaders and their managers and can fill the void that seemingly has emerged between senior leaders and the workforce. The reason being they possess a closer relationship with the people under their responsibility, they are the true enablers of behaviour change.
Organisations would be required to deliberate more thoroughly on recruitment and promotion of individuals regarding the respective skills of managing people, a crucial part of managing today.
Managers already holding down positions would need to be assessed to establish what skills they are currently possess and what further development can be undertaken.
Education of managers should include training in “what it is to hold a position of responsibility” and what they can do to cement relationships not just with the people under their charge also their boss.
The investment in your managers can result in the elevation of the next generation of leaders in your organisation. It may have been the case previously we have been too quick in that process due to the absence of the appropriate amount of development training.
From the point of view of optimism I have a degree of confidence that change will take place under the upcoming generations unfortunately the struggle that we see taking place with older sections of the workforce will continue until they leave the workplace in the next seven years.
Obviously I recognise this is only one alternative to seeking ways to change thinking and behaviours but I believe it is a viable proposition worthy of consideration.
One of the most striking elements during the process of my investigations during this study has been the attitudes on engagement .

It falls into three distinct categories, around the issue of commitment.
The first category revolves the views of the “non- believers” who are of the view that the time and resources to be spent does not result in an attractive return for the business, relying on their own long held belief that their style of management will win the day.
Secondly unfortunately there has been a lot of what I would call “the nodding dog syndrome” where people have expressed vocal claims of support for change and action but in reality their commitment intentions are weak.
Thirdly I have witnessed true vision from some companies who have implemented measures to strengthen the relationship between the parties and continue to reap the rewards of their commitment.
I personally along with a range of other commentators am a great supporter of Australian business and champion its achievements whenever possible but I feel there is a dark secret which is seldom discussed. Our performance in facing the key issue of engagement in the workplace is far from satisfactory and is in need of serious consideration and attention. The results of this initiative “Breaking the Mould” have proved that we have a long road ahead if we are to make further progress in this area.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those people and organisations who have participated and assisted in compiling this study, your respective efforts have been truly appreciated

Ken Wood

People Specialist
Banyan Management Services Pty

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