This week I was asked to speak for a major manufacturing business on the topic of staff engagement.  Without question one of the most important qualities of leadership is to secure the buy-in of your staff, ensuring that communication is free-flowing and that the organisation doesn’t suffer from the problems created by having a disconnect between management and employees.

Teams in Formula One use a variety of techniques to engage staff because, against the impression that many people have, building and sustaining staff motivation in the demanding world of Grand Prix motor racing is every bit as difficult as in any other business.  Working to the immoveable deadlines of 20 races per year, with a relentless quest for improved performance, means there is seldom any let up for F1 team personnel.  Consider too that around 80-90% of staff within an F1 team do not travel to races and enjoy any of the privileges of a supposedly ‘jet-set’ job. Instead, they work in factories much like any other, designing, manufacturing and developing a product that just happens to be a Formula One race car.

Regular briefings and communications to the team personnel are a familiar part of Formula One team culture, usually with the Team Principal, Technical Director, COO or similar giving a detailed account of the latest event, reviewing performance and taking questions from staff.  It is easy for the factory-based staff to somehow feel disassociated with the race team – and this can even lead to the threat of disengagement; talking down the business, when results aren’t good.

Top drivers often show terrific leadership qualities by recognising the importance of engagement and visiting the factories between races to talk with the people who actually design and manufacture the product they race.  Ayrton Senna was well known for his ability to inspire and motivate team personnel during his factory visits, and the same applies to Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso.  Mark Webber’s regular 5-a-side football matches with staff from Red Bull Racing’s factory in Milton Keynes was another tangible example of staying connected with the people who do vital work for the business.

McLaren’s state of the art Technical Centre in Woking, UK, has a number of excellent features from a staff engagement point of view.  The extensive use of glass reflects a degree of open-ness and pride in the work place.  You can literally see the workers doing their jobs, and they can see who is visiting.  The superb staff canteen – more like a London restaurant – shows that someone, somewhere really cares about the staff experience.  Regular visits from the drivers must also help – nice to see Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button tweeting about their visits to the factory.  And finally I love the fact that when the team wins a Grand Prix, not only do the race team at the track wear their striking orange ‘victory shirts’, but the sign outside the factory turns orange as well.  Getting everyone in the business to celebrate the company’s success, and understand that they all played a part in it, is a job well done.