OFX’s New CEO Talks Employee Engagement in the Digital Age

OFX appointed a new CEO in February. After 100 days at OFX, Skander Malcolm discusses how to tap employee capability and potential in the modern age.
Skander Malcolm

It seems a little too simple to start off by saying that times have changed when it comes to how we are employed today. But it wasn’t all that long ago, less than one generation, when many employees often stayed with a single company for most of their life.  There was less restructuring, and more continuity, and often the attitude of employees was one of gratitude; it was enough just to have a job.

Modern businesses are investing more in employee engagement than ever before, yet workplace satisfaction isn’t on the rise. It’s on the decline. Why?
 
Yves Morieux, partner at BCG, has presented a fascinating TedTalk where he explores hard and soft pillars of management, and lays out some of the reasons why companies fail to successfully integrate these commercially and emotionally skewed objectives of business.  Morieux raises many astute points, which I would summarise as “modern corporations have complicated the lives of their employees so much that the collective workforce no longer has the ability to feel that they have contributed, or accomplished much.”


I agree with much of what is said by Morieux, particularly what he terms ‘the complicatedness’ of the modern workplace with so many competing objectives, deadlines and responsibilities. However, why do smaller companies also experience this drop off in engagement, given they are inherently less complicated, and what can we do about it?
 
Firstly, what is surprising to me is just because we are small, it doesn’t mean we are immune from being complicated! Worse, we do this to ourselves - lots of projects, unclear incentives, shifting priorities - they all are our contribution to ‘complicatedness’. So when you prioritise simplicity, focus, and clarity, you are really driving engagement.
 
Every business will say, “We take employee engagement very seriously”, but can they articulate why? At OFX, it’s simple: we compete against organisations with big brands, deep pockets, and a strong position to defend. The only way we win is when we ‘out-compete’, through scrapping, innovating, collaborating our way past our competitors to win customers’ business. The only way we foster that is if our people feel engaged in the company, in their teammates’ purpose. So for us, engagement is not a buzz word driven by the Human Resource function, it’s a leadership responsibility, starting with me, and being part of every leader’s obligation to their respective team. It underpins ‘why we win’, in other words, disengagement effectively equals loss, for individuals and also for the company as a whole.


Bringing This To Life Does Not Happen By Accident.

First we listen - at OFX, we did surveys across staff to understand what matters, and we grouped the outcomes into four actionable areas. Then we asked leaders at all levels to create an action plan on ‘what good looks like’ for them. I own some of these actions, because the survey told us our people want better leadership at an Executive level.

We take action then we assess the impact we have had with pulse assessments - today I had an employee breakfast with leaders and staff of all levels, for example.

From ongoing assessment, direct feedback, and from our monthly internal company wide meetings, I can see and feel tangible progress. But what made me realise this team understands what we’re striving for was a statement made by one of our leaders - “I want OFX to be a place where we are known for achieving two or three great things every quarter, not explaining the twenty things we missed.” That’s engagement.

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