5 strategies for GEE (Great Employee Engagement) by Sir Richard Branson



I’ve recently returned from running two employee engagement workshops in Mauritius (tough gig I know) for a group of HR leaders. During the breaks everybody wanted to know about my time at Virgin. Everybody also wanted to know what Sir Richard was like and what he did to build a positive culture that enhanced engagement.

 Of course Sir Richard’s open and people-focused style of leadership was a key part of it.   But, rather than me tell you about it, there’s nothing more powerful than his own words.

 I’ve chosen five areas where his approach has a significant impact on employee engagement. I hope you find the quotes interesting and I’d be interested in your feedback. Which one resonates most with you?


"There is no magic formula for creating great company culture. The key is just to treat your staff how you would like to be treated."

Create the kind of workplace and company culture that will attract great talent. If you hire brilliant people, they will make work feel more like play.

Some 80% of your life is spent working. You want to have fun at home; why shouldnt you have fun at work?

At the launch of Virgin Mobile, our people had an expectation of what working for a Virgin company would be like. If you ask candidates what attracted them to any Virgin company - ‘culture’ would probably be high on their list. Despite the obvious perception of fun that comes with a role at Virgin, don’t be under any illusions - it’s also hard work and challenging. And this is the key - if you are going to expect the best from people (and sometimes the extra mile) - then it doesn’t hurt to make their time under your roof the best it can be.


"The best advice I could give anyone is to spend your time working on whatever you are passionate about in life."

Communicate your passion clearly, concisely and with genuine conviction.

Passion is key to employee engagement. Anyone who has trudged through the wrong role knows when it’s missing. It doesn’t matter what the business is or the role - if you find passion in the people, it rubs off. I find it in my local coffee shop just as much as Directors sitting in a board meeting, it’s equally infectious in both. As Richard Branson suggests, the trick is following your passion and then thriving in it when you get there. But a word of warning - there’s no point in creating a false impression of a culture that attracts passionate people. If a business isn’t truly passionate about what it does - how can it expect its people to show theirs?


If ever you need the business case for investing in employee engagement, here it is…

If you look after your staff, theyll look after your customers. Its that simple. 

"Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don't want to

A company is people  employees want to know am I being listened to or am I a cog in the wheel? People really need to feel wanted.

Research on employee engagement shows that one of the main reasons for disengagement is not being listened to or feeling that opinions don’t count. A well-known brand is no substitute for a poor employment experience. Even in organisations like Virgin, people would leave if they weren’t feeling wanted or treated well. An organisation needs well trained staff but there’s a danger they then become attractive to competitors. Is the answer not to invest in them? Of course not. The Virgin way is to recognise that their staff are the ones who are in direct contact with customers so, the better they are treated, developed and engaged - the more likely they’ll look after the customers.


It isnt effective or productive to force your employees to do anything. Choice empowers people and makes for a more content workforce.

Innovation happens when people are given the freedom to ask questions and the resources and power to find the answers.

One of the best examples of employee engagement is when people take on a responsibility beyond their remit - they freely step up to the plate almost feeling like the business is their own. Choice is good for employees just as much as it is for customers. It is about involving people, asking for their views, making them feel very much a part of the company. This is what really creates a feeling of belonging.  It is what I call the “Insider Feeling”.


"You don't learn to walk by following the rules. You learn by doing...and by falling over."

Screw it, lets just do it.

Virgin Records, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Mobile, Virgin Money - are all businesses and industries that Richard Branson had not operated in previously. In fact that’s what the Virgin name is all about. And, if he didn’t try, he wouldn’t have succeeded. These are of course epic examples of learning ‘on the job’ but the lesson applies to any role. At some point you have to put down the instruction manual and “just do it” - even if it doesn’t work. As an employer you have to be prepared to let your people find out if they can - and help them if they can’t. That’s how you find hidden talent. Richard Branson would be the first to admit that there are a number of Virgin businesses that haven’t worked but he’d also say that the more you practice - the luckier you become.

There’s one final quote I’d like to share which acts as an umbrella over all the above - not just at Virgin but in any business - the qualities on which good leadership is built.

Having a personality of caring about people is important. You cant be a good leader unless you generally like people. That is how you bring out the best in them.

At en:Rich our work goes to the heart of the workplace relationship between employee and employer. We help organisations and their leaders create clear messages for employee engagement and internal comms.

If you’d like a chat about any employee engagement or communication issues in your business, please drop me a line and get in touch.

Author: Richard Roberts
Posted on: Wednesday 16th September 2015

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