If you were appointed head of one of his advertising agency’s offices, the great David Ogilvy would send you a set of beautifully painted Russian dolls.

After you had opened them up one by one, you would find this message inside the smallest.

“If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.”

I was thinking about those dolls the other day after talking to Gary Cattermole, whose company – The Survey Initiative – uses techniques like employee surveys to help organisations to gauge how well staff are engaged with their work.

It’s a particularly important issue, because if people don’t feel valued they don’t do their best. And there’s a commercial imperative – the Hay Group has found that engaged employees generate 43% more revenue. Gallup (David Ogilvy’s former employer) has discovered that they take far fewer sick days.

Small organisations (like our own copywriting agency) don’t have huge numbers of staff to manage. But companies like Ogilvy’s do, and that’s where techniques like employee surveys have the most value of all.

They help you discover whether your people are pulling in the same direction, and give you the intelligence you need to do something about it if they’re not.

And as I’m a bit of an Ogilvy hero worshipper, I wondered whether he used research techniques to learn more about his people.

Sure, he was a no-nonsense sort of manager. But he also built a world-beating advertising agency on the back of direct mail research techniques.

As he once said:

“Advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals.”

I just wonder whether he ever decoded the signals coming from his staff.

Perhaps some former Ogilvy people have the answer?