Employee Engagement Summit – View from the Hall 2 Chair

I had the pleasure on Thursday 20th April of chairing one of the two streams for the annual Engage Employee Summit. What makes an experience like this slightly daunting for a chair is seeing a room packed to the rafters with senior leaders from the Engagement world with high expectations – raised all the higher after a brilliant opening keynote delivered by Jo Swinson – the former Employment relations minister. Jo spoke brilliantly about the need to take engagement seriously. Her conviction and the authenticity of her talk clearly evident.

Other keynotes followed: Victoria Silverman (who should probably win a prize for best job title: ‘Director of Innovation Enablement’) spoke about what Thomson Reuters are doing to innovate in a competitive environment. Paul Dickinson entertained us with his case study stories from Virgin and Christies. His message was simple: when you focus on and build a brand your customers love – your employees benefit. Who doesn’t enjoy working at an organisation seen by the public as being the go to service provider? We’ve all heard of Harrods, but did you know it is the world’s most successful department store? It achieves over £3billion in sales annually whilst having one of the most complicated employee engagement challenges: engaging staff who are – and aren’t your staff! Roughly half of Harrods staff are employed by concession brands within the store. Case studies always help bring life to the theories we hear and read about and Niall Ryan-Jones was no exception.

After a break, the hall was split, offering delegates the chance to select and choose talks which aligned most to their area of interest. I was chairing ‘Hall 2’ and had the pleasure of meeting Ross Parker, Claims and People Manager at LV= and Bonnie Cheuk, Director and Global Head of Digital, Knowledge and Social collaboration at Euroclear. Both spoke about how they reward and recognise employees within their organisations. The lesson from both being reward and recognition needs to be taken seriously, needs to be reviewed on an ongoing basis and is therefore always a ‘journey’ – you never arrive. For those interested in a quick takeaway, champagne doesn’t do it for people – but a simple thank you, genuinely given works wonders. Gift vouchers don’t hurt either!

Professor Moira Clark from Henley Business School, wowed us with her presentation. We often hear: ‘if your staff are happy, your customers will be too’! Not true Moira says. To back up her claims, she presented some fairly hefty research. To help establish causality, she used structural equation modelling (a statistical technique which leaves many a statistician and Masters student quaking at the thought). In essence, it isn’t engaged or happy employees which help predict customer satisfaction: it is organisations who create a climate where customer satisfaction is something that engages them. A subtle difference but an important one. Adam Charlesworth, Leadership Consultant at Academie du Service, treated the audience into some of his most useful insights and the session was rounded off with a case study by Jodie Promod, at Grant Thornton. They are creating a shared enterprise which really puts your engagement money where your mouth is: don’t just work for the business, own part of it!

After lunch, we moved into the ‘change and transformation’ sessions. Robert Leeson, Head of Global office IT at Vodafone, proved the power that close collaboration between HR and IT can have. In an increasingly digital world, HR or IT alone can’t effect change – it has to be done in partnership. Steven Thurlow, Global Practise leader at Verint helpfully shared tools organisations can use to manage and measure their engagement strategy. Sonya Rooke from NI Water, helped close the session with a case study, which demonstrated even against an incredibly challenging back drop, if you have senior management support for an engagement strategy, you can achieve a huge amount in a short space of time.

The future of work sessions followed: Derek Tong, Editorial Manager at the CIPD entertained us with having to guess movies from the images given. The lesson being technology which was envisaged many years ago is being realised today. What can we envisage going forward and will humans still have jobs? You’ll have to come to the next conference if you want to know! David Walker continued the entertainment, making us laugh with Dictaphones and old mobiles before impressing us with an app which organisations can use to measure and track engagement. Amina Graham and Chloe Marsh gave an impassioned and enthusiastic presentation which again stunned the audience with the impressive measures taken at RHP to achieve outstanding results.

We closed the day with the last three sessions which covered learning and development. Andrew Dodman and Gary Butterfield shared their Juice venture – a subsidiary from Sheffield University. Trust is a key theme they shared for getting people to engage with their efforts and results are impressive. James Sutton gave us examples of overseas volunteering being a method used by Google and BNP Paribas to develop their staff and we heard finally from Rich Marsh who closed the day with a good overall reminder of the employee engagement basics: relationship with the immediate supervisor, belief in the senior leaders and pride in working for the company. A great way to finish a full agenda. There is something here for everyone and if you make it through to the end, the day is rounded off, (as mine was) with a glass of wine amongst like-minded people who care about the engagement experience of the employees in the organisations for which we work.