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As lead chair for this year’s Employee Engagement Summit, I was honoured to set the tone for the day by introducing the concept of ‘Engagement as a choice’ and how we play a role in our own level of engagement every day.  Beginning with simple but powerful questions on how present you are, your level of energy and whether it is your choice to be right here, right now.  This was done in partnership with interactive technology by Swarmworks.  A big thank you to Hector and his team for helping me engage summit participants right from the start.

The concept of choice was then underscored by a theme that for me was clearly present throughout the day, which was a more personalized approach to engagement . . . at the heart of the highest impact initiatives was this sense of ‘purpose,’ answering the question ‘why?’  Why do I get up and go to work?  Why do I want to work for this company?  Why do I want to give my best?  Why do I want to help and partner with others?  Why does my effort matter?

While there needs to be a balance between profit and purpose for companies as highlighted in London Business School’s Alex Edmans’ key note, it is really creating the tangible sense of purpose that strikes the chord with people.  It is the relationship between these two elements, profit and purpose, that is the secret formula and no one better than Alex to share hard data on the returns for companies that get it.

At Coca-Cola Enterprises we speak about “reasons to believe” when we talk about our business plans, our ability to grow, our products and our role in communities and sustainability.  This is the fuel that really drives pride, passion and the desire to go above and beyond.  This is at the heart of brand ambassadors.  The most powerful example of this was shared by John Timpson himself, bringing his “upside down management” to life with his personally powerful anecdotes.  Simply put, he places the emphasis on the people who serve the customers in practical and personally relevant ways.  By far, this was the one presentation in this year’s summit that was referenced the most when I spoke with participants.

Peter Flade, Senior Advisor for Gallup, rounded the morning off, with a strikingly personal question directed at the entire audience that required everyone to vote . . . on a scale of 1-10 “how do you evaluate your life?”  Wow, you can’t ask a more powerful question than that.  He went on to talk about how most individuals experience their lives and shared the 5 facets of a great life, beginning with purpose . . . enjoying today, learning something meaningful yesterday.  And no surprise, the number one influencing factor is work.   And if that initial question was not enough to draw you in and underscore the importance of true engagement, he left us with this to chew on . . .  “who your manager is has more to do with your health than your GP.”

Needless to say, the morning created a real buzz that carried on to the networking break and set the stage for the presentations in the two adjoining halls.

I had the pleasure to chair Hall 1 and there were no shortage of thought provoking presenters, each with one or two things you could easily take away to shape your own approach to engagement.  For instance, Alyson Fadil from Sofology shared a complete turnaround and re-branding story with employee and customer engagement at the center, Nicole Dempster from ITV gave some insightful remarks about setting the tone that really resonates with employees and Lesley Uren from PA Consulting gave us a way to segment talent to get closer to the customer.

There were also some examples of technology to connect, involve and engage employees as highlighted by Nupur Mallick from Tata Consultancy and Deepa Ramesh from Millward Brown, but also there were examples of the role of technology in measuring impact with a case study from Unilever jointly presented by Sumeet Verma and Michael Silverman from Silverman Research.

While Rob Briner from University of Bath reminded us that we have not quite cracked the code in terms of scientific rigor in defining and researching engagement, you don’t need a meta-analysis to tell us that engagement matters.  This value was punctuated nicely by Engage for Success’ Cathy Brown in her presentation on ‘Future of Engagement’ and Grass Roots’ Commercial Director Francis Goss.

Hall 1 ended the day on a strong note with a focus on how the world of work is changing and the importance of keeping pace with the implications of these changes on our business and our employees.  This was punctuated by Lucy Standing, Vice Chair of Association for Business Psychology, with some provoking thoughts and Nicola Strong’s esteemed panel of thought leaders, Ian Trundle, Rory Lawson and Perry Timms, on the role of learning as an engagement tool in a digitally connected age.

We rounded off the day with a networking cocktail reception where I witnessed many engrossed in conversations, exchanging ideas, observations and contact details, building on the momentum created from the summit.  I conclude with a thank you to Steve Hurst for inviting me this year and for a great line up . . . a very stimulating and rewarding experience.

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