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If music be the food of comms…

Chair report from the Employee Engagement Summit by Kate Jones…

It’s rare that I don’t have music playing – in the car, at home, through my headphones if I need to focus at work. All my favourite films are musicals, and I’ll tell anyone the woes of life as a tenor in a choir (read The Alto’s Lament and that’s basically it, but lower…). I love the way songs tell stories and how music sparks an emotional response. I’ve sung in a choir for five years and find it both uplifting and a perfect way to detach from any stresses of the day job and use my brain in a completely different way.

So I sat straight up when I heard how DHL have used to songs to help bring their culture to life, during a nine-year employee engagement programme that’s seen engagement scores rise up by 20 points.

When I came to write my chair blog I was inspired by DHL’s Rick Jackson, so here’s my Top of the Pops style reflections on the great content covered in my hall across the day.

  1. Lean On Me – Bill Withers

We started with a brave and honest presentation from Beth Toms who told us how Monzo Bank has placed employee wellbeing at its centre during a period of staggering growth. Work/life harmony is crucial to the employee experience – a challenge for the bank, which is as much a tech start-up as it is a financial institution and which has identified the long hours and ‘burn out’ culture associated with start ups as a real risk. Beth outlined the support she, personally, has received from the bank via a number of initiatives from mental health first-aiders to an innovative approach to people management: each colleague has both a manager and team lead, The team lead’s role is focused not on tasks, objectives and performance but on understanding more about what’s happening in someone’s life, how they’re feeling and where they might benefit from support.

This concern for the employee was echoed by David Callaghan of Centralus. Centralus have a new approach to delivering engagement which struck me as a one-stop-shop for defining what drives engagement within your business, delivering solutions to improve the employee experience, and measure success in one joined-up way. David reminded us that a holistic approach to employee experience was nothing new, with organisations such as Cadbury and Clarks investing in education, accommodation and recreation for their employees as far back as the 18th and 19th centuries.

  1. Talkin’ Bout a Revolution – Tracy Chapman

Organisations who are finding new solutions to old problems included Imperial London Hotels, where a new approach has taken the grief out of grievances; OVO Energy – bringing start-up thinking to the energy sector; and new ways to engage frontline workers at Nationwide Building Society. What struck me about all three case studies was the passion and vision of the presenters  – Gemma Todd, Kim Atherton and Heather Mustafa are great examples of how one person with a great idea and the tenacity to back it up can influence to improve their businesses for the benefit of colleagues and customers alike.

  1. Human – Rag ‘n’ Bone Man

Rag ‘n’ Bone Man’s 2017 hit was playing in my mind when I heard about the benefits of treating people as individuals and valuing their contribution. Storytelling is not a new concept to many engagement practitioners and it’s still working to great effect to bring organisational values to life or demonstrate delivery against strategic goals. I think it’s also linked to trust, as we’re wired to respond to a shared experience which sparks an emotional response, and organisations can really benefit from the power of employee voice to bring credibility to their strategic narrative both inside and outside.

Employee voice is being used to great effect at Waitrose, where Stuart Eames showed how technology has replaced the dusty old suggestion box in the corner of the office. Waitrose partners are actively sharing ideas, with strong visible response from senior leaders. He showed us several examples where little ideas have led to big savings – as simple as reformatting the text on till receipts to make them shorter and massively reduce paper use across all stores. Employees are rewarded through gamification tricks and, of course, seeing their ideas taken up by leaders and put quickly into action.

  1. We’re in the Money

An honourable mention for all comms pros who offered up silent thanks that they didn’t have to deal with the Sainsbury’s CEO’s “unguarded moment” during coverage of the supermarket’s plans to merge with ASDA…

  1. A non mover! Connected – Stereo MCs

In my chair blog last year, I reflected on how connection is a shared quality among so many of the comms people I meet at events and on a 121 basis.

I usually use this to mean two things: our role in ‘being the glue’ for our organisations and our willingness to share ideas with others in our field. This year’s summit showed me a new aspect of connection – an ever-clearer realisation that no employee is an island and employers must consider the whole employee experience; that internal versus external comms is becoming even less distinct; and that while managerial hierarchies are not going away any time soon, leaders at all levels and in all sectors must forge genuine two-way dialogue to build trust and drive performance.

Perhaps music and communication aren’t so different and engagement practitioners are both arrangers and conductors – helping everyone find their voice and sing from the same songsheet.

I thoroughly enjoyed the day and found each 20-minute case study packed with practical ideas and food for thought, which I will take with me back to my day job and into my role as board chair for the Institute of Internal Communications. Many thanks to Steve, Katie and the team for another brilliant event.