2019 Employee Engagement Summit Chair Report – Gerry Brown

We frequently hear the phrase that happy employees make happy customers. While we may think that is overly simplistic, this year’s Employee Engagement Summit, where I chaired Hall 3, clearly demonstrated that simplicity is an underappreciated value. The rich variety of presenters from both the public sector and private business, enthusiastically showed that employee engagement, employee experience and customer experience are inextricably linked, and any company seeking to improve their fortunes would do well to ensure that each gets their full attention.

The theme of the conference was Technology: The Great Engagement Enabler. And while this may lead you to think that it was all about “shiny new toys”, each presenter creatively blended the benefits of enabling technology with the role that humans play, to show why people, customers and colleagues, are still the most important elements.

After some great plenary session presentations that definitely whetted the audience’s appetite, our first sessions took as their theme, Employee Engagement Strategy and Leadership. Chris Burton and Helena Wheatman from Microsoft took us on a tour of their world-wide support operations and showed visually and by their words, that they had clearly “rediscovered their soul” and by using storytelling were able to create clarity, generate energy and deliver success to customers and colleagues.

Jessica Brook, from Culture Amp then blended some science into her presentation but we weren’t blinded by it. Her key message was clear. We’re suffering from a “lack of actions in feedback”, and that while feedback was important that there was a subtle, yet important difference between continuous and deliberate feedback. Simply stated – Don’t ask if you don’t act.

Paul Bennun from DAZN introduced our next major theme, which was the Evolution of the Workforce, and showed how authentic, frequent company-wide communication and “leading through the line”, was critical to developing an employer brand for colleagues to be proud of.

Martha McKenzie-Milifie from ING Bank also chose storytelling as her medium and demonstrated her flexibility and the importance of open and frequent conversation. In this case to develop a sustainable and mutually beneficial flexible working strategy that has produced significant increases in work at home

Paul Devoy, from Investors in People gave us an animated and fast paced presentation that focused on “why work matters” and that irrespective of generational tags, when we get that mix right, it results in engaged individuals, successful businesses and a prosperous society

Vikki Matthews, from south Devon NHS Foundation Trust & Richard Saundry, Univ of Plymouth brought the morning to a close with a compelling request for us to stop thinking of engagement as a “thing.” They persuasively argued that while leadership creates a context but management shapes engagement and performance and that we should position engagement as an outcome (de-thing it)

Dace Kalnina, & Olga Muravjova, from the European Commission brought a welcome continental flavour to the afternoon session and showed that the power of conversation and its value in engaging staff from different backgrounds and cultures, was a clear differentiator in creating a climate where people work together for the common good

Natasha Harris, from Ofwat got our pulses racing by showing that their employee engagement strategy really had a “Heartbeat” that created values that flowed through the business. It meant that they were able to demonstrate personal leadership, respect, integrity and excellence and led to this value becoming the lifeblood of the business.

Samantha Rope, from Wilson James introduced us to the concept of the employee profile and how it was just as important as a customer profile. In particular that with a diverse workforce who are in many different off-site locations, that by understanding their individual needs and creating a technology infrastructure to support that, was needs led and not technology led.

Grainne Kelly from Securitas demonstrated how the innovative use of technology and a socially responsible approach to employee benefits could come together to achieve their goal of an industry leading employee experience. The value of open and frequent communication starting with a unique onboarding process through to regular two-way conversations has been an important and measurable driver in their success

Katherine Fitzgerald from Spektrix also chose flexible working as a theme but from the perspective of a smaller, start-up tech operation whose team is geographically dispersed and due to the world-wide nature of their business really on call 24-7. She described how this approach was in evidence from the early days of the business and that it had been a truly beneficial catalyst for both attracting and retaining employees.

The afternoon, and the conference, were brought to a positive and powerful conclusion by Adrienne Glad, & Gabrielle De Wardener, from the CDC group who showed that great ideas and strong cultural values don’t only reside in the private sector. By embedding participatory and action-oriented change techniques across a wide group of people from different geographies they showed how the power of a global community has no limits.