2019 Employee Engagement Summit Chair Report – Jo Moffatt

by Jo Moffatt, Strategy Director, Engage for Success and MD, Woodreed

Great to be invited to chair a stream – a real opportunity to combine my two passions – 1. brands and their power to move people and 2. employee engagement and its vital role in delivering a high performing organisation.

A show of hands suggested half the hall were familiar with Engage for Success, so we began with a quick overview of the movement and the Four Enablers of engagement.  I was expecting the Enablers to be regularly evidenced in the day’s sessions in one form or another and I wasn’t disappointed.

The morning began with the Future of the Workplace

Ramkumar Chandrasekaran kicked the morning off with a session introducing various ‘bots’ they use to support employee engagement at Tata Consultancy Services.  With a ‘machine-first’ mindset, bots are used to support a range of HR services. Mentoring, for example, which used to take up significant HR admin resource, is now supported by a bot called MILO.  HR resource can now focus on taking action – freeing humans up to do the things humans do best!

Joe Lees and Chelsea Jane Moore from GSK next How We Built, then Tamed our Email Monster. Delivering Targeted Personalised Content that Puts Our 130,000 Employees First. Each newsletter contains about 240 different stories, individual employees only see the nine or so relevant to them.  Key takeaways? The importance of audience segmenting, getting a senior sponsor, winning over local comms teams, delivering with a consistent tone of voice – and having a dedicated team who can work on a rolling cycle akin to repainting the Forth Road Bridge!

Is Storytelling a Silver Bullet or Silver Buzzword? With a background in journalism and engagement Victoria Silverman at Refinitiv stressed the importance of authenticity and that for stories to really engage we need to focus on what it is our audience wants to know.  She stressed too, the power of user generated content ie getting your audience to share their own stories, the most authentic kind of storytelling of all.

Chris Newstead’s story In Pursuit of the 4-Day Week at Wellcome had us all rooting for a great ending (who wouldn’t want to be paid for five days but only work four?) but sadly it wasn’t to be.  After an employee voice exercise there were just too many who worried they’d not be able to make it work.  Not all bad news as Chris shared his views about where it might stick – small (less than 200 employees) and where most people are doing fairly similar things for example.

The final morning sessions took a less human turn. Michael Dean, Director at Peakon talked about Employee Engagement in the Age of Automation.  After a quick history lesson he left us with the evidence that employees will leave unchallenging work and not a challenging workload and that, yes, employees really do leave bad managers.   Then Megan Butler, from Leeds University Business School asked Are the Robots Coming? and gave us the phrase of the day “computational epistemiology” (Google it!) as well as a great analogy about the extent of AI use in HR.  Like High School sex she says with most either thinking it’s a good idea or testing it out, but only 10% are actually doing it to any degree!  That said, there are now twice as many AI applications in employee engagement than there were just a year ago.

Learning and Development – Part One after lunch had an appropriate opener from the hospitality sector – Daniel Thwaites: Growing Your Own Leaders (When You Have No Budget to Spend). Joanne Carlin, Director of People and Development, talked about the management, development and engagement. Lots of employee voice to scope and shape behaviours.  Lots of employee involvement to grow their own accredited internal coaches for people development.  Lots of great KPIs with significant reductions in employee turnover, 500% more people actively in training and a business continuing to grow.

Life After Appraisals from Stuart Hearn at Clear Review covered the rules to move from annual appraisals to a new model – richer conversations enabled by tech.

  1. Have near term goals
  2. Give feedback ASAP after the event
  3. Have regular, future focussed conversations
  4. Meaningful dialogue rather than form filling

Practical examples from The Valuation Office Agency and Clydesdale & Yorkshire Banking Group included the latter citing double digital improvement in engagement scores.

Martin Kersey at St Andrew’s Healthcare delivered a powerful session Engagement on the Edge, on the importance of purpose and engaging patients in service delivery, what St Andrew’s call co-production. St Andrew’s deals with some of the country’s most vulnerable individuals. Martin shared story after story – including his own version of the oft told JFK NASA tale, this time a cleaner at St Andrew’s whose purpose was to make someone feel better.

Employee and Customer Engagement, Links to Performance and Profitability – Part Two

Stuart Eames leads Retail innovation for Waitrose. He used the introduction of a major tech change (multi-functional in-store devices) to illustrate Does Employee Engagement Really Deliver Better Change? Key learning to engage employees with change was to start with the business problem you are trying to solve and then tell that story tailored to what you know matters to your audience.

Translating What Employees Say into Usable Data was Peter Clarke, Qlearsite’s contribution to the afternoon.  Data must be usable to help us build a story and take our people on a journey – the recurring theme of tech as the enabler, this time of stories. Peter cautioned against an ‘always listening’ pulse strategy becoming an ‘always asking’ strategy, employees become jaded and disengaged. Peter’s solution is to ask few, better questions which he demonstrated correlate with organisation growth and profitability.

Further correlation between people-based HR adding value and positive commercial impact came from Seasalt Cornwall: Why Leaders Really are the Key to Employee Engagement Success. James Hampton and Georgie Mills talked about their focus on leadership capability and performance – emotional intelligence and authentic leadership being key areas.  With a nod to Wellcome’s four-day week, Seasalt are starting to look at the introduction of core hours and a results only work environment (ROWE) too – an organisation recognising that they employ and need to nurture the ‘whole person’ too.

A short break before the final sessions Learning and Development – Part Two.  Teresa Chandler, and Nichola Stallwood at Zoological Society of London (ZSL) talked about Where to Start in the Confusion of Organisational Change. How they involved their people in the shaping and implementation of a new strategy – listening to employee voice about what they wanted to see change in terms of culture.  A powerful reminder too, about the importance of internal comms – people will make up their own versions of the story if you don’t keep sharing, telling and repeating, again and again.

If we needed evidence of the value to the bottom line of investing in L&D then Chris Lincoln from Be at One gave it. Attract, Engage, Train and Retain talked of the importance of leaders and managers walking the walk – senior leadership are visible in the bars at least twice a week, making time to talk to staff and be authentic. Chris shared powerful revenue figures as a result, most tellingly a halving of employee turnover in just six months.

The day closed with Michelle Carvill of Carvill Creative arguing how inside organisations new social media tools can allow senior leaders to ‘walk the floor’ at scale (being more visible) and create brand ambassadors, boost employee confidence and create and sustain better connections.

My summing up? We saw all Four Enablers – overtly rather than covertly.  A constant reinforcement of the importance of visible, empowering leaders and a clear strategic narrative or purpose. Engaging managers who give their people autonomy.  Actively listening and responding to employee voice not just at survey time but as real contributors to the business, identifying improvements, finding answers, shaping direction and driving innovation. Making sure the values on the well are demonstrated by behaviours at all levels from the newest recruit to the most senior leader.   A recurring plea to stick to the basics, be authentic, especially as leaders and managers.

We don’t need the shiny new toys of AI, automation and tech – but they can help us apply the Enablers better in our workplaces, by giving us time, insight and access to our people to be more human, more authentic.  Bots and AI won’t replace us as humans, but let’s be optimistic that they’ll free us up to show more humanity.