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Evolution of Work Conference Chair Report

The Revolution in How & Where we Work

As always, it was an enlightening, inspiring and energetic day, chairing the Evolution of Work Conference. Our main theme, looking at the many ways in which work is changing, and the way we approach work is changing.

We kicked off in fine style with the first of our keynote speakers – Dominic Holmes of Taylor Vintners. They focus on 5 areas for planning your future workforce strategy: tech, location, organisation, values, people. Dom told us there’s no need to fear AI and automation, we should embrace it to do all the dull, dirty, dangerous drudgery and leave the fun, creative, empathic stuff to us humans. We need to remember that people like dealing with people, and we flourish in a culture of co-determination and trust. Great to hear a shout out for Employee Ownership as a growing business model for the future as it set our next speaker up very nicely!

The next speaker was myself, so I took my Chair hat off and put my Speaker hat on. After a number of years representing Engage for Success, it was an interesting change to represent my new organisation, the Employee Ownership Association, and talk about the benefits that can be gained from exploring this alternative model of business ownership. There were plenty of questions from the audience, and much interest on realising that John Lewis and Partners are not the only organisation out there owned by its people! There’s a clear link to the principles of engagement too, as EO businesses generally have great employee voice, high degrees of trust and transparency, clear influence on the strategy of the organisation and therefore they tend towards high engagement and performance. More here if you are interested – The Employee Ownership Association.

Our next speaker was a real change of pace – Giles McClelland from UCLAN proved to be one of those immensely entertaining speakers where you are chuckling away, then realise you have written a page and a half of notes at the same time. Having worked in a call centre myself I was fascinated to see data driven evidence of something I already knew, that proximity definitely impacts engagement and innovation. Also, agendas reduce creativity. That was music to my ears! Giles recommends being deliberately a bit late for meetings to allow social bonding whilst people chat and wait – love it!

We then moved on to a great series of case studies, starting with the story of Gamechangers at Scope. Aine took us through the story of a large scale change across multiple work environments (offices, shops). They taught the staff how to use the brand, and their main insight was that you can evolve all you want, but the basics still apply – let people know what’s going on, tell them why, give them the tools and training to cope.

Next was Gemma Lee, Head of Transformation at Konica Minolta – Don’t Forget the People was Gemma’s mantra. She stressed that in an ever changing environment, you have to create endpoints in your projects, or people just burn out. She talked about creating harmony rather than balance, a flow rather than a tension.

Finally in this section, Roz Starck talked to us about a great internal comms campaign at Merlin Entertainment – a company in the business of fun! They decided to adopt a really different approach to Safety Week, keeping it within the brand but really having fun with it. The engagement from staff was a delight to behold and resulted in a true embedding of the safety principles across the organisation.

All three case studies presented us with brilliant videos too, showcasing the employees and their hard work. Really inspiring.

Our next two speakers covered two equally fascinating topics – Nick Brice talking about Leadership With Soul, and Alison Argall on Financial Wellbeing. Interesting, informative and thought provoking in both cases.

Much refreshed after a good lunch and networking session, we started our afternoon with two more case studies and an employee engagement overview. The sheer scale of change in the Ministry of Justice described by Antonia Dietmann was jaw dropping – described as a ‘once in a generation’ level of transformation. Again a great video, really highlighting the human side of why Justice Matters. Sandrea Morgan from Charles Tyrwhitt took us into the world of shirts and taught us about the Value/Irritant model. Something I might use with my teenagers! They use data to give them a really high level of process finesse. Jo Moffatt from Engage for Success took us through the Four Enablers of Engagement and made the case for the need to inspire employees to give of both their skill and their will.

Reaching the end of our long, enjoyable and fruitful day, our last three speakers again presented case studies – three hugely different organisations, Tarmac, Charles Stanley, and Argyll & Bute HSCP. All with different challenges to face as they cope with changing patterns of work in order to service a changing customer base. Kate Jones talked about the delight of seeing their people spontaneously using #TarmacWay on social media, Kate Griffiths-Lambeth told us about turning round an incredibly negative impression of the organisation to become a company on the up. And Sandy Wilkie finished the day with the eye opening tale of delivering social care across a myriad of tiny Scottish islands.

All in all a great conference – really eye opening and heartening to hear the challenges faced, the businesses grown, the people developed and engaging with the organisation and each other in shared endeavour. A pleasure to chair as always.

Evolution of Work Chair

Cathy Brown – Operations Director, Employee Ownership Association