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Following hard on the heels of the Engage For Success launch and the Customer Engagement Network’s first Customer Engagement Summit, this Directors Forum went right to the nitty gritty of employee engagement with hard facts and figures about the link between employee engagement, customer engagement, performance and profitability.

The Directors Forum, sponsored by Confirmit and Questback and hosted by Gallup, benefited from a great speaker line up including presenters closely involved with the Engage For Success initiative and there was agreement that former ASDA CEO Archie Norman was right at the Engage for Success launch when he said that employee engagement should not be thought of as simply an HR activity, but that everyone, from line managers to CEOs, should be involved.

At that event Norman said "Engagement is not an HR activity, although HR should be responsible for measuring it," Norman said. "And it's not a survey. Engagement is about leadership living the values." Norman, who is credited with turning the retailer Asda around at a time of near bankruptcy, said that much of that transformation was down to completely transforming company culture and making the business less hierarchical. He added that this was something that all other UK businesses needed to think about.

"Engagement is not a fashion," Norman continued. "It's a change in the business and people and their attitude to work. As employers, our attitude should be that work and where you choose to work is voluntary. What matters is good communication, people feeling involved in the business and being treated with fairness." 

Hot off the press

Those comments were echoed by Jonathan Austin, Founder and Chief Exec of Best Companies  in his opening keynote: ‘The Relationship between Employee Engagement and Customer Service’

Jonathan Austin shared some hot off the press insights and trends – including the growing importance of well-being among employees –  from the survey of almost a quarter of a million people in the UK, which has just been completed to compile a list of the Best Companies to work for in 2013.

He focussed on the relationship between levels of engagement within organisations and the way that employees feel about the service they deliver to their customers and on how leadership and culture is so critical to employee engagement.

Not just any M&S presentation

Jonathan was followed by Tanith Dodge, Group HR Director, Marks & Spencer with her ‘Employee and Customer Engagement Case Study’

Tanith, who has been actively involved in the Engage for Success initiative since its launch by Prime Minister David Cameron last year told delegates how M&S engages its people and revealed some illuminating results around that engagement – not least the fact that in terms of performance there is a £90million revenue difference between the most engaged and least engaged M&S stores.

Tanith and her team are working hard to understand the differentials in employee engagement in its branches with a view to improving employee engagement and in turn performance and profitability. Tanith also touched on the work of the Engage For Success Task Force movement which is now coming to fruition

Tanith was followed by Peter Flade, Managing Partner, Gallup and his presentation Strategies for employee and customer engagement that deliver competitive advantage’

Peter discussed how in service sectors value is created or destroyed when customers and employees interact. Being deliberate about managing the employee customer encounter can deliver sustainable competitive advantage. Based on Gallup’s latest research Peter explored the seven key areas that enable truly customer centric organisations keep you coming back through consistently delivering on your brand promise.

Board level support critical

Next up came Claire Sporton, VP, Customer Experience Management, Confirmit and Yves Duhaldeborde, Director, Talent and Rewards at Towers Watson with their joint presentation Revenue Sums: Engaged Employees + Engaged Customers = True Business Change’

Gaining board-level support – and thus investment – for employee engagement programmes depends on proving return on investment. To do this, you need to clearly establish the link between engaged employees and increased revenue.

Claire and Yves looked at the critical role employee engagement has in a customer experience programme – and describe how you can take the first steps towards achieving that crucial link and secure the investment you need. They discussed how the Voice of the Employee fits into a Customer Experience programme, how to correlate employee engagement with customer engagement, why you need to capture the employee view of the customer experience and the other data sources which can be used to truly bring your insight to life

After the lunch break there was a lively and at times controversial panel debate on ‘The future of Employee Engagement’ chaired by Steve Hurst, Forum Chairman, Editorial Director, Customer Engagement Network. A wide ranging discussion came to the conclusion that employee engagement is indeed the responsibility of everybody in the organisation – with culture and leadership playing pivotal roles.

Next up was academic and employee engagement expert Kerstin Alfes, Senior Lecturer, HRM and Organisation, Kingston University with her presentation "The role of line managers in creating a high engagement culture"

Kerstin talked about the about different things line managers can do to increase engagement levels amongst their workforce, such as job design, creating a meaningful context and demonstrating the impact of employees' work on outside beneficiaries.

The dark side of employee engagement

Kerstin also warned about the ‘dark side of engagement’ where employees can become too engaged with their work to the detriment of themselves and the operation they work for. Kerstin said that ‘optimum engagement’ is the key to success.

Kerstin was followed by Jane Sparrow, Former Director of Communication & Change, Sony Europe with her presentation The Middle Management Miracle: Your under-utilised lever to boost performance’

Jane told delegates how organisations that reap competitive advantage from a sustained, high performing workforce are those that best equip their middle managers to engage their people to deliver. Middle managers are at the heart of an engaged workforce that consistently delivers strong performance but this can only be done if they have the confidence and capability to achieve more in their roles as people managers.

Jane’s session featured the five key roles that leaders need to ignite within managers to deliver sustainable engagement. Jane shared recent research, experience and best practice to highlight the proven performance gains that organisations achieve when they build a culture of manager-as-engagers.

The only way is Essex

The final presentation of the day was another inspiring case study ‘Enslaved or Engaged’ from Lisa Sibley, Employee Engagement Manager, Essex County Council and consultant Dr Martin Reddington, Former Global Programme Director, HR ,Cable & Wireless.

Martin shared  latest insights from his research that evidence the importance of getting the social and economic ‘deal’ in a healthy state of balance in support of sustainable job and organisational engagement.

Rising to the ‘do more with less’ mantra continues to be a challenge and organisational transformation is frequently cited as a convenient excuse for disengagement. These are genuine challenges that organisations across all sectors face and which inevitably impact employees’ experience, expectations of and happiness at work.

Essex is the second largest local authority in England with 9,000 employees and has been on an ambitious transformation journey for the last four years. The Council’s commitment to employee voice and conversational practice now flows from the very top of the organisation.

Accessible leadership has been crucial to instil trust and belief and in an inspiring presentation Lisa demonstrated that by creating and embedding the Council’s mantra of ‘talk, listen, connect to engage and act’, employee engagement has become a crucial driver of cultural change at Essex County Council.

And finally …

In his closing summary Directors Forum chairman Steve Hurst concluded that when it comes to employee engagement we really should all be in it together and that as Archie Norman said in the Engage for Success launch employee engagement is something where everybody in the organisation should be involved – yes HR and customer service and marketing really do need to be talking to each other.

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