By Gloria Lombardi

The Employee Engagement Event run by Manners and Murphy, united experts from different disciplines at Portland Place in London, on Tuesday 3rd December. By bringing attention to the topic from various business angles – including employee recognition, internal communications, measurement and social media – speakers helped the room to generate new ways of thinking around colleagues engagement.

We have been told many times that employee engagement is crucial to businesses if they are to innovate, increase productivity, attract the best talent, make customers happier and more. These are not opinions, but facts underpinned by a great number of studies. Despite this, research keeps showing that the majority of workers – globally – are disengaged. Can the situation be changed? In which ways?

That is what the conference aimed to cover. Split over four sessions, the content was: employee recognition, the drivers of engagement, the link between employee advocacy and customer experience, employee engagement strategy, social media in the workplace and the benefits of enterprise social networks.

A ‘Thank You’ can do wonders

Session one saw the talk by Gary Lumby, Chairman of rewards solution company Simply Thank You, who introduced the why of recognition in the workplace. Drawing from research, Lumby outlined that “a £ spent on recognition can have up to 5 times the impact of a £ spent on pay.” He stressed that “a culture of recognition is one important component in helping to secure the engagement of employees – if that in turn makes good people less likely to leave a firm it can be very cost effective given that the true cost of replacing people can be up to one year salary.”

Lumby presented a case study from the Co-operative, the largest consumer-owned co-operative in the UK with around 138,000 colleagues. Back to 2009, they rolled out an employee recognition scheme across the whole organisation. Internal audit had indicated that many employees were not feeling their line managers were adequately acknowledging their good work, a situation which was pushing motivation down. “It was clear that sometimes managers found it hard to say “Thank you” and “I appreciate you””

The scheme’s purpose was therefore to encourage managers to show their appreciation to their own staff – to the many, not just a few. At the same time it aimed at encouraging behaviours in line with the brand values – such as great customer experience, helping the community, and supporting your colleagues. The initiative saw the use of an online gift catalogue with line managers being able to choose from a large range of gifts, and order these online. They handled the whole process by arranging a suitable gift via the corporate intranet. Personalisation was key here: the gift was an appreciation of the individual’s efforts, and it was important that the gift was personalised so that so it was clear why the employee was awarded. Managers could add any personal note on the gift before it was presented to the employee.

According to Lumby, the reward scheme impacted positively on engagement. Currently still in use, it has been constantly improved since first implemented. For example, access to the online site has been now extended beyond the line manager, so that so employees can directly browse the available gifts.

Engagement at the core of the business strategy

Amber Kelly, Director of Employee Engagement at the global provider of business process outsourcing services Serco, used an interesting approach. She took the audience through what did not work in the past, the challenges and lessons learned at the company with over 100,000 staff worldwide.

Employee engagement was just a survey, without the senior leadership’s support, no accountability, no internal evidence and resources. The sharing of practice was seen as “suspicious”. The results? Disengaged employees impacting on the quality of custumer service.

They managed to switch away from this situation with the creation of an engagement strategy which began with a reality check of the business. Then, it included the redesign of the survey, the development and sharing of case studies, the creation of engagement master classes, and resources to support managers.

There were some interesting take aways for internal communicators interested in enterprise social networks. To support the whole strategy, Serco set up the Global Engagement Network, a group inside the company’s internal social platform, which helped to build stronger internal links, and work specifically on tackling the engagement challanges.

Kelly’s final thought was that an employee engagement strategy, to work successfully and be sustainable in the long term, needs to be linked to the core elements of the business strategy. That was what made the engagement program at Serco work well.

Enabling transformational engagement

It was no surprise that Engage for Success was a recurring theme of the day. Wendy Leedham, Programme Director at Lloyds TSB Offshore, shared some insights with the audience having just finished a secondment with the movement.

She brought to attention the distinction between transactional and transformational engagement. While transactional is a reactive form of engagement, underpinned by compartmentalised thinking and discretionary effort, transformational engagement takes a more proactive approach and a long term perspective. The latter is a way of doing business embedded in the culture and what organisations should aim at.

One discussion that a lot people in the room related to was around what gets in the way of engagement. Leedham talked about attitudes such us ‘I do not have time for the soft and fluffy stuff’; not sharing good practice; leadership behaviours that does not model the values; a command and control, micro-managing style adopted when dealing with employees. She walked away with a clear message, “this is the most important time to focus on engagement, not the time to put it on the shelf.”

Social engagement

Closing the event was the talk by an additional key member of the Engage for Success movement, Jo Dodds. Her presentation was centred around the benefits of internal social media to employee engagement.

One of the many take aways here was that enterprise social networks are today’s opportunity for organisations to enable internal communication and collaboration. Among the core benefits are empowerment, employee voice, real time feed-back and knowledge sharing. Being an HR specialist, Dodds also recalled the theme of employer branding through social. By using the definition of ‘the social employee’ described by Cheryl Burgess in her popular book, Dodds reminded that social employees can be the best advocates for the organisation, helping to form the brand and the employer brand. So, the message here was clear: “Demonstrate belief in social initiatives from the top and across the organisation; be visible and engaged.”

Focus on employee engagement first

The significant point made through the whole conference was that to ensure company’s success, organisations cannot afford to overlook the daily experience of their employees. As Leedham put it “there is never a time when employee engagement is more needed.” Focus on your people first and the rest will follow.

“The current challenge facing businesses today is this: you cannot communicate externally unless you communicate internally” – Cheryl Burgess, The Social Employee


Photos courtesy of Engage for Success’s Lauren Robinson

This article originally appeared on simply-communicate