engagingemployeesBy Gloria Lombardi

Boosting performance, productivity and retention. These topics were discussed at the ‘Engaging Employees’ conference in London this week. With over 20 speakers and 13 in-depth sessions, the event was a vibrant exploration of the employee engagement journey – from managing change, to driving digital communications, creating innovation and interpreting data.

While the choice of which presentations to review is not the easiest to make, here are a few personal takeaways.

Change with SCARF

‘Why? Who? When? What? How?‘ Our brain deals with uncomfortable feelings every time there is a change at work. But, all too often we push emotional signals out of the way or discount them as being less important than ‘doing business’. Yet, feelings have an important role to play, often ruling how we make decisions in turbulent times.

It’s perhaps not surprising if James Dalton’s quote is something to go by: “We are still hard wired for survival.” The Group Head of Employee Engagement and Health at the transport operator FirstGroup, explored the topic of change from the frontiers of neuroscience. Dalton reminded the audience of a series of pre-programmed natural responses that drive how people react to change – from the neural network that looks for danger to the fight or flight reflex, the friend or foe instinct, and predictions.

If we are going to nurture brain-based research, what tools are we going to focus on? The short answer is that there are plenty of frameworks out there. After all, change is one of the most written about topics in employee engagement literature. If you Google the term, over three billion results are displayed. A more nuanced answer is that despite of all knowledge at our disposal, change consistently appears as one of the biggest challenges still facing internal communicators. Indeed, models have evolved so differently that they are difficult to compare.

SCARF_ModelHowever, Dalton suggested adopting the SCARF model by Dr. David Rock.

This framework analyses and acts upon the social triggers that generate either a sense of threat or a sense of reward. The aim is to help increase positive states of mind while looking at five interlinked domains:

Status – How will the change effect me? Not just my work self but my whole self.

Certainty – We are wired to predict. The brain craves certainty; if not we speculate and fill in the gaps. Hence, the communication of what is changing, why and when is critical.

Autonomy – Lack of control during change has a huge detrimental effect. How can you involve your people at all levels? how do you encourage ownership?

Relationships – How might teams and relationships be affected by the change? How can you make the most of your teams to help the process?

Fairness – Everyone needs to be involved at all stages. Set key milestones and plan how you will include people in the change. Ultimately, it is about implementing a continuous loop of asking, listening and feeding back.

Innovation – between engagement and technology

“Innovation can’t be viewed in isolation.”

pic 2For Simon Hill, CEO of the collaborative idea management software company Wazoku, it’s time for a radical rethink of everyday innovation, which links to employee engagement and productivity. It is about “engaging a broader set of voices in discussions to gain new perspectives and valuable insights, faster.” It also includes considering the wider network of employees, partners and customers as the largest resource for business success.

But to ensure that innovations happen efficiently, effectively and gracefully, it’s essential that the workforce is brought along for the ride. Finding and retaining skilled talent is critical too. In fact, the latter is often one of the biggest issues affecting growth. According to a recent study by the Intelligence Group, 72% of Millennials would like to be their own boss. If they do have to work for a boss, 79% of them would like that boss to serve more as a coach or mentor. Moreover, 88% prefer a collaborative work-culture rather than a competitive one, and they “will not hesitate to move to an employer who can offer them either of these, amongst other motivational assets.”

pigoodThanks to new collaborative technology and communication processes companies today can facilitate “an environment that captures, evaluates and allows for the implementation of ideas,” while building engagement and increasing retention. A good example comes from Waitrose. Hall described how 60,000 employees from more than 330 stores were involved in the generation of over 1000 innovative ideas. The ideas that were shared on the internal digital platform went from improving temporary ticket processes to transforming the format and management of till receipts. While the level of participation and motivation from partners skyrocketed, the business also managed to achieve significant productivity with £2.2m financial savings in the first nine months.

All things considered, the success of the Waitrose’s collaborative initiative demonstrates the importance of giving people the voice that they demand and expect. Plus, it shows that sometimes the truly great innovations can be as simple as making small changes to the task that people do everyday, rather than the big ideas that are supposed to transform everything.

Internal digital communications

virginWhile the uniqueness of face-to-face cannot be disputed, in many other aspects digital channels look remarkably like the way to communicate inside companies today. For example, Virgin Trains cultivates a culture of openness and aligns employees with the brand’s value of ‘Screwing average, creating amazing’. Head of Internal Communications and Engagement Drew McMillan, described how the company encourages “conversational leadership” through the development of what he called “5 super skills”: presence, hyper-awareness, decoding, voicing and flow control. Within the larger scheme, and mainly due to the idea of creating “amazing communication for all,” the company set up a Yammer-based enterprise social network (ESN) – this collaborative platform enabled 43,000 cross-company conversations in only 6 months.

Another company that is successfully benefiting from digital tools is Roche. Head of Internal Communication Joanna Hall, spoke enthusiastically about their Jive-based ESN – the internal network is enabling knowledge sharing, creating smarter ways of working, reducing costs and improving the engagement of staff around the globe. There were a number of factors that contributed to this positive achievement. But for Hall, working with the task force and having a clear business case were the two key imperatives. Plus, the awareness that “the basics of being human must always be there.” Indeed, a gentle reminder that digital transformation is about both the technology and the people behind it.

Mike Copinger from Kaltura brought attention to the impact of videos on empowerment and collaboration. Today, technology is accessible to the end user as never before. This is particularly due to the rise of mobile apps. Similarly to Hill, Copinger mentioned the opportunity for any business to create “connected experiences” that drive innovation. He spoke about the power of employee-generated content – by allowing the individual to capture and share their own videos from everywhere with the rest of the organisation, a company can spot faults in products, crowd-source potential solutions to problems and generate new ideas.

Overcoming barriers to digital measurement

However, organisations have barriers to overcome too. For example, how do they evaluate all their internal communications and get the whole picture when using many different channels? Newsweaver’s Mossy O’Mahony pointed out that “often there is a lack of resources such as time, budget and appropriate technology as well as a lack of the right skills including having a proper digital measurement expertise.”

Perhaps, the biggest challenge of all is the “data being siloed.” Acting on fragmented pieces of information can only result in creating ineffective communications, which often put the function in a difficult position inside the company. Indeed,

“better measurement would provide communicators with the chance to prove their value far more effectively.”

With this in mind, Newsweaver set out to build a cross-channel analytics tool that measures all the digital internal communications in one place – email, intranet, social, mobile and more. The goal if to inform organisations on how they are doing at any given moment across the whole business – from which employees are engaged and not engaged, to which content is performing and which content is not performing. In the end, using those insights to take the right action.

Indeed, as new innovative tools and research develop, I envision a bright future for the world of digital measurement. No trend says that the use of measurement technology is slowing down in any way – in fact it is accelerating rather quickly. We are moving from descriptive to predictive and prescriptive analytics. If used correctly those resources can provide practitioners and employees alike with a ladder to meaningful decision-making.

Nonetheless, it still remains important to keep any question open including the security and privacy dilemma of our digital age – How are our data managed? That may be another topic to delve into at the next #EmployeeConf event.


This article originally appeared onStaffConnect