Employee Engagement Summit report - inspire change on the inside

'You can't drive change, but you can inspire change'. This is the mantra that’s stuck in my mind when I think about this year’s Employee Engagement Summit. That, and if you not only inspire but empower employees – they will create a change for your business, from the inside out. Seems kind of obvious but it’s not necessarily inherent to all businesses.

'You can't drive change, but you can inspire change'

This was said by Victoria Lewis-Stephens of Instinctif Partners, by the way. Rory and I heard from a fantastic mix of speakers from various backgrounds at the Employee Engagement Summit – HR, economics, branding, comms, psychology and business leaders – all with something in common: a passion for improving employee engagement. The day closed with a panel debate featuring our very own Rory, on the future of the workplace and how digital learning can play its part.

The day was full of inspiring stories, which were ultimately about bringing about a change – changes in customer service, brand perception, business growth or innovation – all with a realisation that to do this, you need to start with employees. Without sounding like an advert for a probiotic drink – feeling good on the inside makes an organisation look and perform better on the outside.

Even if there’s a continued debate about what exactly ‘engagement’ is, so many stories made the link between engaging employees and business performance.

Alex Edmans, Professor of Finance, London Business School said, 'The Top 100 companies to work for in the US, see 2-3% higher profits year on year'. And if you want to improve customer service or change your brand perception, 'Employees are your best brand advocates' according to Nicole Dempster, Head of Internal Communications at ITV – something that I’m sure will ring true with Sofology, who were also there on the day telling their fantastic story of change and growth.

But let’s face it, aside from the business benefits, engaging and collaborating with employees is also just a great thing to do. Why wouldn’t you want to work in a place filled with happy people and succeed as a business?

So what has all this to do with learning?

Whilst the summit wasn’t focused on learning, us L&D folk are also in the industry of bringing about a change – change in behaviour, habits, and actions -  for better business performance. So it doesn’t take too many leaps to draw lessons and inspirations from the talks and connect the dots.

And those dots should be connected, since as Deloitte put it in their Global Human Trends Report 2016:

'Learning opportunities are among the largest drivers of employee engagement and strong workplace culture – they are part of the entire employee value proposition, not merely a way to build skills.'

We've got a guest post up on the Engage Employee site on 7 ways L&D can foster employee engagement. But here's a few stories from the day that I thought I’d share for inspiration too.

The power of campaigns and finding a voice: ITV

Nicole Dempster, realised there was a mismatch between their external brand and their internal culture. Whilst she fully expected to join a slick, informal, modern, open employee community, she instead found it to have a corporate, formal tone, and not enough opportunity for dialogue.

So they took the sassy, creative external branding inside, set up an internal ITVBe intranet channel and created a stream of internal campaigns. But before they did any of this, they started with the tone of voice. Moving right away from corporate speak and into a friendly, slightly cheeky and sometimes humorous tone, this was their number one to do. Once they found their voice – they could output messages into lots of new and old channels much more effectively and in everything that involved employees.

Hooray for recognising that tone of voice really matters. ITV showed they take employees seriously by making their internal comms fun. They applied their comms approach to learning too – launching a campaign on Information Security that used mini (kid) versions of ITV celebrities Ant and Dec. Sewing up brand, comms, and learning all with a distinctive written and visual tone helps to create an overall feeling and experience for employees – something we often talk about in relation to campaign-based learning.

Viral content curation and crowd-sourcing (a whole TV channel): HSBC

HSBC realised that to alter the way it was seen as an organisation out there in the world and prove its values and compliance, it needed to start by addressing employees’ feelings about the brand.

Dee Gosney and her team created an app that asked employees a few questions about the bank, what it stood for and where it was going. Now, it could have been a quiz – but instead, they asked employees to create a short video of their response and upload it to the HSBC NOW TV channel.

The campaign was an overwhelming success and brought an international community of employees together from across 104 legal entities. They received 4221 contributions, and 85% of employees rate the TV channel where they can watch each others’ videos as having a positive impact on them.

Key take aways – campaigns still rock. (You might here this a lot in this post). But when we talk about content curation for learning  - well here it is! A whole TV channel made up of crowd-sourced, powerful and personal videos that have helped drive a sense of brand and belonging from the inside. Power to the people.

Finding your internal influencers for grassroots movements: Instinctif

In L&D, we sometimes talk about having champions use and help roll out a new learning initiative, particularly on social learning platforms.

Victoria Lewis-Stephens of brand company Instinctif Partners shared their experiences of tapping into influencers from within an organisation to help grow and galvanise a change or movement – branding changes, in their case. Now, these aren’t the same as champions – who are often elected by themselves or managers. Influencers are peer-nominated and might not necessarily follow the company line, but do have a strong following amongst their colleagues. If you can dig them out and give them a reason to fight for a case, it’ll start to happen. So next time you’re looking to roll out a new strategy – seek out those influencers and get them on side to kick off an organic movement for change.


Making learning match up with the best of digital: BP

Nick Shackleton Jones, Director of Learning Innovation and Technology at BP, talked about the importance of finding the sweet spot between employees’ wants and employer needs to engage employees and provide meaningful work. In terms of meeting what employees need and want, Nick and his team at BP are right up there in providing performance support to be used at a point of need in a format that suits the audiences’ digital norms and wants. So, a portal based at the millennial workforce serves up content that they discovered employees where commonly searching for elsewhere. It’s designed to be a one-stop shop for the majority of their performance and content needs designed like any other good social media platform.

But what stood out to me was the prototype leadership app that Nick shared. This app provides personalised content based on needs and preferences, but also serves up regular, short challenges aka microlearning and Duolingo – and charts how well you are doing in comparison to peers. Here’s where learning gets real (or is that AI?): the app enables team members to rate your leadership skills, at any time via polls, and the app can then relate what they say with what it knows about them, to direct you to content or learning that might help. But it also triggers tips for leaders based on what it knows of their team members, so if the leaders about to have a meeting with one of them, it’ll remind them what motivates that person. Knowledge literally in your hand. Smart.

Why might this have been at an Employee Engagement session?

Learning strategies done right improve engagement and performance. What Nick and his team are doing is not only being smart by providing needs-based learning that helps learn and grow personal skills, but doing it in a way that matches expectations of modern learners, with slick digital experiences and social built-in. It reminded me of the work we’re doing with Barclays that we hope to soon be able to share.

Panel discussion: future of workplace, and where digital learning fits

The power of digital to support and bring about change was highlighted further in the panel discussion featuring Rory, Iain Trundle from Barclays, and Perry Timms; hosted by Nicola Strong.

In this all too brief panel discussion, thoughts were shared on how L&D need to embrace technology to facilitate culture change and performance support within organisations. It can no longer be seen as something ‘other’ to the everyday. The trick, as was discussed, is not to overformalise digital learning and not get caught up with ‘completion’ – but instead focus on engagement levels and needs-based support. You can find out much more about this in our Learning Insights report.

Key takeaways

If there’s a clear reminder that stands out it’s that learning and change is not something that should be done to people – it comes from people. After all, we know that you can’t make learning happen in someone – but you can certainly help encourage it.  L&D needs to be focusing on how to inspire changes through fantastic content, challenges and stories, and by providing frameworks for social networking and collaboration to take place. And to perhaps then know to sit back and let it happen (and provide more based on what they’ve just learnt about how the last stuff was used – see our tips on using data). 

Trust and empowerment are, after all, key to employees feeling engaged - and engaged employees make businesses better.


This event inspired us to write 'People Power: why employee engagement and L&D go hand in hand' guide. Make sure you get your copy by following this link.


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