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Reflections on employee engagement

  5th June, 2017 By An Coppens

Last week I was privileged to be the chairperson of the 7th HR Minds Employee Engagement Forum. At each event I find that you pick up some ideas, if you are open to it and often the conversations on the side also give you insights that you can take forward or give you a new perspective.

In my opening address I touched on statistics relating to employee engagement and what HR and employees have to say about this, I also mentioned digitisation, artificial intelligence, robots and security as well as the universal basic wage. For me it was a way of setting the scene and opening people’s minds to be questioning and curious.

What came through loud and clear from a variety of angles is that employee engagements is really embedded in leadership and culture. One of the speakers shared some of the statistics of the workplace by 2028 and the average employee will be Asian and the biggest language Chinese followed closely by Spanish. China and India are the leading nations. It stood out to me as an eye opener, especially in the context of today’s environment being very focused on Europe and the US.

Learning agility and agile HR came out as strong concepts that are alive in the community of HR practitioners. Being adaptable to change and willing as well as able to do this, is a core skill for both people in HR as well as the people hired in general, even over and above job related competencies. By being more and more agile HR teams is also translated to HR taking a lot more activities internal, where before they may have outsourced those services or sought help from consultants, now they are tapping into internal resources more and more. In a funny way some of the talks confirmed what I wrote in my book “Tapping into the crowd, creating competitive advantage from the inside out”, where a lot of the examples and talks are about the changing function of management and how your internal resources can often be the best source of inspiration for innovation. (Copies of the book can be bought on Amazon https://amzn.to/2rBp7fU).

Another interesting discussion came from money as a motivational tool and what resounded loud and clear is that whilst it isn’t the number one motivational driver, it is always in the top 5! It matters more than a lot of consultants in motivational design think. Equally if you look at it from a logical perspective, if people are struggling to make ends meet, they often are not their most productive or creative, because their mind is consumed by making a living. Reward structures and benefits packages did seem to be quite different depending on legislation and company culture.

Performance management brought the discussion about ranking people based on performance, which has been a traditional approach. The shift currently is to less ranking but realtime feedback instead. In it’s application a lot of companies seem to have still found a need to create a link to a 3 or 5 tier rating of competency levels. Knowing what good looks like without feedback is near on impossible and the larger the organisation the less personalised it becomes. So giving yardsticks or benchmarks is in my view quite essential especially in real-time.

Leadership remains the cornerstone of all people motivation. Most of the time people leave managers and not companies. It was great to see that alumni management also made the agenda, because I think that is often the forgotten item in the employee lifecycle. People that leave on good terms, may one day want to come back. With an ageing group of people willing to stay on and work on, we heard examples of 80+ still in work, companies also need strategies to engage them as much as engaging the younger and newer recruits. Everyone has a contribution to make and how to assist them in delivering their best work is really the cornerstone of all employee engagement projects.

What the speakers brought home to me is that all the new technology is being adopted cautiously and mostly when there is another benefit such as time saving or increasing effectiveness. We hear how engaging e-learning saved time in Russia where time difference can be as much as 9 hours, as a former travelling in-house trainer that is not easy to deal with. So here going digital and blending it with local events makes total sense. For higher impact using virtual reality, which allows people to just focus on short training snapshots, and yet fully immersive themselves. 360 camera’s were the tool of choice to create the content with. Thinking of longer learning journeys with several touchpoint from virtual reality, to chat, to quizzes, to reflection etc all with a view to reinforce spaced learning and increase retention of information.

I mentioned robots in my opening address and it took to the last speaker to give an example of how their high volume of applications are being processed by a robot. The robot even carries out the interview and then provides reports on who should be hired. The same company is also exploring robot managers, however this was not implemented. In our most recent technologies update we wrote an article about robots and their use in HR and learning, which I can now say is actually implemented.

From my perspective it was an interesting two days, I am thankful for all the great speakers, who helped make my life as a chairperson easier and all the fabulous participants who engaged with each other and created a memorable event.

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