Friday 4 March 2011

Symposium Events: Employee Engagement Summit report


  After leaving the Big Rethink yesterday, I went to Symposium Events’ Employee Engagement Summit.  It was a good afternoon which made me wish I’d got there earlier, with some interesting presentations on measuring and improving engagement.


Lindsey Oliver from Centrica discussed the engagement survey they have been using.  They’ve got some good data and have drawn some interesting correlations, but the thing that I found most interesting, and allowed them to get the level of insight that they have, is that they’ve linked the survey to their SAP system so responses are linked to individuals rather than just a team code.  The obvious question, to me at least, is isn’t that a bit dangerous ie won’t it at least lower response rates?

Lindsey answered the question at the end of her presentation -   Centrica’s employees trust the company enough to know that Hewitt won’t hand them the individual data.  And no, it’s not affected their response rates which are close to 90%.

My remaining concern is still whether organisations and managers need this sort of analysis to manage their people in a way which creates engagement.  And Lindsey sort of answered this question too.  Talking about their induction process which wasn’t working effectively (“People weren’t sure what they needed to do”), she noted “We should have known this but its taken the stats to point this out”.  Well yes, I think they probably should have known, and relying on the survey to give them insight still leaves something missing in their management processes to me.


My favourite presentation of the afternoon was delivered by Michael Silverman, recently ex-Unilever.  This was on the use of social media for measuring employee engagement and focused in particular on the use of a social engagement research tool with a wonderfully cool interface (see picture) that allows employees to comment on the relevance and insight of each others comments.  This is all important.  As Michael pointed out, most surveys are boring and not very engaging.  The survey he demonstrated is definitely a vision of the future of engagement surveys, one that models the level and type of engagement that organisations are wanting to create.

See also this previous post on social media at Unilever, and this recent post on listening to the employees’ voice, including through social tools.


I also liked Liz Bramley’s session on creating rather than measuring engaging at the Co-operative Group.

The Co-op promises an awful lot – to be open, honest and ethical – so they would potentially face greater problems than their competitors if they don’t deliver on these promises.  So they take the area seriously.  They’ve:

  • Linked engagement to diversity – if people have got a secret or don’t feel fit into a team it’s almost impossible to give themselves to their work – so they get people to accept other people
  • Resisted the natural inclination to change things by sticking with the same approach for 8 years including through 2 mergers and an acquisition
  • Identified that it’s not the conversation with a manager that counts, but the knowledge the employee could have a conversation with them if they need to
  • Shown that it costs more to increase engagement than it does to maintain them there.


I thought another interesting output of the research with the company is still thinking about (and I feel the need to do the same) is that following the recession, pay is becoming a driver for engagement rather than just a hygiene factor (Herzberg).

There were some points in the presentation I’d have like to have asked more about (as I don’t in general agree with them):

  • Some people less propensity to be engaged?  Really? – or is it just that the company’s not managed to align with their perspectives?  I agree some people will want to work harder than others, and should get more reward, but this doesn’t mean they can’t be equally as engaged.  The difference is in the performance they get for this engagement, not the level of engagement in itself.
  • The Co-op have linked 79% of peoples’ engagement to the role of the line manager.  I find this interesting but have a number of problems with it.  Firstly, I’m not that clear how they’ve separated these out – Liz noted that engaged managers build engaged teams, so survey engaged leaders create engaged managers? (also see Hay Group’s recent research in this area).  Secondly, it doesn’t seem to fit with the Co-op’s strong values – if they’re as strong as Liz says, then surely they must have a bigger impact on engagement?


I’ll be running some training sessions on employee engagement for Symposium Events starting in April:

  • April 13th 2011 – Birmingham
  • July 13th 2011 – London
  • September 30th 2011 – Manchester.


You can book here.



  • Consulting - Research - Speaking  - Training -  Writing
  • Strategy  -  Talent  -  Engagement  -  Change and OD
  • Contact  me to  create more  value for  your business
  • jon  [dot] ingham [at] strategic [dash] hcm [dot] com



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