Set against a back-drop of endless Brexit negotiations, and ongoing economic challenge, the 2018 Engage for Success conference provided refreshing perspective and reason for hope.
‘People at the heart of business’ could, at face value, appear to be a bold assertion, but as a range of keynote speakers, including business leaders and CEOs, told stories of how commitment to their people positively impacts commercial success, it quickly became clear just how key an engaging workplace culture is to delivering enhanced business results.
We heard from Paula Vennells, CEO of the Post Office. Paula became CEO in 2012, the same year that the Post Office and the Royal Mail separated. Back then, the Post Office was experiencing mounting losses and Paula was tasked with turning the business around, overseeing its transformation from a business in the red to one ready to leverage 21st century opportunity. She described her journey as incredibly challenging at times but talked of the necessity to ‘face in to difficulty’, and to grant people the dignity of listening to them whenever bad news needed delivering. It was a compelling account, full of authenticity and humility, and a perfect illustration of how to build workforce engagement and loyalty, despite complexity and difficult circumstances.
We also heard from Sir Eric Peacock, Chairman of Buckley Jewellery. Eric talked about small things he’s done to build employee engagement and loyalty throughout his business empire. He cited often very inexpensive gestures designed to ensure that employees feel both seen and heard. How expensive or time-consuming would it actually be, for example, for business leaders to openly share thoughts and ideas on how to take the business forward AND encourage feedback and suggestions for improvement? As business environments become increasingly volatile and uncertain, it’s often beyond the limits of an executive board to have ALL the answers needed to underpin ongoing organisational success. Engaging employees to think about the harder challenges can have impressive outcomes.
In the afternoon, we heard from Matthew Taylor, CEO of the RSA and author of last’s years Government commissioned ‘Taylor Review’, advocating for good work for all. He described the review as ‘a starting point’, with the requirement now being to build on this to create a society in which fair and decent work is available for all. He outlined Government’s commitment to a National Employability Framework which will define the softer ‘human’ skills required to meet the needs of a 21st century technology-centric workplace. This will come as welcome relief to many who increasingly feel that academic targets are punitive when not achieved; a more holistic approach to key workplace skills surely embraces inclusion and transcends class divides.
Finally, Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of the CIPD closed the conference with the announcement of closer collaboration with Engage for Success moving forward, progress welcomed and supported far and wide. He spoke of the absolute requirement to bring “human” back into both organisations and HR and applauded Engage for Success for its work to date in promoting employee engagement.
In many respects, the conference was a showcase for all the excellent engagement work that is taking place across public, private and 3rd sectors. And yet, there is a sense that, for Employee Engagement advocates, the best is yet to come. We are almost certainly at a critical point in the future of work, where the time is absolutely right to mandate for the kinds of workplaces we want to work in and society we want to contribute to. It’s time to amplify the value of, and need for, human connection in our workplaces. We want it, we need it, and we know it leads to better commercial and societal outcomes. I don’t doubt that everyone who attended the conference left feeling thoroughly invigorated and hopeful of a more human-centric future of work.
Want to find out more about highlights from the conference?
Read our ‘Conference review’ newsletter or visit our 2018 Conference: Putting People at the Heart of Business web page for more information.
Cathryn Barnard, Working the Future and Virtual Content Team Volunteer