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10 April 2018     London
Hosted by theHRDIRECTOR.
Chaired by Jason Spiller.

Race Colyer, Regional HR Manager – Amazon.Co.UK
Mandy Ferries, HR Director – First Port
Jose Franca, Head of Learning Europe – Edelman
Ben Gautrey, COO – Great Place To Work® Institute UK
Tania Hector, Head of Talent, Engagement And Learning – Nestle UK&I
Ian Hicks, Director of People & Organisational Development – SSAFA
Julie Holdaway, Group HR & People Development Director – Harvey Nichols
Angelina Miley, HR Director – Eddie Stobart Logistics Plc
Dr. Christina Murphy, Deputy Assist Exec Director, HR – New Jersey Transit
Carl Rayner, Head of Talent, Development & Resourcing – Arvato CRM Solutions
Magda Parkinson, Consultant – Great Place To Work® Institute UK
Douglas Talbot, Heading Organisational Thinking – Ocado Technology
Dimitris Tsouroplis, Head of HR – Libra Group


What is your personal definition of engagement and in the context of the present workplace and the seismic shift in the employee/employer contract, how is this changing?

Douglas Talbot: The word engagement seems to be a bit of a ‘catch-all’, and I think we just bandy it around, like everyone knows what it means, and we’re then expected to know what the fix is. I think the “E” word has become a billion-pound industry, rather than us just simply identifying what we need to change and improve.

Race Colyer: There are so many components, the biggest is trust, and it’s impact on engagement and equally disengagement. Identifying what is causing disengagement is as important as focusing on what we believe will engage people.

Tania Hector: Let’s remember engagement is a metric, it’s your scorecard. What we can influence is the day-to-day employee experience and the person who is most likely to have the biggest influence on employee experience is their immediate line manager. While there are no silver bullets, helping line managers to be great people managers, comes really close.

Carl Rayner: We’re moving towards a self-service approach in our industries, and my concern is line managers will become too reliant on the tech. I really believe the link to great engagement and performance is the human touch that good line management can provide.

Julie Holdaway: All evidence tells us that more often than not, people leave a boss not a job, so we have just launched our Harvey Nichols Academy, which is focused on management development at all levels. We are starting with people who have aspirations to go into a management role to feed our junior management talent pipeline.

Ian Hicks: The challenge for the charity sector is, assessing engagement levels of both employees and volunteers is tricky, as we need to recognise different motivators and generational factors.

How’s are businesses redefining what engagement means to young cohorts?

Jose Franca: Younger employees do have high expectations, they want to work fast, are tech savvy and expect rapid promotion. At times, you have to advise them to slow down. Otherwise we run the risk of constantly reacting and having completely bespoke experiences for everyone, which in an ideal world would be great, but also could lead to disengagement amongst other employees.

Dimitris Tsouroplis: Agreed, the young generation are impatient, it’s a new era, it’s completely new for them and us. I used to see executives becoming CEOs after their 60s probably. Now, expectations of MBA students is to become a CEO in their 30s. My main question is, how can I make them feel engaged? That’s a completely new game. I try to analyse how the profile of an engaged employee is, which is to feel energised, passionate, and motivated. It’s not easy, and it hinges on how you set expectations.

Mandy Ferries: I concur with that, we need to create the right environment for engagement. The majority of our workforce is dispersed and communication is essential. On Yammer our colleagues have conversations that we don’t moderate. Also, we focus on having a credible business message, we see ourselves as a consumer champion in our industry and we want our colleagues to understand how and why we do that. Creating the right environment to help people be their best selves at work is crucial and supporting that with good line management is key.

Angelina Miley: Some of our drivers can go out on a Monday, we won’t see them again till the Friday, so it’s important that when we do have those touchpoints that we’re communicating with one another properly, act on issues quickly and appropriately prior to an issue arising. We support our employee forums, so that everyone has a voice and is listened to, and we openly keep people updated on strategic objectives of the business.

Dr Christina Murphy: New Jersey Transit is the third largest provider of bus, rail and light rail transit in the United States linking major points in New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia. We provide nearly 270 million passenger trips a year. We approach employee engagement from a number of fronts such as events throughout the year, providing our employees with many opportunities to give back to our community from; blood drives, organising and delivering supplies for those affected by natural disasters and customerfacing volunteer roles for major events.

Carl Rayner: Community awareness and volunteering is a great engager, but it is a very under-utilised potential. I was part of a team going around schools and when the question was asked; “how many of you volunteer?”, only a handful in each school put their hands up. I would encourage employers and educators to promote volunteering as a route to engagement.

In terms of engagement, how useful are staff surveys, nobody really likes them do they?

Ben Gautrey: Top down communication, about why engagement matters is key, and two-way communication, of course, is important, and the most instantaneous way to get feedback is a survey. If you’re on the shop floor, not privy to top level discussions and a survey lands on your computer and you’re expected to complete it, and there’s not any significant communication about why this matters it’s another tick-box exercise. How can people align to purpose, when they don’t know what the strategy is?

Magda Parkinson: Indeed, surveys can be a very complex topic. It’s important not to just measure engagement, but overall employee experience, it really defines successful organisations, where people are engaged. There are also certain characteristics in great workplaces – employees going the extra mile for clients, going out of their way to help colleagues. Typically, what lies behind this is a culture of open communication and support.

With constant change a given and complexity and diversity a realistic fact, what are now the key components and considerations in setting a futureready engagement strategy?

Race Colyer: Leaders that listen to employees and speak on their level, honestly, and take responsibility for delivering what they say they’ll deliver. Our Earns Trust leadership principle says: “if you make a promise, keep it, no matter how small it may be”. We’ve just launched an initiative in Fulfilment Centres where front line leaders, and line manager and discuss their daily interactions with their team and focus on areas where they feel they need coaching or support.

Mandy Ferries: In the same way we strive to make it simple for customers to do business with us, we also need to make it simple for colleagues too. If they’re having to sign onto numerous different systems, have to go through convoluted processes on expenses, for example, it’s seriously disengaging. It’s important to consider this from recruitment and onboarding, right through the employee journey, however long that may be.

Carl Rayner: Indeed, and it’s the simple hygiene issues, are the toilets clean, does the tech work. We must approach those staples just as rigorously as we would for customer facilities.

In terms of the employee offer, are you seeing much of a shift?

Jose Franca: Absolutely, we’re trying to match our competitors in a way by offering those feel-good elements, as we work in a very competitive environment and regularly benchmark ourselves, to ensure we’re offering similar or better overall employee rewards but also identify areas where we can stand out.

There is much talk about personalisation, no one-size-fits-all, how is this possible, without creating a multi-tiered non-inclusive situation?

Tania Hector: Often we make the mistake of thinking that inclusivity is doing the same thing for everyone – it’s not! Diversity and inclusivity, that adds business value, is about understanding what is important for different people and that is not the same across our employee population. Also, all of our needs shift with various life stages, not just with our environment or generations profile or gender etc.

Angelina Miley: Some of our support functions can work a lot more flexibly in terms of hours of work that they might do. Our driving population and warehouse staff however, have to be in work for certain periods of time due to peaks in activity. But once again, it’s about communication and how this is explained to the workforce to avoid creating a “them and us” mentality between your support functions and your operatives.

Race Colyer: We consistently challenge ourselves to identify how we can support change in this area. Introducing something as simple as a shift swap process allows employees to feel empowered.

Angelina Miley: It’s where technology comes into play, we’re currently looking at our systems in terms of rostering, looking to host all of this information online so people can select their own leave throughout the year, they can select the shift patterns. This is really important in terms of transparency and empowering the team.

Tania Hector: Agreed data, including employee surveys, enables us to address unconscious biases in creating and implementing these strategies. Magda Parkinson: What is important question are, you have the data, but what do you actually do with it? How do you action plan? Do you involve employees and conduct focus groups? How do you achieve more flavour from your data?

Tania Hector: Where many of our business areas achieve good insight is from focus groups which can provide context to the data, as well as involving employees in crafting solutions.

Julie Holdaway: As a matter of course, we ask employees their opinion on each activity and initiative, and this makes us more agile in reacting and being responsive to their ideas. From this we are building up a picture so that we can be more proactive in the future.

Mandy Ferries: I agree, we can spend a lot of money doing something that isn’t right for colleagues and miss the simple thing that feedback can identify.

Ben Gautrey: It’s important not to just drop a survey on engagement and to have an engagement measure. Everyone will say their engagement measures are the best, and they all have similar statements in them about; pride, motivation and intention to stay, we see these as outcome statements. Having that insight straightaway, you can feed into your engagement strategy. You can also do a very simple regression analysis.

With employee pride a key element of engagement, how does your organisation support social consciousness and promote human responsibility?

Dr Christina Murphy: We have a special programme where we can donate our paid time off to a fellow colleague in need, for example they need time off to care for family member. It’s that family connection I think keeps people in organisations focused, engaged and appreciated.

Dimitris Tsouroplis: One of our projects is to help unaccompanied refugee children find a home when they arrive in Greece. We have developed shelters helping more than 150 children and young mothers. Our Social Responsibility program is what attracts the young generation to join us and I see it as a means to create engagement.

Jose Franca: We designate a global citizenship day where all employees are encourage to take part in voluntary activities and recently the whole London office downed tools for the day and partnered with over ten national charities in the UK.

Ben Gautrey: A distinct differentiator is how aware of and engaged in volunteering opportunities and good causes they are. It comes back to communication to show the intention to keep this type of activity on the organisational agenda.

If engagement is difficult to define, how can you accurately measure whether it is having a positive impact on the business, productivity and profit, and what are the key components that are being measured and accrued to make up engagement scores?

Douglas Talbot: If we just measure by a number index, I think that this takes us away from the essential relationship between the manager and employees, it takes us away from how we develop trust, caring, and connectivity in that relationship. Making sure that our leadership has the capability and knowledge to build those behaviours is critical.

Race Colyer: When we launched our engagement programme called ‘Connections’, everyone was very excited about the fact that you could see direct results from the actions taken, based on daily feedback. This is still true, but our understanding of how we can use the data has also matured, so that greater focus is now on giving insight to managers. So for us, if you can move a metric, then senior leaders in particular will engage – then you can start to see engagement cascade, via frontline managers, all the way through the organisation. It also means we have meaningful data to fuel dialogue.

Mandy Ferries: We’re doing monthly engagement surveys and one question we’re asking quarterly is the Employer Net Promoter Score question ‘how much would you recommend FirstPort as a great place to work to your friends and family?’, that does give us a good indication of how people are feeling, and how ‘engaged; they are.

Tania Hector: Now we have a talent segmentation process. For managers, it provides, the basis for a conversation and supports line managers with a framework. Ultimately, data’s only worth what you do with it and now I can personalise, identify the talent we really want to keep, personalise their experience as best we can to keep them on board.

Dimitris Tsouroplis: My previous experience of trying to identify the level of engagement through satisfaction surveys was not at all easy, because basically the culture was driving the engagement. A question that I always ask myself is; ‘what is worse, to have people, who are disengaged but stay due to lack of options, or to have people who are just complacent?

Stagnation is the killer surely, people want to feel like they are progressing and if not learning and developing in the process.

Race Colyer: Our organisation offers to pre-pay up to 95 percent of tuition and associated fees for nationally recognised courses – up to £8,000 over four years for permanent employees with one year’s continuous service. Mutual respect and trust is built from this and I feel it drives a sense of belonging and engagement with employees.

Ben Gautrey: Engagement’s one facet; we measure trust which is also made up of many elements, and again it’s hard to define. We look at camaraderie, respect, fairness, pride, and credibility, all these factors help oranisations identify both strengths and weakeses. With GPTW’s 58 questions,  we’re now able to show some sceptical CFOs or CEOs the link between their people and the bottom line, and it’s pretty compelling. We’re starting to see is there is that strong correlation building, and actually now if you think about how much disparate elements of data that HR collects, whether it be around learning and development, training, it’s about linking everything, and customer data as well. Unsurprisingly, you’ll often see that your engagement measure will link to often high customer satisfaction scores.

How is your engagement budget defined? Do you have a total engagement budget per year, or is it an amalgam of different budgets in a variety of areas? Are you able to accurately assess and report impact of investment?

Mandy FerriesM: We use a number of different budgets for engagement. It’s about investing in systems, to make colleagues’ lives easier. There’s L&D, particularly soft skills training for line managers, our colleague forums have budgets for ad hoc activity, fun activities and various other things. Effectively there’s engagement spend in all budgets.

Jose Franca: We have various engagement initiatives globally led by our Employee Engagement Lead but in the EMEA region we don’t have a specific pot dedicated to engagement itself. These activities run across Marketing, L&D, HR and event corporate events and vary from market to market.

Race Colyer: Rather than a single budget line, I think it’s more to be viewed as a return on investment metric, and leaders decide where it would be mutually beneficial to invest resources to drive engagement. For example investing in the technology to implement a tool like Connections. Then there’s investments directly to improve employee experience, such as the facilities you provide, whether that be internal break rooms, better food service, fun activities or helping our employees to actively support their local communities.

Douglas Talbot: At last, we’re talking about considering spend on staff happiness. We should  recognise that our organisations are made up of human beings, and I think that somehow when we start talking about an engagement budget, it feels a bit 1984, and manipulation exercises. We really want to avoid that as our mental thought process. We need to stop thinking “human resources” and think “people”!

Race Colyer: I agree, but there will always be a need to align ROI. But I believe there is a symbiotic win/win that can be achieved.

Julie Holdaway: We’ve put our HR strategy together, which follows the employee cycle through attraction, recruitment, on boarding, learning and development and retention and we are working to create a stronger link between performance and reward, which we do by talking about a performance culture.

Ian Hicks: In our charity, every event is funded by those attending and we simply do not allocate funds to social functions. It’s just a fact of life but we do still encourage creative ways for employees to get together.

Is it all about ROI, are there not measures that don’t need a budget?

Mandy Ferries: There are lots of things that we can do to improve engagement that you don’t need a budget for, some of that is about changing behaviours. I don’t think the budget is what should be holding people back.

Jose Franca: I’m a big believer that you can come up with initiatives that cost little or no money. One of the findings from a recent internal survey was that our employees would like to learn more about other practices within the organisation, Creative and Digital in particular.

Race Colyer: As for all businesses, we engage for a reason, that employees feel respected and that they’re developing in their role and that they recognise the meaningful contribution they are  making.

Dr Christina Murphy: We value tenure and we celebrate work anniversaries, but we also believe that there’s a social component that helps cement those interpersonal business relationships between colleagues.

Ben Gautrey: It’s not about having a set engagement budget, it’s more encompassing – everything interlinks.

Is technology and the growth in analytics improving the capability to join up the multifaceted elements of engagement, to provide reliable reporting? Is self-service a less paternalistic culture and is greater autonomy improving or detracting from engagement?

Mandy Ferries: We have a data insights tool, we analyse a lot of people data – we’ve got our employee survey data, and we also look at our customer survey data and we’re able to build a bigger picture from all those sources. Having data definitely helps, but you still need to put the work into analysing what it’s telling you.

Jose Franca: The challenge is you need to put it into context. There is also the cultural and societal context to take into account, so you can get a holistic picture of the situation. It’s also important to take into account the various biases that go into building the surveys as well as when answering. Likewise, it’s important to consider how someone might interpret the same question depending where they sit in the organisation. So for the data fans out there, data is great but we’re dealing with people – humans!

Carl Rayner: Interpretation is important. I was in a meeting where it was reported that, last quarter the attrition rate fell off, but sickness doubled, and unplanned absence is going up. You can end up focusing on the positive and neatly cover up the problems, which is a dangerous game, because often you find things out too late.

We’ve all been treated to deep-seated gripes at 11.15pm on the christmas party night, our ears sprayed with beer, as a colleague slurs and shouts over noddy holder,  that’s a bit late really.

Douglas Talbot: It is, and always forgotten by 2nd January when the same old patterns resumes. Out of our 150 or 160 natural psychological biases, one of them is recency bias. And this is one of the reasons that you can send people on Duke of Edinburgh Awards, sending them out into the wilderness for seven days of struggle, or put them through a massive obstacle course. And then they come back and say “it was the best experience of my entire life”! So when we’re polling these people on a three-monthly basis, we’re capturing the last 12 hours of their life and we’re capturing a really weird picture of that. So the data can be very misleading – maybe the answer is daily?

Dr Christina Murphy: Having data is important and it has its place in our HR practice, but how we prepare our stakeholders on digesting the information in a manner that is action-oriented and manageable is vital. I found that you can have the best of intentions going into a meeting with engagement data, but if you don’t position it in the right manner, your stakeholders will shut down, or worse yet, refute the validity of the data.

Do you believe investing more in engagement can improve GDP, and do you feel confident about making the case for greater investment?

Dimitris Tsouroplis: I feel that behind my customer engagement is the engagement of all the employees working there, from the moment I turn on my mobile application to the point the products ordered reach my door. I feel the engagement of all the employees, which makes this company what it is today.

Race Colyer: I agree, the evidence is readily out there, more engaged people will lead to better business performance. However as I said at the beginning, it’s also looking at those factors which disengage, that can be detrimental to employee satisfaction and business performance. We have to look at activities at both ends of the scale to fully engage and many of these are not necessarily the traditional areas.

Dr Christina Murphy: I do believe in investing time, effort and expectation setting with managers and co-workers to engage people in a collective conversation. I believe we have lost simple acknowledgements like that in the course of our busy lives–we need to put the “human” back into human resources. No amount of money or technology can ever replace that. Authenticity is priceless.

Carl Rayner: Do we believe in investing more in engagement. Well actually, it’s probably the best tool we have improving employee experience.

Angelina Miley: I think it’s the political agenda as well – take Brexit which has really caused uneasiness – people come in to work and they note that a large proportion of our workforce is Eastern European, how’s that going to impact on the business performance going forward? Here, communication, once again is key, a it will undoubtedly be a rolling story with impacts.

Mandy Ferries: We work with a company called The WOW Awards to recognise people who are doing a great job, and we link that to our Values. But we need to make sure that does not stop someone just saying ‘thank you, you’ve done a great job’.

Magda Parkinson: Indeed, the power of recognition, is a key driver of engagement, and it’s power comes from being peer-to-peer recognition as well as management saying thank you. Encouraging and developing recognition behaviours pays off immediately.

Carl Rayner: You’re right, it’s the simple things that people remember.

Julie Holdaway: Agreed, we have an online peer-topeer recognition scheme, it’s very easy to give a colleague a shout out, linked to our values.

And it’s about authenticity and as has been reiterated today, good communication.

Dimitris Tsouroplis: Sometimes the biggest investment you can do is the things you can offer that money cannot buy. And one simple thing we do in Human Resources, and I’m sure everybody has done, is to listen… it’s very important.

We depressingly hear that the UK lags behind peer countries in gdp and we have the looming brexit challenge. Do you think businesses are failing to get a grip on engagement?

Ben Gautrey: The UK economy is flagging, Brexit is seen as this timebomb, and people don’t really know how it’s going to impact their workforce. There’s going to be tough questions being asked by unsympathetic CFOs about looking at possible cost reduction. And what we’re seeing from our US colleagues, is they’re still measuring engagement, but increasingly too, workforce productivity, to show the value of people.

Do you think you have the tools, resources and investment to continue to improve the engagement in your organisation, and if not, why not?

Douglas Talbot: The real issue in engagement is commitment from senior leadership, and that not a question of money, it’s about them recognising the capability and output of their people. I’m not convinced that the generation that tends to occupy those roles quite gets it.

Jose Franca: There is an issue for some organisations, there is a disconnect there. Some of it is cultural, some of it is still societal, but fundamentally it’s about trust, or lack of it. For me CEOs should focus on rebuilding trust with societies, communities and with other businesses as well, but also within their workforce. I think that’s going to be the challenge.

Dr Christina Murphy: Our demographics are changing rapidly. We need to accept that with a new generation at the helm, so too will be a change in organisational culture. In HR, we have been focused on managing change that we need to shift and focus on change readiness in order to create the workforce for the future. If we adapt how we view engagement, another organisation will reap the benefits of our talent.

Mandy Ferries: I don’t think any of us now can predict what’s going to be engaging in the future, and  we need to be agile. We need to keep listening to what our people are telling us, because what’s engaging in a year’s time could be different than it is right now.

Angelina Miley: If you look at technology, how much it’s advanced over the past 50 years, and particularly in the past ten, we need to focus on how we can work with technology to best support our employees in their roles and also how we can better engage with our employees. I like the idea of having weekly or daily surveys then you can look at data and trends over the past 12 hours and act on this information quickly to make real changes.

Ian Hicks: One way to avoid failure is to have CEO portfolio working, to experience different organisations at roughly the same time. Not easy but new challenges need new thinking. Also the Sigmoid Curve theory tells us that the time to change is when things are going well, which is a fundamental problem for most of us – leave when the party’s in full swing!

Carl Rayner: We can all listen, so we have that tool. I think we just need to listen we need to keep it simple and call on people to care and collaborate.

Julie Holdaway: One of the biggest challenges is getting managers to understand that engagement isn’t something that happens on a particular date in their diaries, it is something that has to happen every day, at every touch point of an employee’s day at work. And unless you approach it like this, people don’t feel it. It can take a lot of effort to remind yourself, in the midst of your busy day, to recognise and acknowledge your employees.

Ben Gautrey: Now the role of Human Resources is more important than ever. We have to wear so many hats, be inquisitive, so don’t just accept the data, question the data. The future for HR is to be strategic yes, but equally important is to create that culture of strong camaraderie and team collaboration across the organisation. And as has been said many times today, trust is critical to the new rules engagement as technology changes the face and pace of the world of work.

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