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Eight lessons from the Engaging Employees Conference 2019

3 Dec 2019 - Blog, Events, News

Eight lessons from the Engaging Employees Conference 2019 



This year’s Engaging Employees Conference was buzzing with ideas for empowering managers to participate in engagement programmes, engaging people through change and keeping up with ever evolving digital channels.  

All great stuff. So how can you put these ideas into practice? Here’s our round-up of the trending themes from this year’s conference and practical ways to make them work for you 


1. Change is keeping us all up at night

Dealing with a rapid pace of change was a theme from the start with our event Chairs, RBS’ Duncan Young and GSK’s Tam Sandeman admitting it’s something that keeps them up at night.  






HR’s role has transformed to play a key role in supporting change programmes and making sure they are a success. When faced with the prospect of significant organisational change, it can be tempting to tackle everything at once to try and reduce the disruption. However as Helen Schick of Alzheimers Society advised, it’s better to slow down and deliver changes in phases, with tangible milestones that everyone can celebrate.  

During periods of change, looking out for employee wellbeing is a vital part of the process. Addison Lee’s HR team includes trained mental health first-aiders, to help employees cope with increased pressure and uncertainty 

Everyone agreed that communication and active listening are essential during change. Too often, change messages focus on what will change but communicating the why is essential to getting employees onboard. Create a comms plan that helps explain the reasons for making changes and how employees will benefit. Give employees a chance to speak up too, using digital platforms like Workplace as a safe space to share their views.  

Our blog contains more ideas to help employees embrace change. Read it here 


2. Leaders are your no 1 channel

Beavertown brewery’s Tom Rainsford reminded us that too often leaders are brought in for the “ta da!” moment at the end of a long change process, and so HR teams understandably struggle to make genuine advocates out of them.  

Tom and other delegates at this year’s event emphasised that change no longer has an end point to bring leaders in at. Instead, it’s an ongoing situation that leaders must be involved in from the start. By inviting them on the change journey with you, leaders will feel more connected to the change and enthused about communicating it.  

Offer them support and coaching when it comes to their communication approach too. Direct Line’s Jennifer Thomas says she spent time getting to know each leader’s individual style and now tailors comms plans to suit these. She also pulls leaders up if she spots them using a comms style that isn’t authentic to them.  

Similarly, Alzheimer’s Society’s Helen Schick followed up a culture change programme with ‘Great Conversation’ cards for leaders, which contained prompts for conversations around the key programme messages. This style of comms will come more naturally to some, so provide leaders with a safe space to try out communications before going out to their teams. 



3. Managers are going through changes too 

Carrying on the discussions of managing change, lots of questions were asked about how organisations can empower managers to support teams through change.  

With new expectations piling up and managers themselves having to get used to new changes and ways of working, the best way to get managers onboard is to make it easy. 

Take survey results, for example. Managers are expected to review results, share findings with their teams and take action to help improve engagement. Make this easier for managers by providing an online results dashboard, with all the information they need in one place. People Insight’s dashboard shows managers a summary of key findings and the areas with the biggest influence on engagement and uses multi-filters to drill down into specific groups. It also offers the iDeck, an extra feature that lets users create instant results presentations tailored to the responses of a group. So there’s no more PowerPoint faffing before a team meeting.  

Above all, be clear about what you expect from managers and equip them with the skills they’ll need to match these new expectations. Historically, managers are technically qualified but lack formal people-management training. Loreal are starting to change this, training people in soft skills before they are promoted to managers. Similarly, People Insight work with our clients to involve managers in post-survey action planning. Train the trainer sessions prepare managers to run sessions with their team and show them what good looks like.

Three Women in Front of Desk


4. Build your culture on trust, fairness and transparency  

Reflecting after the conference, Lindsey from the National Autistic Society mentioned “there’s been a real theme around trust and moving away from corporate speak today”Beavertown’s Marketing Director Tom brought a particularly plain speaking, honest flavour with his take on how culture can help you resonate with an increasingly diverse workforce. 

As Tom put it, we all believe in the core values of trust, fairness and transparency. This is what consumers expect from brands and increasingly, what employees want from their workplace too.  

Sharing an example of how giffgaff lived the value of trust, Tom recalled their employee-run “ministries” which covered everything from sport to ‘good times’. Each ministry was given a budget and employees were free to spend it as they saw fit. No exec sponsors, no signing-off of ideas. Instead employees were trusted to run initiatives that reflected giffgaff’s purpose and values. This idea was echoed by Gerard Penning, EVP HR, Downstream at Shell who told us that good leaders understand “control is good, trust is better” when it comes to managing people. 

So what about fairness? Since we were toddlers arguing over snatched toys, we all have a deep-rooted sense of fairness. In business, this translates to equality, democracy and the fair treatment of all groups despite diversities of age, ethnicity, power or experience.   

And finally, transparency. It gets parroted by organisations a lot but Tom emphasised that saying it isn’t the same as being it. He told the story of a glass meeting room at his office which one day had blinds added to it, to keep a project private from employees working nearby. Holding meetings behind closed doors isn’t a display of openness or transparency; it was a good reminder to check that your policies and processes live up to the values you promote. 


5. Support older employees as they adapt to digital

A panel made up of experts from Virgin Atlantic, Boots UK, GWR and Imperial Brands praised the potential for digital platforms like Workplace to offer a democratised employee voice where anyone can talk to anyone. They also noted the potential downfalls of digital engagement and shared their advice for keeping things on track.  

First things first, make sure your infrastructure is change-ready. Launching a new digital platform only for it to crash the first-time users log on is hard to come back from. As Boots’ Alyson Davis added, it’s vital that ambition for digital change reflects the needs of your organisation so you’re not running before you can walk 

This goes for the digital skills within your organisation too. As talk turned to launching digital tools to a mixed-age demographic, GWR shared the example of a new recognition app which ‘froze out’ 1/3 of their employee population who didn’t feel confident using their new work smartphone. In cases like this, figure out what went wrong with the user experience – perhaps a lack of training or uncertainty about how it applies to their role – and use human communication to overcome it.  

Photo Of People Using Smartphones

Equally, we were reminded that leaders who aren’t digital natives may need practice and training in order to feel comfortable using new digital channels. Speaking honestly about why these changes are useful and why it’s important to have them on board shows them the change isn’t going to go away and holds them accountable for making an effort 


6. Culture is an oil tanker, not a speedboat 

We scribbled this quote down as soon as we heard it (thanks to Duncan from RBS) as it perfectly sums up how organisations should approach culture change. Culture isn’t something to be ‘fixed’ overnight but rather requires a long-term commitment to change 

Break down your ambitions for culture into bitesize milestones and take the time to bring people with you on your journey from where you are, to where you want your culture to be. 

Most importantly, address the need behind the change. People are more likely to come along with change if they understand why it’s taking place and how it’s going to improve things for them. Be clear about what you’re trying to achieve and act consistently with this.  

When it comes to measuring culture change, keep in mind the oil tanker/speedboat analogy. Some things change quickly, like people’s feelings or responses to a specific item while others, like culture, take longer.  

Adding a culture index to your annual survey provides a useful benchmark to measure progress against, speak to us if you’d like some help designing survey questions that reflect this.  


7. Don’t just create your values, live them 

No longer the realm of HR, various speakers on the day reminded us that everyone is responsible for culture. Turning your values into practical actions will help people embrace the change and understand what’s expected of them.  

Again, leaders have a big role to play here. How leaders act and communicate influences how likely employees are to take up the changes. Involve leaders in the process and tell them what they’ll need to do differently and what behaviours you expect from them. Then give them the tools and training they need to put this into practice and inspire change in their teams.  

woman placing sticky notes on wall


Mat Davies, HR Director of Addison Lee, shared their culture change journey and how they turned guiding principles like “Drive for excellence” and “Lead by example” into actions so the change became liveable across the business. At Addison Lee this meant reducing working hours (data told them the last 30-minutes weren’t productive for employees) and changing their review structure to an ongoing dialogue between colleagues and managers.  

When thinking about how to engage colleagues with your values, consider how to bring them through during recruitment and onboarding too. Talking to John from Seasalt after the session, he suggested that “there can be a long gap between someone accepting a role and joining the team – especially in senior roles. We need to ensure we don’t forget colleagues in this ‘in between’ stage – ensuring we communicate and fill in the gap so they have a positive experience of the organisation they are about to join”.  


8. What’s next for employee surveys? 

A room full of HR professionals couldn’t resist that long-debated issue…when’s the right time to survey?  

Overall, the room still turned to annual surveys for an in-depth understanding of organisation engagement and the factors that drive it. Interestingly, GSK told us they are moving from bi-annual surveys to annual ones because of dipping response rates.  

The consensus across organisations was to supplement annual surveys with frequent, low key polling for feedback. Much like the employee listening strategies we create for clients, this combination of different listening methods reflects the demand from employees to have more say in changes being made. Read our ebook to learn more about the listening strategies we help organisations design and implement.  

The discussion also touched on the line manager’s role in the employee survey process. Some organisations have introduced KPIs for managers around survey participation or overall engagement, and while there wasn’t a consensus on whether this is right for everyone, there was general agreement that at some times, in some organisations this would be a useful tactic.  

We also discussed survey questionnaire design and how questions should be expertly designed to get the most accurate insightJames from Seasalt mentioned, “it was interesting that we should craft questions around line management carefully, to avoid respondents answering with a bias towards whether or not they actually like the person”.  

Get in touch to find out how People Insight’s occupational psychologists can help you with survey question design. 

We hope these ideas have left you energised for a new year of engagement! We’ll round things off with another favourite message from the event, perfect for guiding your next stage of engagement planning (cheers to Beavertown’s Tom for this one)  


“Take the energy and spirit in people, and point it at something”  


Are you looking to measure and develop an effective employee engagement strategy? Get in touch with us today to see how our employee surveys and consultancy services can help.

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