Share this

The Symposium Employee Engagement Summit 2015 was held in Kensington, London on 14 May. Paul Hitchens, Symposium trainer, branding expert and official event blogger, shares his impressions of the conference…

This July will mark the sixth anniversary of the publication of ‘Engaging for Success’. In 2008, David Mcleod and Nita Clarke were invited to report on engagement in the UK and the Engage for Success movement was born. At Symposium’s Employee Engagement Summit, Cathy Brown, Executive Director for Engage for Success, reflected on the past six years and boldly predicted the future for engagement. A firm believer in new technology and a background with BT, Cathy compared the future engaged company with the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.

So where can the four enablers of engagement boldly take your Enterprise and what part will technology play?

  • Do you have a strong strategic narrative about the brand, its purpose, history and vision for the future?
  • Are there engaging line managers who inspire their teams, earn their respect, listen to them and give them opportunities to flourish?
  • Is there opportunity for an employee voice across the organization that can challenge and reinforce views placing employees at the heart of the enterprise?
  • Does the organization have integrity built on clear values that drive the behaviour of the organization and sustain performance through  culture?


Strong Strategic Narrative

Rob Vickerman 150 x 150

Former England rugby sevens captain Rob Vickerman spoke at this year’s Employee Engagement Summit

The ex-captain of England Rugby Union 7’s team, Rob Vickerman, spoke at the summit and said, “In sport, if you are standing still, you are going backwards”. In terms of going forward, the progress of technology available to businesses is unrelenting and its been said that a new smart phone has more computer power than all of NASA did when it put a man on the moon in 1969. Back in 2008, few of us had a smart phone, but today their use is prevalent and the apps that we use on them, from Twitter to Facebook, Instagram to LinkedIn, allow us to be connected and engaged like never before. These social tools allow us to share our strategic narrative, photograph it, video it and shout about it. Rob Vickerman said, “it’s all about creating great memories”. It is inevitable that some ideas will not work but it’s important to keep moving forwards. Employee engagement is not something you can ignore, switch on or off; it’s a long-term commitment.


Engaging Managers

Tim Pointer, founder of Starboard Thinking, shared another example of how technology and a good idea has reached huge audiences and created brand engagement via YouTube. This amusing and uplifting video captures the moment Net-A-Porter staff gave their outgoing CEO an unforgettable send-off. Mark Sebba was retiring after eleven years at the helm of the brand and began his day surrounded by dancers, massed choirs and smiling faces. The London headquarters sang an adapted version of Aloe Blacc’s ‘The Man’ as he made his way to his desk. The video went viral globally and has been viewed over a million times making a high watermark for the ‘big send-off’.


Employee Voice

Malcolm Cotterell, Head of Employee Engagement at Arriva demonstrated how technology is helping to drive the pace of engagement in transport services. Arriva employs over 55,000 people across 14 countries making it possible for over 2.2 billion passenger journeys a year.  Employees were invited to record a typical day in the life of Arriva on their smart phones and the results were used to create a four-minute video demonstrating the diversity, engagement and geographic reach of this pan-European operation.

Employees at Arriva are able to use their own personal devices to access the company’s private and secure social media site. This appears to be popular with other big employers who favour software like Yammer. From high-growth startups to global organizations, more than 500,000 leading brands are now using Yammer globally, making it easy for employees to have a voice. The use of Arriva’s social network allowed one employee to raise a concern about ethically sourced clothing manufacturers for the company’s uniforms. Arriva were able to assure the employee of the origins of the garments and allay their concerns in an open environment.

Malcolm Cotterell points out that it is important to talk to people in their own environment. “Technology and social media is great, but face to face is even better”. Respect is earned through person-to-person relationships where line managers gain trust by seeking opinions and then genuinely listen to the answers. A common theme from all the summits speakers was that they couldn’t emphasize enough the importance of good line mangers. “Engagement isn’t a campaign. It’s what you do and how you do it.”



The real test of the brands integrity is how it copes under pressure. The website Glassdoor is the flipside of Yammer, where the world can view a corporations dirty laundry and gain insights on the approval rating of the CEO. At Glassdoor employees can anonymously share their thoughts on life at their company and shed light on what happens behind closed doors including salaries, interview questions and experiences.


Make it so

Brands thrive on engagement and engaged employees deliver the most engaging customer experiences. The caveat that was repeated throughout the day was authenticity because we know when we are being lied to and trust can only be built by treating people how we would like to be treated ourselves.

Star Trek is a great analogy for an engaged brand. The television show was progressive in its civil rights stance and featured one of the first multiracial and integrated casts of characters. Fans are affectionately called Trekkies, which is a healthy sign of engagement just like the advocates of big branded organisations who adopt their own pet names, for example; IBMers (IBM), Nandoccas (Nandos) and Ekins (Nike). The TV science fiction brand created it’s own language of Klingon and big brands have developed their own special words too. Ikea has a naming strategy prompted by the founder’s dyslexia. Ingvar Kamprad made it easier to remember the names of products by naming them after Swedish and Scandinavian places, functions and people. Star Trek has even been cited as the inspiration for the mobile phone and today we are using these devices to stay connected, engaged and Linked-In in a way that Spock would have found highly logical.

At the Employee Engagement Summit 2015 it was clear that ‘The Engage for Success Movement’ has inspired a technology driven generation of HR professionals ready to take on the future. The old order of respect for elders and authority has been replaced by recognition that respect is earned and shared through empathy and the use of emotional intelligence (EQ). The accessibility of new technology and growth in Social Media Skills is helping to build opportunities for Employee Voice and democracy in the workplace.

Live long and prosper.


Paul Hitchens presents the ‘Employer Branding’ and ‘Core Values & Human Resources’ Courses with Symposium Training.


Speaker, author and branding guru, Paul Hitchens, will share his key insights into how your employer brands can be managed and enhanced at this workshop

Paul Hitchens is the Author of ‘Create the Perfect Brand’, a ‘Teach Yourself’ guidebook to branding. He has extensive experience in branding, including manufacturing and service brands. He has created and implemented many brands for new business ventures, start-ups and established organisations. Following a successful agency career that included an award-winning recruitment campaign at the PA Consulting Group and Automotive Branding at Wolf-Olins, he became a founding partner of the Brand Consultancy Verve Interactive Ltd.

Paul is a course director with the Chartered Institute of Marketing and has lectured at The Henley Business School, presenting the brand module for the MSc in Strategic Marketing Leadership. He has contributed articles on branding to business journals including Management Today and Start Your Business Magazine and has been interviewed on both Television and Radio regarding brands.

View All Posts