As a communications agency collaborating with big brands, we’re well versed in working on campaigns that span geographies, cultures and generations. So when I saw that Engage for Success were running a session via their international engagement guru group last Friday, I leapt at the chance to attend. I hoped to hear from experts working in global businesses - how they target their audiences and overcome the barriers to communication which we so often face. The event didn't disappoint. Whilst I didn’t come away with practical to-do’s, it made me think about how we approach the companies we work with and how we need to respond to the fast-paced environment in which we work. Paul Nuber, Vice President of Nestle SA, gave us a snapshot of his experiences of ‘human balance’ (his words). Over Skype (technology was on our side today) from his sunny Swiss office, Paul explained his experiences as an expat manager. He explained how he became both a manager and a leader and wasn't transient, even though his was a transient job (working with Nestle in Romania). Paul talked about the three cultures we have to consider when engaging employees: company, society and individual (he called it ‘Internationalism’) and how they will all combine and evolve over an employee’s lifetime in a role. To increase engagement, you need to have fun, respect and understanding for your colleagues, and not impose rules. Embracing the differences in your colleagues (‘the human scope of differences’) ensures that engagement has a place within an organisation. Paul’s session finished with questions, one of which was around how one should deal with the German Works Council. Paul’s answer? To never forget that you are an employee of the company and that the Works Council are defending your interests. Remain calm, understand their interest and get dialogue going with them. His ultimate end – ‘achieve together, succeed together. Be patient and work through stuff together’.
The event then took a really cool turn with a Room 101-stylie session. A great panel of experts consisting of Mark Irvine from DNV GL, David Bearfield from the EU Commission, Nina Pattinson from Yammer, Johan Dehe from Sodexho, Nigel Baker from the Thomson Foundation and the lovely Rodney Jordan from Coca Cola Enterprises (at 5am his time, via Skype) were asked what they would put in Room 101. All the panel had to bring along something to bin. Items ranged from wellies, to Russian Dolls to a shrunken skull and all related to engagement on a global scale. It was a brilliant way of engaging the audience with anecdotes from experts, getting them to share their experiences of how not to engage – poor use of language, trampling over people/ideas, false friends, one size fits all and pushing engagement when it should be business owned and HR facilitated. And the winner (or loser..!) was…..David Bearfield’s one size fits all. He explained how northern Europe recruit on competencies and southern Europe on knowledge. One size doesn't fit all. People are different and you need to use loads of different channels and messages to reach those people.
To follow up, and going one up on the BBC, we then experienced Room 202 – what the panel would bring along as an enabler to engagement across cultures. Items varied from an Oscar to a tape measure, a cable to a trowel and a carrot. Again, highly entertaining and with lots of audience participation, we heard how each panel member engages across cultures. Rodney’s tape measure ‘won’ Room 202. His explanation was around measurement and that there needs to be a shift in measuring the impact of engagement rather than engagement itself. He talked about building personal accountability within an organisation (to me, this isn't just across cultures. I’d argue this should be right across the board) and that we need to move away from driving engagement for the sake of driving engagement and more towards driving engagement for business results. This is something we’re passionate about at theblueballroom and it was great to hear it being discussed amongst an audience from all corners of the world. Rodney argued the point about KPIs around this really well. And it was a runaway winner for Room 202.
Following a short break, we came back to workshops and further panel discussions. We talked more about measurement and the use of pulse / engagement surveys – nothing particularly enlightening to share, though I regret not suggesting that there might be a move away from surveys to more crowd-sourced data, like that which Silverman Research provides. We moved on to vision and how this needs to come from the top down, but be driven and communicated consistently and passionately across the business. We talked about a corporate cause and Johan talked about how Sodexho connect to a big national cause every two years. Employees connect with this and engage with it and it makes them feel like they are doing more than just their jobs. The notion of a global cause makes them respond well. Johan also talked about recognition from the customer and how key this is to engaging an employee.
Gina Erhart from the Centre for Creative Leadership closed the session giving us insight into research that has been carried out across 100 countries. In terms of leadership, the research showed that right across the globe, people expect their leaders to show charisma, team orientation and participation. The least common elements in leadership expectation were hierarchy, autonomy and warmth/care. Gina explained the importance of leaders knowing and understanding their teams. Again, differences were celebrated and her slides finished with this lovely quote from Steven Covey: ‘Strength lies in differences, not in similarities’.
All in all, it was a great session. The Room 101 style approach was really successful and the content from the panel was especially thoughtful. Lots to take back to the team at theblueballroom and excited at the prospect of becoming more involved in the international engagement guru group in the future.