Employee Engagement Taskforce – One Year on Conference

Warning! Long blog post alert, do yourself a favour and grab a cuppa first.


As regular readers will know I’ve had an interest and involvement with the EE Taskforce since I (and of course many others) contributed to the original Engaging for Success report. This report got kicked into the long grass partly as a result of the sponsor falling out of political favour. Behind the scenes, the authors David MacLeod and Nita Clarke persuaded David Cameron to take another look and so on March 29th 2011 amidst some fanfare, the plan was relaunched.

I was cynical about the relaunch and wrote about it here. Coincidentally, or maybe it was Sun-Tzu at work with his ‘keep your friends close but your enemies closer’ approach, shortly afterwards I received an invitation to participate in the taskforce. Nice touch. Since then I’ve attended all the meetings I’ve been invited to except one which fell a couple of days after my Dad’s death (which David MacLeod has been very kind and supportive about). I’ve kept folks informed here, here, here, here and here, and all these previous posts have generated a good deal of conversation, both here and in other places too. So there seems to be some demand for news, and yet up until now at least, I’ve felt progress has been painfully slow. So when I received an invite to the one year on conference, I accepted more out of a sense of duty than with any of my usual enthusiasm.

Not in the Mood?

I made my way to the BIS offices in Central London yesterday with a sense of impending doom. I tweeted, ‘On my way to EE Taskforce. Shld I prep to be amazed, angry, disappointed or just have a snooze? One year on what will I learn?’ I received some lovely support but at the time I added ‘today will have to be good or I think I’ll quit.’

On arrival we were offered coffee and I had a chance to catch up with a few friends, I also noticed that the make up of the group looked and felt quite different this time (more on that later). Shortly after we were asked to take out places. Even though I knew this was a conference, I was disappointed at the theatre style layout. It set the scene for a lot of broadcast and very little conversation. Still, as David said, this was the first time we’ve pulled everything together to share. Today was a chance to get a sense of what is working, what gives us confidence. Where are the gaps? We need to spot them before we launch. Launch?! I thought we’d already done that. But apparently In September time there is talk of launching a national programme. My own personal belief is that engagement is not a programme, that feels too forced. For me it’s more like an environment in which we can choose to do our best work. Anyway – here come the updates, I hope they are useful for you.

Nailing the Evidence

We started with the old favourite, ‘Nailing the Evidence’. There was talk of making a compelling case to show the correlation between employee engagement and organisational performance.  Linkages between profit, productivity, absence, innovation, wellbeing, customer, absence, and health & safety were shown, and yet more calls for data and case study stuff. Then we were shown loads of numerical and statistical examples of how more engagement = better stuff. So I don’t get it, surely we don’t need more evidence.

I think the continued ask for evidence shows we lack confidence. I’d like to see this piece renamed as ‘Nailed the Evidence’, so we can move on to getting stuff done. If people don’t believe that engagement is worth the effort, that’s fine. Leave them be and I think they’ll come round once the movement and momentum is obvious, that’s how most people and organisations react.


The Taskforce has been looking for a purpose, and courtesy of Brand Union and others, we’re gonna get one! I was lifted by a mention of the ‘f’ word, fun. I use it a lot because I believe we do our best work when we’re enjoying ourselves, and I’ve yet to find an employee manual that says ‘no fun allowed at work’. Enthusiasm got a mention too. I’m liking this. We moved through the perceived need to have an expression of values, and a framework for defining tangible outcomes and measurement. I’m feeling a little less comfortable right at this point as I believe you can no more measure engagement than you can accurately predict how much longer you’re going to live.

I scribbled the values as they emerged (sorry if I’ve not got these bang on they weren’t on screen for long):

Inclusive: open to all

Practical: workable ideas for action

Accessible: connecting in open dynamic environments

What’s important now is to watch for the emerging behaviours that will either support or restrict these. I’m going to put my cautious optimist hat on for a while.

Also there is a visual identity on the way. Apparently we can’t show it yet, some legal reason or other. Personally I’m not sure about it yet – too many colours (I can recall purple, yellow, red, brown, blue, green, black and white in the palette) and clashing graphics for me. Still I guess we can be selective about that. There was also talk of standard facilitation guides and agendas. As one who prides himself on flexible facilitation you can imagine I’m not too keen on the sound of that. I guess it depends on what you want to get from a session, I think it was Albert Einstein who said ‘Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.’

People Everywhere 

We were told of the legion of people currently involved. 50 CEOs (I expect their involved largely in name only), 40 sponsors 160 gurus (*puke* I remain a hater of that term) and practitioners, and many more. Whilst it is tempting to think a successful movement can be evaluated in part by numbers, I think that up to now some of these groups have been too big to allow agility and flow to occur. Importantly we are reminded that participation is voluntary, there is no money changing hands. Sure – there are companies giving resource into the mix but no direct payments are exchanged. I think that matters.


There is a recognition that the web is important for connections, distribution of info. Who might visit a Taskforce website? The CEO of a SME? The FD? Comms folks? Heads of engagement? Managers? There is user testing on the website and I will offer to help and let you knwo what arises. There was talk of spreading the word through social tools (yeah I’ve gone on and on about this before I know….). Places like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus. There was talk of phasing and controlling and launching. Social was made a joke of, and though I’m biased I remain convinced there is untapped opportunity here.

Something Changed

I tweeted my frustration that social was the butt of the joke, and an online conversation began. Some of the participants were in the same room as me and some beyond. And we began to share other thoughts about the day too. This was the first time to my knowledge that a Taskforce meeting leaked out into the big wide world and grew. So we ended up seeing some enthusiasm and some constructive criticism being shared with a wider audience. And I met a few people in real life who I had only previously known online, and we were able to tell this little vignette before the meeting closed. You never know, we might have even flipped one or two cynics. We’ll see,

Why is engagement vital?

Neil Carberry from the CBI spoke about connectedness being stronger and simpler than ever before, and in real life we are likely to work more remotely. A sense of engagement is necessary to help keep us all together. Sarah Veale from the TUC spoke about nothing about us without us. She talked about the bonds between society and work, and the importance of bringing our humanity to work. Sarah said it’s important to keep the conversation going, reflect outside life into work, reconcile differences and work out the togethernesses. Conversational stuff allows the difficult stuff to happen, e.g. downsizing. Respect is what it’s all about. I enjoyed listening to Sarah.

Barriers to Engagement

Stephen Dando talked about some work being done to identify barriers to engagement. So far three interviews have been done with CEOs discussing what prevents CEO from engaging. The interviews are semi structured. What is emerging? Lack of emotional connection, leadership emotional intelligence, authenticity and trust missing. Reluctance to share power. Some simply don’t believe it, some are ignorant, that is to say they don’t feel they know enough. And of course tension between short and long term arose. There are plans to carry out more interviews and hopefully we’ll engage with and get views from cynics too.

Engaging Through Adversity

Change often brings work and home closer together. Talking with each other critical through change, which currently seems to be another word for redundancy. Be patient when exploring opportunities and challenges. I like this, most people don’t do enough exploration, far less show enough patience. Mind the say do gap. Command and control outdated, so my question is why are they still common practice? Two way dialogue is critical and it goes beyond work to family, community. Uncertainty is bad, be authentic, front up personally and answer questions honestly.

Innovation, CSR and Wellbeing

These sessions really came to life. Louise Beardmore talked enthusiastically about innovation and we were shown some potentially useful tools to help people link innovative practice to behaviours. For me innovation comes with chaos and mistakes and we have to recognise and embrace that for the good stuff to survive and thrive. More on this another day.

And Stephen Lehane from Boots talked with good humour about the linkages between CSR, Wellbeing, engagement, customer conenctedness and good business. As a CSR practitioner in a previous life I’ve always seen this stuff as a vital part of the engagement mix so it’s good to see some connected thinking emerging here.


We were then invited to turn out chairs and have a short conversation with some neighbours about what we felt is working and what needs to be done. This simple act created an abundance of energy in the room. People felt that integrating different groups in the room had worked. There had previously been a lot of siloing and I think lots of us enjoyed seeing that breaking down. Fun and humour are a vital part of the mix and kudos to Raffaela Goodby for making that vital point (I would have but I was too scared someone would laugh at me – geddit?). We would like to see more sharing, more use of social tools, better distributive leadership at work, and of course, more interaction, this last session was just so lively!

Immediate Aftermath

It’s no secret I regard myself as a critical friend of this movement, a position I’m very comfortable with. And I freely admit that on the way to the session I called it wrong this time. I left with a sense of progress and some renewed optimism, laced with concerns that some of the age old problems are as talked about and as stuck as ever.

So if you’ve made it this far – well done! And if you were at the event what did I miss? And if you weren’t, what do you think about what I’ve shared? It would be good to hear and learn from you.

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

25 thoughts on “Employee Engagement Taskforce – One Year on Conference”

  1. Hi Doug,

    It was great to see you (and so many other members of the movement) yesterday. The feedback has been really positive with one person sending a note to say it was “instructive and enjoyable and motivating and impressive”. It is always good to know what works and to see how things need to evolve.

    We are starting the engageforsuccess blog this week (posting will be quicker and easier once we have it up and running). The first post will be about the conference. As part of it I intend to link to this and other bloggers and tweeters who are also talking about the conversations of yesterday. It is really important to keep the momentum on this so I thank you for your part in doing that.

    I am sorry you felt that social media became the butt of a joke. The importance of social media is definitely recognized – it is currently being used quite a bit for practitioner events etc. But it is also acknowledged there is more to do. Hence my new role. 🙂

    I am hoping that with the support of you and others also committed to this movement we can facilitate conversations between the community using social media, and really make the most of it. Be great to pick your brains on this as discussed yesterday.

    The other bit that is happening is the the wider comms piece (first meeting on that is this afternoon which is why I am not able to blog yet). This piece will enable us to start talking to the ‘wider world’. At the moment we have been talking to each other (“the 1%” – as one members of the movement talking to another) But we have not gone beyond that yet to the majority that may not have heard of us but whom we want to involve. We will be keeping people in the loop of that moving forward too.

    As ever it was great to spend some time with you. Speak to you very soon no doubt.


    1. Hi Ali – I’m pleased to hear you will be lending support. I’m optimistic that better and quicker communication will start to flow, it needs to 🙂 Catch up soon

  2. Thanks for sharing Doug, sounds like it was a fascinating and productive day and I like the candour with which you have written this report.

    I will look out for the engageforsuccess blog Ali mentioned above as I know there are a lot of Comms pros who are interested in reading about the input and output of this group.

    It’s been a year since I heard David MacLeod speak at the Institute of Internal Comms (IoIC) conference, which I blogged about here: http://www.rachmiller.com/?p=801 and it’s good to know progress is underway.

    Thanks again for your post, Rachel.

    1. Thanks Rachel, I’m looking forward to it too. Up until now my blog has been the only regular outlet for news on the Taskforce, that must change if it is to succeed.

      Are you going to the IoIC conference this year? If so I will look forward to meeting you there.

      Cheers – Doug

      1. Hi Doug, no not this year as I am due to give birth any day so should hopefully have my hands full!
        If you’re going and would like to write a guest article for my blog on your impressions I’d love to publish it 🙂

        1. happy to help with guest stuff and yes to a post IoIC write up. I’d forgotten I’d posted on your blog last year, small world eh 😉

    2. Great blog post Rachel. Will be able to use that as a reference point in future. Great blog in general 🙂 I saw your guest blogging guidelines – Perhaps there are some opportunties for guest blogging (in either direction) when the engageforsuccess blog is up and running (very nearly there – publishing our first post by the end of the week – aiming for tomorrow but will see)


      1. Ali – guesting is a great idea, I’ve found it useful and I think it helps to spread the word. Speak soon 🙂

    1. Interesting – thanks for sharing. For me reciprocity is less about expectation of a return, more about faith that things will flow, back forth and in all directions. I wonder if there’s a risk in seeing engagement as expectation of a return? I prefer to let things take their course, I hope, not expect.

  3. I was there too, and it was a pleasure and a surprise to meet you in person Doug. This is a great summary of the event, and I think it’s healthy that you’re a “critical friend” to the movement – everyone needs a critical friend to keep them honest.

    What struck me was both the volume and the focus of the activity that’s underway. It’s being thoughtfully conducted and driven, and I’ve a feeling could lead to something really compelling, the influence of which will change the way many people think and act in the workplace.

    The big challenge is going to be staying focused: there is so much that could be done as the movement scales, but for now it’s necessary to focus on the most critical work – which is happening, but remains a constant priority.

  4. Thanks for continuing to share updates about what is going on with the Task Force and the report. I’ve been interested since first hearing David and Nina talk through the report just after it was completed–consistently wondering when something tangible would be happening. It’s helpful to hear candid thoughts of your experience and interactions.


    1. Thanks Jason – I’m enjoying the ride and equally I am frustrated that this blog appears for the last year to have been the only regularly updated source of info. It looks like more communication will emerge soon.

  5. I too am left wondering when something will happen David. There is a lot of political weight and badges behind this, but I’ve seen such movements come and go. In Kent there has been quite a bit of talk, but so far not much else. I think the movement needs some executioners now.

  6. Hi Doug

    Proof, statistics, lies (OK, no lies)

    The death of pretty much anything relating to engagement is the desire to have absolute proof. My favourite quote (as some of you have been subjected to before – I make no apology because it is true) is Bobby Kennedy’s “GDP measures everything except what makes life worthwhile”. And there is the nub – how do you make engagement something tangible where everyone thinks it is worthwhile enough to pursue it?

    Engagement leads to better stuff

    I would extend the equation to happiness = engagement = better stuff. It’s logical – if someone is happy (in and out of the workplace), they are more accepting to engagement and more likely to have a positive mindset. This is a semi-plagiarism of a US psychologist called Shaun Achor who submits the success = happiness work ethic is actually the wrong way around because a work environment never actually allows you to succeed because the goalposts are always moving. Some of Sarah Veale’s direction seems to be aligned to this as well.
    We have employee surveys twice a year and a desire to be in the Sunday Times top 25 which is an admirable goal but for a corporate is an admirable own goal as well. Why? Well to get anything substantial pushed through a Corp without a serious resource impact will take more than 6 months and then, surprise surprise, the next survey arrives before anything has been actioned / noticed. Yes, there might be a couple of quick wins but I don’t care about a new coffee machine when I want my salary reviewed. So it gets progressively worse, not better. Now I’m a traditional chap and would expect that resource to drive employee engagement would come from HR but since our HR function is full of Business Partners and an IVR system, it is implicitly expected that line managers pick up someone else’s job. In that case, I’m sorry but it will never, ever become a priority over my commercial objectives – I would be fired – therefore it never gets the attention it needs to exact a culture change and in most cases, that is what is required.

    This also dovetails with your very accurate comment Doug, namely “engagement is not a programme …………………it’s more like an environment in which we can choose to do our best work “. Maybe slightly cynically on my part, but a target such as Top 25 doesn’t necessarily make me as a worker feel particularly engaged because the end result has nothing to do with me actually – it’s all about a league table and someone else’s objectives (probably)

    Raison d’etre

    One bit really concerns me though. “The Taskforce is looking for a purpose”. Er … what? If you haven’t got a purpose, what the hell are you doing in existence? How will this Taskforce define success if it doesn’t know what purpose it is serving? Call me Corporate, but that is just so the wrong way around.
    Equally, there seems to be a desire for a public presence before actually there is anything to say to the public. Worry about websites and White Papers when you have something worthwhile. It sounds like there are enough experts engaged to get some decent proposals for public consumption so do that first – stuff the website!

    Finally, as mentioned, my company has a desire to be Sunday Times Top 25. Three of those in that esteemed group (probably more, I only looked at 3) have inspirational or acutely engaged leadership. The “Barriers to Engagement” piece essentially dooms those CEO’s companies then? Engagement must come from the top – it is not delegatable.

    So, in conclusion …………..

    I must firstly apologise for commenting on something where clearly a lot of people have spent a lot of their time moving something forward and where I have had absolutely no involvement and no direct experience. In the end I am a senior manager in a large corporate organisation and therefore, I am your target market. Take my comments for what they are – a view from your eventual customer.

    This looks like a taskforce looking for a question rather than an answer and it is a shame that you find yourself in that position. The goal is worthy – at least it will be when the goal is defined!

    Thanks for sharing Doug

    1. Hi Chris,

      Thanks for your post which was really helpful to read given that as you say you are part of our ‘target audience’ as it were.

      To provide some clarity – Engage for Success is a movement committed to the idea that there is a better way to work; a better way to enable personal grow, organisational growth and ultimately growth for Britain by releasing more of the capability and potential of people at work. This is in direct response to the culture shift that is needed, and which also referred to.

      We are widely supported across the UK, involving the public, private and third sectors in the belief that they can learn from each other. Organisations supporting the movement account for more than 2,000,000 people. You can see a list of our sponsors here http://www.engagingforsuccess.org/sponsorgroup.php and the Task Force Members here http://www.engagingforsuccess.org/TFMembers.php.

      Currently we have been collaborating with these business leaders, practitioners, academics and consultants in an ‘internal communications’ fashion – i.e. those involved in the movement talking to those involved in the movement. However there is no secret in what we are doing and the intention as we move towards the national launch to the wider world that we will engage more and more with people like your good self – the ‘99%’.

      On the purpose – As a movement our purpose is created in collaboration with all our members. That collaboration has been happening over the last year and at the conference we shared the output of the words we have used to articulate it. At the conference we were not asking ‘what should it be?’, but rather sharing the work that brought together input from many members ‘this is how we have come to express it’ . As you say what would we be doing existing without a purpose!

      We believe we have got to a good place in articulating it and the specifics were shared at the conference (we were unable to circulate the slides at the time due to legal reasons surrounding the images but they are going out later this week).

      The feedback on the conference so far has been overwhelmingly positive you can see a post about it here http://www.engagingforsuccess.org/blog.php?post=3.

      As you will see our site is very basic and we are deep in the development of a far richer site which we feel is a really important part of sharing tools and ideas etc which are being brought together specifically with people like you in mind.

      I would love to touch base with you if this is something you are interested in becoming involved in.

      Kind regards,

      1. Thanks for your reply Ali.

        Separately, I think we have a mutual friend in Ros White? If so, say “hi” from me?

        Best regards


        1. Ah! Yes indeed! That is my sister! I got married last year so you wouldn’t be able to tell from my last name. Small world eh! From the Orange days…

          I just spoke to her and she said to say Hi back! 🙂

          1. Hi Ali

            Apologies for not replying sooner to your invitation to get involved in the Engaging for Success piece. I generally like to be on the periphery of things such as this so that I have the right to dip in and out as time allows, so I had to have a think about this one.

            I do note from your Task Force Members list that there is a dearth of front-line representation and think that I may be able to throw an opinion or two in that may help as the project progresses but I can’t guarantee that I will always be available! If that is acceptable to you, then I would love to get involved please but equally, if that doesn’t work for you, I would absolutely understand.

            Best regards


          2. Hi Chris,

            No worries at all – it would be great to catch up when you have a moment and we can consider how best to take you up on your kind offer as and when time allows.

            I will look for your contact details on LinkedIn and give you a shout.

            Many thanks

  7. Chris makes an important point – there are huge sums of money riding on lots of people studying this stuff and it is perhaps proof of the old adage ‘if you joined all the academics in the world end to end, they would not reach a conclusion’.

    The CIPD have been obsessed with this measurement question for many years, presumably so they can trot off to Dave Cameron et al and increase their profile.

    None of this has got much to do with the need to get people interested in doing a good job and giving the extra bit of effort that marks out the great from the good.

    I do think the taskforce now needs to change its composition from talkers to do-ers if anything good is to come of it and it changes from being one in a long line of such initiatives.

  8. @Chris – No apology required. Thanks for adding such valuable input from the perspective of the target market. We’re clearly very light on that just now.

    @Peter I’m sure that Secret Affair would agree with you 😉 http://youtu.be/528SPxMdMUU

  9. Glad to see you continue to wear the courage of your convictions on your proverbial “sleeve” Doug.
    Honest debate is worth a damn site more than blind jingoism and it’s very refreshing to see Chris’s perspectives from the front line where the times are biting particularly hard. Gave this stream a plug in my People Management column last week. Long may the conversation run:

    1. Cheers Ian, I don’t mind sharing that I sometimes feel like a lone voice in the camp. Then I share my experiences and the useful conversation that flows makes me think my discomfort is worth it. I appreciate your feedback and thanks for the mention too.

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