Walking into the reception area of the UK Employee Experience Awards 2017, I noticed the sense of excited anticipation in the air. Judges and participants mingled over coffee and pastries – some networking, some doing some last minute practice for their presentations, others just chatting and taking in the expectant ambiance in the room.

This was the first time I had judged at the UK Awards and I was impressed by the range of companies taking part – from established financial services brands to charities to Universities to entrepreneurial technology companies to Healthcare providers. There is clearly something important to business about the experience their employees enjoy at work and something valuable about sharing great ideas and being recognised for successful work done in this arena.

My judging schedule was a little more relaxed than others and I was able to observe some of the other category presentations. I’m very glad I did. What struck me was the passion the teams had for their organisations and the employees who worked there.

 These people really cared and their focus was evident in the difference their initiatives were making to increase the engagement of their colleagues. This wasn’t just a competition about who had the best content. This was a showcase of quality organisation interventions designed with thought and implemented with care to enrich the lives of employees and contribute to business success.

Even if a team didn’t win, the pride and connectivity amongst the groups was tangible.  Just being at the finals was clearly an achievement and felt like it on the day. The champagne reception and lively awards ceremony all added to the overall sense of celebration for everyone’s efforts.

One team who really stood out for me came from Leeds University. Representatives from the Facilities Services team collaborated via their People Working Group on a shared vision to ensure the campus is brilliantly run for customers. Their focus to do this was on their people ensuring that everyone from the cleaners to the sports coaches were included and given the opportunity to develop. ‘I now have the confidence to be the best I can be’, was how one of the cleaning supervisors put it.

One example of the quality of their attention was with a colleague who was hearing-impaired and who had previously avoided team away days.  She was able to join the most recent one when the team provided her with her own personal sign language interpreter for the day.  For me this is indicative of what made all of the entries on the day, finalists for the Awards – the level of attention, the quality of design and the follow through to make it happen and get a result.  Even if the initiative wasn’t high tech or new, this is what made them stand out and deserving of recognition.

There is no doubt that all the entries had significant merit, but if I had one challenge for future participants it is to really think about the business impact of your initiatives in commercial terms.  It’s fabulous to leverage social media for collaboration and engagement, but the impact needs to go beyond the use of the site.  It’s brilliant to really take the outputs of your engagement survey and translate them into insight and action, but how do you know those actions have made a difference?  The kind of commercial terms I’m thinking about are things like: retention that reduces recruitment costs; reduction in absenteeism that increases productivity; innovation that leads to new products.  From the entries I saw, the Brewdog team really stood out in this regard – directly linking the success of their online newsletter to business benefits, in terms of career progression and referring friends to join, that have reduced recruitment costs and teaching all employees to read a P&L so they can make more informed commercial decisions day-to-day.

So my overall experience as a judge on this year’s UK Employee Experience awards was resoundingly positive.  I would encourage any company with a great story to tell to invest the time to enter the Awards.

 If I were to take my own advice and quantify the benefits they would be:  increased learning, collaboration and morale across teams in developing and presenting the entry leading to greater retention; showcasing your brand to potential customers and employees that could reduce your cost to market; exposing your employees to new innovations in the field that could lead to further successful interventions to improve your own employees experience.

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