It’s going to be a busy week here in Atlanta. I’ve just got in and my body is confused because it thinks it is 8.00am and I should be getting up, whilst the time is 3.00am and I should be sleeping! I left Amsterdam this morning after a great #truAmsterdam. The events seem to be getting better and better. During the event I took part in a broadcast hangout with Steven Duque from Bullhorn. I love this format, which lends itself to informality. Google+ air enables you to embed a view widget anywhere, and coming soon you are going to be able to broadcast live on to your YouTube channel. I think this is brilliant. I’m going to be scheduling weekly hang outs with different friends that I meet around the globe to talk social recruiting. Keep your eyes out for the dates. I also think that Google+ hangouts are great places for team meets and air presents a good opportunity for teams to share a message when they might be divided by geography.
To kill time whilst waiting to sleep, I’ve been catching up on my e-mails. This infographic from the Madison Performance Group caught my eye, and I think is worth sharing. Whilst it’s not rocket science to figure out that engaged employees or brand advocates with a passion for their company are more productive and committed, some of the numbers from the displayed research are quite interesting.
On the topic of employee engagement and the social systems that support them, it was interesting to note that Yammer changed hands this week in a deal worth over $1.2bn as reported by Forbes. The buyer was none other than Microsoft. I know Yammer quite well, and I have mixed feelings about the platform. the technology is brilliant and simple, and it’s users love it. My feeling is that there is a missed opportunity for great employer brand content when conversations take place between employees in walled gardens. Public chatter about work on places like Facebook pages are the best way to get the attention of the outside audience who want to look in and see what work is like, to see if they might like to work there. At the same time, I recognise the need in organisations for some private conversations on topics that you want to keep confidential, and there is a need for both public and private communication platforms. With a few guidelines, I think this is the perfect solution for building communities at work. Social technology like Yammer, or my own favourite, Rypple, which is now owned by Salesforce present real opportunities to engage, and an engaged workforce bring real returns.

At Louisianna SHRM I was lucky enough to attend the CEO’s session when employee engagement came up in questions. Hugh Webber, the CEO of the New Orleans Hornets basketball team shared how the executive team hold a weekly huddle for all employees, be they players or burger sellers. Hugh pointed out that with so much public speculation over the team and 3 changes of owners, it was critical that all employees felt they could ask the executive team anything about the business. At the weekly huddle the executives don’t talk or set agendas, they answer questions any employee wants to ask. In the same session, the brilliant CEO of the Louisiana State Lottery Rose Hudson spoke of the importance of her road trips to reach all employees, and of creating the opportunity for accidental engagement. Her view is that the critical lower waged employees are unlikely to knock on the door of the CEO, but they are comfortable chatting or asking questions leaning against a car in the car park. this means rose makes a point of being around, accesible and available without the need to make an appointment. There is an important lesson in that.
Probably the most engaged company I have been fortunate enough to visit to see engagement in action was Rackspace in SanAntonio. Michael Long, who heads up culture branding for Rackspace tells the story of how the company recognised that most engagement between employees took place at food times. This is an extension of the cigarette break principle. I’ve worked at companies where people often commented that if you want to know anything ask the smokers. The reason for this is quite simple, smokers gather outside buildings in all weathers to feed their habit, and when they gather they talk, make friends and communicate. They have a reason to be together and a sense of togetherness. I’m not purporting that smoking should become compulsory in companies to create conversation, but creating reasons to be social and communicate should not be ignored. most of the time, desks become islands and there is little opportunity for sharing and chit-chat. Rackspace recognised this and created communal eating and hang out areas to make this happen. They have also organised the lunch carts to arrive in a central place. People meet and engage at food times, and Rackspace have created these spaces with free refreshments to facilitate this, along with having a policy that no one has an office. There are private places with doors when needed, but everyone, even the CEO sits in the open-work space and is accessible to everyone. I think accessibility is the key for accidental engagement.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with a senior HR Director a few years ago. I asked why the HR team felt the need to eat at their desk during break times when everyone else went in the canteen. Her answer was that when they ate in the canteen with the staff, they kept getting interrupted by staff with payroll problems and the like! I couldn’t help chuckling, and suggesting that they might want to take food breaks at different times, and position themselves in the canteen to be available at meal times. judging by the reaction, I’m not sure if it ever happened, but you might recognise the thinking.

At #SHRM12 I’m going to be looking out for this, and speaking with people about how they actually engage with their colleagues and co-workers. I’m interested in the simple solutions that I can share, I will also be meeting with a few people who market social tools for employee engagement to see what they have to say. As the infographic shows, there are real benefits to engaging at all levels, and as the old saying goes, it’s good to talk!