Destination Engage Serialisation - Part 2: Levelling up

19 July 2022

Earlier this year Engage CEO Phil Wedgwood released his book ‘Destination Engage’ – weaving the evolution of both engagement theory and practice with the company’s parallel development and his own breakneck ride through business life.,

Over the summer we’re serialising the book and showcasing some of the tech and the thinking that are shaping how organisations approach both internal and external engagement.

In part two, Phil shares the backstory of the development of Engage’s nextgen employee app – and explains the differentiator that laid the ground for engagement success.

Part 2: Levelling up

As a group, we did a lot of brain work to get our nextgen employee app as good as it could be. Phil ‘Mr Tech’ Ashworth led the way, inspired by a ‘levelling up’ IT agenda that had Phil wanting to bring all the glitz and empowerment of consumer IT into a business tech world that felt off the pace from a user perspective.

I never counted the hours that went into all the development prep but I do remember being in a state of permanent awe at Phil’s energy, acuity and sheer doggedness. There were any number of key considerations that had to be addressed and requirements that had to be balanced. It was like a fiendish 3D puzzle but Phil just kept moving the pieces logically until he got the solution.

Let’s have a quick recap of those – what we’ll call the 5Fs.

Functionality - We had to deliver toolsets that mapped to the pillars. If ‘communications’ is a key discipline and major part of the engagement programme, what tools do you need to be able to offer users? We had to come up with the options and our starting point was all the great tech out there that people use day in, day out. Facebook-esque personal feeds? WhatsApp style messaging? No problem, we just needed to recreate it, with the addition of a private, secure, compliant environment to wrap around it.

Focus – There was so much temptation to go into ideas overload: the more tools the merrier, right? But stuff too many in, causing the user interface to get bloated and unmanageable, that’s not a good look. Ditto a mean, limited toolkit – who’s going to warm to something that helps you for about 5% of your day? If we were really committed to putting transformational ‘power in the pocket’, then we had to get the mix just right – a finely judged balance of the essentials and the cream of the ‘nice to haves’.

Familiarity – We looked at the popular consumer and business apps, and in particular the bits of those apps that people used regularly and relied on. We flattered through imitation and served up a UX that looked the part – modern, sexy, bold – and that every user felt instantly at home with, regardless of user demographic or IT literacy level. This was ‘everyman’ tech, universal and ubiquitous.

Flexibility – You show someone the twenty things an app can do off the bat and there’s always someone ready to jump in with ‘Yes, but can it [insert any number of custom requests from linking in an existing intranet to integrating a payroll system]. We duly anticipated the need, developing an integration capability from day one to honour an extensibility pledge. Besides, we were all about encouraging self-paced journeys: if clients wanted to kick off and then accelerate and build, we needed to give them a suitably architected platform to enable and facilitate that progression.

Form – We’ve talked about framing engagement, and how our Five Pillar concept was developed to hang an engagement strategy on. It gave definition. We wanted the platform we developed to reflect that, to have a form and clarity of structure that everyone would ‘get’. One of the things about large enterprise solutions is that they are sometimes just too much for people to wrangle into play quickly. We wanted a solution that was logical, easy to understand, fast to roll out. What could be simpler than a core ‘fast start’ solution that covered all engagement bases, delivered early returns and opened the way to further curation and extension with more systems being brought in behind one single sign-on front door.

As time went on, it became increasingly clear that the world of social media was becoming our muse and fuelling Phil’s ‘levelling up’ IT agenda. It showed us how people were connecting, sharing, collaborating, chatting, learning and doing things for themselves in their private lives; and how easy it was to consume content and to educate and amuse yourself and keep up to date, and contribute and interact in turn. It revealed just how clever Big Tech has been in creating this ‘now’ world of virtual delights and endless dopamine hits. It may be addictive, but it’s also hugely engaging. What wouldn’t corporates give to be fostering that level of interactivity, networking, relationships, micro human connections that bond everyone together more tightly in their work collective, their colleague community? And if you could extend that out externally too…

Above all, it highlighted what worked, what really grabbed people. If only all that amazing functionality could be taken out of the inherently unsafe, unmonitored, non-compliant public realm and be placed within the safe perimeter of the corporate firewall. Without losing any of its magic.

Further mulling over led us to a couple of conclusions. First, that the tools that were being weaponised against organisations in the outside world – think secret WhatsApp groups powered by grievance – could be used for good if you had a way to bring them inside the organisation so that issues were more visible, individuals more easily reached, informed and involved, and the narrative more effectively managed. And second, the tech didn’t matter a jot if core behaviours and values, operating standards,  pay and conditions, corporate culture - all those things that are the weft and warp of organisational fabric - if they didn’t match up.

We have never sold our apps as panaceas for failing companies, or correctives for toxic environments. But for businesses who wanted to get on that engagement journey, who wanted to improve, who were invested in a ‘deliver a better experience so the positive narrative will follow’ vision, we did have an app – and in that app we had ‘Social Media for Business’ (SM4B).

 SM4B

We liked the SM4B tag, it had that Ronseal ‘does what it says on the tin’ quality about it. That simple ‘for business’ modifier proved immensely powerful. Perhaps it legitimised it, taking it from the realm of consumer plaything to something worthy of board-level consideration. Or maybe it just piqued their interest because back in 2017  it was brand new and, as far as we were aware, a unique take on the engagement and communication challenge. Either way, it gave us the opportunity to explain those original influencing factors – functionality, focus, familiarity, flexibility and form – and to show off the resultant app: at once instantly recognisable and yet something excitingly brand new and full of potential. Mr Ashworth, take a bow!

Destination Engage is available from Amazon in both paperback and eBook formats.

 

#employee engagement, #colleague engagement, #Destination Engage