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Alliance Networking Expo
Enterprise Engagement Alliance

Success Under Glass: R&R Expo and Engagement University in Nashville Grows Bigger and Better

This year’s event sponsored by the EEA proves once again that getting educated and doing business can go hand-in-hand if you do it right

By Steve Cummins and Richard Kern

The 2014 Engagement University and Rewards & Recognition Expo was held at the Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville April 6-8. An elevator companion saw my badge and asked what the Expo was about. I explained that we were discussing how companies reward and recognize their employees. “I didn’t realize companies still did that” was his surprised response. “That’s nice to hear.”

And that comment, in many ways, encapsulated the theme of the three day event organized by the Enterprise Engagement Alliance. Most of the more than 200 attendees are believers in the value of enterprise-wide engagement programs. But unless we’re content to just preach to the choir, the message needs to be amplified and explained in a way that makes good Business sense – ROI and all that jazz.

The meeting brought together many of the leading thinkers and practitioners in the field. Curt Coffman, co-author of the seminal HBR article “Manage Your Human Sigma” and “First Break All the Rules” gave a keynote and hosted a panel session to discuss his perspectives; Gina Valenti of Hilton Worldwide described the implementation of the successful “Hamptonality” program; and others talked about their experiences with organizations such as McAfee, AstraZeneca and Ernst & Young. Add in some data shared by Melissa Van Dyke and Rodger Stotz of the Incentive Research Foundation, and you had a good cross-section of the folks that are involved in the employee engagement space.

Brand Vs. Culture

Curt Coffman kicked off the proceedings by extolling the importance of Employee Engagement based on his experience as at the Gallup organization, and in consulting with a range of Fortune 500 companies. In his view “Brand is how others see us; Culture is how we see ourselves.. The two must be aligned, but in the majority of companies all of the focus is on the brand, not the culture – hence the title of his latest book, Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch. Coffman discussed the three elements of culture in an organization:

  • MacrocCulture – The Leadership, vision and mission
  • MicroCulture – At the individual level, “igniting purposeful energy”
  • BridgeCulture – Connecting people to purpose (Typically at the Manager level)

He also shared data that 42% of employees are Actively Engaged, 23% are Passengers and 35% are Actively Disengaged. And since Actively Engaged work at 82% of their capacity vs. 65% for Passengers and 27% for Actively Disengaged, moving people into an Active mode is critical to the efficiency of an organization.

Aligned And Empowered

Barbara Porter of Ernst & Young shared her experience of establishing an engaged culture in a Customer Call Center, then expanding this throughout the parent organization at Nicor National. She described the foundation of an Employee to Customer framework, and introduced an engagement model based on Aligned and Empowered employees.

Coffman later moderated a panel session with Barbara, Susan Forgie of McAfee, and Melanie Lewis, formerly at AstraZenenca. Among the questions he posed to the panel:

  • Why do leaders really care about Engagement? Porter suggested that the interest came from a positive financial perspective (how does this help the company to succeed financially), while Forgie felt that a concern about an authentic representation of the Brand was a key driver.
  • Gallup uses 12 core questions in an Engagement Survey. Why do so many others have 80+ questions?  Once a survey is seen as being successful, Forgie suggested, every department head wants to add one or two of their own questions. To avoid this, use the 12 core questions for all participants, then add a few custom questions dependent on the role, location, or division.
  • How many employees respond to a well-designed survey? According to the panelists, AstraZeneca achieved 92% response rate without using incentives or penalties. Ernst & Young surveys 158,000 employees globally with a participation rate of around 80% in 2013; consistent, repetitive communication helps to drive the number higher.


IRF President Melissa Van Dyke presented the latest statistics on Best-in-Class Companies, showing that they are 12% more likely to view recognition as vital, 90% more likely to value public recognition, and 95% more likely to value Peer-to-Peer recognition than other companies. She suggested that effective Reward & Recognition events must have four attributes:

  • Salient (Memorable) by engaging multiple senses
  • Valued (Personal)
  • Performance Contingent (be triggered by a specific event)
  • Performance Sensitive (the reward must be relative to the effort).

Pulling The Threads Together

The most compelling example was given in a Keynote speech by Gina Valenti, VP Owner Services at Hilton Worldwide, as she described the successful Hamptonality Starts with Me program, which began in 2007 as an internal employee program and has now become the advertising brand promise of the hotel chain.

Throughout the sessions, EEA Managing Director Bruce Bolger, pulled the threads together as he encouraged the attendees to think of Employee Engagement as a core enterprise-wide philosophy and not just a program within HR, Training or some other department.

Just one more step on the road to showing people that Yes, Companies still do that!

Expo Grows In Size And Scope

The Rewards & Recognition Expo attracted more than 80 exhibitors from 50 exhibiting companies, including American Express LoyaltyEdge, TUMI, Applebees, Naples/Marco Island CVB, Victorinox Swiss Army, Target, Canon and dozens of others.

“The event exceeded my expectations,” said exhibitor Pete Mitchell, Director, B-to-B Sales at Samsonite. “The majority of my meetings were with current clients...and we were able to get to the business at hand. I’m happy I came.”

Attendees were also impressed with the ‘conversation center format’ of the Exhibit Hall, which lent itself to relationship-building and face-to-face conversations rather than the typical ‘drive-by’ literature grab that characterizes most trade shows. Roundtable and Town Hall sessions were also held in the Exhibit Hall over the course of the 2 ½-day event, allowing attendees and exhibitors alike the opportunity to add to their professional education about all things Engagement.

“A well-planned and organized event,” noted Jill Trupo, Program Manager at Incentra, Inc. “The speakers were great, the mix of show floor and in class speakers was nice, and the exhibit format was excellent for getting new information from our suppliers and new partners.”

“It was definitely worthwhile, as I took away some great research-based insights and contacts to enhance our offering,” said Laura Brady, Senior Manager, Business Development and Sales Enablement, American Express LoyaltyEdge. “Having such a diverse crowd – incentive providers, educators, authors and executives – all in one place made for some interesting discussion. All in all, a great exchange of best practices, content and ideas.”

Next year’s R&R Expo and Engagement U are already well along in the planning stages – look for a few surprises to be announced soon – and the EEA’s goal of growing bigger and better has been achieved every year so far. This year, in addition to more big-name speakers and exhibitors, the EEA debuted its new desktop guide, Enterprise Engagement: The Textbook, to attendees, capping off an exceedingly busy 12 months since the New Orleans show in 2013.

“I was really impressed with the conference…the venue and the speakers were first class,” noted Peter Hart, President and CEO of Rideau Recognition Solutions. “I also want to congratulate you on bringing the book to life. I believe it will be become a valuable tool in our industry.”

“I was so impressed by the work you and your team are doing to inform professionals of all enterprises about engagement,” said Jericha Nichols, Business Development Specialist for Incentive Solutions. “As a ‘newbie’ to the industry, I was surprised that publishing an actual textbook on enterprise engagement could be considered a ‘novel’ task!

Steve Cummins is Director of Digital Marketing & Communications for Dittman Incentive Marketing. Richard Kern is the Editorial Director of the Enterprise Engagement Alliance. For more information on Enterprise Engagement: The Textbook, go to www.enterpriseengagementbook.com. Info on Samsonite at www.samsonite.com/; Incentra at http://incentracorp.com/; American Express LoyaltyEdge at www.loyaltyedgesolution.com/loyaltyedge/home; Rideau Recognition Solutions at http://rideau.com/; and Incentive Solutions at www.incentivesolutions.com.

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