Transform Your MeetingsDecember 1, 2013

Use These Powerful Tools to Increase Engagement By
December 1, 2013

Transform Your Meetings

Use These Powerful Tools to Increase Engagement



Experts predict a growing demand for meeting planners who can plan meetings and incentives that support corporate engagement goals. Sandra Daniel, president and CEO of Fire Light Group, a WI-based meeting planning and incentive consulting firm, explains why: “Corporations are driving engagement, not meeting planners. But planners are becoming a piece of engagement strategy. Many planners have a background in moving people from place to place efficiently, but that is completely different from engagement. Planners who aren’t well versed in engagement need to partner with somebody who is or get educated on it. Planners who don’t could be left behind in coming years,” says Daniel.

Companies increasingly want planners who are also knowledgeable about the business strategy of engagement — increasing employees’ emotional and intellectual attachment to an organization’s goals and mission. Engagement also applies to the level of attachment that customers, vendors and clients have to products and services.

“While the company can’t send everybody on an incentive trip, it can engage that next tier of workers by offering a system where they could earn…a trip, flat-screen TVs, dinners, sporting events, gift cards and movie tickets.”

— Sandra Daniel, President and CEO, Fire Light Group, Madison, WI

Engagement is becoming more popular because it impacts the bottom line.

Engaged workers have higher productivity, loyalty, commitment and job satisfaction, according to “Economics of Engagement,” a white paper released by the Enterprise Engagement Alliance (EEA), a Washington, DC-based organization that supports education and outreach in the emerging area of engagement. Additionally, data collected over several years by The Center for Talent Solutions reveals that engaged employees perform 22 percent better than non-engaged workers.

Encouraged by such data, more corporations are implementing company-wide engagement strategies that also include engagement goals for meetings and incentives. According to the 2012 Trends in Global Engagement Report by human resources solutions provider Aon Hewitt, goals are typically based on these factors known to increase engagement: recognition, brand alignment, organization reputation, career opportunities and managing performance.

Bruce Bolger, managing director of the EEA, notes that the growing role of engagement gives planners an opportunity to elevate their roles within their companies. “The implications of engagement for meetings are almost transformational. Engagement involves having strong communications programs, learning, collaboration, rewards and recognition — all of which involve meetings. When you look at meetings in the context of engagement, they are powerful tools because they involve face-to-face interaction, building personal relationships and unforgettable experiences,” says Bolger.

The idea of meetings and incentives without engagement goals is starting to change, says Daniel, who planned a five-day incentive trip for 60 salespeople for a client that conducted the event for years without an engagement strategy. About two years ago, a key executive from the company told Daniels that the company wasn’t getting the results it should from the incentive program.

The problem? Daniel says the incentive program lacked a strategy that encouraged engagement between the sales team and product vendors. “In the past, they just put people in resorts and said have fun. The salespeople weren’t engaged with vendors about how they support sales efforts in the field. Vendors wouldn’t see much of the salespeople during the trip and would ask, ‘How can we engage with these top producers when we don’t even see them for five days?’  ” says Daniel.

So Daniel ramped up interactive activities. “Right now, we are changing the mindset from not doing anything with engagement. We started doing some networking sessions, receptions, dinners and gatherings where they could both be involved. We matched salespeople with vendors for activities such as tours of popular sites, horseback riding and catamaran sailing,” adds Daniel.

The company’s efforts to engage employees through rewards involved more than modifications to the annual incentive trip. The company also conducted a survey of the sales staff to determine why turnover was so high and how employees felt about the company. The survey sought responses to statements such as: “My employer understands what I do” and “I am valued by my leader.”

The survey revealed that 95 percent of salespeople who didn’t qualify for the incentive were actively disengaged because they felt they helped increase business while watching others get the exotic trips.

Based on the survey results, the company broadened its incentive program. According to Daniels, the company decided to implement an online engagement-type portal that offers various levels of recognition and reward for all employees. “While the company can’t send everybody on an incentive trip, it can engage that next tier of workers by offering a system where they could earn points and at the end of the year exchange them for things such as a trip, flat-screen TVs, dinners, tickets for sporting events, gift cards and movie tickets,” says Daniel.

The portal allows employees to earn points by engaging in quizzes and product information to learn more about the company. In addition, employees can nominate each other for rewards, and the portal encourages managers to give on-the-spot rewards to an employee for exceptional performance.

The next step is to centralize every company engagement program online, including incentive trips, says Daniel. “We will also involve higher-level engagement tactics such as a corporate social responsibility program (CSR),” says Daniel.

CSR as an Engagement Tool

The Minneapolis office of Aimia, a global loyalty management company, developed an engagement-oriented CSR program for Oracle, a Redwood Shores, CA-based manufacturer and marketer of computer hardware and software systems and products. Tina Gaccetta, Aimia’s vice president of client services, explains, “We recently developed (a CSR program) with our client Oracle as part of a larger incentive travel program to Hawaii. Oracle had very specific goals — to engage attendees in a CSR activity that was extraordinary and enjoyable yet contributed to a cause dear to the local community,” says Gaccetta.

Oracle’s CSR consisted of spending an entire day in Maui’s Maalaea Bay helping shark researchers from the University of Miami’s R.J. Dunlap Marine Conserva­tion Program capture and tag sharks for research purposes. “This experience was an eye-opener for the Oracle guests who not only had to rid themselves of shark fears, but learn and react quickly around these creatures in order to accomplish the task at hand — all in a short period of time. The activity exceeded the client’s expectations as attendees took a giant step out of their comfort zone, and helped the local community by catching and tagging four sharks,” says Gaccetta.

Gaccetta says the shark program worked. “From a business perspective, it increased employee engagement and motivation to achieve the trip award in future years. Moreover, the client appreciated that the activity took a single event experience and extended it throughout the year since participants are able to track ‘their’ sharks via a special website,” says Gaccetta.

The Oracle CSR program also serves to  illustrate Aimia’s philosophy on fostering engagement through meetings and incentives. “When working with companies to engage with employees, we tailor the event or experience to make sure it aligns with not only with the company’s business objectives and brand, but with the corporate culture and attendee interests,” says Gaccetta.

Targeting the
Whole Work Force

Meetings and incentives also can target specific groups of employees who feel disengaged. Bolger cites an example of a technology company that sponsored an incentive trip for salespeople at a resort in Florida. The company expanded its three-day incentive to include service technicians, increasing the number of participants to 250, to send a message to the entire work force that service technicians are as important as salespeople and deserve the same star treatment. “There were events in which technicians and salespeople participated together — golf, tennis, deep-sea fishing and snorkeling. At the awards banquet, technicians were recognized in the same manner as salespeople. Salespeople were awarded for sales goals, and service people got awards for productivity and quality goals. Bringing different company departments together for an incentive is becoming more common than it used to be because of the engagement movement. Companies are realizing that their brand is their people,” says Bolger.

Tweeting to
Improve Engagement

The use of new tech tools and social media such as Twitter also play a growing role fostering engagement among meeting and incentive attendees, according to experts like Jeff Hurt, executive vice president, education and engagement of Twinsburg, OH-based Velvet Chainsaw Consulting.

Hurt, in an October 2013 blog “Now Proven! Using Twitter at Conferences Increases Attendee En­gagement” cites compelling research by Education Professor Chris­tine Greenhow, Michigan State University,  who devised a study on Twitter as a new form of literacy. Hurt says Greenhow’s results showed that adults who tweet during a class and as part of the instruction are more engaged with the course content; are more engaged with the instructor; are more engaged with other students; and have higher grades than the other students.

Greenhow explains, “The students get more engaged because they feel it is connected to something real, that it’s not just learning for the sake of learning. It feels authentic to them.”

Twitter and other forms of social media can be beneficial tools for meeting planners once they improve social media literacy among their attendees. A comment posted to Hurt’s blog by a former social media concierge and educator for a large corporate event in the IT world noted that when attendees were asked whether or not they used social media, answers included “I’m not interested in what people had for breakfast,” and “Isn’t that just for kids?”

“However,” Greenhow said, “when we explained how important and valuable social media are for their career and business goals, you should have seen their eyes light up. Once they got this, they were eager to get going. We would then provide a quick experience for them, such as setting up their profile on Twitter or creating a tweet with the conference hashtag. In addition, we provided short 15-minute tutorials for those who had more questions.”

Jessica Levin, CMP, CAE, and president of Seven Degrees Communications LLC an Edison, NJ-based company that provides meeting strategy, design, engagement and education services agrees that training is very important when it comes to new tools. Her firm employs various forms of social media such as Twitter, mobile apps and more on behalf of their clients. “It might be the use of a mobile app at the event. It might be using games. You can do anything from building an entire event around a game or using it in a session or networking event or bringing it onto a trade show floor and getting attendees and sponsors involved,” says Levin.

Activities that Levin uses to boost engagement include scavenger hunts that require attendees to use mobile phones to scan QR codes. The codes provide hints that include websites, online videos or messages providing information about a company’s products or services, says Levin. The hunt can take place in any meeting venue, indoors or outdoors, and as part of an educational session or fun activity that connects attendees with each other and their companies.

Levin also promotes engagement with mobile apps such as Goosechase, which allows users to customize a scavenger hunt using photos. “We can give people different missions to take pictures and upload them once they are completed. It can engage attendees with the company by, for instance, having them find and take pictures of its various products. People get points for each mission and can win by accumulating the most,” says Levin.

Levin suggests using the appropriate technology to engage attendees. “If it’s the wrong audience, you can have the opposite effect and disengage people. If they aren’t technologically savvy about games, apps and social media, they may get frustrated with it and end up resenting the company or not enjoying the activity. That’s why, when we introduce technology, we make sure there is training and onsite support so people can become comfortable with it,” Levin says.

Expert Advice

Meeting planners who focus on engagement strategies and other experts in the field offer the following advice.

To gauge a company’s engagement strategy for meetings and incentives, Bolger suggests asking these questions:

• Does the company have engagement goals for meetings and incentives intended to impact revenue, profits or other bottom-line results?

• Are there company-wide engagement goals?

• Does the company measure the results of meeting-specific engagement goals?

Susan Adams, director of engagement, Dittman Incentive Marketing, a Brunswick, NJ-based provider of incentive, recognition and rewards programs, keys in on the client’s brand. “After meeting with a company, a planner should always come away with an understanding of the organization’s brand values and how it intends to engage and inspire employees to live that brand through the event. The planner must understand the organization’s brand message to the outside world,” says Adams.

When it comes to measuring the impact of engagement initiatives, planners must move beyond the traditional post-meeting event surveys. Bolger notes that traditional questionnaires measure the success of meetings with questions such as: “Did you like the meeting?” “Did you like your room?” “Did you like your food?”

Bolger says a better measurement of engagement efforts includes questions about changes in attitude and behavior such as: “Are you more likely to refer someone to work for this company?” “Are you more likely to recommend our product or services to customers?” or “Are you more likely to work harder?”

Are there certain types of meeting and incentive activities that are more likely to promote engagement? Not really, says Adams. “It is not as simple as just holding a certain kind of meeting or having a specific teambuilding activity to somehow ignite engagement. Engagement really must start with an organizational culture and defined goals. The message comes first. Then the means to deliver it can be developed with the specific audience in mind,” Adams advises.

Gaccetta agrees. “We have found that there is no single solution or incentive that appeals to everyone, and that’s why it is so vital to listen and take insights from the company and incorporate them into the planning and execution of any program,” she says.

Engagement strategies are becoming more and more common as companies attempt to tie meeting and incentive activities to specific engagement goals. “By linking the rules to the rewards and by keeping the promise of the event front of mind throughout, the incentive travel program or event becomes a powerful tool for engagement,” notes Adams. C&IT

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