STEP Employer Partnership Forum examines best practice in employee engagement

Speakers and others at our EPP ForumLeading industry practitioners speaking at last week’s STEP Employer Partnership Programme (EPP) Summer Forum discussed how to understand employee engagement, and put new ideas into practice. Particular topics for discussion included flexibility in the workplace, and understanding gender diversity and inclusion. The day was chaired by STEP CEO, Mark Walley and hosted by RSM at its London office. 

Feedback forms and focus groups

Janine Mayor noted employees can easily become disengaged or disillusioned with their roles, and that employers need to find a way to ensure that their people ‘walk into work each day wanting to give their best, and connect with the goals and values of their organisation.’

Key questions should include, ‘What are the relationships like in my organisation? Do people buy into where the company is going? and, Are they engaged with the business and recognised for their achievements?’ Janine recommended employee feedback surveys to understand their needs and wishes, noting that while managers cannot provide everything employees want, through training and good communication, they can effectively respond.

A clear and regular internal communications programme in place will let individuals know they are listened to, supported and recognised. In turn, they will feel part of, and engaged with, an organisation’s journey and goals.

Lorraine Wheeler TEP gave a case study of how her company is putting such steps into practice. She particularly highlighted the use of focus groups.

‘The views of the staff are the key benchmark for what needs to change in any company, and senior staff need to buy in to those views and the changes suggested,’ she said. ‘Focus groups bring inclusivity and also showcase cross-sections of the workforce, and the different needs of different employee demographics.’

Employees must have a ‘safe space’ in which to raise concerns, she added, and management needs to address them. ‘To engage them, they have to be involved, listened to, and taken seriously,’ she said, adding, ‘and then they need to see the results.’

Flexibility and gender diversity

The gender diversity conversation is more important than ever in 2019, as Bonnie Steiner TEP and Rina Goldenberg Lynch stressed in their discussion of workforce inclusion.

They discussed the unconscious bias still existing against women: assumptions that they can’t lead effectively, aren’t ambitious, or will abandon their careers once they have had children.

‘Gender diversity policies are vital to promote change, not just from the ethical perspective, but from the business perspective,’ Bonnie explained.

Aside from the moral implications of a bias against women in the workplace, as well as the possibility of legal complaints against gender non-compliance, the two presented the business case for companies promoting women to boards, from recruitment and retention, to business development and attracting new clients.

Moreover, a balanced male-female board will always show improved decision-making and corporate governance through the different perspectives brought to the table. 

Caroline McCague discussed the importance of increased flexibility: not just for women in the workplace, but for all employees striving to find a work/life balance, noting that too many organisations focus on the physical presence of employees in the office, rather than their goals and productivity.

‘Flexibility should be a strategic tool to supplement engagement, productivity, performance and cultural change,’ she said. ‘Creating a supportive working environment is about helping people to work in different ways as they all work towards the same organisational goals.’

Reviewing the day, Mark Walley said: ‘the Employer Partnership Programme is really important to us at STEP, as it reinforces the relationship between us and the employers of our professional members. We have a shared commitment to the professional standards that we develop, to the training and education undertaken to reach those standards and to the professionalism that is required to become and remain a member of STEP. Together, those elements provide consumers the confidence they seek and is why they come to STEP members for their advice.

‘Events such as the Summer Forum are a fabulous opportunity for EPP partners to come together, share best practice, discuss the issues that they are dealing with and take away actions they can implement right away. The levels of engagement were huge: thank you to all that joined the discussion.’

Helen Swire is News Editor at STEP.

A welcome return to STEP Canada to attend the 21st National Conference

Canada student winnersIt was an absolute pleasure to be back in Toronto, Canada for the 21st National Conference, the STEP Canada Board meeting and AGM. I had visited in February, early in my tenure, given the importance of the region to STEP overall and to learn more about how we operate in different parts of the world.

I was joined on this trip by Simon Morgan TEP, our worldwide Chair and Jim Walkinshaw, COO Finance and HR, from the London office.

We met the Canada Board on the first day, and then attended the AGM and Board meeting. It was great to meet the incoming and outgoing board members and get the opportunity to update the Canada Board on what we are working on in the worldwide office to further the vision and mission of the society.

In the evening we moved on to a reception which included Simon Morgan and STEP Vice Chair Nancy Golding TEP presenting Prof Albert Oosterhoff with Honorary Membership of STEP. Prof Oosterhoff became the second Canadian to receive such an honour and is one of only 11 worldwide.

The next morning saw the conference open and 784 delegates converge on the Metro Toronto Conference Centre. After the formalities, we were into the first session of the day with Richard Hay TEP leading us through a masterclass thought-leader piece on the effects of globalisation on the tax collection of nation states. The question of whether we could be headed toward a central taxing authority that imposes globally-coordinated taxation may not be so far-fetched; how would we have reacted to the current disclosure rules ten or 15 years ago?

Alongside the many important technical sessions the two other stand-out pieces for me (as a non-practitioner) were the lunchtime sessions. On Thursday we listened to S Jay Olshansky from the University of Illinois looking at ageing and longevity; some of the ‘markers’ for that were surprisingly basic, eg the younger you look, the older you tend to live, and what impact that should have on planning for future health and finances. On Friday we had the equally thought-provoking Caron Croland Yanis sharing her experiences on the intersection of family values, sustainable governance and technical compliance in philanthropy.

Before heading off to dinner we were delighted to attend the Student Awards ceremony where the latest winners were recognised (pictured). I always enjoy these type of events and getting to meet the brightest of the new professionals coming through, and I’m confident that we saw some of the future leaders of the profession. Dinner that evening had to be the networking and social highlight of the two days – held at Arcadian Court, an historic and impressive art deco event space.

For me the barometer of a conference’s success is how many people are still actively engaged at the end of the event – and STEP Canada certainly set the bar high by having a varied and well thought-through programme that kept most of the delegates through to the final sessions.

It certainly met our mission statements of promoting high professional standards, educating professionals and connecting advisors. As ever with these events, the eventual success sits deep in the planning, and I saw first-hand during my visit back in February how detailed, focused and accountable that planning was. Based on that, the event was always going to a success!

Altogether it was a very informative and enjoyable few days. I genuinely learned lots, I have seen content and formats that we can use, and/ or adapt for the Global Congress in Dublin next year, and the networking was outstanding.

Huge congratulations go out to the whole STEP Canada conference programme committee led by Corina Weigl TEP (Chair), Brian Cohen TEP and Richard Niedermayer TEP (Co Deputy Chairs) and the fabulous staff team led by Michael Dodick and Janis Armstrong. What a formidable force to have behind the biggest conference event in the STEP calendar.

It’s always interesting to see what other conferences are on in a major venue. As I arrived in Toronto the hotel and centre was full of body builders at the 2019 Toronto Pro Supershow and EXPO, and as we left the cannabis industry had moved in for the 2019 Toronto Cannabis EXPO – it’s a booming market after it was legalised last year…

Mark Walley is CEO of STEP