By Gloria Lombardi

JamesEmployee engagement awards were in need of a revolution, thought James Murphy (pictured right), the founder of Engage International – a global network that promotes collaboration and innovation. The traditional way of running employee engagement awards seemed, if not unfair, then not always apt. Typically, an award is given to one company, and the winner is celebrated as ‘the best’ over other finalists in a given category. But, “as a business culture is unique to that business, it’s not fair to say that one company is better at employee engagement than another,” says Murphy.

“If we look across companies, sectors, and countries, engagement levels are significantly different. It is important to reflect and treat diversity fairly.”

Murphy considered many ways that a company might be recognised for their great culture before coming up with the The Lotus Awards. Launched at the end of 2016, they turn the standard model of awards on its head. The Lotus Awards does not have one single winner or restrict entries by categories. Instead, it shines a light on all the companies that are demonstrably trying to invest in their culture. It is free to enter and MARGINALIA readers are invited to share their engagement and culture stories by 31st March.

I spoke with Murphy to explore his views on fostering a collaborative culture. We also discussed the importance of leadership and communication, and the impact of new technology on enabling human interactions.

Gloria Lombardi: Why did you launch The Lotus Awards?

LA1James Murphy: Over the years, I realised that the traditional way of running employee engagement awards is, paradoxically, disengaging. Typically, there are a number of finalists in any given category, and one business is ultimately named as the winner at a ceremony dinner. So the companies that do not get recognised in that category – their teams might go home feeling disheartened, despite probably already doing some great employee engagement work.

Traditional awards just can’t highlight all the sterling work done within companies of very different sizes. And, frankly, how can we say that one company’s culture is ‘better’ than another’s, when culture is such a diverse concept? Companies with different missions, different purposes, have different cultures.

Similarly, we need to look at employee engagement in light of the company’s unique culture and purpose. A tech start-up and an established financial services company are completely different in most respects. Yet, they can be equally effective in engaging their workforce – they’ll just go about it differently.

I launched The Lotus Awards to celebrate and embrace culture and engagement in a holistic way. It’s about understanding that every company is unique. The Lotus Awards shine a light on all the companies that are trying to nurture and develop their culture, making it more collaborative, investing in learning and development, and helping their employees develop themselves – these are the concepts we want to promote. Ultimately, we mean to inspire organisations across the world to do better while respecting their uniqueness.

GL: Why did you call it ‘Lotus’?

JM: I was looking for a name that represented the idea of striving to do better. The lotus is an international symbol of enlightenment – the lotus flower rises from the depths of a muddy river, blooms and thrives. It was a good name for awards that celebrate the businesses that raise their standards by investing in their people and culture.

GL: What is so revolutionary about The Lotus Awards?

LA2JM: The awards are international. There are no categories. There’s no set way to submit a story. There are no barriers to entry whatsoever. A company of any size, of any type, and within any industry can enter. A three-person business can take part in the same way as a multinational enterprise.

We don’t define how companies should submit their work – there’s no set format. Stories might come in to us as a video, a lengthy document, a presentation, or a combination of files to showcase the work and results. As long as everything is clearly backed-up with evidence.

We want to hear everything a company does to create a great collaborative culture. More often than not, a company with a great collaborative culture does multiple things well – no doubt including leadership, communication, and use of innovative technologies, for example. It’s the combination of all the elements that creates success and makes the story stand out. That is why we do not have categories – we don’t want to pigeonhole organisations. We want to understand and showcase the entire story – the multifaceted work necessary to improve culture.

La7We also celebrate The Lotus Awards winners differently. Rather than one awards ceremony there will be multiple celebrations around the world. Winning teams should be proud of their hard work and bask in the recognition of their peers and colleagues; for the company, winning demonstrates their commitment to staff.

We showcase winners on the Engage International site, and of course we share everything across social.

While entering may seem freeform, we have a panel of 30 judges who are based all around the world – including Charles Brewer, CEO of DHL eCommerce in Singapore, Celine Schillinger, Head of Quality Innovation and Engagement at Sanofi Pasteur in Boston, and Stephen Robertson, CEO of The Big Issue Foundation in London.

Winners are announced in June, and entries close on the 31st of March.

The Lotus Awards open again in September, and so companies can enter when it’s the right time for them to do so.

GL: You talked about inspiring a ‘collaborative’ culture? How are you going to reflect and celebrate the ‘collaborative’ aspect with your awards?

JM: Yes, an important aspect of The Lotus Awards is about promoting the idea of collaboration. Most companies in the world do not do everything by themselves. Today, it is not just about collaborating within your business but also creating partnership networks and collaborating with other businesses to make the corporate culture better. We want to celebrate this new way of working. It’s no secret that many businesses employ external consultants to help improve their culture and employee engagement. So, with The Lotus Awards we want to hear the whole story, which includes the efforts of the partner companies and all involved.

Consultancies can enter as well, obviously with the permission from the client organisation. We mean to highlight the collaborative culture that is emerging in the 21st Century.

GL: What do you think companies should do to create an engaging, collaborative culture?

LA4JM: At its core, it is about treating people with respect and understanding that not everybody in the business is going to be engaged in the same way, or engaged at all – so much comes down to the individual wanting to be engaged. For example, people who work on a temporary job may have different goals in life than someone who has worked in the business for over ten years. The person working at the checkout might have completely different needs than someone who is sitting at the desk in the back office.

So, it is about understanding that everyone is different, listening to staff, giving them autonomy, but also doing what is right for the business. Some companies have created flat structures, which seems a popular thing to do, yet, such a model may not work for your business.

CEOs, Financial Directors, and HR managers should focus on constructing a new model of leadership as well as embedding a culture of learning and development.

Leadership, and the emotional intelligence of leaders, is of course crucial. Confident leaders are willing to take feedback from the people who are doing the job. Sometimes it is negative feedback – it is all very well being praised but ultimately businesses improve because they do something wrong and they learn from it. Yet, some managers and leaders still do not want to be told that something is wrong. Letting staff know that a leader is open to feedback, even criticism, is empowering and supports an engaging and collaborative culture.

GL: How do you see the role of technology when it comes to enabling a collaborative culture?

JM: Many work processes are becoming more automated, which is not necessarily a bad thing. When there are thousands and thousands of employees, the CEO is unlikely to find out what’s going on at all levels across the company without appropriate digital tools. There’s no single tool that will serve all the organisation’s needs and a company is going to need various, bespoke tools depending on its goals. But ultimately, the technology should enhance human interactions.

It is about enabling easier, better communications – sourcing ideas and innovating, and then using real-time feedback from the measurement and analytics tools.

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The Lotus Awards are open for entries until the 31st of March 2017.

Take a look at the guidance, and enter in any way you like via email.

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