Cornell University

International Programs

117 Ives Hall, 607-254-7255


July 14 2007

CAHRS Sponsors Meet in Paris

ParisILR's Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies (CAHRS) sponsors and Cornell HR faculty met in Paris May 22 - 23, to discuss ‘Employee Engagement: What Do We Really Know? What Do We Need to Know to Take Action?’ Due to confusion and misdirection as to what exactly employee engagement is, the conference took the unusual approach of beginning with a debate entitled, ‘Employee Engagement is Hogwash.’ Affirming there solution Professor Chris Collins, Cornell, and Peter Attfield, Vice President, Individual and Organisation Performance, Unilever, claimed that—too many definitions, inaccurate measurement, and lack of follow through on employee engagement surveys makes employee engagement initiatives ineffective. Ewout Durieux, Head of Shell People Survey Office, Shell International BV, and Mariellede Macker, HR Director, GE Money, South West Europe, General Electric, disagreed. They shared their company stories to emphasize that their employee engagement work impacts business performance. Following the debate three individuals presented their cases for engagement. CAHRS Director, Pat Wright, shared the data from his work with SYSCO foods emphasizing engagement initiative scan build profit through building people. Melissa Thomas-Hunt, Professor of Management, Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell, spoke about the engagement issues preventing women from advancing into executive positions; and Colleen Rumball, Vice President, Head of HR, EMEA, American Express, spoke about the American Express engagement journey of going from good to great.

To further dialogue, panels were created to discuss four issues: Professor Quinetta Roberson, Cornell, led Professor John Hausknecht, Cornell, and Simon King, Executive Director, Business Partnering, AstraZeneca, in exploring the importance of fairness in the workplace and how engagement enhances fairness. Professor Brad Bell, Cornell, led the discussion withCenter for Advanced Human Resource Studies Isabelle Korfan-Loy, Regional HR Director Europe, AstraZeneca, Muriel Schulz, HR Director, Groupe NORISKO, and Colin Dicke, Cornell, about the impact of change on engagement. What engages a new recruit out of college can be very different from what engages a senior manager. Professor Kevin Hallock, Cornell, led Akil Walton, Corporate Manager Organizational Research, Analysis and Planning, along with Steve Peterson, Vice President, Global Talent Acquisition and HR Functional Excellence, both from Eaton, and Ian McGinty, Vice President, Head of Change, Communications and Employee Engagement Globally, Johnson & Johnson. The speakers showed data from their companies indicating that firms can generate revenues by maximizing the engagement of its workforce. Finally, how does HR make employee engagement work was discussed by Karen Vella, HR Director, P&OE, GAP Inc., Tim Stevens, Vice President of HR, France Northwest Africa, DRH IBM, and Ciaran Martin, Director of Staffing and Talent Management Europe, ALCOA, facilitated by Professor Chris Collins, Cornell.

At the close of the conference companies had the opportunity to share best practices about what has gone right and wrong and where they need to go from here. Employee engagement may be old wine in a new bottle but, many agreed that employee engagement initiatives are necessary. Initiatives can be improved but there is little doubt that people hold great—if not the greatest—potential for generating and maintaining business success.

Article reprinted from CAHRS July/August '07  HRSpectrum.