“Eventually, I think Chicago will be the most beautiful great city left in the world.” – Frank Lloyd Wright
The beauty of the stunning architecture in Chicago is rivalled only by the deep blue river that meanders through the downtown core. Things take on a new meaning the more you explore: modern buildings are actually postmodern works of art; expansive public parks become public galleries housing contemporary works and each bridge crisscrossing the river represents some new metaphor for reaching new shores.
It seems only fitting that Achievers chose a location with such intoxicating and unmistakable style to host its 10th annual Achievers Customer Experience (ACE) conference. From the sophisticated and redesigned Marriott Marquis Chicago, HR innovators from around the world participated in thought-leading discussions designed to help them transform their perspectives.
Before kicking off ACE, Achievers held its Achievers 50 Most Engaged Workplaces Awards gala at the Chicago Public Library. The Achievers 50 Most Engaged Workplaces Awards recognize top employers that display leadership and innovation in engaging their workplaces. During the gala, Achievers recognized ‘Elite 8’ companies with exceptional employee engagement. Congrats to the 2019 ‘Elite 8’ winners:
- Dynacare for vision & values
- Cox Automotive for communication
- Power Design for rewards & recognition
- General Motors for leadership
- CHRISTUS Health for accountability & performance
- Ryan, LLC for personal & professional growth
- AT&T for corporate social responsibility
- Asurion for culture
After the Achievers 50 Most Engaged Workplaces Awards gala, we kicked off day one of the conference with an opening keynote address from Achievers’ Chief Customer Officer, Vanessa Brangwyn, who introduced some of the topics that would allow attendees to lead, engage, and accelerate their workforce into the future.
Understanding that the workplace is changing faster than ever, Achievers’ Chief Executive Officer and President, Jeff Cates, used his first opportunity to address the crowd by showcasing some of the leading brands who faced the shifting dynamics head on with successful use of the Achievers platform in 2019:
- Cracker Barrel discussed how recently released features helped them solve communication challenges across their organization.
- SmileDirectClub outlined how their program helped them navigate their global expansion while maintaining a high level of engagement with their workforce.
- Discover demonstrated how their program has helped their business create a differentiated employee experience which has translated into a differentiated customer experience.
Discover + Achievers: Employee Engagement Partners
Closing out the morning was Nick O’Brecht, Achievers’ VP of Product, who outlined some of the exciting product enhancements that the team has developed over the last year: utilizing various integration releases to further engrain recognition into the flow of work, making recognition as effortless as a leisurely walk along the Chicago River.
From there, HR leaders from across the world broke out into a trio of speaking sessions which individually focused on specific areas. Through the Inspire track, speakers challenged everyday thinking with advice related to employee engagement trends and the emerging workforce. In the Empower track, Achievers’ most successful customers shared how they deployed their respective programs for desired business outcomes, including reduced attrition, increased sales, and unrivaled customer satisfaction. Lastly, the Accelerate track allowed attendees to collaborate with and learn from Achievers product experts who shared how to get the most out of the platform and accelerate program ROI. Each session provided an opportunity for dialogue and discussion, to explore new topics, and really engage with the topics at hand.
After the first round of breakout sessions, attendees gathered for a lunch and learn CHRO and Executive Leadership panel. The thought-provoking discussion titled “The New Digital Workforce and the Future of Employee Engagement” explored topics related to solving some of the challenges inherent in engaging with the millennial workforce. A diverse group of leaders from Achievers client-partners shared how they lead their organizations in the quickly changing workplace and how digital technology, dispersed workforces, and increasingly competitive talent landscapes have transformed their perspectives on employee engagement.
In keeping with the theme of transforming perspectives, the final keynote speaker of the day was Reshma Saujani, Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, a national non-profit organization working to close the gender gap in technology and change the image of what a programmer looks like and does. Through her “Brave Not Perfect” discussion on how we tend to raise girls to be perfect and boys to be brave, Ms. Saujani outlined the missed opportunity in not engaging with the “other” half. We need to focus less on perfection and create conditions where women feel comfortable taking risks they previously have not. The opportunities at hand will create progressive, diverse workplaces that solve modern day problems.
After a night exploring the art deco glamour that is the Chicago skyline, attendees gathered again for day two of inspiring sessions and speakers. Kicking things off with a two-time Olympic gold medalist, FIFA World Cup Champion, and the highest all-time international goal scorer for male and female soccer players: Abby Wambach. As the author of the New York Times bestsellers Forward: A Memoir and WOLFPACK. Wambach used her time to share how her experience as a team leader helped navigate the most challenging moments of her life. The transition out of being a world-renowned player was among her most difficult times and she used lessons learned as a leader on the pitch to overcome the obstacles she faced in “retirement”, such as leaning into failure to focus on improvement and leading from the bench. As the co-founder of the Wolfpack Endeavor, which is revolutionizing leadership development for women in the workplace, she focused some of her talk on identifying that you cannot score a goal without the help of a teammate. Through a relentless pursuit of excellence and the acknowledgement that we must champion each other, the path to a more equitable, and ultimately successful workplace presents itself.
After another round of breakout sessions and progressive conversations, HR innovators gathered for an intriguing discussion about focused, continuous self-improvement. James Clear is a personal development speaker and New York Times bestselling author of Atomic Habits. In a talk that ended up combining storytelling, academic research, and personal experiment, the crowd experienced a colorful blend of inspirational stories, academic science, and hard-earned wisdom. Tied to the theme of transforming your perspective, Clear provided insights into how habits can be so powerful. Through the aggregation of marginal gains, you can create a system in which the seeming small things you do each day and have an impressively long and lasting impacting you and those around you. The discussion provided both a micro and macro perspective on how to effect positive change on a grand scale, both professionally and personally.
To that end, the final keynote speaker of the conference, Luvvie Ajayi, focused her discussion on speaking truth to power. In order to challenge perspectives, and certainly before you can transform them, you must first be true to yourself. With an incredible balance of comedy, technology and activism Ajayi closed out the 2019 conference with a call to do better by being better through honesty. It’s impossible to truly speak truth to power unless you are first true to yourself. Drawing on her debut book, I’M JUDGING YOU: The Do-Better Manual, a collection of essays that critiques our fame-obsessed, social media-centric lives, while encouraging us to do better, Ajayi closed out the session by inspiring attendees to do better by opening up yourself to creating meaningful conversations. And in this recognition, the parallels to that “most beautiful great city left in the world” came to the forefront. Chicago is progressive. It is ornate but not elaborate. It is a series of horizontal and vertical lines, beautifully and powerfully arranged to create something larger and stronger than the sum of its parts. It is the result of an endless conversation, a call and response to the livable art of the past, that pushes us ever further into the future.
To learn more about ACE, visit the ACE website.