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The Art of Engagement: zones of discovery

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Sometimes you need to forget the preconceptions you have about engagement - in fact, your brain positively needs to be 'decontaminated'; so prepare to be whisked away to a 'check-in' area where you will be dressed in a lab coat and 'cleansed' in preparation for a series of tasks awaiting you.

The experience is the first taste participants will get of a brand new engagement exhibition - ‘The Art of Engagement' - the largest employee engagement event the world has ever seen. It has been dreamed up by Best Companies - the organisation best known for the Sunday Times ‘Best Companies to Work For' ranking. The latest list was announced last month.

HR magazine got a sneak preview as the finishing touches were being put on the showcase, which opens next week. Based on the notion that engagement is something employees ‘feel' rather than read/learn about, Best Companies built a centre just outside Milton Keynes and turned it into eight engagement ‘zones', each one based on one of Best Companies' engagement factors: leadership, my manager, personal growth, wellbeing, my team, giving something back, my company and fair deal.

Think of it as the Millennium Dome, but at substantially less cost, and, says its creator, presenting an experience that will be far more thought-provoking. Each zone will encourage participants (who will be line managers and business leaders) first to ‘feel' something, then ‘think' something and finally ‘do' something.

"The experience will start before anyone arrives at the venue," explains Wayne Clarke, managing partner at Best Companies. "We will have a conversation with organisations so they can let us know what they want to achieve from the experience and we will agree which staff members ought to attend."

As soon as they arrive and have their preconceptions wiped clean, participants will take part in a "number of tasks to help them check out of the way they think, which will make them more open-minded during the course of the experience", adds Clarke.

"In the zone on leadership, staff will first watch films based around prolific world leaders, designed to encourage them to feel something," he says. "Then they will take part in a task where they will balance out the qualities of business leaders, answering questions like: do they want a more visible leader, or do they want a more strategic leader?"

In the zone designed around ‘my company', visiting employees will be inside a giant head, looking through the eyes of an employee at how people might perceive an organisation. They will investigate how an employee's pride and love for an organisation as well as their contribution to it can affect their motivation and engagement levels.

In the ‘personal growth' zone, participants will plant seeds in soil and learn about how growth can be nurtured. Says Clarke: "There will be different conditions. Participants will see plants dying in dark conditions and they will be encouraged to draw parallels between plant growth and their own development and the consequences if they are not properly nourished."

‘The Art of Engagement' is more than just an amusing tour, though. After progressing through the zones, teams move to a strategy area where they will look at the issues in more depth. Participants then ‘check in' to everyday life, collect their coats and return to society.

"But the journey really begins when people leave," says Clarke, "They will be encouraged to do something differently and refresh their minds."

Best Companies is marketing the initiative under the slogan: "Tell me and I will forget, show me and I might remember but involve me and I will understand."

Clarke adds: "Three years ago employers were trying to engage staff with flip charts and bad coffee. This is about doing something different."

To visit the Art of Engagement for yourself, go to: www.theartofengagement.co.uk