By Julian Mack, CEO and co-founder of Threshold Sports.

There’s a danger when you get the chance to address an illustrious audience of HR directors that you reach for the crutch of management blurb usually in comforting three word phrases – delivering key objectives, returning on investment, moving the needle.  You want to sound clever.  Influential.  It’s natural.

The theory from eminent scientists/academics like Dame Carol Black is that an engaged workforce is more productive*. George Osborne has breathed new life into this debate as he cites productivity as the new economic battleground.  But how do we achieve this engagement?  How do we help our people to push above and beyond the norms in the service of the organisation?

One way to drive and measure engagement is to galvanise your people off their chairs, away from the their screens to take on a challenge that takes them out of their comfort zone. I’m talking about a central outdoor challenge that pushes people to prepare and train together, regardless of rank, pushes them beyond their normal limits, raises funds for causes dear and unifies the organisation around a common, non-financial objective.  Get the blood pumping to build the culture.  Simple, actionable, relatively inexpensive, tangible.

With thoughtful design and attentive support every step (or pedal turn) of the way, everyone can engage in the action regardless of ability or disability.  This is widespread, integrated, inclusive, blood thumping culture building with measurable results.

The organisations that do this type of stuff (Deloitte, Mitie, Bupa, Dixons Carphone, Vodafone), as part of a more proactive and preventative approach to healthcare and employee engagement, see massive gains in how people feel about working for them.  The loyalty scores rise.  The sense of wellbeing rises. The sense of purpose improves.  The organisation becomes, for a few moments, during the actual challenge, a tiny bit vulnerable (events carry an element of risk), and then a whole lot more human.

Research from Deloitte after 5 years leading the Ride Across Britain cycling challenge, supports my belief that these types of initiatives are proven engagement drivers.

Deloitte’s involvement with the Ride enabled them to move away from being seen as a purely London-based firm and engage their workforce throughout 22 different locations across the UK. Not only that, but 80% of Deloitte employees taking on the challenge confirmed they felt a much closer bond with colleagues as a result of the challenge.

As well as staff engagement levels improving, well-being has been cemented into the culture with 78% of Deloitte participants inspired to exercise regularly following the challenge. This initiative has been a resounding success story and played a substantial role in improving the culture within Deloitte.

Increasingly, employees and especially the millennial generation are seeking a more flexible, dynamic work culture. Sometimes, it’s in the personal stories: for example Dixons Carphone’s ‘Average to Awesome’ initiative. A great story of a company wanting to encourage employees to lead healthier lifestyles and therefore be more productive. They chose a handful of the more sedentary employees to complete an arduous two day 100km ultra marathon. Through training for the challenge, the employees developed unity, motivation, determination and ultimately respect, that standard team bonding exercises could only dream of accomplishing.

Sometimes, it’s in how companies and their employees can impact local communities or charitable causes: for example the £1.5 million that Deloitte has helped to raise for the British Paralympic Association through its annual cycling challenge.

The benefits also manifest themselves externally in the way their clients regard them. For example, 90% of non-Deloitte participants felt their perception of Deloitte changed as a result of the firm’s association with Ride Across Britain. They saw the more human side of the accountancy firm by understanding Deloitte’s relationship with disability sport, through their support of the British Paralympic Association. This even led to Deloitte securing substantial work after one client’s perception of the firm was changed so significantly.

It says something special about the Vodafones, Mities, Bupas, Ciscos and their cultural philosophy that they get stuck in to this type of activity and encourage their people to get away from the spreadsheet to prepare and be ready for the challenge of a lifetime.  Seeing Vodafone’s Head of Foundation, Andrew Dunnett, buy a round of giant cappuccinos for all rank and file in a remote Devon teashop sends a message about the culture that a thousand corporate emails could never achieve.

It’s no coincidence that those companies and their CEO’s who invest in this and a holistic approach to engagement and well-being, outperform the market average.

* C. Black, Working for a Healthier Tomorrow: Review of the Health of Britain’s Working Age Population, 2008