Sunday, February 21, 2010

Where Does Engagement "Live"?

Where Does Engagement "Live"?: "I am very pleased to see interest in topics like employee engagement and employment branding gaining some momentum, even if it is just in dialogue.

I have to pay an homage to the people at BlessingWhite for their recent studies and research and Dr's Whitlark and Rhoads for their publication about the 'Spillover' effect which provides concrete relationships and data; drawing a direct correlation between high engagement and key performance indicators like sustainability, productivity, and profitability. This is no longer 'warm and fuzzy' stuff, but rather hard data.

I do continue to see that for all the dialogue I am still disappointed with the number of organizations and C level executives that are either ignoring this opportunity (some would say crisis) or paying lip service to it.

There are a couple of other things coming out about engagement that I have long believed that I am pleased to see gaining some traction as well:
  • Defining engagement. This a a huge area. Engagement is not happiness or employee satisfaction. Much like compensation the lack of happiness or satisfaction can have a negative affect on engagement, but 'happy' or 'satisfied' employees are not necessarily engaged. The basic reason for that is that the work place may be providing an outlet for social relationships or other things that employees enjoy that affect those areas, but don't lead to additional productivity or discretionary effort. Measuring those other things doesn't necessarily yield engagement.
  • Creating engagement. The other thing we are starting to recognize is that engagement is not an initiative or program it is a culture! To create and sustain an engaged workforce and long term employment brand you must create and sustain a culture.

I think that these 'revelations' may be part of what is keeping many organizations from embracing an engagement strategy or employment brand- they aren't prepared to do the work.

The last thing I want to share today is my response to the opening question. In my opinion engagement and your brand live at the front line level of your organization. I am not saying that senior management support and role modeling aren't critical, but how many of your customers or employees interact regularly with C level management?

How many of us encounter Howard Schultz when we visit Starbucks or Steve Jobs at the Apple store?

My point is you must build engagement into your brand through your selection, hiring, training, and performance management and reward systems. I would go further and say that your front line managers are your greatest potential asset or weakness. In fact Whitlark and Rhoads are even more specific;

'One bad manager can pollute multiple levels of an organization, and poor managers bring down employee morale, which spills over into the engagement level of customers.”

My point being that your 'engagement' or 'branding' effort must be embraced as a culture change and you have to be willing to 'de-recruit' employees especially managers who can not or will not make the transition. My experience has been validated by James L. Heskett, author of the book The Service-Profit Chain, who writes-

“… the hardest concept is the deployment of the culture change …which requires that organizations identify values, behaviors, and measures that help reinforce the service profit chain relationships. But it also requires actions. That is when managers are not managing by the values and cannot be admonished or retrained to do so (which rarely works), they have to go.”

So I guess what I am saying is that engagement is mutual commitment and while it is important to have brand champions in the C suite you will be most successful when you embed it into the fabric of your organization because engagement and your brand live on the 'ground floor' where your employees interact with your customers. As my colleague Joseph Skursky so elegantly states, Hire Hard- Manage Easy. You will find it a better long term strategy.

Mark Herbert

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