Wednesday, October 25

Has Anyone Seen An Engaged Employee? 

by Margery Weinstein, Training magazine

If your workforce always has an impressive store of knowledge about the last episode of "The Office," but has no idea what happened at last Thursday's staff meeting, employee engagement just may be a problem.

Staffers who trudge to work solely to pay for the rent but could care less about the new products you'll be debuting this fall do more than a shoddy job—they're a detriment to the health of your company, say Julie Kurd and Kate Zilla-Ba, practice leaders in workforce performance consulting at Boston-based Chadwick Martin Bailey, a provider of custom marketing research and analytics. Before you start panicking at the realization that you may have a problem, these experts have some tips for solving it.

One thing you can do is "help employees internalize the brand," says Zilla-Ba. That means helping employees at each level of the company figure out what the brand means to them. "So it ends up being behavioral-based," Zilla-Ba explains. "What makes them more engaged are the things they're doing that express that engagement." At auto club AAA, for example, which has "helpfulness" as a key part of its brand, employees are expected to be helpful not just to customers, but to co-workers inside the office as well.

Kurd and Zilla-Ba look at engagement from a systemic rather than individual perspective, advising that you look across your organization to examine where breakdowns in brand internalization have occurred. "How is the executive team living the brand through the certain behaviors we're focusing on? How does that happen through the planning systems we have corporate-wide? How does that happen through the technology we're using?" Zilla-Ba says to ask yourself. "There are many different systems and processes that can exist through which employees are supposed to be able to do things that make the brand live."

Companies that have failed at encouraging engagement might be barking up the wrong tree, Kurd says. "A lot of engagement focuses around if you have a best friend at work or if you’re happy," but, she points out, "that stuff is not the means to the end of increased performance, so that’s not music to strategic HR’s ears." It’s when the underlying philosophy of the company becomes meaningful to them, Kurd stresses, that their particular job role becomes important to them.

But before you can communicate the brand to workers, of course, you need to understand it yourself, which means an alliance between HR and marketing. "HR needs to be a partner with the business and with the marketing world," Kurd says. At the same time, your company's top execs also need to be on board with your engagement initiative, which means pulling a chair out for yourself at their table. If you really want to come up with effective strategies for making employees care about your company, HR needs to be perceived by the top brass as having a broad mission. "HR is no longer a compliance organization," Kurd says. "It has that function," Zilla-Ba adds, "but it has to go beyond that to be strategic."

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