Getting the most out of employee engagement

December 16, 2014

Employee engagement has been known to be a crucial element in the success of organizations for years. The Gold Standard of research in employee engagement is The Gallup organization that has been measuring employee engagement for decades. Their research has proven the important connections between employee engagement and productivity, profitability, job satisfaction, lower health care costs, higher stock price and host of other positive factors.

It’s become a regular practice for the Human Resource departments of thousands of companies to survey periodically their employees for their levels of engagement. The surveys often measure similar factors such as the importance and level of satisfaction of the interactions between employees and managers, understanding a company’s mission or vision, willingness to refer new employees and other questions about employees’ sense of belonging and participation in the organization. Some surveys also delve into employees’ sense of connection to the company’s end customers.

Levels of employee engagement
Gallup’s 2012 State of The American Workplace survey revealed that of the estimated 100 million people who are employed full-time, “30 million (30%) are engaged and inspired at work…5 million (50%) American workers are not engaged, just being present…and at the other end…roughly 20 million (20%) are actively disengaged...spreading discontent.” If you were to graph these figures, it could appear as a classic Bell Curve.

Certainly, levels of engagement differ by industry, by employee age and demographic, and by geography. Some sectors, such as service companies often rank higher in levels of engagement than those employees in industries where there is little interaction between them and customers.

However, at the heart of it, I believe, Gallup’s employee engagement measurements concentrate primarily on the “present-ness” of employees. That is, when they are at their job, are they “present” in the moment—concentrating on their tasks, aware of their complex interwoven connections with their co-workers, cognizant of their impact on their customer’s or clients’ experience with the organization. In Gallup’s definition of engagement, think of gears that are engaged in a clock, each spinning in harmony to power the hands turning the dial. Or in a car’s transmission, when the gears transfer the power of the engine to the wheels to create motion. Engagement is as much mental action as it is about physical action.

Living the brand on their own terms
However, employees’ actions are also a human and personal representation of a company’s brand. Whether in the retail service industry, a company’s call center, B2B sales, or even those employees who only interact with other employees, how deeply employees are engaged with their brand—and how they demonstrate their brand through their behavior—has a huge impact on the successful integration of the brand into the organization.

Employees who are actively engaged with their company’s brand are a critical link in the success of the organization. Because through their behaviors and actions every day, they help differentiate the brand experientially for customers and each other.

Over the past 20 years, I have worked with nearly 100 companies, many in the Fortune 1500, to launch their new brands internally to their employees. Methodologically, the employee engagement programs are designed to use internal communications, manager training, digital media and HR integration to inform, engage and drive action among the employee population. Companies that successfully implemented consistent, sustainable and action-oriented employee engagement programs found a deeper commitment and understanding of their company’s brand across all segments of their workforce.

One of the best stories I remember about employee engagement that demonstrates this was an impromptu conversation I had with a diesel engine technician in the Caterpillar assembly plant outside of Brussels, Belgium. The technician was working on a very large diesel engine. I asked him why he was taking such care with the task. He carefully put down his tools, wiped his hands on a cloth, and proceed to tell me in French (which I spoke well enough to understand) that if he did not meet the standards of Caterpillar, the engine would fail, delaying the work of the contractor who bought the construction equipment the engine was powering, thus casting a negative reputation on the Cat dealer who sold it, as well as the Caterpillar brand. Perfect!

Think differently. Not different.
The ultimate goal for an employee engagement campaign is to reach as many employees as possible—giving them the information, tools, encouragement and support not to do a different job, but to do their job differently.

Curiously, just as Gallup mapped levels of classic engagement in an organization, there is an interesting corollary among employees regarding brand engagement. Branding, as a marketing discipline, has evolved considerably since the confluence of design, advertising, naming, marketing and strategy in the mid-1980s. Up until then, brand was considered a logo, a color scheme or a tagline, at best. Even though more and more companies have come to understand branding as a business asset, many more executives and employees have grasped the importance of living a company’s brand through their daily responsibilities.

We call these Brand Behaviors. Consider this: If a company includes Integrity as one of their brand values, it’s impossible to ask every employee to simply act with integrity. There are far too many ways this can be done and would result in inconsistent demonstrations of the value. What’s required is a committed brand engagement program that can help inform them how to incorporate “integrity” into their own jobs, individually relevant, but organizationally consistent. Their level of participation in an internal brand engagement can vary depending on their capacity to integrate the company’s brand into their everyday behavioral choices and actions, as well as their level of brand awareness.

Four types of brand employees
I have found there are four basic types of employees when it comes to brand awareness: Brand Advocates, Brand Believers, Brand Innocents, Brand Doubters. On the leading edge, Advocates are those types of employees who intuitively and naturally understand their brand. Often they are the exemplars upon whom a brand positioning is based. They aren’t always organization’s leaders, but are found throughout a company living the brand as easily as they do their jobs. Believers follow behind the Advocates. Believers understand the value of branding in general, and are willing to follow an engagement program with enthusiasm, if told what to do. Innocents land on the back of the central curve; they don't understand branding, simply do their job without a connection to the bigger picture. Lastly, on the tail end of the curve are Doubters. These are the naysayers who can loudly sabotage any efforts to implement an employee engagement program. When you overlay Gallup’s assessment of levels of engagement over the pattern of branding types, it lines up.

What this can help us understand is how to focus resources and who needs to be conscripted as advocates and allies in the process to educate and lead the others. Identifying them early on in any employee engagement program will help improve brand engagement efforts. It will drive more successes and waste less resources. It can also help know which specific messages to send to the right audiences.

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