Employee Engagement: Which employees build brands best?

July 29, 2014

Years ago, as part of an employee engagement project for Caterpillar, the global equipment manufacturer, I came upon an engineer assembling a diesel engine the size of a large conference table.

Years ago, as part of an employee engagement project for Caterpillar, the global equipment manufacturer, I came upon an engineer assembling a diesel engine the size of a large conference table. I toured their Belgian factory.

As my guide walked me through various production areas, dressed in an immaculate shop coat and handling his tools with the skills of a dentist, I asked him in my fractured French why he was taking such care to do his job. I knew he hadn’t attended any of the brand training sessions that I had been conducting. He set down his tools, wiped his hands and then told me, “if this engine fails, the equipment goes down, which shuts down the contractor’s job because he has to have the Caterpillar dealer’s technician come out and fix it. So the contractor’s business suffers, the dealer has to eat the cost of repair and the reputation of Caterpillar has a mark against it. All because of me.” That’s true employee engagement.

The employees who can make or break a brand are often times not the ones facing customers.

They’re the housekeepers who protect a hotel’s brand by making sure your room is spotless. They are the material engineers who develop the polymers that make a product’s colorful plastic containers. They’re the actuaries who calculate an insurance premium. They’re the assembly-line workers, the parts suppliers, the financial analysts, underwriters and researchers—all the employees whose work contributes to their individual brands.

Many times, these employees are far down the chain from the actual client or customer. They may not get to see the end result of their labors. And so, they can be in danger of being disconnected from their brand. According to the 2013 Gallup State of the American Workplace survey, “employees in service or manufacturing…are least engaged” among all employee segments. Years of Gallup’s statistics have proven that the more disengaged employees are, the greater the potential financial losses for the company.

All those non-customer facing employees really do have customers—their fellow employees.

Organizations that recognize the importance of connecting the “back office” with the customer reap the rewards of greater engagement and productivity among their employees. When employees see how their individual jobs contribute to the big picture, it adds to their motivation to be engaged.

We helped the employees of one financial services firm make those connections. At an internal sales conference, we created an interactive exhibit for all employees—not just the sales people—to see how their work was an essential part of their investment products. Using photos and headline graphics, we captured stories that made the links for those employees who don't work directly with clients. One poster read, “I’m the technology and operations manager who developed the web solution to help manage the investments of Mary the teacher.” To bring the point home, we even created “Mad Lib” type forms for exhibit visitors to fill out their own connection stories: I am the _ who ___ for ___. And then we shared their connection stories with the HR department to be used in training.

If the overall goal of employee engagement is to connect the workers with the organization in order to build a better brand, a powerful place to start is by connecting employees with each other.

Do you have examples of how the employees you never see have made a difference in how you think about your favorite brand? Tell us about it.

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