Why You Can’t Afford to Skimp on Employee Engagement

We’ve all heard the case for employee engagement—higher engagement levels lead to greater employee output, increased productivity and favorable business outcomes. So why do so many leaders treat engagement like just another task on their to-do list?

The short answer: historically it’s been difficult to measure and improve engagement real-time. When confronted with understanding engagement and what drives it, organizations seldom know where to start. And the traditional methods for understanding how engagement data translates into employee loyalty and performance have generally provided outdated information leading to non-impactful action and, ultimately, missed business outcomes.

Employee engagement is the cognitive, behavioral, and emotional commitment of an employee to an organization and its goals. An engaged employee possesses a deep understanding of what it takes for the organization to succeed and is willing to go the extra mile to help the business get there. She is not working for the paycheck, rather the success of the organization, and will go “all in” as a result.

Engagement Positively Affects Your Bottom Line

Why does this matter? The value of engagement is often considered a soft strategy (a ‘nice to have’ versus a ‘need to have’) and has long been understated due to a lack of knowledge around its fiscal benefits. However, it’s not only an advantage to have loyal employees that are willing to go above and beyond, but organizations can also harness this enthusiasm to promote strong business outcomes. In fact, those businesses with engaged employees outperform those with low employee engagement by 202 percent. Additionally, organizations with a highly engaged workforce experience a 19.2 percent growth in operating income over a 12-month period.

Engagement Directly Reflects Your Brand and Impacts Customer Loyalty

Employee engagement benefits the external face of a business. While a paycheck is sometimes enough of an incentive to get an employee to show up on time, promoting an engaging culture and  empowering employees to make independent decisions that will positively impact the customer experience will drive increased business outcomes. Many studies have shown a direct and positive relationship between employee engagement and customer loyalty; companies that deliver a better customer experience enjoy stronger business results. And they gain a competitive advantage when they promote a seamless brand experience through “all-in”  employees.

“All-in” is a term that can be explained through the displayed excitement, enthusiasm and happiness of an employee or group of employees, and it shouldn’t be underestimated. These positive feelings are palpable to customers and convey a sense of energy and optimism. Emotion makes people act. We all understand this. If a customer is greeted by a disgruntled employee, that customer is likely to take their business elsewhere. Conversely, if a business’s first touchpoint with a customer is an engaged employee willing to go the extra mile, that goes a long way to build a customer’s satisfaction and loyalty. Take In-N-Out Burger for example, which has an average of more than 4.3 stars on Glassdoor. Yes, In-N-Out Burger has a popular product, but its core focus is on empowering its people to provide world-class customer service. By fostering internal empowerment and engagement, In-N-Out then reaps the benefits of exceptional employee engagement with a high degree of loyalty to the organization from its customers.

How to Measure Employee Engagement

While the benefits of employee engagement are clear, measuring these efforts might seem more ambiguous. The common practice of annual engagement surveys typically represent a “box-checking” exercise, and have run their course as a means of engaging people . They have done little to actually empower employees to do better in their roles. It’s true traditional surveys may offer visibility into engagement across the organization, but they provide outdated information and offer little guidance in terms of what the data has to say. To take action from survey data that will have real and positive impact, the right people – managers and leaders – need real-time insights into the health of the organization, including indications of where the biggest obstacles to success lie at any given time. Beyond that, leaders and managers need the guidance and a framework to take specific action to improve focus areas. Traditional survey methods simply don’t provide these insights in a timely and relevant manner.

The field of people analytics is opening the door to better data, as well as the guidance to improve. With emerging technology and artificial intelligence, we have the ability to end the “one-size-fits-all” approach to talent management and instead promote individual success. Glint for example, uses real-time insights to give organizations access to the most current data while highlighting strengths, weaknesses and trends. The insights provided help uncover critical challenges and promote continuous improvement, leading to better business outcomes like increased customer satisfaction.

Employee engagement is essential to every business. With $11 billion dollars lost annually due to employee turnover, it costs businesses not to invest in their workforce. Additionally, the direct correlation between individual employee success and customer satisfaction make it impossible to treat employee engagement as a “check-the-box” exercise, but rather should be viewed as a key strategic component to any thriving organization.

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Dear Leaders: Humanize Your Brand

Back in ancient times (let’s go with 1970s or 1980s) when mainframes ruled the world and “friends” were people you actually knew, the rules of engagement were very different. Companies and customers met when a transaction was taking place. Otherwise, everyone went their separate ways and did their own thing. Well, that kind of cut-and-dried, disconnected relationship truly is a thing of the past – at least for brands that want to succeed in the future.

Things (and leaders we hope) are much more personal now.

The computer, one of the most significant developments in human history, has changed everything. It’s brought us all into the (virtual) town square together 24/7/365. That means leaders of companies and their employees can reach customers (current and potential) in ways our distant ancestors back in the day could only dream of.

Our social media culture takes this truth to the next level by allowing brands to build emotional connections with their customers, to become a part of their lives, both in their homes and — done right — in their hearts. The heart of this is ongoing, online dialogue. Both parties benefit. The customer’s idiosyncratic (and sometimes maddening) needs and wants can be met. The company gets increased sales, of course, but also instant feedback on its products — every online chat has the potential to yield an actionable nugget of knowledge.

The result of this new intimacy: your brand is humanized, customer loyalty skyrockets, performance and team morale is boosted.

Humanizing your brand does take some thought – don’t rush into it. These five basic steps can guide you:

1) Have a plan.

At its best, brand humanization is a seamless blend of personal brand, company values, workpace culture and social community. It takes leadership to make this happen. Spend some time understanding what brand humanization would look like for your company. How does it fit with your current culture? How will your culture need to change? Do you have the social media talent to set up both the IT mechanics and the “soft” side of humanization (in their dialogue with customers, employees must be given freedom, not carte blanche). If you don’t have the talent, hire it! I cannot overstate the importance of this. Once you have a plan (spend days or weeks on this, not months — no committees or study groups allowed) get cracking on putting it into action.

2) Know thyself.

Brand humanization means opening up your company and culture, and inviting customers in. So you have to know who you are, you have to a brand identity that is consistent yet allows employees room to express themselves. Southwest Airlines is a venerable master of brand humanization — its flight attendants have always been encouraged to bring their personalities to work, to crack jokes, to be warm and friendly with customers. It is one of the lynchpins of the company’s sustained success. Know your company’s personality (and it doesn’t have be relentlessly upbeat) and how to express it through social media.

3) Create brand ambassadors and evangelists.

Humanization is about turning employees into goodwill ambassadors, even evangelists, for your brand. To do this, they need the freedom mentioned above. This can be tricky, though. Their personal message has to align with the company’s practices and image. Otherwise, customers can get confused. So limits have to be set on what are acceptable topics (politics is the most obvious off-limits subject). Think of it as putting up guardrails to everyone on track. Training, of course, is crucial to achieve this sometimes delicate balance of employee freedom and brand protection. Better to err on the side of freedom. We’ve all posted (and deleted when we came to our senses) things we probably shouldn’t have. The dangers of over-managing humanization are greater than those of letting people be themselves.

4) Don’t forget your netiquette.

Just like with our flesh-and-blood friends and acquaintances, there are rules of engagement in social media. Humanization does not mean intrusion. It does not mean one-way e-mail blasts. It does not mean oversharing, or too much curiosity. There are boundary issues here — make sure everyone understands that and knows how to respect them. And never forget – in the end, it’s about making the customer and your employees happy.

5) Hire for humanization.

You can talk about training forever, but the fact remains that there is no substitute for talent. And some people have a talent for humanization, for establishing relationships with customers that are mutually fulfilling. No doubt you already have some of these naturals in your organization. When you hire, especially for the frontline, look for traits like humor, warmth, and emotional intelligence, you want people who are articulate, passionate, comfortable in their own skin and naturally extroverted and generous.

Hire right and humanization will a lot easier and more successful.

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Image credit: Gratisography