It is all too easy to let best practices spill out into something like a features list on the side of a Windows 95 box. (If you don’t know what I mean, then please watch this short parody, Microsoft Re-designs iPod Packaging for a hilarious reminder of why customer empathy is important at every step of the customer journey, starting with Marketing.)
Suffice it to say, we do NOT want our employee engagement initiatives to look like Microsoft packaging did in the 90s. We want something much simpler, which employees and leadership can understand intuitively and which will truly motivate people to create a great workplace and satisfy customers.
Best practices are not sufficient for successful engagement; however, we do find common components that drive engagement initiatives. These we wrote about in Four of the Most Successful Employee Engagement Strategies Also Drive Customer Experience. Along with these components, we also include best practices for developing each component. But among the cases we studied there were very different approaches to engagement. Each approach, we found tied engagement to customer satisfaction (or value creation in cases where customers were not impacted directly). In other words, employee engagement initiatives are successful when they become a competitive advantage for the business — for both customers and employees, for Employee Value Proposition and Customer Value Proposition.
This uniqueness is a valuable discovery in itself. It means that only bespoke engagement initiatives will work. These success stories show us that employee engagement isn’t about checking off boxes; it’s about writing a meaningful contract between leadership and employees that closes the loop between employee value, customer value, and business value.
Simple to say; very difficult to execute. Let’s take a deeper look at how this contract works in the day-to-day of some of the world’s most engaging companies.
Just One Best Practice to Drive Employee Engagement
Employee engagement initiatives are successful when they become a competitive advantage for the business — for both customers and employees, for Employee Value Proposition and Value Proposition.
Now that we have a fundamental understanding of what really drives employee engagement at its simplest level, we can go further into how to execute that vision. How do we construct a meaningful contract with employees? How do we ensure this contract remains meaningful?
Empathy is a goal and a process
As business leaders, we are trained to segment disciplines and improve performance in an objective, business-centric way. So a word like empathy pulls directly against the grain of traditional business logic, and most organizations are not structured in a way that makes empathy easy. This is probably why employee engagement is so rarely done well (and why companies that can do it reasonably well are wildly successful).
Fortunately, the most visionary employers have shown us how to turn this fuzzy, feeling-focused word into a series of consistent actions that feed the leadership-employee contract.
Listening: How to Receive and Process Employee Feedback
Empathy has two components: listening and responding. To listen to employees, the most engaging organizations deploy multi-pronged campaigns that continually take the pulse of employee attitudes and feelings. Participation, even negative expressions, should be encouraged to ensure that responses do in fact correspond to real employee sentiment.
- Employee Surveys
- Town Hall Meetings w/ leadership
- Team Meetings
In many cases, leaders from CEO to mid-level managers are trained on empathy skills, so they know how to listen and process feedback extemporaneously. Human Resources is often at the center of leader training.
Responding: How and where to connect feedback to responsive action
The second and more difficult piece of the empathy puzzle is to connect feedback to the right places, so the organization can take appropriate action. Without action, employees will stop wanting to express real opinions about the business, and all the listening exercises will prove fruitless.
The most engaging companies have shown that there are at least three areas where feedback needs to result in discrete action so that employees feel like their voices have been heard.
- Team leader
*Change in antiquated policies and procedures
Typically, employee surveys will ask questions that are identified as pertinent to one of these areas. The data will then be turned into reports for the appropriate offices. Additionally, leaders deploy disciplined processes for holding responsibility-holders accountable for responding to feedback with at least one real action. This mandate keeps the organization in a responsive stance that demonstrates how feedback makes a positive difference.
Team leaders, in particular, are a focal point for change. Some of the best engagement programs require middle-managers to discuss employee feedback on a group level, as well as deduce ways to improve feedback responses.
Of all the companies we have analyzed, Quicken Loans has developed a truly effective system for listening to employees, sending information where it will become actionable, and then taking action. Read the Quicken Loans case study for more inspiration on this topic.
Takeaways: Differentiating the Employee Experience
Employee Engagement is a continuous process that identifies, validates, and amends a meaningful contract between leadership and employees. There are two sides to this contract. On the one hand, leadership needs to identify a critical capability that employees need to demonstrate and take responsibility for. Even if this is as broad as “good service,” as it is in DTE Energy’s case, this should be impactful on business results. This article has done far more in describing how businesses can empower employees to say what they want and to take decisive action to execute change.