The Year of Employee Engagement

Dedicated employees are critical for continued success. Here are three elements the most successful companies focus on to guarantee employee satisfaction and growth.
Employee Engagement

Employees embody the heart of any successful company, for without their commitment, customer experience would suffer. Yet, as employee engagement continues to evolve alongside consumer behaviors, companies find it increasingly difficult to compete for high-quality new hires and retain first-rate workers, as their expectations go well beyond better working conditions, higher pay, and improved benefits.

According to Chad Langford, founder of Stepframe, employee expectations are growing with regard to the standards of their work environment. Employees are no longer satisfied with menial tasks. Instead, they seek challenging, meaningful work that's focused on creating a career path that's aligned with both the company's and the employee's goals. Thus, engaging, recognizing, and rewarding these essential individuals has become critical when recruiting and retaining the best of the best. Engagement strategies must begin during recruiting and continue throughout the new hire process with onboarding and training, ultimately spanning the entire employee lifecycle.

Without an effective engagement strategy, companies expose themselves to significant risk in all aspects of company performance. Employees can make or break any given business, thereby inspiring leaders to invest in strategies that are proven to boost all performance outcomes for any business, increasing the competitiveness and inevitable success of the brand overall. Subsequent programs, however, must be defined and implemented with employee preferences in mind.

"Engagement has proven to be both a robust and complex measure of an organization and its workforce," says Tore Haggren, senior vice president, voice of the employee, for Confirmit. "As it's reflective of both the cultural environment in a business and the day-to-day ways in which employees operate, the programs to support engagement must be similarly sensitive to the make-up of the employee population, the changing business climate, and the realities affecting individual workers. Organizations must understand what things drive engagement in their populations and use this knowledge to shape the initiatives designed to improve the results of these drivers."

Haggren also emphasizes that, while it often serves as an indicator of the current and future health of a business, engagement itself cannot be changed directly. Instead, companies must address the underlying drivers of engagement, which will vary from company to company, as well as over time within a given company. Ignoring these drivers and the differences between organizations will reduce the effectiveness of any program put in place to improve engagement. Leaders must dig deep to gather employee data and glean insight into what matters most.

But, as Erika Blaney, vice president of marketing at Bunchball, notes, modern employees regularly provide active and passive feedback. While some dissatisfied employees will actively demonstrate their discontent by physically leaving the company, others will passively voice their grievances via social media. Ultimately, every employee wants to serve an explicit purpose that supports their company's overarching goals, requiring leaders to implement programs that keep pace with employee expectations, while also motivating them to increase productivity. Now and in the near future, leaders must approach employee engagement strategies with fresh ideas and new concepts.

"How does a modern enterprise engage an increasingly diverse and distracted workforce?" Blaney asks. "We'll give you a hint. Reheating the same old part, contest, or meeting isn't going to cut it. In the new digital workforce, new engagement strategies are needed-ones that are not only effective, but also impactful, right down to the ROI. In the new world order, individual performance matters and can be a competitive advantage. Or not. It's your call."

Yet, while most leaders recognize that today's employees require new methods to sustain engagement, many still struggle to move beyond their former strategies and develop fresh tactics. Here are three elements the most successful companies focus upon to guarantee that their employee engagement strategies will prosper and create an environment dedicated to mutual growth and success:

Communicate Clearly and Concisely

Blanket communications within the organization are out. Just as mass emails no longer resonate with customers, similar internal messaging will ultimately alienate those it doesn't pertain to, leaving many employees disengaged. For instance, Microsoft recently created its "Life at Microsoft" email campaign, to consolidate communications into one online platform and email delivery tool. More than90,000 Microsoft employees were inundated with dozens of emails from various departments on a daily basis, leaving many overwhelmed and disengaged. Now, however, each employee has the ability to select and prioritize relevant information specific to his or her role, which they'll receive on a weekly basis. Employees can then link to further information within these emails and have significant events imported directly to their Outlook calendars, thereby boosting participation rates across the organization.

Towers Watson, an HR consulting firm, on the other hand, implemented an employee segmentation tool that helped leaders share pertinent information with staff during the open enrollment period. Because many employees were overwhelmed by all the options and changes to their benefits plan, this highly interactive segmentation tool provides assistance by identifying the major health needs for each individual, helping them to choose which plans are most effective for their present situation. The tool also existed externally so information could be easily shared with family members who need to be involved with the decision-making process, as well. By establishing clear communication, these initiatives demonstrate that the overall company cares about their workers and wants to ensure that their experience makes them feel important and understood within the context of the organization.

Listen to Feedback and Take Action

Companies must connect the dots from program to performance. Thus, leaders must listen to employee feedback to gain insight into which engagement initiatives work, which don't, and what can be done to close these gaps. While best practices throughout the field may offer some initial perspective, nothing beats going directly to the source. From smaller surveys that focus on actionable metrics, to data from uncontrolled environments, such as social media, leaders have numerous opportunities to uncover unexpected issues just by listening to those around them.

"Engaged, loyal employees create engaged, loyal customers," says Brian Koma, vice president, customer experience at Verint. "In an era where customers have more choices than ever, employees who treat customers with respect, show enthusiasm for their jobs, and going the extra mile can make all the difference between having a customer for life and having a customers who walks out the door and goes to a competitor. Engaged employees bring CX programs to life by showing customers that the organization is actively listening and taking action on their concerns."

Employee engagement isn't a new problem, but companies must realize that it's no longer simply nice to have-it's a necessity. Therefore, those companies that run employee surveys to feign engagement will no longer be able to gather data without the promise of bringing this insight to action. Leaders that ask for feedback, but fail to act upon the insight, run the risk of further disengagement, as employees are bound to grow exhausted by such rituals. Employees won't stick with an organization that asks for their input, only to witness inaction year after year. Moving forward, brands must listen with the intent to act.

Recognize Knowledge and Expertise

Rewarding employees for their exceptional work and expertise remains an essential element of the employee engagement mix. Depending on the nature of the workforce, gamification can be an important element of engaging employees because it provides a constant feedback loop, Koma explains. Gamification enables team members to gain recognition from their peers for their contributions, showing progress against goals, while also developing a healthy sense of competition among teams.

"Slapping a badge on an unpleasant task isn't really going to work, at least not long-term," Blaney says. "And, in fact, that simple coin-operated approach can actually backfire and lead to reduced satisfaction. No, we're talking about a new generation of gamification-one that fuels enduring engagement through a thoughtful program that rewards the workforce and provides value to the company. By pushing motivation techniques beyond game mechanics and into data analytics, organizations are able to tie individual employee actions to specific business goals, measure the impact of those actions, and make strategic decisions that impact the bottom line."

In some cases, employees may be rated by their peers on the quality of their answers to customer questions, with many earning badges or points to showcase their level of expertise. Such strategies enable more rapid identification of specific experts for complicated customer issues, thereby allowing customers to reap the benefits by obtaining quicker responses to tough problems. T-Mobile implemented one such gamification environment to engage its more than 30,000 frontline agents and encourage collaboration when it comes to answering customer queries effectively. Employees were urged to collaborate with their peers and search for knowledge-based articles to quickly find answers. However, because this community relied upon collective participation, T-Mobile chose to award employees points and badges for searching the knowledge base, posting and answering questions, and rating responses to gauge accuracy. The company saw a 96 percent increase in participation, a 583 percent jump in contributions, and a 783 percent rise in responses, culminating in a 31 percent improvement in customer satisfaction scores.

Much like customer engagement, employee engagement will always have room for improvement, as companies will need to constantly reevaluate and refresh their strategies to accommodate the rapidly changing environment. But, despite the constant air of uncertainty, leaders have made great strides when it comes to altering their strategies to meet employee expectations. In the coming year, two-way communication and the need for recognition will remain crucial as organizations take every step necessary to hire and retain the workers that will bring the business to the next level. After all, helping employees succeed helps the company succeed, creating a symbiotic relationship based on mutual goals and trust.