Monthly Archives: August 2009

Why Is The UK More Enlightened About Employee Engagement?

This is a question that has nagged at me for well over a year. So, when I read “Engaging for Success”, a report commissioned by the UK Secretary of State, my idle curiosity turned to amazement and awe. Consider the forward by Rt Hon Lord Mandelson, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills:

A recession might seem an unusual time for such reflection – in fact, the opposite is the case. Because Britain’s economic recovery and its competitive strengths in a global economy will be built on strong, innovative companies and confident employees, there has never been a more important time to think about employee engagement in Britain. 

This 150+ page report was authored by David MacLeod and Nita Clarke. It is extensively researched, and offers fascinating insights and recommendations. What is most impressive, however, is that it focuses on the tangible and quantifiable business links between engaged employees and business success.

Here in the US, as a lonely traveler seeking to provide enlightenment to companies, I have led numerous brand engagement programs. This is not the same as “classic” engagement because instead of working with Human Resources, I work with Marketing or Corporate Communications, and the focus is on brand strategy and execution. Historically,  my clients have rarely wanted anything to do with Human Resources or their programs. The opposite is also true. Many large companies have established “employer brands” programs that focus on recruitment and retention–and ignore the external brand.

But I haven’t seen the kind of holistic perspective on engagement as expressed by MacLeod and Clarke here in the U.S. Lisa Wojtkowiak, who specializes in employee research for ORC, says that the most exciting statistical research is being done out of their London office. There is finally concrete support for the Sears service-profit chain model, with other companies showing similar correlations between engaged employees and greater profitability.

Why does the UK get it and U.S. companies do not? Here are some theories:

1. The intangible value of engaged employees is not well-understood or quantified by financial executives.

2. Human Resources and Marketing have rarely, if ever, partnered together. Each have their own models, budgets, programs, KPIs, and preferred vendors, and sharing may mean loss of the power inherent in owning data. (As I understand it, HR executives wield much more financial power in the UK).

3. In many UK corporations, there is an officer who is in charge of employee engagement, and this person has access to the CEO. In the US, similar roles tend to be put under Human Resources, with little power or budget.

4. Maybe the UK workforce is just less mobile than the U.S. It’s much harder to lay people off, and with a greater investment in long-term employees, it may heighten the need to develop active, meaningful engagement programs.

I think we may be at the tipping point here in the U.S., and look forward to more meaningful conversations with my clients in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

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Hooray for Kashi

There is a lot to admire about Kashi, both the company and the individual products. 

I was in the grocery store recently, and was impressed to see that Kashi is starting to have some real shelf impact. The cereal variety has expanded and I saw their pilaf in the rice section for the first time. And their products taste good, too.

That’s not unique, of course. Many companies can make the same claim. What is brilliant is the clarity and consistency of their positioning and message: “7 Whole Grains on a Mission”. In a world when companies want to be all things to all people, and wordsmith their messages to death, Kashi is refreshing by comparison. 

Their packaging is attractive and clean, but far from generic. They are obviously focused on healthy eating, but not as lecturers and finger-waggers. Instead, they reflect health infused with fun. The website is simple, easy to navigate, focused on people, community and environment. The tone of voice is modern, straightforward, human, young. They are quite transparent in terms of ingredients and nutritional analysis. So it’s a nice balance of style and substance.

Here’s where the going may get tough, though. How successful can–or should–Kashi become? How many product extensions are in the works? Here is the boilerplate that they use in their press releases:

As a pioneering health food brand, Kashi is dedicated to providing great

tasting, healthy and innovative foods that enable people to achieve optimal health and

wellness. Its products are natural, minimally processed, and free of highly refined sugars,

artificial additives and preservatives.

 

So far, so good. Yet, they are moving into frozen foods, like pizza, which may be pushing the envelope a bit when it comes to the ingredient list. 

 

But compared to what else I see in the supermarket these days, Kashi has a big leg up. They are more expensive than the usual highly processed, sugary cereals that dominate, so it will be interesting to see if their message outweighs the current trend to pinch pennies. My bet is that Kashi will continue to grow. My hope is that they don’t grow too much.


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