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.