Tag Archives: internal communications

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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The Five Keys to Employee Brand Engagement

I have a bit of an obsession on the subject of how employees, the corporate brand, and “engagement” all fit together–or not.

First, a definition is in order: Employee brand engagement is the positive emotional connection between employees and their company through the brand, and the extension of the brand experience to customers.

This can be confusing, because in any given company there are so many different initiatives–employee engagement, employer branding, corporate values, marketing taglines, brand attributes and positioning, and so on. It’s a welter of unconnected concepts. In the US, in particular, these different initiatives are “owned” by different silos. HR, Marketing, Corporate Communications, Internal Communications. What I am talking about is the emerging need to connect the dots between employee engagement programs (which tend to be inward-looking) with the delivery of an on-brand experience to customers (the outside view).

In my experience, there are five keys to success in Employee Brand Engagement:

1. Make sure your CEO is on board, and ensure cross-functional commitment  If senior management considers employee engagement something that belongs to HR or Internal Communications, the program will have limited success at best. Employees look to leadership to reinforce messages and behaviors that are introduced in the engagement initiative. And engagement doesn’t happen overnight, so leadership must show commitment strategically and financially. These programs require a close working relationship among HR, Organizational Design, Training, Marketing, Internal Communications. Unless your company has a designated Employee Engagement unit, no one group can “own” the program.

2. Use employee AND customer data to create program metrics Traditional engagement focuses on recruiting and retention. Traditional marketing focuses on sales and customer satisfaction. But there are some exciting new ways to link improvements in employee attitudes and behavior with improved business results. The Sears service-profit model has been around for a long time, but it’s only now that statistical models can bring it to life. And while you’re doing that, uncover other useful metrics. Like an internal communications audit that measures the value  and impact of different types of communications. And a deeper dive into employee attitudes by region, line of business, job band, etc. It’s a noisy world out there in employee-land.

3. Fewer rules, more brand ownership I’m talking to you, marketers! Brand strategy and brand management is often closely held. Just as today’s customers feel a sense of ownership of your brand, so do employees. Employee’s front line experiences are valid and revealing.  Rigid rules, impenetrable “dashboards”, complex messaging matrices are often built in an ivory tower. Let employees challenge your assumptions. Let them tell you about the real world. That is, however, only after you have let them see and hear what real customers and prospects actually say about your company and products. It’s eye-opening on all sides.

4. Market to employees like customers Just as strong advertising programs are cross-platform, a successful brand engagement program must consider each employee touchpoint. Don’t rely on posters and employee publications to do the work. Think viral. Think interactive content. Think hands-on experience. But I have to offer one major caution: often, employees react poorly to “expensive” looking material, particularly in an environment when resources are tight. Be sensitive to your corporate culture.

5. Give your program time We live in a world of instant gratification, but behavioral change doesn’t happen overnight. All too often, my clients dive into a program without realizing that they are committing to a multi-year effort. You don’t just set up a network of brand advocates, and dust off your hands. If you have a network, they will require regular care and feeding. Brand training is the beginning, not the end. If you set up your metrics appropriately, you will have specific check-points along the way.

There is much more to say on this subject, but not today.

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On Cheerleading and Employee Engagement

My 17 year old daughter is a varsity cheerleader on her high school’s competitive team. Cheerleading has changed dramatically since I was in high school. It is now increasingly popular and fiercely competitive, on track to become an Olympics sport sometime in the future.

The sport has become so high profile that job recruiters, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry, seek out former cheerleaders as high potential salespeople. (See more in this article from The New York Times).

The UCA National high school cheerleading finals took place in 2010 on February 12–14 in Orlando at Disney World. This was my third visit as a “cheer Mom”. The first time I went, I was struck by what a perfect metaphor modern cheerleading is for brand advocacy (sometimes known as  employee brand engagement). In fact, I gave a speech shortly thereafter, that drew heavily on that experience.  I even included snapshots that I had taken during the competition to illustrate what I meant. My point of view has not changed.

Corporations today know that engaged employees lead to better efficiency, higher profits and an all-round better brand. But from my observation, the attempts at creating “engagement” are hampered by the lack of a holistic perspective. Not so among today’s cheerleaders. These teams are cross-trained to create a fabulous routine. Throughout the season, practice is supplemented by work with professional choreographers, formal gymnastics instruction, drills and, of course, cheering. A successful routine includes all of these elements, executed flawlessly, and completed in exactly two and one-half minutes. The higher degree of difficulty, the better the score.

How many corporations have employees that meet this kind of standard? Exactly the ones that are known for their strong brands: Starbucks, Apple, Nordstrom, Southwest Airlines, etc. In the rest of the business world, these attempts to “engage” their employees all too often become:

  • Superficial–poster campaigns, unnecessary town halls, inauthentic newsletters
  • Opportunities for sibling rivalry–Human Resources wants to create an “employer brand”, Marketing wants to develop brand advocacy based on the external brand, Corporate Training wants to take charge of educating employees and Internal Communications want to control all the communication channels
  • Bottoms up programs–doomed to fail because there is no senior executive sponsorship or behavioral models

A major missing element of many traditional engagement programs is the company brand. Let me suggest that the key to true brand advocacy is a clear focus on the outside world. And that focus results from understanding the brand. Competitive cheerleaders know exactly what the judges are looking for. Certain stunts win extra points for difficulty, and errors like stepping off the mat result in a lower score. In the same way, employees must understand how customers and prospects judge, purchase and ultimately prefer a company’s product.

Over the past three years, cheerleading has become even more competitive. The stunts and tumbling have reached an amazing level. It’s not unlike the constantly escalating level of competition in the business world. What makes it different is that I have seen true innovation in routines, and I have seen enthusiastic support for building to higher difficulty.

Employees may not have to do a standing back handspring like a varsity cheerleader, but a well-coordinated and unified understanding of the brand can make the difference in a transparent and competitive world.

P.S. My daughter’s team won 5th place at the Nationals.

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