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The virtuous circle of employee engagement

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This should come as no surprise; employee engagement is good for business, affecting both operational efficiency (through retention rates and productivity) and customer experience. Plus, if you believe economists, employee engagement is not only good for your business but for the economy as a whole– to the tune of £25.8bn according to Engage for Success/Kenexa.

The benefits to the bottom line are well established. Forbes defines employee engagement as “one’s emotional commitment to their organisation and goals”. An emotionally committed employee will go above and beyond the call of duty, working harder and staying with the organisation for longer. But that’s just half the picture.

Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, neatly summarised the other piece of the puzzle when he said: “Employees are the true ambassadors of our brands, the real merchant of romance and theatre, and as such the primary catalyst for delighting customers”.

Employees are more than people that work for a company; they are brand ambassadors – living representations of the brand’s ethos and values. It makes sense, therefore, that companies would approach employee engagement in the same way that they approach their brand identity.

Over the past 25 years we have worked with numerous companies, from the John Lewis Partnership to Lloyds Bank and British Gas, to help them improve engagement with their employees. We’ve seen six recurring traits that are pivotal to create the virtuous cycle of engagement all companies should be aiming for.

To be truly successful a company needs to be able to:

1. Define its vision

A clear vision – who you are and where you’re going, is the foundation to all further activity. Put simply, if you don’t know where you’re going, how will you inspire anyone else to come with you?

The goals set should be achievable, but stretch the individual/team. People are more likely to make an effort for goals that challenge them. In nearly all cases, this goal should not be financial; as humans we search for meaning, not money.

2. Share the vision

Sharing your vision is one of the most important pieces of communications you’ll ever make. The aim should be to instil passion in every single employee, so that your vision becomes a shared vision. Done in the right way – in the same creative way that it would be conveyed to customers – such communication will give employees purpose.

3. Enable connections

Make it as easy as possible for employees to share ideas and expertise. Connecting employees will drive efficiency through collaboration, create an environment for innovation and competition, and ultimately lead to more engaged employees.

Even the best technology platform won’t drive such connections on its own; connecting must be made easy, fun and rewarding. More than this, it must be endorsed by senior figures. After all, “over 70 per cent of people’s knowledge about their jobs is learnt through interactions with their colleagues,” according to Deloitte.

4. Promote freedom

As an employer, it’s your role to empower employees; to create the right conditions for them to take personal responsibility. Empowering employee’s means giving up some control, which is easier said than done, but it can often lead to better experiences for both the organisation and its customers.

5. Involve everyone

It’s important to remember that brand strategy shouldn’t be limited to the boardroom. To fully engage employees, you must lead from the top and listen to ideas from the bottom. Giving your employees a voice will allow them to feel more personally invested. A word of warning though: organisations must never underestimate the importance of support from the top.

6. Create a virtuous circle

The aim of employee engagement should be a virtuous circle of reinforced achievements. This is about introducing mechanisms that continually keep your employees engaged and moving in the right direction. Meaningful measurement must be introduced so that employees can see how well the organisation is doing as a whole, and they as individuals are doing against their goals. Organisations should ensure they respond to the results, sharing what is going well, and improving where necessary.

The shift in attitudes

Although the economy is slowly beginning to bounce back from financial crisis, it seems that the recession may have changed attitudes permanently. Austerity forced us as a society to re-evaluate the things that were important to us; material possessions have been displaced by a quest for a better quality of life. This has important implications for people’s attitudes to work, as quality of life becomes more important than quantity of money earned. People increasingly want flexible working arrangements and to do work which contributes to a sense of meaning. As the economy picks up and jobs become more available, employees will be less willing to settle for a job which offers anything less.

Employers who wish to attract and retain the best talent must consider the desire for balance when drafting policy. Pay is just one part of the package they offer; they must also be able to offer employees the flexibility to succeed and create the opportunity to derive meaning from their work. Those who make the most of this opportunity will see benefits in both their brand and their bottom line.

Nicola Carter is Senior planner at creative engagement agency Rufus Leonard.

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