March 8, 2013
As we face more talk of triple-dip recessions there’s patently too much doom and gloom about and it can be sapping stuff, especially for line managers on the front line. But as the ancient wisdom goes, the fast track to feeling more empowered is to focus on what you can personally influence. We all have some degree of empowerment in the workplace, even if it fees like “blowing into the wind” at times, whether we’re the CEO or a supervisor. And even if we can only influence the apparently little things, they all add up over time.
If the barrage of statistics is to be believed (and it’s not fair just to trust the bad news), companies with high employee engagement levels grow on average 4.5 times faster than those with low levels (Hays 2010).
As I illustrate in Brand Champions, engaged employees are:
I - involved
P - proactive
E - energised and energising
So, if you’re keen to nurture these characteristics in your colleagues, why not try these top tips to promote the engagement drive within your own organisation. As you’ll realise, most are within your control and most of them are free:
1. Give recognition
If someone has done well, let them know you know it. A simple thank you goes a long way to increasing engagement even if it’s one colleague at a time, so “catch” them doing the right thing.
2. Give constructive feedback
Managers giving little or no feedback to their workers fail to engage 98 per cent of them, according to a 2009 study by Gallup. Let employees know how they are doing and what they can do to improve. It’s worth giving your first-line managers in particular training on how to do this.
3. Incentivise good work
Ensure that your HR processes are hard-wired to recognise objectives that are “on brand” and “on strategy”.
4. Create an engaging culture
An open door policy creates an approachable feel to the office, where employees feel comfortable. Ensure management have a physical presence in the office and are role models for your core values.
5. Involve people
Self-managing teams are engagement nirvana. Involving people in company decisions will make them feel part of the organisation and give them a real sense of ownership.
6.Keep people informed
Don’t assume that people don’t know or don’t need to know. They will appreciate being in the loop about any changes in the company. Internal communication must do more than SOS (send out stuff).
7. Encourage suggestions and input
Let them know their opinions count…. chances are the answers to your issues can be solved in-house.
8. Promote role models
Rather than favouring favourites look to unusual suspects for examples of great practice and celebrate them. This will engage more people than you can imagine.
9. Encourage training, development and a career path
Stress the benefits of working for your brand including developing new skills and having a career path in return for development. Relationships count but they need to be nurtured.
10. Focus on their talents
Get to know the “real people” who work for you. Play some games. Find out what talents they have or want to have. Use these when delegating projects to ensure they are using their talents and developing in the right areas.
For more free employee engagement resources, pick up a copy of Ian’s latest book, Brand Champions.
November 15, 2012
Nice to catch up with the brand synonymous with conciliation and arbitration, Acas, last week and to hear that they’ve been endorsing our approach to employee engagement for some time now.
Here’s what they posted on their website at the turn of the year, revisited in the hope that it may inspire a fresh perspective or two in this final quarter:
A few simple tips from employee engagement expert Ian Buckingham can help you get 2012 off to a productive start.
- Give credit where it’s due: Key to staff engagement is giving recognition and constructive feedback. If a member of your staff has done well, let them know – and let everyone else know, too. Championing good practice and achievements can work wonders to incentivize staff and breathe new life into a stagnant working environment. Similarly, if there’s room for improvement, give constructive advice and let everyone benefit.
- Keep the door open: Be an approachable, hands-on manager who listens. An environment where staff feel that their suggestions will be taken seriously can help boost your in-house problem-solving capabilities and encourage creative thinking at all levels of your organisation. You might even find you uncover some hidden talents among your workforce!
- Communicate: Talk to your staff. Tell them what your plans are for the future, and explain how they feature in it. Even if the news is bad, your staff will appreciate being told what’s going on rather than being kept in the dark.
- Know and nurture your people: Even when times are hard for your business, don’t lose sight of the fact that the people who work for you still have goals and dreams. Listen to them, find out what they want to achieve in their careers and do what you can to support them. Take the time to discover and develop the unique strengths of each member of staff and your business will reap the benefits.
The Acas engagement mission of promoting employment relations and HR excellence has always been music to our ears. Let’s hope these few simple messages help improve the employee engagement and wellbeing statistics , even if it has to be one line manager at a time.
November 6, 2012
The November edition of Admap in which Ian regularly features, explores the vital role of the employee in creating engaging brand experiences whether in the physical or virtual shopping space.
In collaboration with retail environment specialists M Worldwide, Ian asserts that as customer choice increases, employees always make the difference between a truly innovative, enriching and engaging service experience whether delivered online or face-to-face.
He singles out the emergence of holistic brand offerings like Nuffield* and Lloyds Pharmacy as examples of organisations who “get it” and strive to “get it right” by collaborating with and engaging their brand champions to ensure that they fulfill their ambitious service promises.
Click on the link below to read the article in full**:
*Talking about our work creating the Nuffield Service Promise and Champions Engagement strategy, our client said: “You introduced some fantastic ideas, challenged our people to discover what they need to be as leaders, and created high quality, engaging materials.”
**The article is, of course, a collaboration between the authors and the publication and is reproduced with permission of Admap.
Given the importance I place on the unassuming everyman as the pivotal brand champion, that’s good news for those with the wisdom to realise that sustainable brands aren’t forged in the flames of advertising but evolve steadily from within.
While Microsoft; Apple and co continue to attract the sexy headlines in the technology sector, Fujitsu has become the world’s third-largest IT services provider with over 172,000 employees supporting customers in over 100 countries. Very much a brand to watch, Fujitsu’s Next Generation Technical Computing Unit, for example, recently developed the world’s fastest supercomputer.
But just as very few of us are aware of the impact Arm Holdings has had on mobile technology, chances are you probably had no idea about the credentials of this company. And therein lies the cultural essence of the Fujitsu brand.
Fujitsu’s brand attributes are:
At the start of their brand engagement journey around 4 years ago, the leaders were conscious that in order to grow, that growth would need to be outside of Japan and Fujitsu would need to become accepted as a global brand in key markets and among stakeholder groups externally. But they also recognised that the first step on their journey would have to involve gaining and then sustaining the belief, involvement and engagement of their colleagues within.
Standards of modesty (also called demureness or reticence) are aspects of the culture of a country or group of people, at a given point in time. It is a measure against which an individual in a given society or culture, whether a nation-state or a corporate collective, may be judged.
It’s often expressed in social interaction by communicating in a way exhibiting humility, even shyness and is associated with:
- downplaying achievements
- behaviour, manner, or appearance intended to avoid impropriety or indecency
- avoiding insincere self-abasement through false or sham modesty, which is a form of boasting
Quite a contrast to the traditionally boastful and über confident philosophy underpinning most marketing campaigns and certainly the flip side of the behavioural coin that has caused so much controversy within the financial services sector.
I recall a long conversation with a senior executive from one of the UK mutuals which took place just before the banking crash. He was lambasting his colleagues for their lack of ambition and was calling for more of a performance culture in terms of risk and reward and wanted this to be driven by people processes like recruitment and appraisal. He didn’t get the chance to make those changes. Yet his business, like many of their more prudent peers, has more than weathered the prolonged and repeated financial storms.
The salutary lesson for that brand is that transformation can be achieved without sacrificing the essence of the brand, provided that essence is sound in the first place of course. This is epitomised by Fujitsu.
There’s a healthy balance about the Fujitsu brand attributes, between listening and responding to changing customer needs; having ambition yet remaining genuine or authentic. It’s a formula that respects the all important notion of being able to back up the promises in the glossy brochures with actions, quietly meeting and exceeding expectations rather than shooting wildly from the lip.
Fujitsu’s employee brand engagement champion Julie Clarke is in many respects the apotheosis of the Fujitsu brand, although she would blush at the compliment. Julie has had a long and distinguished career, importantly spanning front line; hr and latterly marketing functions, an important mix of ingredients for the central brand champion. But Julie is characteristically modest about her achievements. She has undoubtedly been instrumental in developing and implementing one of the most comprehensive global employee engagement programmes to have launched since the economic downturn began, very much bucking the global trend. Yet Julie spends most of her time celebrating the pivotal role played by the country champions rather than the centre.
Testimonials from VIP customers, business partners and employees alike are proof positive that in the fourth year of their brand transformation journey, internal and external advocacy levels, colleague communication, good news stories and best practices are on a high despite the global downturn and unforseen natural catastrophes like the Asian Tsunami.
“Our brand engagement journey is the product of constant and ongoing collaboration and is very much the sum of its many parts. We make no secret of the fact that we’ve collaborated with thought partners and external agencies to bring best practices and to help frame our thinking. Brand Engagement was pretty much my bible as I transitioned from HR to Marketing as it speaks to both audiences and sets out the key stages while recognising that the nature of the journey differs from one brand to the next.
Some of our key milestones along the way have included:
- creating a compelling business case for change
- obtaining buy-in at senior leadership level first
- identifying senior sponsors and champions
- simplifying the engagement programme into 4, bite-size phases
- collaborating across hr and marketing
- encouraging everyone to think global but act local and personalise content for their markets
- investing in local training and development
- improving internal communication substantially
- building on the Fujitsu legacy, not reinventing the wheel
- working within the prevailing culture rather than imposing alien approaches
- setting hard and soft goals
- sharing best practices and celebrating wins
- creating a network of credible local brand champions as catalysts and ambassadors
- managing the evolution of the Fujitsu brand story in the context of the wider strategy
It was always our aim to ensure that the programme had local ownership. We’re really seeing momentum now in the form of regional stories and best practices and are well into the embedding and reinforcing stage where the role of local champions will become increasingly important. It’s great to see some of the very real customer case studies making the link between the Fujitsu values and the bottom line.”
There’s clearly still work to be done and challenges to face before Fujitsu assumes the position in the pantheon of global brands that it quietly aspires to. But built as it is on a platform of modesty, realism and engagement-driven innovation, blossoming steadily rather than erupting aggressively, Fujitsu is very much a brand of its time.
* Julie Clarke and her Fujitsu brand engagement story will be one of the brand champion case studies to feature alongside brands like M&S and Arm Holdings in Brand Challenger, the third book in the Brand Engagement trilogy.
June 11, 2012
When, as a partner at SDL, I first worked with Bill Parsons, Arm’s leader & chief strategist for most things with a pulse, he was giving a keynote speech to a large room of senior insurance executives at an event we had organised aimed at helping to cultivate a culture of innovation within the organisation. Despite employing less than 500 people at the time, Arm shortly thereafter entered the FTSE 100 (in 2000) and grew revenues by more than 60 percent that year, outselling Pentium at a ratio of 10:1.
That insurance brand went on to do rather well too.
I’ve written a number of articles charting Arm’s evolution for various journals down the years and featured a major case study on this Cambridge-based global leader in semiconductor intellectual property in Brand Engagement (2007).
I’m not exactly a “tech-head” but I do have a great deal of admiration for this paradoxically modest UK powerhouse of a brand especially as their success isn’t built on the superhuman qualities of a few but on the cultivation of a collaborative, sustainable cuture amongst the many.
Having caught up with Bill last week, I’m pleased to report that nothing has changed yet everything has improved, despite the worldwide economic downturn. They’re a truly multi-national business now, albeit still a brand typified by characteristic understatedness to the point of being virtually unknown outside of the IT technology world. As their corporate literature states: ARM technology is enabling the world’s leading companies to succeed. It stresses their partnership ethos rather than conveying a sense of dominance even though in 2011 ARM maintained a >95% market share of smartphones and tablets and Google and Microsoft announced that they were creating versions of their PC operating systems and application software to support ARM processor-based computers.
As I wrote back in 2000, innovation is all talk at Arm. They may employ the cream of the technology graduates from over 50 nationalities, but employee engagement is at the forefront of their people strategy and face to face communication is prioritized wherever possible. They may have been at the leading edge regarding the use of wikis as collaborative development tools but they greatly prize leadership accessibility and cultivate the sort of partnership culture internally that they so prize in their external stakeholder relations. As Warren East, CEO states in their 2011 annual report, “we believe partnership is the smartest approach to creating value. Rather than establishing a business that tries to do everything we partner with many companies each of whom can focus their efforts on where the best add value.” They take the same approach to leadership and project management and as a consequence their employee engagement statistics have improved from 83% to 89% over the last two years. I’m struggling to think of a set of figures that could compare during the same period.
It won’t come as much of a surprise to anyone but perhaps Bill that his time is very much in demand by executives struggling with the challenge of change. He’s even helping to shape thinking around marketing & communications and the ever-evolving use of social media, something he admits he never thought he would be asked to comment on. But it’s both reassuring and pleasing to see that, regardless of the part ARM is playing in the evolution of the tools and gadgets that are in many ways opening up a world of possibilities for enhancing the ways we communicate, for Bill, engagement is still very much all talk @ Arm Holdings.
June 6, 2012
To the employee engagement zealots the phrase “wrong type of engagement” is an anathema.
But it certainly exists.
I’ve long been warning of the dangers of what I call “car crash” engagement: the type that brings out the rubberneckers and clogs up rather than liberates the metaphorical corporate communication highways.
Employee engagement is a means to an end and not an end in itself as often implied. Take employee brand engagement for instance. It’s simply a term to describe the process of clarifying and forging a relationship between employees and the brand they represent in a way that ensures they are able to deliver on the promise the brand makes to the market. It isn’t an obligation to entertain through corporate drama and expensively staged events nor is it achieved by performance management alone or by ramming benefits statements down the gaping maw of the collective needy. Engagement is achieved through involvement and by appealing to both logic and emotion. But above all it should be pragmatic in ambition as employee engagement initiatives for the sake of it are potentially damaging unless they enhance the ability of the business to deliver on its mission, vision and core goals
The latest CIPD research backs up this view. It rightly differentiates between transactional and emotional engagement and suggests that employees who are just transactionally engaged only connect with the task or job role at hand. They may well respond positively in engagement surveys however, thereby giving a false positive. Certainly in the short-term, they can display behaviours associated with commitment. But they are less likely to perform well and will quickly leave for a better job if offered a better financial deal, gathering intellectual property at the expense of the organisations they join as they go. That may suit some and may help to explain the growth in the interim market, but it has worrying implications for brand sustainability in the medium term and beyond.
In contrast, staff who are emotionally engaged believe in the organisation’s mission and values and feel a connection with their own. They are more likely to perform well, have higher levels of wellbeing and remain loyal. Great news all round provided they in turn, are encouraged to keep their “eye on the ball”.
Not surprisingly the research found that high levels of transactional engagement were potentially damaging for both individuals and their organisation because such employees report higher levels of stress and more difficulty in achieving a work-life balance than emotionally engaged employees. Transactionally engaged employees are also more likely to behave in ways that could damage the business, for example acting out of self-interest rather than in the interests of the organisation or making decisions that seem fine in the short-term but come back to “bite” long after they have left.
This potentially damaging type of engagement is arguably more prevalent during times of economic hardship when employees have shuffled down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and become more obsessed with the need to earn a living and meet minimal workplace expectations rather than nurture more developmental or higher order needs and values in themselves and their colleagues.
As Claire Churchard states in her PM article, 23 May ”Emotional engagement is prompted by elements that go beyond the job role itself, including colleagues, line managers, the organisation and clients. It is driven by an employee’s desire to do more than is expected for which they gain a more fulfilling psychological contract.”
Angela Baron, research adviser at the CIPD, said: “While we definitely encourage organisations to measure engagement, it’s not enough to focus on increasing scores without considering what type and locus of engagement is being measured. What people are engaged with, and the nature and driving force behind their engagement, also need taking into consideration – otherwise organisations risk misunderstanding the actual extent and nature of engagement.” In short, it’s entirely possible to be engaged in the wrong way leading to counter-productive outcomes for both the business and the individuals. Surveys aren’t enough, they’re just the starting point, as we’ve always said, leaders need to understand the underlying factors and that requires involvement through timely and frequent face to face consultation.
Baron added that HR and line managers have a key role in clearly defining engagement criteria and interpreting engagement surveys and scores because they have the insight to identify the different interactions at play in the workplace. Any support for the pivotal role that first line managers have to play at the engagement front line is very much on message as far as we’re concerned.
May 14, 2012
Last year we witnessed the rapid and messy implosion of the superinjunction in the face of guerrilla communication, the high-profile demise of the head of the IMF, more MP scandals than you can shake a ballot box at and the ongoing News of the World debacle. Behaviour was squarely in the spotlight once again.
I was speaking at an event not that long ago attended by a host of senior names from the professional services sector. The core theme was brand development and brand engagement, an area of increasing relevance for this sector that has hitherto relied on the superhero/star-chamber model epitomised by the names above the door.
Professional services firms, particularly the legal ones, despite what the largely terrible advertisements may imply, are gradually recognising the importance of differentiation when it comes to competition for market share, mergers and acquisitions, succession and, yes, the war for talent. Consequently the role of HR may be assuming new-found prominence, given they are responsible for ensuring that the employer brand, values, culture and people processes – such as recruitment, performance management, and training and development – support rather than undermine the brand. They are accountable, ultimately, for ensuring that employees – and partners – keep the promises their firms make to their customers.
The various debates were fascinating, not least the shared insight that reputation, rather than brand, has greater resonance with partners. It was also apparent that in many firms the top team still resists attempts to include them in the common employee throng, making it extremely difficult for change facilitators to ensure consistency when communicating the firm’s brand.
There was a shared acknowledgement, however, that culture development is becoming increasingly important as a way of focusing on behaviour that may help differentiate one firm from the next in the eyes of the customer. But the change agents’ lot is not an easy one.
In such a politically charged environment, where hierarchy is still king, an objective “third way” can be very helpful. Measurement, in the form of a pragmatic and tailored employee engagement gauge, or culture benchmarking facility like the Organisation Culture Index, can be very powerful, especially if linked to customer data. HR has the opportunity to play an important role bridging the internal and external stakeholder communities.
Despite the inherent difficulties, HR functions can be hugely influential drivers of culture improvement to grow the rather vulnerable and extremely exposed “brand”, especially if they have the ability to convince the stars in the chambers that brand is less about process and more about behaviour and that there’s a clear business case for change. The value or price of employee advocacy is something most professional sevices should at least appreciate. If stuck, they can can make a start by asking the killer question….. “what price reputation?”
March 28, 2012
In Part 1 I listed the issues poisoning and undermining the engagement landscape.
1. Measure what you treasure: We’ve criticised the measurement industry which has grown up around employee engagement, largely on the grounds that the processes are all too often too cumbersome and there’s far too great a lag between recognition of the problem and action. When directors are obsessed with quarterly reporting and expect to move on every couple of years, what’s the use of a bi-annual staff survey?
We’ve also spoken in the past however, about the need for some form of measurement to win round the left-brained, data-worshipping cynics and to create a stake in the ground from which improvement can be tracked.
It’s far better however, to ask a few powerful questions and take swift action to address the issues highlighted. It sends out a signal that the leaders care, especially if they can see swift results. After all, there’s usually time to dig deeper at a later stage and to involve more people in that process.
2. Pull together a brand coalition: Sustainable brands are built on sustainable stakeholder involvement inside and out and side to side. Constructing and maintaining a united and consistent picture of the business is very important if the business is to back up the promises made about the brand. This can’t happen in isolation, however, and needs at least HR; Marketing and Comms working in concert to address the process and behavioural challenges.
3. Think beehive, think culture: I can’t think of a board room where “the way we do things” isn’t tabled daily. Yet so few attempt to clarify what that means in practice, usually fearing the consequences of shaking the beehive. Organisations are the sum of the behaviour of the people who work for them. You can’t engage people unless you understand them. Involvement is key to engagement, so find a way to understand the current norms and then work with the decision makers to create a compelling picture of the culture required to deliver the goals, strategy and vision and an engagement programme to bring it to life, role modelling that desired culture as you go. If in doubt, ask a trusted advisor to lend a hand in shaping and facilitating the journey.
4. Lead by example: It’s tough at the top. But that’s what you’re paid for. Remember how you used to look to your leaders for cues about how to behave, and how not to? That never changes. Yes, organisations have had to adapt to prevailing social norms and become more democratic and affiliative in leadership style. So-called social media and the communication revolution is going to ensure that this trend continues. The modern manager simply has to lad by example if they’re to sustain a career within a sustainable business. Values-based leadership is a powerful development strategy, as is mentoring and hugely cost-effective. These are tough times but how are leadership development budgets or even personal development budgets being spent where you work? And what’s the opportunity cost of a disengaged workforce?
5. Appreciate the power of appreciative comms: Last but not least, conscripted armies of favourites don’t build sustainable brands. Cynics don’t destroy them either. Brands are undermined by a million small cuts; insidiousness and passivity leading to what I call “creeping brand death” like the spreading darkness in The Never Ending Story. The thriving brands, however, have champions everywhere in all shapes and sizes who feel connected because they believe in what they’re hearing via the internal communication channels and their values resonate with what they experience at work not just what they hear the leaders saying. So be appreciative and start actively seeking out examples of best practice behaviour that exemplifies the business you want to see and celebrate it. Good news is infectious, especially in dark days.
If you would like to know more about the detail underpinning these 5 approaches which are all based upon recent case studies or would prefer a confidential chat about the engagement issues you’re facing, please contact Ian.