One of the few privileges of the consultant is a sense of perspective that comes from picking up patterns of behaviour in the relationship between employer and employee that are repeated regardless of the organisational context, state or sector. One of my more marketing-focused colleagues calls these the perpetual courtship dances between the organisation and their stakeholders, a sort of masked ball at which there’s much promise in the bright lights and loud music but not always as much excitement about the delivery.
As the chatter about recession resurfaces as we enter the official summertime and leave the first quarter of the year, glancing back at past client assignments suggests that the Indian Summer we experienced on the outside may well be reflected in a select number of boardrooms. Punchy words given the economic indicators.
Having lived through several waves of the slings and arrows of outrageous business fortune in the past, we know that economic downturns are typified by a lot of breath holding in the hope of business as usual. But it’s very difficult for organisations to operate when the oxygen of optimism isn’t filtering through to their people and communication has all but disappeared.
In the darkest of days however, there are always a select few who bravely buck the trends and recognise that engagement is the key to morale building; that collaboration leads to fresh thinking and that teamwork, which is free, can break the cycle of depression and actually lead to improvements in employee and consequently customer satisfaction. And these select few have been very busy since last Summer.
The notable avant-garde organisations on our dashboard this time around include:
- a forward thinking head of internal communication who refuses just to SOS or send out stuff and has formed a partnership with the marketing function to secure budget for an engagement programme and ensure that the brand and “service or value proposition” is delivered in a seamless fashion.
- there’s also an HR director who has pulled together a brand coalition (yes, an HRD!) to help define a service promise and most importantly ensure that the coalition is capable of delivering on those fine words by taking a champion-led approach to engagement.
- we’ve also been working with a director of learning and development who has borrowed budget from the marketing department to fund a change management training programme for the sales team based on our Hero’s journey approach in order to address sliding engagement statistics directly linked to customer satisfaction problems. Again, the service promise is at the core of the initiative, not an HR policy.
Each initiative is innovative, yet it remains cost neutral. Why? Because in each case, the leaders involved have recognised the causal link between customer satisfaction and employee engagement, promise making and promise keeping. In recognising this they have also acknowledged that brand is simply a hollow word unless supported by an internal culture in which on-brand values and behaviours thrive. They have consequently agreed to re-align budget along these lines and have shared responsibility for engagement inside and out.
The engagement solutions we’ve facilitated for them have been largely cost neutral as they have replaced traditional training and/or been funded by re-channeling spend on less effective initiatives whether within the HR, Comms or Marketing spheres. Why SOS when you can engage people to the point that they become self managing teams?
Tough times breed ingenuity. Viewed this way, downturns can be remarkable hot houses for initiative and innovation and yes, engagement. But as the latest engagement statistics from the US suggest employee engagement levels at an all time low (28%), it would appear that this joined-up, liberating, silo-busting thinking is sadly still in short supply. But I’m sure he self-same organisations are still printing the internal and external marketing collateral and glossy brochures promising much. Ridiculous when, with some lateral vision, true engagement costs nothing and with some professional, well targeted guidance, yields a great deal!