Friday, December 21, 2012

Employers Can Still Make These Holidays Special

We were happy to help out at the beginning of the holiday season with ways to help keep employees focused during what can be a difficult -- as well as rewarding -- time at work.

And if you're helping manage a place that needs to keep operating right on through from now into the New Year, then these ideas can be doubly helpful.

Here are some of the suggestions we shared with CBS News for helping workers to feel engaged during the holidays:

Give them a temporary flexible schedule. We told CBS that if people are worried about making flights or being home for deliveries, it can distract them from work. So try to work around that reality of the holidays if you can.

Plan some corporate holiday cheer. Company Christmas parties are all wrapped up, but what about some kind of social occasion recognizing those who must work during the week between Christmas and New Year? Even the smallest gesture will be appreciated.

Give back to others. There's never only a season for doing this, but the winter holidays in American culture can punctuate the need. 

It might even be a good idea to organize some kind of company-level effort that would be executed during the last week of the year, because there's always so much do-gooding right up until Christmas -- and then it sort of drops off a cliff (no fiscal pun intended).

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Want Engaged Employees? It's Up To You!

Two new studies are out that underscore the importance of managers in determining whether employees consider themselves engaged in their work and in the mission of their companies.

The studies focus on different levels of management as being determinative in employees' feelings of engagement. But the overall point is that workers' sense of welcome by their company, and commitment to their work, tends to be highly influenced by the behavior and attitudes of their leaders at any and all levels of the company.

Three key drivers of employee engagement, identified in a survey this fall of 1,500 employees nationally, were their relationship with their immediate supervisor, belief in senior leadership and pride in working for the company.

"The attitude and actions of the immediate supervisor can enhance employee engagement or can create an atmosphere where an employee becomes disengaged," the recent study by MSW Research and Dale Carnegie Training concluded.

At the same time, in a recent study by Modern Survey, the No. 1 factor in driving engagement was this: "I have confidence in my company's senior management." The biggest problem with that finding, the survey outfit said, was that "favorability ratings of senior management haven't changed much over the past year, and remain at depressingly low levels."

This outlines a clear challenge for corporate managers and executives: As much as they may massage other lever of employee engagement ranging from benefits to good business performance, the biggest influence they can have on the men and women in the next cubicle or out in the field or on the factory floor below is individual exhibition of leadership qualities and their personal relationships with their subordinates.

Or, as the MSW-Carnegie study put it, "Believing in the ability of senior leadership to take their input, lead the company in the right direction and openly communicate the state of the organization is key in driving [employee] engagement."

Friday, December 14, 2012

Most Important Developments at Yahoo Are Beneath Surface

The young reign of Marissa Mayer as CEO of Yahoo is getting a lot of attention. That's especially true as she tries to get a strategic handle on a company that's been messed up for a while.

This week's news of a shuffle on the Yahoo board, for example, is hardly surprising.

Yet the bigger story in Mayer's attempted transformation of Yahoo may be occurring beneath this high-visibility surface. There is evidence that one of the new CEO's most important initiatives is to improve the company by boosting employee engagement.

It may seem that a culture of true care about their work should come naturally to Yahoo employees and management; after all, isn't every Silicon Valley company and everyone there just wild about how they're using digital technology to transform the world?

But obviously, that hasn't been the reality for a while at Yahoo, which has been losing a struggle to stay with Amazon, Apple and Google in the top tier of companies that indeed continue to transform the world through digital technology.

So Mayer is taking the possibilities of greater engagement seriously, some reports suggest. For example, she recently e-mailed employees that each of them had the choice of a free Apple iPhone 5, a Samsung Galaxy S3 or a comparable smart phone. 

Making sure Yahoo employees reside on the cutting edge of mobile technology is a huge part of Mayer's business plan for the company, to be sure. But this gesture shows that she truly wants to compel employees to join her in overhauling the company rather than simply imposing her new vision from on high.

It'll be interesting to track the evolution of engagement at Yahoo as Mayer's high-stakes overhaul picks up speed.

Engagement Is Up, Disengagement Down, Survey Says

American employers are boosting the number of fully engaged employees while the number of under-engaged employees declines.

That's the double dose of good news in a new survey of employee-engagement levels in the U.S. workforce by Modern Survey, a Minneapolis-based outfit that began its annual study five years ago.

Just released, its Fall 2012 National Norms Study on this topic found a 5-percentage-point increase in the number of fully engaged employees, to 13 percent from 8 percent. Its portion of moderately engaged employees stayed at 22 percent.

Meanwhile, Modern's survey showed that 37 percent of employees describe themselves as "under engaged," down 5 percent from 42 percent a year earlier. The portion self-identifying as "disengaged" remained at 28 percent.

A leading driver of engagement continues to be employees' confidence in the future of their companies. But when Modern Survey introduced a new factor as a potential key driver of engagement in this year's survey, it rose right to the top of employees' lists: "I have confidence in my company's senior management."

That result underscores the importance of a consistent and persistent focus on employee engagement by company leadership. 

And the relatively low number of "fully engaged" employees -- though up substantially percentage-wise from a year earlier -- highlights the vastness of the opportunity that lies before senior managers.

Employees want to follow enlightened leadership. And there's no better place to lead them than toward full engagement as employees.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Workplace Distractions? Engagement Is the Real Antidote

We are so distracted at work that we can't pay attention to our work.

That's the problem highlighted by an article in the Wall Street Journal this morning headlined, "Here's Why You Won't Finish This Article."

The piece points out that distraction at the office, while hardly a new phenomenon, has reached "epidemic" proportions "and is affecting business."

Few office workers can go more than a few minutes these days without being interrupted by a phone call, text message, e-mail alert or interruption at their desk -- or, perhaps more to blame, succumbing to the temptation to create their own such diversions.

"It is an epidemic," Lacy Roberson, a director of learning and organizational development at eBay Inc., told the newspaper. At most companies, it's a struggle "to get work done on a daily basis, with all these things coming at you."

What are we as business leaders to do? Some, the Journal said, are trying to limit emails; some are banning electronic devices during certain meetings; others are cutting the number of projects workers can tackle at one time.

But you certainly can't fight the sources of this phenomenon: The world of work and communication has changed forever, mainly because of digital technologies and evolving cultural norms, and we can't put the genie back in the bottle.

So let us suggest, instead, that the real solution is to create a team so engaged and involved in their work that the distraction factor becomes essentially a non-issue.

If a company's productivity is rising because its workforce is motivated by a sense of mission and purpose, and is stoked by success, such an enterprise will rise above the "epidemic" of distractions like an elephant flicking away gnats. The drag on productivity from today's fragmented work style will be far more than offset by the dramatic results of employee engagement.

So focusing on engagement is the key. Distractions will no longer distract as much. And when they do, it won't matter as much.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

At UPS, Engagement Can Be As Important As Speed

UPS is one version of the modern Pony Express: It's got to get the job done reliably, no excuses and stellar performance, day after day after day.

That's one reason the company under CEO Scott Davis has veered strongly toward increasing engagement of its employees in its unceasing mission -- and its endless competition with the likes of FedEx.

"Having a 'good relationship' with employees or a workplace that satisfies them doesn't really help us in today's business market," Joe Finamore, vice president of global employee relations for UPS, told us for the cover story, "The Power of Employee Engagement," for the Fall 2012 issue of our magazine, Looking Inward.

"We're evolving as an organization to an engaged workforce, one that is apt to take what they do to the next level." 

Drivers and package sorters who are fully engaged are more likely, for example, to conceive and execute extra work-process innovations that can create crucial increments of higher productivity of the type which is crucial to UPS keeping its edge. By the same token, engaged employees tend to ensure happier customers.

As an example of a greater focus on engagement, Finamore cited how UPS recently changed the name of its "employee-satisfaction" survey to an "employee-engagement" survey and modified about 40 percent of the questions to focus respondents on engagement.

In remarks that aren't in the story, Finamore also shared with us how UPS has noticed that "with every level of employee in the organization, the more we communicate what 'engagement' is, the more people seem to know and understand what we mean and put forth that extra effort they think it requires."

But Finamore stressed that building an engaged culture typically is a deliberate, sometimes long process for companies.

"We still have a way to go to not only communicate aspects of engagement but to better capture the feelings of our employees and then look at what I think is the true essence of engagement: Are employees actually demonstrating particular characteristics that are those of engaged employees?"

At UPS, increasingly, the answer is "yes."

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Attaining Alignment Is Putting Horse Before the Cart

Sometimes, leaders can focus too much on engaging employees in their work and not enough on an even bigger and more important pursuit: making sure your organization understands the work they're engaged in.

In other words, not only must chiefs of companies and other organizations strive to create compelling and significant ways for employees to become and stay engaged in their work, to the benefit of the brand, the company and themselves.

Leaders also must make sure that everyone is aligned around common values and goals so that, in their "engagement," they're all striving more effectively for the same good purposes.

Such alignment of objectives, goals, strategies, purpose, mission and values can greatly enhance and improve an organization. With it, you get harmony, speed and other competitive advantages. And successful alignment creates hugely beneficial synergies with successful engagement.

Hilton Worldwide CEO Christopher J. Nassetta is one leader who has understood and grasped the power of alignment, and he has used it to draw the hotelier's 300,000 employees worldwide more effectively around the company's values and goals.

"We had a lot of segments of the company that operated very independently" when he joined Hilton five years ago, Nassetta told the New York Times in a recent interview. "We had massive amounts of duplication and fragmentation. We needed alignment.

"We needed people to understand who we were, what we stood for and the key priorities for the company. And we needed them, once they understood that, to get their oars in the water and head in a common direction."

For instance, Hilton employees had widely varying answers to the question of what the company's strategic priorities were. "I stopped counting when I got to 30 different values statements," Nassetta said.

So he launched Hilton on a crusade to define and communicate the company's primary values and to align all of its operations and employees around them. A small team formulated the final statement and then worked it into an acronym to make it catchy and easily memorable for everyone at the company.

They ended up with "HILTON": H for hospitality, I for integrity, L for leadership, T for teamwork, O for ownership and N for now.

"To reinforce [this], we are constantly referring to the letters -- in newsletters, in town halls -- almost to the point where we are driving people crazy. But it works."

And in the process of using devices like these to drive internal alignment, Nassetta believes that he is working toward his ultimate calling as a corporate leader.

"The trick is having intense alignment around mission, values and the key strategic priorities," he said. "My job as CEO, simply stated, is to create the right culture, set the tone, the high-level strategy."

A Contrarian View on $130-Billion in 'Lost' Productivity

The folks at CFO magazine are up in arms about a report that there's an annual cost of about $130 billion to U.S. companies from employees who spend at least an hour at work each week doing something other than work.

That figure reflects 61 percent in a survey who said that they actually spend about two hours a week not working at their jobs.

Frankly, we're surprised that these numbers -- and, thus, the concomitant "damage" from productivity losses -- aren't a lot higher. We think the actual time spent by employees on non-company-related activities at work probably far exceeds one or two hours.

Who doesn't spend at least that much time each week, combined, at the water cooler, checking their personal smartphones, drinking a cup of coffee or a Vitaminwater each day and using the restrooms?

And anyway, one component of this report, a survey of 3,200 employees by, identified meetings as the biggest time-waster in the office, in their opinion. That especially applies, we might add, to meetings that are so unproductive that they could count as "nonwork activities"!

Instead of emphasizing nitpicking of their employees' time each day and week to make sure the "wasted" hours don't add up, we urge companies to focus on how to help their employees become so engaged in supporting their brands and doing their jobs that productivity skyrockets and success abounds.

Truly engaged employees, operating in a corporate culture that emphasizes and rewards that engagement, are the key to long-term success.

And with success, management doesn't need to concern itself about a game of Solitaire here and there.

Brands Huddle for Innovation as They Ready Super Bowl Ads

Now that the calendar has turned the page to December, the flow of news about Super Bowl ads has become a torrent. And as it has, there's one thing you can count on for the telecast of Super Bowl XLVII on February 3 from New Orleans besides the fact that the audience will be massive.

The advertising will be interesting and discussion-worthy. And that's especially the case because the Big Game has become a big platform for major innovations in social-media marketing as well as for brand apotheoses.

The history of Super Bowl advertising largely has been built around these grand statements: Apple with its "1984" commercial, for instance, and more recently Hyundai with the announcement of its Assurance incentive program.

But increasingly, savvy marketers have been looking at the game broadcast itself as only a sort of midpoint in a long campaign that relies on social media to grease the skids for the advertising during the weeks leading up to the game, often relies on social networks to create a surge of interest and even consumer participation during the Super Bowl, and then nurtures awareness and enthusiasm around the ads with social-media-based followup afterwards.

And in some cases, advertisers already have turned the game time itself into a social-media event that doesn't entirely depend on what's happening on the field or on the TV screen.

Last Super Bowl, for example, Coke TV ads featured computer-animated polar bears frolicking with Coca-Cola in their Arctic wonderland. But the same bears also appeared in a video stream that ran online throughout the game as the characters appeared to react in real time to the actual action during the Super Bowl, including touchdowns and even commercials for other brands. 

This year, expect social-media influence on marketing in and around the game to rise substantially.

Pepsi, for instance, promises "digital engagement" with the Super Bowl halftime show that it is again sponsoring this time around after several years. And Ford is making a splashy return to the game after a long absence, with a new ad for its Lincoln brand that will be consumer-generated via a social-marketing campaign in which fans are being invited to "co-create" the 60-second spot through tweets in a fun effort that will be curated by TV host Jimmy Fallon starting today.

Nowadays, the final score of the Super Bowl on the field isn't the only tally that matters. Brands are also picking up big points with a new blend of social media and advertising that will keep evolving.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Now an Omnicom Shop Joins Move Into Gamification

"Gamification" is a popular way of building employee engagement and is continuing to catch on. It means making work as fun and engaging as possible by turning it into light competition or at least akin to recreation.

The approach makes sense given a number of factors that are sweeping the workplace these days like:
  • The rise of the Millennial generation that has been raised on digital gaming
  • The inexorable takeover of nearly every work task by digitalization
  • And the difficulty in generating the necessary interest in some of the mundane tasks that still comprise so much of the stuff of running a company.
One of the latest examples is from PHD, a media network owned by the Omnicom Group, who is rolling out an in-house platform embracing the principles of gamification. With more than 70 offices in more than 60 geographic markets, London-based PHD has built a global operating system named "Source" to enable its employees to work together in real time.

Source uses the same type of technology platform used by massively multiplayer online games, known as MMOs, according to Mediapost. Alongside facilitating and providing a framework for strategic decision-making, according to, Source will also host a "leader board" charting the relevant output of PHD employees across the globe. Employees will be ranked in the system based on their input. And career advancement will depend in part on those rankings. And what better way to lure employees to this new platform than to gamify?
"Implementing a gamified system is of huge benefit to our clients, with the best thinking rising to the top," said Mike Cooper, PHD's worldwide CEO. "It also fosters strategic planning and promotes the function by implementing it into daily activity."

Of course, some companies perceive gamification to be a risky initiative. For instance, there are situations where executives see a game as being "too fun" and raise concerns that the programs are taking the employee's focus away from the company's bigger picture.

But if you're a large company or a growing firm that wants to retain younger employees, gamification is definitely worth looking into.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Car Brands Also Aim At Creating Customer 'Geniuses'

The success of Apple as a retailing giant, as well as a product developer and marketer, has spawned lots of imitators and would-be imitators.

And at this point, no industry is trying to mimic Apple's hands-on approach as much as the auto industry. In fact, this movement among car brands carries lots of potential for transforming a vehicle-purchase experience that still ranks right up there with public speaking as one of the leading anathemas to American consumers.

It seems that every time you turn around, one car brand or another is announcing a new emphasis on boosting dealership and early-ownership experiences for their customers by establishing their own version of the Apple Genius Bar.

The latest hand-raiser: General Motors, which is now dispatching 25 tech-savvy specialists to its 4,400 U.S. dealerships to show staffers how to teach customers about technology, according to Automotive News, and admittedly stealing a page from the Apple playbook.

Auto-industry initiatives also have involved setting up or expanding dedicated cadres of "technology" or "delivery" specialists in the showroom who are allocated the time and the training to hold the hands of new customers and walk them through the always-complex, sometimes-confusing gauntlet of learning a new vehicle's "infotainment" systems.

Such technologies have become a driving force in the industry's attempts to bring new and intriguing features to American consumers. But botching the handoff from gleaming showroom enticement to how customers actually manipulate the systems once they're on their own also has been an Achilles' heel for some -- notably Ford, whose ham-handed introduction of the MyFord Touch introduction two years ago is still hurting them in consumer esteem and third-party ratings.

We're encouraged by how deliberating automakers are addressing this entire new arena of customer satisfaction and, in fact, are attempting to leverage it into another powerful instrument for branding. "Customer experience" will never be taken for granted again.

And the brands that do the best job on this new frontier stand a good chance of picking up market share to reflect it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Hospital CEO in Detroit Brings Engagement to Town

In all of the attention to and handwringing over the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare," at least one thing has gotten rather lost: discussion of the impact on health-care employees.

There are going to be both growth and opportunities as well as dislocation and loss for the more than 18 million people who work in the health-care sector in the United States, as Obamacare unfurls over the next several years.

And in order to make the transition a positive for their staffs, some health-care brands are trying to make sure that they are on the same page as their employees when requirements of the law begin taking hold in earnest in 2013.

That's a major reason why one big provider, Vanguard Health Services, is focusing on employee engagement like never before. Vanguard is a large operator of hospitals and other health-care facilities in notable markets including Boston, Detroit and Phoenix.

Having helped transform the culture of Vanguard's operations in New England, Joe Mullany is ready to lead a similar movement within Detroit Medical Center, another important Vanguard division. Mullany, currently president of DMC, is taking over as CEO from Michael Duggan, who helped build the southeastern Michigan giant into a strong player in a highly competitive market and has stepped down to consider a bid for mayor of Detroit.

"We had seven years of good success [in Massachusetts] basically taking a fragmented system of hospitals and bringing them together with a common mission, system and values, centering mostly on patient care and safety," Mullany told us. "We created a culture of engagement where employees feel that their job is to improve patient care every day."

Hiring people with engagement in mind is one crucial part of this strategy, Mullany said, in part relying on a "rigorous" assessment process. He also plans to launch an annual employee survey about engagement in Detroit just as he did in Massachusetts. And Mullany has formed an employee-engagement committee at DMC.

The new-CEO-to-be also has just started his own B2B blog just for the directors of DMC's various departments, a couple hundred strong. 

"It will give me direct access to them, and I hope keep them informed and motivated," Mullany said. "We have a lot going on here with all of our [$850 million in planned] construction, and improving quality measures, and our journey on safety.

"And I'll be asking the directors more about what they're seeing, to act as our eyes and ears. What stops them from being as successful as they want to be today? What issues and roadblocks are there? We hope to knock down those obstacles one by one."

Clearly, Mullany understands the importance of an engaged management and workforce as his company, and health-care providers across the country, stand on the precipice of the Obamacare era. Here's betting they don't fall off the cliff.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Votes Are In: Recognition Boosts Employee Engagement

Another close look has recognized the value of employee-recognition programs in strengthening corporate culture and, specifically, employee engagement.

About 72 percent of recently surveyed HR professionals siad that their company or organization's employee-recognition program serves to help the business "instill and reinforce corporate values to its employees," according to joint research for the Society for Human Resource Management and Globoforce consultancy. 

Even more -- 82 percent -- report that employee-recognition programs have a positive impact on employee engagement. Another 54 percent said that recognition programs help the organization retain employees.

Presumably reflecting such growing regard for the importance of recognition programs in boosting employe regard for the company, 6 percent of those HR professionals in the survey reported plans to launch a recognition program in the next 12 months.

"Highly engaged employhees can boost a company's profitability," Eric Mosley, CEO of Globoforce, said in a release about the survey.

We'll second that.

Friday, November 16, 2012

It's Reality TV, Now Starring: Employee Engagement

It's time to admit this: Reality TV has been good for employee engagement.

Sure, the still-exploding genre has given us abominable material like the Kardashians' lives and watching humans eat bugs. 

But also through programs such as CBS's Undercover Boss, reality TV has shone a light on and for companies that are doing a great job of employee engagement -- and some that need to do better.

The latest example will show this evening when Undercover Boss goes beneath the surface at Cinnabon Inc. with its young CEO, Kat Cole. "I was incredibly proud of our brand and developed an even deeper understanding and appreciation" for Cinnabon's employees, Cole told Nation's Restaurant News.

Meantime, a newer entrant in the reality-TV derby, Be the Boss, is taking the notion of employee engagement to a new level on the A&E Network by allowing two participants to compete for what turns out to be a chance to own a franchise of his or her own.

Auntie Anne's is participating in the show, offering up two of its lower-level employees to face off for what they think is a corporate promotion. But instead, the winner becomes a franchise partner with the company. Thus the show helps the brand appeal not only to consumers but also to the franchise community -- and its own employees.

"Its's kind of like a win-win," Andre Neyrey, CEO of Manhattan Restaurant Consultants, told QSR Magazine. "The brand's going to do well, they're going to look better to their customer base, and they're also going to build some employee loyalty."

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Apple Discovers Appeal of Employee Engagement

There's an interesting transition going on at Apple, America's largest and most successful company: It is becoming a brand more concerned about employee engagement.

At least that's how we interpret an article in this morning's Wall Street Journal that explains how Apple is making a significant transition from an almost military-like company where employees were largely motivated by a cult of personality around Steve Jobs.

In its place, new CEO Tim Cook is remaking the enterprise around some of the same kinds of employee-focused innovations that long have been staples at Apple's Silicon Valley competitors.

Earlier this year, for example, Apple launched a new initiative called "Blue Sky" that allows a small group of staffers to spend a few weeks on a pet engineering project, the newspaper said. That's similar to programs such as Google's "20% Time" that allows employees to spend up to one-fifth of their time on projects outside their normal responsibilties.

Apple under Cook also has introduced small corporate benefits such as discounts on Apple products and a charitable matching program, which the late Jobs hadn't bothered to institute.

What's going on here? A few things, we think.

First, Apple employees indeed are adjusting to an era that is new for them in the very simple fact that Jobs, a godlike figure who co-founded the company and then came back years later to revive it, is gone, and a "mere human" has succeeded him. Their expectations and demands for a tenure led by Cook, however successful it may be, naturally are going to be higher.

Second, with all of its tremendous successes as a product and as a brand over the last 20 years, Apple inevitably has entered a more competitive era in consumer electronics in which the mere fact of being an Apple product will mean less and less in the marketplace. So Cook must seek ways to motivate the Apple workforce for what promise to be more challenging times.

Third, Apple's stock prices has been easing, and it has been the prospect of the company's ever-rising stock price that has served as a huge incentive for many employees to stay.

It's not surprising that Cook has answered these challenges in part by trying to create a more engaged employee. In terms of employee retention, the Journal reports, some of the moves -- and the indications of a new culture -- already are working.

Give this new approach a fighting chance over the long term, we'd wager, and Cook will be able to continue to build his own successful legacy at the helm of the Company that Jobs Built.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Social-Gaming Your Way to Employee Engagement

With employees increasingly distracted by all kinds of electronic possibilities that can keep them from their actual work, more companies are figuring out that to keep their staffs engaged, they need to pull a bit of a jujitsu move. In other words, use the momentum of the distractions against the distractions themselves. Or, looked at another way, co-opt the distractions.

Using "gamification" for internal communications and employee engagement increasingly is one way to do this.
The problem, of course, is that the typical white-collar or service employee is being bombarded - voluntarily and involuntarily - by a fusillade of information. These days, that causes a pervasive lack of focus, as Joe Fisher has put it in a recent piece on

Much of this information comes from companies in the forms of e-mails, social-media postings and other missives meant to keep employees productive, efficient and for the most part happily engaged in their work. But most of the input simply serves as a distraction from those goals. According to estimates from the New York Times, the average American worker:
  • Consumes 34 gigabytes of information
  • Reads 100,000 words in a single day
And computer users change windows or check e-mail and other programs an average of 37 times every hour.

Into this kaleidoscope of communications comes the possibility of using gamification to more fully engage employees which gets their focus. It's something that can effectively cut through all of the other digital clutter - and in doing so, will help companies actually advance their employee-engagement goals.

"Gamification helps businesses engage with customers and motivate employees," Fisher writes, and we agree that it holds such possibilities. "By applying the same principles that inspire people to play games to websites and other online experiences, businesses can dramatically increase the size of their audiences, boost customer engagement, drive deeper employee motivation and increase revenues."

Fisher lists, as a case in point, Bluewolf, a consulting firm, "where employees can earn points by posting new topics for discussion or responding to the posts of others, and generating thoughtful dialogues that keep the cmopany's programs and perspectives fresh and innovative."

If some of this sounds like an amateurish way to run a serious company, we understand that concern. But the challenge in making tasks more interesting and engaging for employees only continues to grow as the rest of the world uses some of these same tactics, so you can make gamification work powerfully for you.

Friday, November 2, 2012

MyFord Lack of Touch Is Still a Problem -- and Growing

Ford has been accomplishing some great things lately through the internal-branding portion of its new "Go Further" brand positioning.

Inward has been in touch with Sarah Tatchio, who heads Ford's internal branding, and she has confirmed that all sorts of internal markers - both anecdotal and quantifiable - are showing that Ford's executives, managers and rank-and-file employees are embracing Ford attributes in a whole new way and seeking how to make the brand, indeed, go further on behalf of Ford customers.

But as is often the case when companies are doing most things right, doing one important thing wrong - and very visibly - can undermine everything else you might be accomplishing. Ford faces exactly that dilemma right now.

Ford's products enjoy high esteem among American consumers for meeting their transportation needs with a top-notch new lineup. And the brand continues to carry good will that it established when it spurned a taxpayer bailout in 2009. But despite of of this, Ford's brand equity actually could be going in the wrong direction for just one reason.

Why? It can't get MyFord Touch correct. And third-party organizations that also are widely respected by the American public, including Consumer Reports magazine and J.D. Power & Associates, have been downgrading Ford's performance in their quality ratings for almost two years now. In fact, Ford seems on its way to stealing defeat from the jaws of victory.

Its ground-breaking first infotainment system, Sync, garnered a lot of interest in Ford vehicles by younger consumers, especially -- and a lot of sales. But when it brought out MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch last year, essentially Sync 2.0, Ford made the mistake of trying to jam too many possibilities into the system and then designing ambiguous and even confusing customer interfaces for those more numerous and more complex functions.

One example: too many requirements to touch the system screen to make it work, not enough traditional buttons and switches.

Ford customers have been penalizing the company for foisting this problem on them for nearly two years now, at least in Power and Consumer Reports customer ratings and expert evaluations. Company executives said about 18 months ago that they grasped the seriousness of the problem and were moving to correct it. And they came up with a software upgrade that they sent to all users.

The result? Not good. Consumer Reports downgraded Ford yet again in its latest annual report on vehicle reliability, plunging the brand down to 27th among 28 total brands in the study, almost entirely because of the MyFord Touch problem.

Mind you, the MyFord Touch fiasco isn't exactly a problem of perceived lack of quality, like poor interior materials or squeaky brakes would be downgraded. And it's not exactly a safety concern like Toyota's unintended-acceleration problem was -- though some drivers are made nervous by how long it takes sometimes to find their way around a MyFord Touch screen.

But whatever it's called, Ford buyers are not happy with MyFord Touch nor how long it's taking Ford to rectify the situation. And the longer it goes on, the more Ford risks severe long-term damage to the brand equity it has so brilliantly and steadfastly built over the last several years.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Another Example of Engagement Boosting the Bottom Line

We've often said that engaged employees lead to higher customer satisfaction, using both strong anecdotal examples as well as quantified research.

Now yet another endorsement of that truth has come out: a new study by Northwestern University researchers which showed that companies could achieve revenue increases of as much as 23 percent by investing wisely in communication, recognition and incentive programs to improve employee engagement.

Professor Frank Mulhern and associates studied employee behavior and the link to increased customer spending at an international hotel chain. They found that the key drivers of brand value to hotel customers were fast and efficient check-in, employe efforts to satisfy customers, hotel options and amenities, and precision in service.

Of course, all but the third of those criteria are highly affected by the engagement of employees not only in their jobs but in their mission to bring satisfaction to customers. And the researchers found that a 10-percent increase in one key drive -- the extent to which employees tried to satisfy customers -- translated into a 23-percent increase in customer spending.

These are the kinds of bottom-line results that we hear about all the time from our clients and in our research. And they're the sort of significant improvements that are available to just about any brand, regardless of what business they're in. It just takes a strategy for brand engagement to realize them.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Out of Sandy's Rubble Arises Some Great Customer Service

No good came out of Hurricane Sandy, of course. The New York City area will be digging out of the damage for many weeks yet, and many people's lives and livelihoods will never be the same -- and, in most cases, they'll be worse off.

But out of rubble always emerges opportunity as well, and some brands and their employees have stood out amid the wreckage for how they have treated consumers, especially on the East Coast, in the aftermath of the storm.

One commentator, for example, said that she received a series of e-mails from Citibank with the simple message, "We're here to help." The bank also explained that it was temporarily waiving fees, increasing mobile-deposit limits, providing access to CDs and taking other measures to help its customers recover more quickly from Sandy.

We can be pretty confident that many of those afflicted Citibank customers will remember how they received some welcome -- and probably unexpected -- kindnesses when they needed them most. And who doesn't think that Citibank's timely and well-conceived outreach isn't winning it some great measure of fierce brand loyalty from these people?

Similarly, Ginger Conlon, editor in chief of Direct Marketing News, noted that JetBlue has sent its TrueBlue loyal members an e-mail extending the brand's well wishes and offering to temporarily waive change and cancellation fees for customers affected by the storm who need to reboot.

Now, if companies and their employees could only bring the kind of help-extending mentality to their business every day -- hurricane, or no hurricane.

Monday, October 29, 2012

'Undercover Boss' Keeps Telling Real-Life Engagement Stories

It's hard to believe that CBS still gets away with fooling employees when company chiefs volunteer to disguise themselves and delve into the bowels of their enterprises in Undercover Boss.

But the Emmy Award-winning reality series is going to be kicking off its fourth season on Friday. 

Among the companies featured will be a Tempe, Arizona-based enterprise, Tilted Kilt. One of the fastest-growing restaurant chains in the country, it's a Celtic-themed sports pub that features servers wearing sexy tartan outfits. 

"I really wanted to see: Are we really portraying our guiding principles all the way down into the pubs?" President Ron Lynch told the Phoenix Business Journal in looking forward to the episode featuring him and Tilted Kilt scheduled for November 9. "That was very important to me to see. By and large, I was very pleased."

Undercover Boss is a great series not only for the companies and CEOs involved, and because typically there are some feel-good stories told throughout a season. It's also an important show for the lessons it teaches about employee engagement -- about how the best enterprises are truly driven by employees who care at the grass-roots level and by managers and executives who understand that nurturing an engagement culture is the only way to truly succeed in the long term.

We look forward to a season of this lesson being learned again and again on Undercover Boss. Sometimes by the CEOs who go incognito, sometimes by the people they lead -- and sometimes by both.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Employers Emerge As Most Credible on Political Information

Know those fliers that you get in the mail from every conceivable constituency with a stake in the November 6 elections telling you how to vote -- or slyly "informing" you on the issues and the candidates?

It turns out that none of them -- from political parties, corporate interests, labor unions, not-for-profit groups, religious organizations, grass-roots causes or candidates themselves -- are nearly as reliable in the eyes of the American voter than information that comes from their employers.

That's right: On the vital matter of how best to preserve, protect and forward American democracy, your employees are more willing to listen to you as the most credible potential source of information.

A new report by the Business Industry Political Action Committee, based on a survey of people at member companies of the Business Industry Political Action Committee, spells out this conclusion based on 500 responses. 

It isn't clear from the organization's news release whether they talked only with employees, with management, or both. Regardless, the conclusion makes sense. Employees certainly recognize that their employers have potential vested interest in all sorts of political outcomes, but they seem to believe that they're more likely to get the straight story even on voting issues from their employers over anyone else.

"Employees have a right to know how policy and election outcomes will affect their jobs and their lives," said Greg Casey, chief executive officer of the Committee. "Employers have a responsibility to share credible information with employees and let them make up their own minds.

In the survey, 37 percent said they even visit their employer or industry association's web site for political information.

"What this report tells us is that employer communication works," Casey said. So "it's imperative that employers make sure the information they are providing is credible."

We couldn't agree more. The conclusion also underscores the effectiveness of employee communications and should underscore for employers the great responsibility they have in being truthful as well as communicative with their people.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How Starbucks Teaches the Gospel of the Bean

A huge part of Starbucks' comeback over the last few years has been the company's attention to its internal brand and employee engagement.

A new story in Fast Company magazine illustrates how the iconic coffee chain does it, focusing on Starbucks' $35-million Leadership Lab for store managers.

The two-hour, theatrical experience taking up 300,000 square feet and 20 exhibits at Starbucks headquarters was the highlight of a recent conference for the company's 9,600 managers, the magazine reports.

The Leadership Lab is a means of both training and inspiring managers to grasp the larger context of their work and to carry that back to their home outlets. In that way, it is creating the effective essence of both internal branding and employee engagement.

It uses theatrics such as allowing managers to rake real coffee beans, acting out difficult in-store scenarios, providing a space for "journaling" and concluding in a pristine white room "where benches face a massive Starbucks logo, inviting you to contemplate the company's mission statement," as Fast Company put it: "To inspire and nurture the human spirit -- one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time."

That Starbucks should invest so much in an employee-engagement exercise isn't a surprise, given the management approach taken by CEO Howard Schultz.

"[Employees] are the true ambassadors of our brand, the real merchants of romance and theater, and as such the primary catalysts for delighting customers," he wrote in his book, Onward. 

And that's the true gospel being taught effectively at Starbucks' Leadership Lab.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

At Enterprise, Engaged Employees Lead to Satisfied Customers

Enterprise Rent-A-Car is driving rings around its competition these days in large part because it has embraced the crucial importance of employee engagement.

"It's central to us," said Steve McCarty, vice president of training and talent development for St. Louis-based Enterprise, in an interview with Inward Strategic Consulting.

"Focusing on employee development and promoting from within drives profit. And we have an engagement culture to make sure that happens."

In fact, the strength of its engagement culture has been one of the primary factors that has allowed Enterprise to rise in market share and consumer esteem compared with some of the traditional heavyweights in the market. 

A main reason for this, McCarty said, is that "there is a strong correlation between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction. Enterprise is very well known for both and fortunate to have a culture that drives both."

Enterprise strives for "completely satisfied" customers, not merely "somewhat satisfied" ones, he said, "and are employees are more engaged when they deliver those service levels."

McCarty said this fortunate fusion between employee and customer satisfaction is depicted in Enterprise's marketing, such as its TV ads "featuring the wonderful quality of our men and women as part of our consumer brand and our employee brand."

The appeal of Enterprise as a workplace and a company that encourages career growth has helped make it especially popular among a target constituency for its recruiting efforts: new and recent college graduates.

"The word of mouth about us on college campuses has hit a bit of a tipping point," McCarty said. 

And given the difficult job market lately for newly minted graduates, that means Enterprise is getting to scoop up some very strong talents.

Yet, McCarty noted, the fact that Enterprise has been building such a strong corps of young managers also "keeps us honest, because our top talents could get jobs elsewhere. So we have to be constantly vigilant."

"Part of our appeal is that we put customers and employees first, and people can stay the course and invest in their careers at Enterprise. Our stability combined with our growth prospects and our employee focus really stand out today."

Monday, October 22, 2012

Soon, "CEO" May Mean Something Other than "CEO"

We all understand how difficult it can be to keep employees engaged at work. A Gallup study last year claimed that about 70 percent of American workers were either "not engaged" or "actively disengaged" at work.

Even companies that have a strong culture can find it difficult to keep all of their employees truly harnessed and happy -- profitably engaged -- all the time.

There are lots of antidotes to this problem, including the systematic and highly effective approach to improving employee engagement that we advocate.

And now add one more idea to all of that: the creation of a corporate engagement officer. The suggestion has been made by Kris Daggan, CEO of gamification company Badgeville, in a story in Direct Marketer magazine, that CMOs soon will be delegated the task of creating engagement strategies across the company in part by creating the position of "engagement manager."

Or, let's call that person the CEO: Chief Engagement Officer. Because ideally, the notion of engagement should be made the kind of priority that would land its chief internal proponent in the C-suite.

At first blush, the idea makes a lot of sense. American corporate culture has steadily added C-level titles to the traditional CEO, COO, CFO and CMO designations over the decades, to reflect the evolution in management thinking, the rise of digital technology as a strategic element, and other factors.

That's why we now have CIOs, Chief Quality Officers, Chief Knowledge Officers and other executives at the highest levels of companies where their very functions didn't even exist in previous generations.

Yes, we're suggesting that employee engagement is as important as those other functions and deserves its own designation.

Maybe not at the "C" level, initially. But engagement officer could, and should, be a significant function in companies that are aiming at long-term success.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Engaged Voters Are Actual Voters

Every political organizer and candidate understands that, on November 6, the key to a successful Election Day will be running a good "ground game" -- in other words, making sure that voters who are interested in a candidate actually show up at the polls to cast their votes.

The candidates who do the best job of engaging their voters will have the best ground games and the best chances to win. But with an American electorate that is proving discouraged and even apathetic, how can politicians produce the kind of enthusiasm, even passion, that engages their supporters enough to get them to execute one of their most important rights as U.S. citizens?

At Inward Strategic Consulting, we have identified the three biggest obstacles to engaging voters. In addition, we offer three options for politicians to consider to rise above the fray this campaign season and overcome them.

The Biggest Obstacles:

1. Detachment is one of the biggest afflictions demonstrated by voters. They don't feel there's anything they can do to change the course of the country with their one vote, so they don't bother.

2. Change fatigue is a second obstacle. Voters are tired of unkept promises and, so, unwilling to trust yet another politician who makes still more promises.

3. Disengagement is the third major problem. Voters get overwhelmed by all the issues and advertisements regarding an election and can't find where they fit in -- so they sit out the process and maybe don't vote at all.

Here are three ways that politicians -- and voters -- may be able to turn this situation around.

The Potential Solutions:

1. Be Aware: This is key for voters to become engaged. If politicians can enlist their supporters to lick envelopes, canvass their neighborhoods or write letters to news outlets on their behalf, their engagement is guaranteed.

2. Learn: Voters will vote if they invest heavily enough in the outcome. And in order to figure out how to vote, that means seeking out a variety of venues to become informed on candidates and their stands.

3. Take Action: For candidates, the most important lure to voters is to believe that the winners will take actions related to their campaign promises. They need to get specific and avoid using vague generalities in their appearances.

Freedom depends on voting. And voting depends on engagement of citizens as well as candidates.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

BP is Cleaning Up with Charity-Centered Engagement Program

It turns out that BP, the giant energy company, has been investing significantly more than just billions of dollars in the United States. It has been doling out to help ease the financial and ecological pain suffered by Gulf states after the giant oil spill in 2010.

BP is also investing $20 million into American communities in another way, with a unique twist. The company is leveraging the specific donations with an employee-engagement program, The Fabric of America Fund.

The Fabric of America Fund was launched in 2007, and each full-time, U.S.-based employee can donate up to $300 a year to a charity of their choice -- without having to match any portion of the donation out of their own pocketbook. This seems like a good way to harness the tremendous power of employee engagement in a  way that benefits BP and the communities it serves -- and gives the company's staffers a no-strings-attached reason to appreciate their employer.

"Employee engagement is a cornerstone of BP's efforts to make a positive difference in the communities in which we work and live," said Crystal Ashby, executive vice president of government and public affairs for BP in the United States, in a press release. "Providing our employees with the means to connect directly to organizations of their choosing makes BP's Fabric of America Fund unique."

Whether or not a company does something like this is beside the point. BP's method effectively engages employees in decisions that benefit the not-for-profits organizations that they personally favor. This year alone, the fund has made contributions to organizations in more than 3,000 cities and towns totalling around $1.8 million.

BP says it has invested more in the U.S. over the last five years than any other oil and gas company. And it hasn't been just to clean up an unfortunate oil spill.

Talk Politics? Maybe Not. Football? You Bet!

Politics may be in the air, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be in the lunch room. Better to talk about football.

It’s natural for employees to want to talk politics as campaign season heats up and Election Day is less than three weeks away. And good company cultures don’t have a problem with that. In fact, “It’s not good management practice” for employers to monitor everything people discuss at the water cooler, Bryan Cave, an employment lawyer in Washington, D.C., noted in an article in the Wall Street Journal.

Employers may be better off encouraging office participation in a different contact sport: football.

Not the contact part, exactly. But a new column on suggests that managers can use football fandom as a way to create a more engaged work environment.True. A recent study by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, the outplacement firm, estimated that employers lose $6.5 billion a year due to “employees’ procrastination and managing their fantasy football rosters.”

But Halley Bock, a leadership-development consultant, suggests that “instead, football can be an opportunity to build a more personal, engaging workplace.”


She suggests that managers encourage discussion of the games, even debates about upcoming contests – and perhaps launch an internal fantasy football league. These and other football-centered activities, she maintains, can enable managers and executives to show personality and encourage fun. Besides organizing internal fantasy leagues, she suggest hosting off-site events that might be centered around football or other sports, and to talk about sports and other personal interests and activities.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Inward Strategic Consulting's Rick DeMarco talks about what employees really want!

Money: It’s Not All Employees Want 

By Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR 

When employers act as though the 1959 song “Money (That’s What I Want)” represents employees’ top priorities in the workplace, they miss some of the most important drivers of satisfaction and engagement.
“It is well known that money is a short-term motivator,” Jayne Mattson, senior vice president, Keystone Associates, told SHRM Online. Ultimately, employees look for an organization and position where their values are met, core skills are utilized and work tasks align with interests, she said.
Pay does help attract and even retain employees, according to Towers Watson, a global professional services company, but “sustainable engagement” requires much more than money. According to Towers Watson, sustainable engagement is a combination of:
  • Traditional engagement—employees’ willingness to expend discretionary effort.
  • Enablement—the tools, resources and support employees need to do their jobs effectively.
  • Energy—a work environment that supports employee well-being.
The Towers Watson 2012 Global Workforce Study, released July 11, 2012, and reflecting the views of more than 32,000 employees around the world, found that although pay was the No. 1 way to attract and retain employees, the top five factors affecting sustainable engagement are:
  • Leadership.
  • Stress, balance and workload.
  • Goals and objectives.
  • Supervision.
  • Image.
“In every study that has ever been conducted, money is always fourth or fifth on the list of factors that drive employee loyalty and satisfaction,” Rick DeMarco, managing director of the West Coast Office of Inward Strategic Consulting told SHRM Online. “That’s not to say that a fair wage for the job is not important ... Employees expect to be fairly compensated … but that’s an expectation and not a driver of their long-term loyalty and commitment.”

Making Engagement Sustainable
“Sustainable engagement is an important evolution in the science of workforce behavior,” said Laura Sejen, global practice leader, rewards for Towers Watson, in a statement. “It recognizes that employees need support from their employer to continue to give discretionary effort on the job.”
Unfortunately, employees are not getting the level of support they need, she noted.
“Enablement and energy are critical factors in this equation,” added Julie Gebauer, managing director, talent and rewards, Towers Watson, in the same statement. “Engagement will only hold over time with these elements in place.”
Towers Watson found that just 37 percent of U.S. workers are sustainably engaged—meaning they scored high on engagement, enablement and energy. About a quarter (27 percent) are classified as “unsupported,” meaning they display characteristics of traditional engagement, but lack the enablement and/or energy required to sustain it. Thirteen percent are described as “detached,” meaning they feel enabled and/or energized but are not willing to expend discretionary effort for their employer. And almost one-quarter (23 percent) are completely disengaged, with less favorable scores in all three areas.
Understanding Engagement Gaps
Towers Watson found that the most significant factors for the 27 percent of the workforce defined as “unsupported” are supervisor support, stress levels and their workloads. More specifically:
  • 43 percent agreed their supervisors had adequately removed obstacles that could impact performance.
  • 26 percent agreed that management involved employees in decisions affecting them.
  • 48 percent felt the amount of work they had to do was reasonable.
  • 40 percent felt they had enough employees in their work group to get the job done correctly.
By comparison, those deemed “highly engaged” by Towers Watson responded favorably to those questions by a margin of a least 30 percentage points higher than unsupported workers.
As for the 13 percent deemed “detached,” company leadership is the focal point:
  • Just 25 percent said they had trust and confidence in the performance of their company’s senior team—a 52 percentage point disparity from the 77 percent of highly engaged workers who agreed with the statement.
  • Similarly, just 26 percent felt that senior leadership had a sincere interest in employees’ well-being—45 percentage points lower than highly engaged respondents.
“Everyone in an organization has a role to play in helping close gaps in employees’ feelings of enablement and energy—from executives, to supervisors, to human resources, to employees themselves,” Gebauer added in the statement.
The survey targeted employees working in large and midsize organizations across a range of industries in 29 markets around the world. It was fielded online during February and March 2012. The U.S. sample included 3,600 employees.
Money Matters Less Than Other Factors
Other studies and experts agree that money matters, but not as much as other aspects of the job and work environment.
In March 2012,, an online personality, career and IQ assessment company, released research on the top motivators for employees. The data collected between August 2011 and February 2012 revealed that out of a list of 23 work motivators, “financial reward” was ranked 12th.
For men, financial reward was eighth on the list; for women, 15th.
Seventy percent of the 1,194 employees surveyed were from North America. Sixty-four percent of respondents were under the age of 30.
The top five motivators reported were:
  • Customer orientation—the desire to make customers happy.
  • Achievement—the desire to work in a goal-oriented and challenging work environment.
  • Inspiration—the desire to inspire others through one's work.
  • Identity and Purpose—the desire to work in a company/field that is in line with one's values and ethics.
  • Fun & Enjoyment—the desire to work in a position/corporate culture that is inherently entertaining.
“When managers think of motivation and incentives, many of them automatically assume it has to be a bonus or some other financial reward,” said Ilona Jerabek, Ph.D., president of PsychTests, in a statement. “This is clearly not what employees need … at least, not money alone,” she added.
That’s true even among those working in professions focused on financial rewards according to the nearly 2,800 financial advisors surveyed by J.D. Power and Associates for the 2012 U.S. Financial Advisor Satisfaction Study released in March 2012. Organizations that provide the right mix of technology and support to financial advisors, thus optimizing the time they spend with clients, generate more employee satisfaction than those focused on financial gain for employees.
Companies that struggle to deliver the support employees need to be effective pay the highest retention and signing bonuses to compensate for a poorer work experience, according to David Lo, director of investment services at J.D. Power and Associates.

What Employees Want
DeMarco said employees want to:
  • Be part of something bigger than themselves.
  • Know what’s going on in the company and feel included in the company’s plans.
  • Be recognized and rewarded for outstanding effort.
“All of these drivers require a concerted effort by a company to educate, inform and inspire employees around a common vision and culture, to provide them the tools and resources to deliver effectively on the brand promise and business strategy and to reward and recognize them,” he added.
“When employees’ values are met, using the skills they excel in the most and doing work they find interesting, they are career-satisfied and fully engaged,” Mattson said. “Money is an added bonus … However, it is not the driving factor for engagement.”
Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.