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.