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.