Thursday, September 26, 2013

Lessons Learned: Do’s and Don’ts from the Inward/Walmart Gamification Team

This week Inward was fortunate to speak at the Enterprise Gamification Forum in NYC where industry experts gathered to discuss how gamification can be used to motivate and engage people, align internal and external brand values, encourage innovation, and improve the bottom line.  Inward’s own Whitney Cook and Kurt Templeton from Walmart offered some “do’s & don’ts” based on their experience.  
You have to have rigor in the planning process; gamification can’t just be an “add on” tactic to a communications plan.  Before you get started, understand your business objectives, and then develop a strategy and program goals that are aligned with your company culture.  
Collaboration and Competition
At the end of the day, people really love friendly competition.  The most effective gamification programs aren’t top down; they are promoted at the employee level.  Be sure to identify your program champions early on, and encourage those employees to share their excitement with their peers.  A bottom up approach does not exclude the necessity of having a plan.  It’s imperative to have a strategic communications plan that includes word-of-mouth and holistic employee communications.  Make sure that employees at all levels of your organization understand the goals and rules of your gamification program. Simply and clearly communicate what the program means for your employees and how they can get involved.  
Assume Nothing
Avoid group think and untested assumptions. Once you’ve developed your plan, get out in the field and test it with your employees.  Focus groups, pilot programs, even anonymous feedback is critical in the development process.  
Kurt Templeton drove this point home with a great anecdote.  The Inward/Walmart team was out in the field getting feedback from associates on the test program; Kurt says that one memorable associate was excited; he wanted to learn more about the department he works in.  “And that,” Kurt says, “is priceless.”  

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Inward Strategic Consulting Creates Gamification to Engage with Associates and Provide Better Customer Interaction at Large Retailer

On September 24, 2013 Kurt Templeton, director of Store Innovation at Walmart, and Whitney Cook, Account Manager at Inward Strategic Consulting, will discuss the process of introducing gamification into a large organization and share the lessons they have learned along the way. 

Together, Inward Strategic Consulting and Walmart have designed an innovative gamification project, MyDepartment, to engage and communicate with Walmart associates. Through an “on the sales floor” game, MyDepartment leverages the culture of competition in retail experience, allowing associates to learn more about products and processes and inspire innovative thinking and leadership through service. 

"By using innovative strategies like gamification, major brands can engage, educate, and interact with their employees on new and exciting levels,” stated Whitney Cook, account manager and gamification authority at Inward Strategic Consulting. “Gamification is a form of learning and engagement using games that leverage people’s natural desire for competition, achievement, status, and rewards.”
Inward has moderated, sponsored or spoken at numerous A.L.I. events, and exists to help companies like Walmart enhance its customer experience. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

How Leaders Kill Meaning at Work

The way we feel at work is a powerful determinant to how we perform. Our creativity, productiveness, commitment, and collaboration all depends on our attitude and emotions. This phenomenon, called the inner work life, is formally defined as the constant flow of emotions, motivations, and perceptions that constitute people’s reactions to the events of the workday. Even small boosts in inner work life can have substantial results- a more engaged work force, increased corporate momentum, and growth of the bottom line.      
So what factor has the biggest impact on the inner work life of employees? According to a study published by writer/research duo Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer in their book, The Progress Principle, it is a sense of progress in meaningful work that adds the most fuel to the fire. However, the study also finds that many senior executives don’t take their roles in enabling the ongoing engagement of their employees seriously. Instead, these leaders routinely fall into one or more of the following traps and inadvertently drain meaning from the work of their subordinates:  
Trap 1: Signals of mediocrity
Achieving greatness is an overarching goal of most organizations- their mission statements reflect the importance of innovation and their strategic goals embody the desire to always stay on the cutting edge. In theory, yes, all of this is good. However, in practice, many senior executives continue to prioritize cost savings and risk aversion above all else. When projects are continuously shut down and development is placed on the back burner, organizations exhale an air of mediocrity. Employees lose any sense of pride the once had for the company and everyday work feels frustrating and meaningless.   
Trap 2: Flip-flopping strategic direction 
Jumping between different strategic initiatives creates confusion for employees. When senior executives can’t seem to decide what direction to point the company, people have a difficult time understanding what exactly they are working toward.
Trap 3: Lack of awareness about corporate chaos
Coordination and support between management is crucial. When senior executives are not on the same page, chaos ensues below. Mixed messages eventually lead to employees believing that they simply cannot produce something of quality and their sense of purpose disappears.  
Trap 4: Poorly designed BHAG- A BHAG, short for “big, hairy, audacious goal”, is a bold strategic vision statement that carries powerful emotional appeal. Management gurus Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, who coined the term, encourage organizations to develop BHAGs as a way to help infiltrate work with meaning. When the organization’s goals are connected to personal values, employees feel their work serves a greater, more meaningful, purpose. A poorly constructed BHAG, however, can be a serious detriment. If it’s unattainable, it will seem irrelevant. And when the BHAG is too vague, it feels empty. The result is a lost sense of purpose and meaning and a cynical, unproductive workforce. 
The view from the top can often be deceiving. It takes understanding the employee’s perspective from below to recognize these traps, and more importantly, to avoid them. By establishing strategic clarity, communicating with employees, and understanding the importance of progress and purpose, senior executives can make the greatest impact on the inner work lives of others. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Back to Business, Social Business

It’s official. In order to stay relevant and competitive, businesses must adapt to the world of social media. While the idea of strategically leveraging social impact in business has been buzzing around the office for some time now, this MIT Sloan Management Review illustrates just how slow going the progress has been.  

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Employee Engagement: The Final Frontier for Brand Marketers

On Monday, I spoke at the ANA Dallas area regional meeting hosted by the American Heart Association.  I got great feedback from both attendees and presenters who told me they experienced that wonderful “Aha moment” when I shared my belief that great brand experiences start with your employees.  According to recent studies, more than 71 percent of the workforce in the U.S. is not engaged in their jobs.  This chronic disengagement has a direct effect on the bottom line for many organizations. 

In today’s hypercompetitive business environment, the stakes are higher than ever for marketers who must continually engage their customers through a variety of channels.  What has long been overlooked, however, is the importance of educating, incentivizing and rewarding employees at all levels of the organization to not only understand but live an organization’s brand promise. It is only when employees are readily engaged with their work that they can deliver those exceptional customer experiences that are the Holy Grail for marketers today—brand loyalty and customer brand advocacy. 

Did you know that $370 billion is lost on disengaged employees? To learn more check out our infographic on employee engagement!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Leadership Basics: Walk the Walk, Talk the Talk

By Rick DeMarco

I recently saw a Harvard Business Review interview with Doug Conant, former president and CEO of the Campbell Soup Company that does a good job of highlighting some of the everyday things CEOs and other senior managers can do to demonstrate their commitment to employee engagement within their organization. 

In the video from Harvard Business Review, Mr. Conant makes a compelling statement that an organization cannot perform at high levels unless employees are personally engaged.  His comment is supported by significant empirical evidence that directly ties an engaged and inspired workforce to higher productivity, lower turnover, higher customer satisfaction, increased margins, and faster growth. 

Here are some additional thoughts for leaders who want to “walk the walk:”  
  1.  Employees cannot become engaged and represent the brand and company in the manner in which the company wants it represented if they do not know and understand the vision, strategy, and brand promise.  Leadership must commit to communicating to employees to educate them, inspire them, drive appropriate behavior that supports the culture and strategy, and reward and recognize them.
  2. We appropriately spend a significant amount of time and resources understanding things that go wrong and developing corrective action so we don’t repeat our mistakes.  But it’s just as important to recognize the things that we are doing right.  Often companies don’t take the time to celebrate success.  This does two things.  First it motivates and inspires employees and acknowledges them for their efforts and contributions to the company.  And secondly, it provides a foundation to apply the lessons from things that have gone well to other problem areas in the company.
  3. Like Doug, I can remember every personal note I ever received in my career from one of my former leaders.  One personal note from a senior leader has a greater impact than multiple canned appreciation or recognition notes sent via email or some other automated communication vehicle.
  4. Leaders often understate the significance of walking around and being visible to employees.  No matter what is written regarding a company’s values and culture, unless employees see it exemplified by leadership, it’s just words on a page.  When leaders take the time to walk around and talk to employees, it demonstrates that they do value them and connecting with employees is a priority regardless of how busy they get.  In addition to making an emotional connection, leaders often learn what is really going on in an organization by taking the time to talk to employees at all levels.
If you take the time to connect with your employees in a meaningful way it will be noticed and appreciated. 

You can watch the video here.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Volunteering Lends a Hand to Employee Engagement

Volunteering is not only good for the soul, but it is good for business too.

According to a study performed by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, employee volunteer programs can have a profound impact on employee engagement levels. 

We are naturally inclined to makes sense of our place in the world, to understand our purpose and meaning.  The same holds true for employees within their organizations- they want to know that they are more than a drop in the ocean. They want to see their contributions at large. 

Employer-supported volunteer programs can help fill these gaps. When organizations are the ones providing the outlet for their employees to give back to the community, employees grow an appreciation for their company’s place in the world and their own part in making that happen. Be it with flagship corporate programs or with community service expeditions, employee volunteering translates to higher employee engagement. Here are a few reasons why. 

How does employee volunteering boost engagement levels?

  •  Improves leadership and interpersonal skills:  when employees take initiative, even outside of the office, it boosts their confidence, morale, and in turn, productivity. Volunteering ventures also give employees the opportunity to take charge and prove/improve their leadership skills.

  • Reduces isolation and increases interaction with employees in other segments and levels of the company:  employees who volunteer together, stay together. Really. Employer-supported volunteer programs encourage employees to interact with co-workers from different departments, teams, and branches. No matter the context, when employees collaborate together their relationships strengthen and they feel more connected to their organization and one another.

  • Adds fulfillment and increases sense of self-worth:  involvement in a cause promotes feeling of commitment, fulfillment, and a sense of purpose. These feelings often lead to boosted morale and productivity both outside and inside of the office.

  •  Increased sense of pride and gratitude for the organization:  employees want to feel proud of the organizations they work for.  Charitable acts help shine organizations’ reputations and result in employees feeling proud of their roles and the work they do.

Aiding employees in giving back to the community strengthens their connections and commitments to your organization. And the bonus: charitable efforts that improve your company’s reputation and corporate culture will help you recruit top talent down the road. Everyone wins.

See the original study here
Read additional references here

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Why I LOVE Starbucks

Rick DeMarco, Managing Director, West Coast Operations at Inward Strategic Consulting shares an example of the role hourly workers play in delivering great customer experience that builds brand loyalty.
I cannot tell you that I am an expert on coffee.  Nor can I tell you how the beans used by Starbucks compare to those used by competitive coffee houses or brands.  But, I can tell you that I will always buy my lattes from Starbucks.  I LOVE the brand!  And it isn’t necessarily the coffee I love.  It’s the experience I get consistently at every single Starbucks I visit.  So what makes Starbucks so special?

I want to share a recent experience I had at a Starbucks location in Morgan Hill, California.  But first, let me share a few pieces of research that are critical for any organization that wants to deliver exceptional customer experiences.   First, there is empirical evidence from significant amounts of research that ties exceptional customer experiences directly to having an engaged and inspired workforce.  When employees believe in the vision and brand promise and are trained to deliver on that promise at every touch point, amazing things happen.  They fully understand that the brand gains or loses equity every time a customer interacts with it and they also fully understand how their role impacts that customer experience.

Secondly, significant research has been done on the drivers of customer loyalty and one of the key findings is that when an organization delivers a poor customer experience, they actually have an opportunity to improve loyalty, based on how they deal with that failure.  Case in point.  If I buy a new car and nothing goes wrong, I never have the opportunity to test the quality of the service and after sales support of that dealership.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t want the car to fail.  But again, key findings from research prove that if the car does have a problem and the dealership handles it quickly and efficiently, my loyalty will actually be higher than if I had never had a problem.

Now with those two pieces of research as background, let me share my experience.  As customer focused as a company may be, employees are human beings and mistakes are made.  But a potential disappointment in a brand that I hold in high regard turned into a validation of my love of that brand last week when I went into a Starbucks in Morgan Hill, California and ordered 3 lattes. The person behind the counter was engaging and friendly as I have come to expect anytime I walk into a Starbucks. After paying for my purchase, I moved to the counter to wait for my drinks.  The first drink came up quickly.  A few moments later, the second one was placed on the counter.  Then I started hearing other names being called and other drinks being delivered.  I had given the two drinks to my son who was with me, and was still standing by the counter, just about to ask what was going on with my third drink.  However, before I even got the chance to ask, the barista, as busy as he was preparing drinks, noticed that I was still standing there and asked me if there was something else I needed.  I told him that I had a third drink ordered.  He quickly apologized.  Then he immediately disregarded the list of drinks that were on order and made mine, which he delivered promptly.  Upon presenting my drink to me, he again apologized and handed me a coupon and said the next drink is on us.  We are very sorry for the inconvenience.

Incredible!   As much as I love Starbucks, this experience presented an opportunity for me to be disappointed as a customer and for me to wonder if Starbucks was slipping.  But this barista, not the person taking orders, did everything right to turn a bad experience into a good one.

1.   He noticed that I was still standing around and proactively asked me if there was anything else I needed.  I never had to say anything.
2.   He apologized sincerely
3.   He immediately made it right.  He stopped what he was doing and made the drink that I was waiting for.
4.   He apologized again and to demonstrate his desire to make a customer happy, gave me a coupon for a free coffee.

Why do I love Starbucks?  They get it.  By training and developing a highly inspired and engaged workforce, they create exceptional customer experiences every single time I visit one of their stores, whether it’s in Morgan Hill or Chicago or Boston or Arkansas. 

Starbucks, you have my loyalty forever!