Friday, 25 September 2015

Engage

This week I attended a series of talks on the subject of employee engagement, organised by Engage for Success North West.  It got me thinking about the general topic of engagement, and some of things I have tried or would like to try.  Hence this blog post.

If you've not heard of Engage for Success then I'd recommend you visit their website, and in particular check out the Infographic below, from their site, which summarises everything you need to know about why engagement is important to business.


There's been a lot written about employee engagement as a concept.  Lots of more talented bloggers than I have given their views, and I'll try to reference some here.  For a good critique of the concept then I'd recommend you read this by Rob Briner.

But for now let's pretend we all agree employee engagement is a good thing and there's evidence to support it.

I was going to abbreviate employee engagment to EE but then I've had "dealings" with that company over the years and they are most definitely NOT a good thing, at least as far as customer service goes in my experience.  So no abbreviations please.

The E4S (sorry, I can't even stick to my own rules) event had some good presentations from The Co-operative Group, United Utilities and ACAS (the excellent Peter Monaghan again).  The slides have been made available by E4S and if you want the detail you can get it there, but in particular the talk from Louise Beardmore from United Utilities got me thinking.

She talked about the employee experience influencing (possibly creating) the customer experience.  United Utilities are subscribers to this school of thought, and they're not alone.  Both Netflix and Virgin Group have received headlines about their approach to this in recent times.

There's also stuff published online about this, both in the article here and by Gemma Reucroft in her blog.  So its not a new concept, but why do so many organisations struggle with it?

If customers give an organisation what it needs (usually, but not always, money, but at the very least a continued demand for its products and/or services), and so much of what differentiates an organisation from its competitors is the intangible skills and knowledge of its employees who win new customers, ensure repeat custom and do their utmost to impress existing ones - then organisations would be foolish to ignore the employee experience as being at the heart of this.

I often compare the relationship one has with ones' employer to the relationship one has with a partner.  In fact I'll blog more about that in a future post, but for now let's imagine you're out socially and get asked if you have a partner and what are they like.  If your relationship with them is strong, you'll respond positively.  If you're going through a bad patch, you might give a very non-committal answer.  If things are genuinely poor, you might even have a moan about them.  Either way, the person you're speaking to is going to get an instant impression about your partner that will be difficult for them to shake.  They would also get an instant impression about how your partner must treat you in order for you to feel that way about your partner.  Some of these impressions may be inaccurate, but some will be very accurate and it would affect that persons' view of your partner and your relationship.

Its the same with employers.  If you're enjoying work and are treated well, you'll tell people when asked about your work.  The opposite is also true.

But look at how some organisations literally jump all over social media for customers - I've lost track of the times I have tweeted an organisation and had pretty much an instant response via Twitter, and some hours later got a total and satisfactory resolution to my problem.  That's a great customer experience, but do organisations jump all over the slightest grumble or complaint from employees in the same way?

I'm not sure they do.  But they should.

United Utilities mentioned having data on employees and their interactions and wants.  I think this is a good idea and is something I've mentioned to organisations I've worked with in the past.

If an organisation can collect stacks of data about its customers and use this in some CRM style interface / system, and tailor services and products around what that customer has said, done and tweeted - then the same ought to be possible, and desirable, for employees.  
Obviously you'd have to have a sufficient number of employees if you wanted a technical solution to this, but even with a small number of employees it ought to be possible in a more informal way.

For example most HR systems I've seen store a lot of data about employees - personal details, L&D record, leave records etc.  All of this data is relatively static, and although used for statistical purposes I haven't seen many systems, or organisations, who actively use this data to segment employees and map the employee journey in the same way they would a customer group.  And I haven't seen many HR systems that have a record of EVERY employee interaction with the organisation and that tailor services and the employee experience based on these.

Look at how Facebook has tailored adverts based on things you've clicked on.  Its like witchcraft sometimes, but the technology is there.  My entire online experience is usually tailored based on my past habits (careful...not THOSE habits).

So I think organisations could unlock a greater amount of employee engagement by focusing on the employee experience, and tailoring that to the individual employee.

Taking this line of thought further, in this scenario your line managers are your equivalent of the Twitter Customer Service teams, jumping on any employee interaction and resolving it.  And your employees are your sales team, actively selling the organisation and its products/services to customers.

Many organisations are experiencing rapid and often large-scale change.  It can be difficult to maintain employee engagement when going through change.  Perhaps if organisations looked a bit more at the employee experience, engagement might take care of itself - both for employees and for customers.

Till next time.

Gary

PS in other news, some VERY exciting news due imminently about the impact this blog has had and where its going in the future...watch this space!