There’s a pressing need to tackle the engagement gap. As Geraldine Osman, VP Marketing at the mobile employee engagement platform, StaffConnect, puts it: “Employee engagement is coming to the forefront as one of the biggest business issues that companies face”.
Theories, frameworks, and models abound, making employee engagement seem manageable. Yet as statistics show, it is anything but. For many organisations, the large number of disinterested, disengaged employees exacerbates and causes many of the problems that HR, IT, Internal Comms, and the leadership team focus on.
Deloitte’s study, Global Human Capital Trends 2016 report, found 48 percent of companies noted engagement as ‘very important’. Yet, according to the 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report [and PDF report; 9.2MB], just 22 percent of companies excel in building a differentiated employee experience. If we look at the numbers in the context of the economy, the Bureau of National Affairs estimated that $11 billion is lost each year because of employee turnover, which is in large part due to disengagement. To counter these bleak numbers, many studies show the benefits of engagement: Dale Carnegie Training estimates that organisations with engaged employees outperform those without by 202 percent.
The technology used inside a business can have a salient affect in supporting employee engagement. StaffConnect has just launched ‘Can Technology Solve the Employee Engagement Crisis?’ to explore the scenario in detail. The new e-book asks what the implications could be for businesses if they don’t start taking a more strategic view of engagement. It covers the drivers and factors which contribute to engagement in the modern enterprise and the role that technology can play to overcome some of the challenges. While there’s no single ideal solution, what if modern tools could improve engagement more rapidly than expected?
MARGINALIA spoke with Osman to discuss how to bridge the engagement gap through strategy and technology. In this interview, she describes the need to focus on the employee experience, the mistakes to avoid, and top tips to consider when rolling out mobile solutions. She also shows how technology can literally change people’s lives by sharing YMCA’s story.
Gloria Lombardi: Employee engagement has long been a fundamental business priority. Yet, we are still discussing the many challenges.
Geraldine Osman: In previous decades, the importance of the workforce has been underestimated or not quantifiable. The more measurable performance indicators, such as customer satisfaction and revenue, have been the priorities. Through research we’re seeing a very strong shift as companies’ leadership start to understand that there is an indisputable correlation between the employee experience, the customer experience and, ultimately, business performance.
Employee engagement throughout the employee experience can ebb and flow, which is a challenge. Although the majority of HR leaders see the daily, ongoing symptoms of a disengaged workforce, the problems can be so wide-ranging and nebulous that designing remedies can seem an almost insurmountable challenge.
There is, of course, no single answer. Understanding the nature of the problem and the various elements that directly influence it is the key to improving the customer experience and achieving the overall goals of the business.
GL: Your e-book explores the employee experience, pointing out that it isn’t “just the latest HR buzzword”. What does employee experience mean to StaffConnect? How does it link to engagement?
GO: We define the employee experience as being the whole journey of an employee within the workplace. It includes the employee’s recruitment, on-boarding, their role within the organisation, how well they understand the goals of the business, how the company rewards them, and how it supports and develops them to be the best that they possibly can be.
Engagement can have the biggest impact on that experience. Engagement touches all those points that are part of the employee experience. The employee experience can be, of course, affected by the company journey as well. Think about the consequences of business transformation, for example. But, being able to maintain some kind of control and consistency over the employee experience – no matter what other weighty factors occur – is vital.
GL: So, if employee experience is the key to an engaged workforce, what are the conditions required to satisfy this?
GO: The first step is to have a clear defined strategy which is fully supported by all major stakeholders within the organisation. This needs to have targets, objectives, and goals at each stage and these need to be measurable. Then combine this with a practical, innovative way to implement that will reach the entire workforce, that has the capability to measure and give insights around how the business is performing against its targets.
The multifaceted problems can be overwhelming. Imagine a company with a workforce of 20,000 people – where productivity is dipping and retention is poor. The many elements involved could each be tactically addressed by department heads, but it would be better to think strategically, work in a joined-up fashion, and look at the cause, which is rooted in engagement issues. Now, clearly the first step is to develop a strategy to support engagement.
The engagement strategy is likely to focus on internal communications and how people connect with each other. Depending on the situation, it may be that communications need to address people by group, location, or function, in order to reach everyone with the right messaging. Individuals themselves need to be able to reach up and across too, talking to groups or contributing to the whole organisation’s knowledge.
A technology-enabled approach is necessary; especially considering the high percentage of non-desk workers. Not everybody has a permanent office; not everybody has a laptop; many employees don’t even have a corporate email address. Look at healthcare, hospitality, or construction industries for example – how can the business reach remote, mobile, or ‘on their feet’ workers?
Only a sound strategy and the ability to reach everybody in the business will support the engagement and experience of the entire workforce. Being able to measure this reach and engagement intelligently – beyond the traditional annual employee survey – is the key to being able to improve the employee experience. This is where new technology plays an important role. Seeing how engaged the workforce is at any point in time, in any region or function enables the organisation to adapt their tactics at a granular level and target different elements of the workforce in different ways.
GL: What mistakes must be avoided when introducing employee engagement technology?
GO: Do not see technology as the only answer. It’s the technology combined with strategy that makes the difference. Your strategy must include a granular communication plan – how you communicate, what you communicate, and to whom you communicate. You also need to measure every step along the way to see what is working and which groups of people are more or less engaged than others.
When looking at the selection of the technology, it needs to meet the strategy’s requirements. It needs to enable you to deliver your content and communication plan out to all your workforce. It must enable you to measure what you are doing and let you understand whether you are improving or not. From the tool, you must be able to see where particular business areas require more work or a change in tactics.
StaffConnect itself embodies this philosophy. It is not just about the technology; we built our business around domain experts, for example, from the communications and HR industries. That expertise is crucial to the design and implementation of our solution. We support our customers’ strategy on an ongoing basis – it’s not just about rolling out the tool and that’s it. We partner with the organisation to address their problems and priorities over the long term, so they can see improved engagement levels within the StaffConnect app.
GL: What approach do leaders take to maximise the potential of employee engagement technology?
GO: The changing role of leadership, and emerging new styles of leadership, are in-sync with people-centred cultures, rather than hierarchical ‘command and control’ structures. The best implementations of our platform tend to occur within companies that embrace a more open culture, which encourages feedback and ideas from every corner of the workplace. Top-down cultures tend to ignore the employee voice aspect, and communications are only broadcast out – this may well improve information flow but tends to be less engaging.
The best leadership approaches, on the other hand, are inclusive and open to feedback. The employee voice is important to them. They recognise that without the employee voice they cannot measure what they are doing, or measure engagement, or improve the employee experience (and ultimately, the business itself). These leaders always connect with, or make themselves available to, staff – they seek ideas and perceptions directly from the workforce, and understand that such insights are key to innovation.
GL: Can you share an example of an organisation that is using the StaffConnect platform to enable better communications and engagement among its workforce?
GO: The YMCA of Greater Charlotte story shows how technology can change people’s lives, which is what we love about what we do. This not-for-profit organisation looks after youth development and healthy living in America. They use our mobile solution to connect with their remote workforce to share the progress and goals of the their community programmes.
In particular, they have been using the platform to promote an initiative for children called ‘Safety Around Water’, which tackles a big issue – there’s a high rate of drowning in certain low-income apartment communities in America, because young people have never been taught to swim. Yet many apartment complexes offer pools, which is now one of the biggest dangers for children in those cities. In 2006, Safety Around Water brought swimming lessons to six apartment complexes that had swimming pools without lifeguards. The organisation has now scaled the programme to 30 complexes, reaching 2,500 children and their parents. Some children who participated last year have returned this year, bringing siblings, parents, friends, and other kids in the community.
YMCA uses our app to promote the good work that field workers do to address that problem and help save lives. Safety Around Water, and the employee generated stories, quickly became one of the most successful and popular internal campaigns – motivating employees across the organisation. It also increased the number of volunteers coming into the organisation, as everybody could see how the daily work of the association impacts on a critical societal problem.
GL: What are your top tips on how to best engage a workforce through mobile technology?
GO: Make it easy for people to engage and be involved with the content. Typically, the rise of employee-generated content is one of the earlier signs that adoption is going well. Nurture this content! Recognise the contributors, and promote sharing and interaction. Get leaders and high-profile people involved from the start; show people they have permission to contribute.
Have an element of peer-to-peer or group sharing. If you can set it up, include messaging elements within the app. People need to be able to check things with teammates, or arrange things with their whole team – chat / messaging can connect people when email simply won’t, or can’t, work.
Finally, great mobile technology is typically cloud-based today. The cloud enables more digitally mature solutions as they get better upgrades more often, and of course the maintenance doesn’t fall to your IT department.
Get StaffConnect’s new e-book, ‘Can Technology Solve the Employee Engagement Crisis?’ and see if you’re ready to revise your engagement strategy.