Author: David Mario Smith Date: February 20, 2015
Topic: Social HCM Research Note Number: 2015-05
Issue: What are the best practices for using social HCM to gain competitive advantage?
Summary: Companies will succeed or fail based on how engaged their employees are, and how well they engage with customers. Business and HR professionals should listen, and develop initiatives to improve employee engagement.
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The key asset of any company is its workers, particularly the ones who face customers. Their ideas lead to innovations that enhance and grow the business. People make your business work, and keeping them engaged has become a key priority for organizations worldwide. In this research note, we will discuss the importance of listening to employees in order to improve their engagement.
An Annual Engagement Survey Is Not Enough
Many firms conduct an annual survey to measure engagement. However, this is not enough. Enterprises need specific, real-time feedback about their workers as part of a continuous effort to promote transparency, focus on them as people, and leverage the innovation and value they bring when they are fully engaged.
The Engagement Effect On The Business
High employee engagement is known to improve earnings, while low engagement has the opposite effect. Recognition programs that give employees a role in the evaluation of their peers bring a higher level of contribution and engagement in the work process. Empowering employees goes a long way in making them feel valued at work. High engagement means employees feel valued, more fulfilled in their work, and more committed to the company and their colleagues. This leads to better performance on an individual and company-wide level.
An HR director at a large consumer packaged-goods firm told us that while she is very concerned about employee engagement, she knows it cannot be a manipulative practice. It is a two-way street. She and her organization developed a program that uses an annual engagement survey along with continuous feedback throughout the year, via bidirectional interactions with workers. When organizations as well as workers commit to engagement, the benefits will be measurable as specific business outcomes in areas like increased productivity and better customer interactions.
Getting Employees Engaged
The way to get workers engaged is with an interaction continuum that involves them in an ongoing conversation with the company and with each other. And the company itself has to engage: it has to listen. It’s the same lesson marketing professionals are learning with their content marketing programs. While listening is a simple concept, it requires a systematic approach to gathering and analyzing data in order to get actionable insights.
Recognition is a major aspect of employee engagement and the interaction continuum. Recognizing people has an impact on others by motivating them to perform at higher levels. When employees are recognized for their ideas, that recognition feeds a loop of energy and innovation that improves the company. Engaged and contributing employees help to grow the business.
A well-implemented social recognition program can amplify traditional employee recognition programs by making them more transparent and interactive. Social recognition derives feedback and recognition from multiple channels of interaction. These channels are bidirectional and global in scope: feedback and recognition from external constituents are just as important as from internal colleagues. Channels include:
- Peer to peer
- Employee to manager
- Manager to employee
- Employee to external customers and partners
- External customers and partners to employees
With all these channels available, the onus is on enterprises to listen carefully to employees. Listening can trigger engagement and turn workers into a source of energy and innovation. Not listening can trigger disengagement, lose valuable knowledge, generate high turnover and diminish retention. The exit interview is not the time to start listening.
There are numerous social recognition players in the market. Some just do social recognition, while others, such as Globoforce, also provide traditional engagement, sometimes called employee or corporate recognition (see Note 1).
Engagement and Performance
An effective engagement strategy has proven to achieve high performance from people and to deliver better outcomes. The old way to manage performance was to document it over the previous year. While it is important to have a measurement process, regular engagement can have a higher impact than the traditional performance management process and that is why many enterprises have had an employee recognition program in place longer than their annual performance appraisal.
Employee Engagement And The Customer Experience
Marketing and HR should have a synergistic relationship, because there is a clear connection between employee engagement and the customer experience (See Figure 1). When employees are engaged, committed and invested in the organization’s values and mission – when they believe, “This is my company, too!” – their influence on customers is tremendous.
Figure 1: Employee Engagement Affects The Customer Experience
That’s a major cultural change for most organizations, as it means loosening the top-down command and control structure. As they become empowered and engaged, workers will naturally want to go above and beyond for customers. They will feel like necessary parts of, and contributors to, the growth of the company.
Now Is the Time to Listen
Enterprises have to engage in conversations with employees to:
- Share your business goals, overall strategy and direction.
- Get feedback about that direction. Find out what workers think and what their issues are; then explain what you can do about those issues.
- Learn their career goals. This is invaluable data that can lead to better training programs.
- Listen to what employees know about your customers and your business. They have amazing insights into customers, and can help improve business processes.
Note that three of these four goals are inputs: listen, learn and get feedback. This is an appropriate ratio.
- Develop a systematic approach for continuous feedback from employees.
- Evaluate social recognition and performance management providers to ensure that they have the right capabilities to aid in driving engagement
- Create a system of transparency with employees to garner trust.
- Focus on engaged employees to reverse the impact of disengagement.
The art of listening to employees means putting them first. It’s an overall people-first strategy that includes putting customers first as well. You’ll find that employee and customer engagement strategies are complementary. You will also find that listening isn’t a once-a-year thing; it’s an ongoing feedback loop of continuous interaction with people. And it’s worth the effort: your business will thank you!
Note 1: Social vs. Overall Employee Recognition
Employee recognition is not new. Most large enterprises have had employee recognition programs for years. While social recognition that includes peer recognition from a network of colleagues is new and popular, having a standardized employee recognition program with multiple inputs is crucial.
Here are four social recognition providers to evaluate:
- C. Tanner
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