Operation Employee Engagement: More 'New Rules' From Captain Obvious
[Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of a three-part series about employee engagement.]
Employee engagement can be a tough gig, but companies make it a lot harder than it has to be. Half of what it takes to keep employees engaged on the job is really just common sense and often borrowed insights from how you market any product or service. When you take a closer look, you realize that the “secrets” to success are super obvious.
I’m “Captain Obvious” and I’m back with Part 2 of my “New Rules” of employee engagement. In Part 1, I shared how to communicate where the company is headed, how the leadership wants to get there, and what roles people play in achieving organizational goals.
Now, it’s time to operationalize. The next set of rules are about putting an infrastructure in place to ensure big ideas take off and about designing initiatives in ways that will create actual change.
It Takes a Village (and a Lot of Villagers’ Input)
Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, many HR and communications teams continue to believe they can develop program ideas at headquarters and roll them out seamlessly across the company.
News flash: That rarely, if ever, works. You can’t expect a program to be successful — unless you know employees will find it relevant, meaningful, and motivating. Unfortunately, the folks sitting in HQ are rarely connected enough to the day-to-day experience of employees in the field to understand their pain points. And that’s not a criticism, it’s the functional and geographic reality.
Comms teams must have a direct line to employees to learn their challenges and create programs that resonate. And that’s not as hard as it sounds: It can be as simple as putting together a few informal committees of employees from different levels and locations. Market Research 101.
Using these groups to brainstorm and workshop ideas will not only earn you useful feedback, but also help new programs come to life. Branding the committees as “Employee Engagement Ambassador” programs adds to engagement by making participants feel privileged to be involved.
Creating champion networks and ambassador programs is also crucial to achieving successful rollouts. Tap in the internal “influencers” and go-getters across teams who will cheerlead initiatives to drive participation.
At launch, influencer-employees help ensure you don’t start from a blank slate. For Citi’s 200th anniversary, for example, a key group of internal champions helped a photo challenge get off the ground by seeding their own contributions up front. By the time the campaign ended, Citi had thousands of photo submissions, and nearly 40% of Citi employees with intranet access had participated in the voting process.
Meet Employees Where They Are — Not Where You Think They Should Be
Even the most passionate champions in your company can’t change overall employee behavior. Companies tend to have huge blind spots when it comes to reaching team members the ways they want to be reached.
Case in point: A pharma company I worked with was frustrated that its field reps weren’t using the intranet. However, the intranet wasn’t accessible on the iPads those reps used every day on the road. At the time, the intranet was only available through the laptops they most often had locked up in their desks at the office.
The lesson: You can’t force employees to use platforms “just” to connect with corporate programs. Making an iPad-accessible app helped the pharma company boost awareness and participation.
Engagement programs have to activate employees through channels they favor. Citi’s photo challenge succeeded, partly because employees were already on their smartphones, taking images they wanted to share. It also succeeded because it was borrowed straight from a consumer marketing playbook (with its focus on “liking” images and upvoting favorites).
As I mentioned in my last post, your employees are consumers, too. They’re more likely to notice your projects if you approach them with the same social-media smarts and marketing savvy that nabs their attention outside the office. Pictures, video snippets, and short pithy statements go a lot further than your average lunchroom posters and listserv emails.
You Can’t Be a One-Hit Wonder
Everybody loves the song “Come On, Eileen,” right? But I bet half the people who sing along to every word can’t remember the band that released it. (It was Dexy’s Midnight Runners, just to save you the Google search.)
Don’t be that band! Don’t expect a single great email or smart social media promo to achieve your employee engagement objectives. As with all kinds of marketing, you have to hit your target audience at least three times to get them to remember your message and/or take a new action.
Every one of those “hits” should be memorable on its own, too. I advise companies to keep their messaging consistent, but package up the content uniquely for different channels and formats. Let your influencers get personal in blog posts about new projects, and pull out quotes for tweets or Slack. Post short promo videos on Instagram and longer ones on LinkedIn, then use emails to link back out to the content (and compel team members to engage with it).
In short, be creative — because that’s what keeps employees interested. Test your messaging throughout each campaign, measure engagement and adapt based on employees’ response.
Captain Obvious Will Be At Least a Three-Hit Wonder
In the next (and last) post on the “new rules,” I’ll share the importance of showing employees how their participation in a program creates outcomes for the company. It’s all about featuring employees in consumer-style marketing campaigns. Think about it, who doesn’t want to see their name in lights — even if it’s just on the intranet or a poster? They get the recognition they crave, and their colleagues see peers embodying the behaviors the company is seeking.
Related story: The New Rules of Employee Engagement, From Captain Obvious
Rum Ekhtiar, founder of Rum and Co, is focused on brand strategies that work, ideas that are creative, new businesses pitches that win, and teams who work toward a common goal. With over 20 years of experience, he's worked with companies like Novartis, Citi, MetLife, and others, helping them transform their business, their story, and their engagement model. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and connect with him on LinkedIn.