Engagement Featured Post

The Funny Thing About Employee Engagement

It’s easy to make fun of employee engagement based on how some companies approach it. They proclaim “employees are our greatest asset” — it says so in our annual report! — but it’s all lip service. They conduct an employee engagement survey or two, but don’t respond to the results. They may even appoint an employee task force to come up with ideas to improve engagement, but with no authority or budget to make anything happen.

It’s not surprising that these companies experience low morale and engagement. They also inspired a business, Despair, Inc., that sells anti-motivational products that satirize superficial engagement. Here’s a sample of Despair’s demotivational posters:

  • Apathy: If we don’t take care of the customer, maybe they’ll stop bugging us.”
  • “Get to Work: You aren’t being paid to believe in the power of  your dreams.”
  • “Perseverance: The courage to ignore the obvious wisdom of turning back.””
  • “Worth: Just because you’re necessary doesn’t mean you’re important.”

Sadly, Despair, Inc. wouldn’t be successful if it didn’t resonate with people who work in companies where workplace engagement involves displaying motivational posters and initiating token employee recognition programs.

For those of us passionate about employee engagement, Despair’s response to ineffective, insincere and/or shallow attempts to engage employees is an opportunity to poke fun at ourselves, while also reminding us of the importance of our work.

Customer service Engagement Featured Post

How to Engage Employees in Customer Care

When it comes to getting employees involved with customer satisfaction and retention, it’s not as difficult as some managers believe. Smart employees, including those who don’t have direct customer contact, have a vested interested in customer care. They get the reality that no customers = no business, and no business = no jobs.

Here are four critical keys to effectively engage employees in improving customer care.

Key #1. Solicit customer feedback from your employees. In staff meetings or in anonymous written form, ask employees to share what they hear from customers. You can use fill-in-the-blank type questions such as:

  • When asked what they like best about our company, our customers typically tell me …
  • When asked for ideas on how we can improve our products/service, customers tell me …
  • Recently, I heard about a customer’s (positive or negative) experience with our company. This is what the customer told me …
  • When people hear I work for this company, their typical response is …

Employees, especially those on the front line, have their ears to the market and need a safe outlet to communicate what they hear upward in the company. Their qualitative feedback is also valuable in alerting you to any changes in public perceptions about your brand.

Key #2. Solicit employee ideas on how to better serve your customers.  I once worked for a bank that received low customer satisfaction scores. Management responded by calling a meeting to share the results and then proceeded to berate the branch managers for the poor scores. And the bank wondered why their quarterly numbers didn’t improve while employee morale also declined! Yes, there were operational issues, but management didn’t want to hear about them. How much better it would have been for everyone if bank management had taken the time to ask branch team members some basic questions:

  • What gets in the way of your being able to provide quality service to our customers?
  • What can we reasonably do, given our resources, to overcome these obstacles?
  • In what ways can we better serve our customers?

Key #3.  Seek to strengthen workplace engagement from the inside out. Internal customer service drives external customer service. That’s why it’s important to engage the behind-the-scenes support staff who serve their fellow employees (i.e., “internal customers”). Encourage employees to work together to improve internal service and systems.

Key #4. Recognize your employees’ efforts in improving customer care. Acknowledge and reinforce employee engagement in improving customer satisfaction and retention in whatever way works best  in your organization.  And don’t forget to celebrate your success. (Not sure what to do here? Ask your employees.)

CAUTION: Employees feel respected when management asks for their input and listens to them. Nothing will shut down communication and trust faster than when employees see managers as just going through the motions to engage them. That’s why I advise you to proceed ONLY if you are serious about responding to your employees’ input and ideas. You’re not expected to implement every single employee idea you receive, but you are expected to explain which are feasible and which are not. Otherwise, you can forget about passing go and forget about collecting $200, as they say in Monopoly. Most definitely, you can forget about employee and customer engagement!


Featured Post Marketing

A Facilitator’s Top Three Tips for Strategic Marketing Planning

I recently shared why it’s important to commit time for strategic marketing planning.  Based on my combined experience as a marketer and planning facilitator, here are my top three tips for developing a successful planning session.

1. Be Mission-focused.

The basis for your strategic marketing plan is rooted in your organization’s mission. If your marketing efforts don’t support the company’s mission and goals, then don’t bother.

I post and review the company or nonprofit mission statement in every planning session I facilitate. Keeping the mission front-&-center is critical to helping participants avoid the situation that one executive described: “We spent more time focusing on what we could do rather than what we should do.”

2. Be Creative

Critical thinking and creative thinking are not mutually exclusive. To keep your planning process interesting, you can better envision and explore possibilities while engaging in “What if … ?” questions. For example: What if we had unlimited resources — what could we achieve? What if we could start over from scratch — what would we do differently? What would happen if our products, services, or brand disappeared — would we be missed?

You can also try a different perspective with this two-step scenario. First, you’ve been hired away by a major competitor’s consulting firm to help them assess your brand’s strengths and weaknesses. Following this assessment, return to your current company role and consider how you can improve your marketing to gain and keep a competitive edge.

3. Be Realistic

Besides being mission-focused, it’s also important to recognize the scope of your organization’s capacity and commitment. In the course of creative and meaningful discussion, it’s easy to develop an extensive list of marketing ideas for consideration. That’s why I advocate planning participants develop and agree on a realistic set of two to four mission-focused marketing activities that support their company’s strategic goals. The worst possible outcome from a strategic planning session is for participants to generate an exhaustive laundry list of ideas and actions that overwhelm them. Seriously, it’s a small step from discouraged to disengaged.

For being realistic when it comes to marketing planning, here’s my favorite quote from Dr. Phil Kotler:

“Marketing is a learning game. You make a decision. You watch the results. You learn from the results. Then you make better decisions.”

Happy marketing planning!

Engagement Featured Post Training & Development

Overcoming the Responsibility vs. Authority Conflict: Lessons in Collaboration

How do you manage working with others when you’re responsible for a project they’re involved with, yet you’re given limited or no authority to get the work done?

While I do not recommend this approach, I’ve observed it in many organizations due to reasons that involve internal politics, lack of role clarity, and unshared commitment to goals, to name a few. I’ve also seen people without management authority effectively hurdle the challenge of working with others. Here are examples and lessons learned from two former clients I had the privilege of serving.

  • The “consortium” included representatives of federal statistical agencies from different countries that voluntarily came together to share their work and improve the comparability of their data. What was fascinating was this group worked cooperatively together in addition to their regular job responsibilities and without any extra staff support and resources. They developed and agreed on a mission statement, strategic plan, and working groups to complete a special joint project. They also walked a fine line to work informally–without bureaucratic interference from their respective agencies–while maintaining the necessary formal communication with their respective senior managers to assure continued institutional support for their activities.
  • The “coordinator” was set up to implement a federally-funded initiative for social change that called for integrating the efforts of existing community partners. The coordinating organization in this case had no authority over the partners and no grant-making ability to fund their involvement; i.e., partner participation was purely voluntary. While the overarching mission for social change was closely aligned with the partners’ respective missions, the nonprofits involved were already stressed with more demands than resources. So to engage its partners, the coordinator applied the WIIFM (“what’s in it for me?”) principle by offering them the opportunity to:
    • maximize their respective organizations’ impact in support of the initiative’s overarching goals
    • have a voice in making a difference
    • network with other partners
    • enhance their community visibility.

Lessons Learned
The purpose, structure, and goals of the “consortium” and “coordinator” were vastly different. However, they shared one thing in common: they had to rely on collaboration, rather than authority, to operate effectively. Here are the common elements of how they made it happen:

  • Mutual respect for all the participants/partners involved
  • Aligning and reinforcing a shared mission, vision, and goals among the various players
  • Clarifying and communicating role expectations
  • Frequently sharing progress updates with those involved
  • Recognizing and celebrating individual and collective achievements.

These lessons are applicable in almost all situations, not just those with responsibility vs. authority issues. As communications consultant Kare Anderson says:

“For most of our lives we’ve been advised to lead and manage others. We’ve been taught to resolve conflict, influence, negotiate and otherwise attempt to get what we want from people … But what about the concept of us? More people would rather enjoy the camaraderie of smart collaboration than be lead, persuaded or managed.”

Engagement Featured Post Training & Development

You’re in Trouble If Your Employees Can’t Answer These Questions

  • What is your organization’s mission (purpose) and where is it headed (strategy and goals)?
  • What is expected of employees in helping the company achieve its goals?
  • Who are your customers and why do they choose to do business with you? Also, how do employee efforts impact customer satisfaction?
  • What is your brand promise and what’s involved in delivering on it?
  • How do employees know they are valued by the company?

Seriously, you can’t expect to engage employees if they don’t know why their work matters and what it entails. Be prepared to provide them with clear answers upfront (when they join the company), and then frequently remind them because the responses are likely to change based on what’s happening in the competitive marketplace.

Don’t make them guess the answers. It’s really no fun for your employees, customers, and stakeholders.

Engagement Featured Post

Can You Achieve 100% Employee Engagement?

One of the best descriptions between employees who are engaged and those who are not comes from Blessing White:

” … engaged employees stay for what they give (they like their work) [whereas] disengaged employees stay for what they get (favorable job conditions, growth opportunities, job security).”

Given the choice, most companies would prefer their workforce be comprised of fully engaged employees. But is total engagement attainable or even realistic? According to employee engagement author and consultant Leigh Branham, not all employees choose to be engaged:

Most employees want to be engaged [while] other employees simply don’t view being engaged as a desirable, or even possible, personal goal. They see work as a necessary activity, but not as a source of fulfillment. Many have a strong work ethic, but are uninspired by their managers or their daily work environment, so they withhold much of their energy and effort.” 

Just because every employee isn’t interested in being engaged doesn’t mean management should give up on it or work harder to force it on employees. Neither scenario creates a positive work environment.

While 100% employee engagement may not be realistic, smart companies focus on what they can do to maximize engagement in their organizations – including hiring right from the outset, recognizing and reinforcing a positive work culture that values people (employees, customers, business partners, etc. ) as well as profit, and keeping it simple.

[Image courtesy of]


Featured Post Musings

There’s No “I” in Engagement … or is There?

I’m not talking about “I” as in “individual” – people are responsible for their own engagement. I’m talking about “I” as in “inertia.” You can’t have an engaged workplace in the presence of management inertia.

Engagement is a two-way proposition that involves both the employee and the organization’s management. However, people can show up at work fully engaged and yet their initial enthusiasm and energy are chipped away over time for a variety of reasons. In other words, once engaged doesn’t mean always engaged. [While personal issues at home can also negatively impact employee engagement, my focus here is on organizational rather than personal factors.]

Management’s role is to foster a climate of engagement in which people know that their work and the results of their efforts matter. This includes managers’ own engagement – if they’re not committed to the organization, how can they expect their employees to be committed to it? Or to the managers themselves?

Clearly, engagement cannot co-exist with inertia. But when management practices “intentional” engagement, it’s an entirely different situation.

Engagement Featured Post

Coping with the Clueless in Charge

Does your organization’s management suffer from a credibility gap? They bring out program after program – jumping on the latest management bandwagon – then fail to follow through. Meanwhile, you and your fellow employees invest countless hours in these short-lived special initiatives on employee engagement, recognition, talent management or other fill-in-the-blank trendy topic.

With an uncooperative economy offering little job movement, it’s easy to become frustrated (the “enemy of engagement”) and cynical. Try not to dwell on the precious resources wasted in these “flavor-of-the-month” programs.

So what can you do to preserve whatever sanity you have left? Here are several suggestions:

  • Find humor in the situation – amuse yourself and your colleagues with what management is going to do next. Play games like Business Word Bingo or the Buzz Word Generator.
  • Consider management’s ineffectiveness as a learning tool that can make you more marketable … seriously, so you know what NOT to do in your next job.
  • Maintain perspective – keep in mind this is a temporary situation (although it may not seem that way). Eventually you can change jobs or retire.
  • Make an anonymous suggestion to get your organization featured on Undercover Boss or take up a collection to get a management coach. [Just kidding!]
  • Besides maintaining perspective and a sense of humor, find ways to de-stress; e.g., go for a walk in the fresh air or engage in whatever healthy activity brings you endorphins.

These are just a sample of attitude adjustment coping mechanisms. I welcome your ideas!