By Sara Roberts
You’ve probably heard the old joke in which a CEO is asked how many people work in her company and she responds “about half of them.”
I know, I know. It’s a real groaner and in fact, not very funny when you think about and begin to understand the time, energy and resources that are wasted by employees who are not engaged.
What’s even more dire than that is realizing without loyal employees you don’t stand much of a chance in building loyal customers. Recent research shows that the number one factor in developing committed customers is having committed employees taking care of them.
In fact, the study showed that the role that employees play in creating customer loyalty is up to four times more powerful than that of products, services and brands.
So, what is one to do knowing the stakes are so high? Try using those great marketing skills on the inside.
Using proven marketing techniques internally, you can increase employees’ buy-in to your company’s ideas, values, and initiatives. In a sense, “sell” your brand’s promise to your employees – just as you’re marketing your product and services to your customers.
Over the years we’ve done a lot of work with companies to create loyal and engaged employees. In my book, “Light Their Fire…” we propose to build engaged or *E* Employees, you must not only engage but also enable, empower and ensure results.
What does it look like to create these *E* Employees? Let’s take these principles step-by-step so you can see and apply for yourself.
Engaging is about communicating effectively to influence attitudes, build credibility, paint a picture of what success looks like and make connections across the company. Everyone wants to work for a place that listens to them, involves them and encourages them.
Take for example something IBM did a few years back – Sam Palmisano and his leadership team decided to create new core values…Rather than get the executive team in a board room or on a yacht in the Caribbean….they involved all their employees. Now this may not sound so unusual unless of course you have over 300,000 employees across the globe. They did something uniquely brilliant – since they’re a technology company, they used their platform to make it come alive.
IBM threw what they called a “World Jam” and invited all 330,000 employees to join in. For 48 hours their intranet played host to more than 50,000 employees who logged on and share their ideas for the new corporate values. The technology worked in the background to distill the thousands of ideas offered into central themes – and from there, leadership took the 3 top values and introduced them to employees at an all-hands. Their technology made it work, everyone was totally engaged and employees felt ownership over the direction the company was going. Imagine how engaged the employees felt about the core values because they had been given chance to develop them vs. having them told to them or even worse, shoved down their throat….
Enabling is about providing the skills, knowledge, environment and tools for your employees to do their jobs effectively.
One of FedEx’s marketing group’s most important jobs is to keep the FedEx executive team focused on what it means to walk in the shoes of a front-line employee. For example, they have a program that assigns top officers to make sales calls alongside FedEx sales professionals for a couple of days each quarter. Another program has executives out on the delivery route with the drivers fully delving into the issues that these employees face every day on their jobs. This helps to not only ground the executives but also gives full visibility into what challenges these employees may face so they can help them to resolve.
This is a philosophy we’re all familiar with and many companies firmly convince themselves they do empower their employees. The reality though is that empowerment is an overused expression and a much underutilized technique.
Some simple techniques you can start with include having bi-weekly meetings with a subsection of your employees where you run through real-life situations that happen in your company. Ask them if they were to find themselves in this situation what they might do. Guide and coach them. Share how you would handle that.
Ask for help to solve problems and solicit input from everyone - not just the management. Ask for input on issues that may be facing the company by sending out an email or asking for suggestions at a meeting. Also, I’ve seen many companies successful in implementing internal websites where employees share their ideas with company leadership and their peers. Employees are able to post tips and other resources to share with their fellow co-workers which provide them with a real sense of empowerment and camaraderie.
What is ensuring results all about?
I think it really boils down to how well you execute on three things: 1) setting expectations, 2) measuring for results, 3) rewarding and recognizing.
This means setting clear expectations, observing and coaching employees as well as rewarding and recognizing team members for a job well done.
It’s important to provide people with timely, on-the-job coaching – not waiting until the yearly performance review. Take some time to work with employees weekly and encourage them to come up with new ideas for improving efficiency, output, safety and so on in the tasks they perform every day. You could make a contest out of it and offer incentives and rewards for new ideas.
Incredible things can happen when employees are engaged. The numbers speak for themselves. In a recent Gallup study, the results showed that engaged workplaces are:
- 50% more likely to have lower turnover
- 56% more likely to have higher-than-average customer loyalty
- 38% more likely to have above average productivity
- 27% more likely to report higher profitability
Certainly, as marketing professionals you are all striving for out-of-sight customer loyalty – that is when a customer consistently chooses your brand, product, service over the competition, recommends it to their friends and when price isn’t the driving factor in their decisions. And when you have committed, engaged employees, it means that even if you occasionally fall short of expectations, customers are apt to be more patient while you fix the situation. Loyalty goes beyond reason; it’s a marriage of analysis and emotion.
The relationship your customers have with your brand squarely hinges on how well your employees are delivering against their expectations.
I read this statement once somewhere and it has stuck with me over the years particularly since I’ve found it to be so true.
How many employees does it take to make a brand? Every single one of your employees.
How many employees does to take to break a brand? Just one.
The investment in building loyalty and engagement on the inside is so worth it. It’s a risky business proposition to not do it.
Sara M. Roberts is the President and CEO of Roberts Golden, an organizational change management and internal marketing consultancy, headquartered in San Francisco, California.
She and her team have led change, rebranding and employees engagement efforts for Fortune 500 companies as varied as FedEx, Cisco Systems, Safeway, McKesson, Hilton Hotels Corporation and Alcatel-Lucent.
She is the co-author of the book, “Light Their Fire: Using Internal Marketing to Ignite Employee Performance and Wow Your Customers” (Kaplan, 2005) and is a sought-after speaker on the topics of internal branding and change management for leading international conferences. Get more information at www.robertsgolden.com.