When we were kids, we used to play a silly word game called “Which would you rather?” Basically someone would ask you to choose between to gross or disgusting things. For example: “Would you rather eat a worm or step in dog poop barefoot”? Disgusting, I know, but it was just one of the dumb things my gang of friends and I did when we were sitting around bored.
But when you think about it, life is really all about choices, and some of the choices are not very pleasant. Fortunately in the business world the choices are less gross than when I was a kid, but choices none the less.
And employees have numerous choices about how they spend their time at work!
One of the biggest buzz words and movements going around nowadays is Employee Engagement. Basically Employee Engagement has to do with the theory that if employees are satisfied with their work and the working experience then they will put more effort, thought and creativity into their various job roles, therefore making the company more productive. It makes sense and there are numerous studies that show a positive correlation between high levels of employee engagement and company performance.
So, employee engagement is a good thing. And most of the activity focused on generating greater employee engagement falls to the HR folks, with of course active support from company leadership. And there are some legendary examples of how to generate greater employee engagement. Google is well-known for its approach to engagement through employee perks; games areas, company cafeterias, pizza parties, on premise dry cleaner, workout areas, relaxed dress codes, time to work on new ideas.
With all the things to build employee engagement around, where is the best return for both employees and the company?
Too often employee engagement schemes lead to employees liking their work and enjoying the workplace, but not always to better company performance. My suggestion is shift the focus of employee engagement from just satisfaction (happiness) at work to an equal measure of focus on engagement with the company strategy. What I like to call, Strategy Engagement!
To me, getting all employees to better understand the business strategy, its Purpose (beyond just shareholder return), how the strategy will improve the lives of customers and clients, how it can promote teamwork, innovation and personal and professional opportunities, is an important part of the Employee Engagement movement.
The real purpose of work is not happiness (that’s created by our own thoughts and life choices, not the work environment), but to help employees grow and develop professionally and personally, and to improve the lives of our customers. WalMart fully engages its employees because they are convinced that the company business strategy will help lower overall prices for customers and result in them being able to afford an improved lifestyle. Zappos.com is an entire business built on a culture and business strategy of engaging employees in order to deliver superior customer service, thus making customers lives easier and more productive.
Engaging employees in both the company Purpose (Mission) and Strategy is motivating and invigorating for employees as well as gives a boost to strategy execution.
Here’s my favourite personal example: The British Gas Repairman
This winter our central heating broke down and I called the British Gas repair line and they sent out a service technician. After he finished servicing our boiler and got it up and running, we were standing in the hallway chatting. This guy is definitely not a college graduate or an engineer, but still very competent and personable.
Being the curious sort I ask him about the recent new developments in digital temperature control systems, and since I am a user of Apple technology products, I ask about the new Nest thermostat. We both agreed that digital is a future home technology whose time has come and we also agree that the Nest is an aesthetically beautiful and functionally designed.
But then he blew me away with his understanding of the British Gas business strategy by stating that their competing product, The Hive, is not only a home heating controller, but the beginnings of a digital controller for the home with the potential to link smart devices inside the home through one single hub. He also said that rather than buy it at the store, if I were to purchase the Hive from him, he is authorised to sell and install it for half the store price.
When I asked why the “deal”, he replied, “Actually, sir, it’s part of our company strategy to install as many as possible, not only because they are as good or better than the Nest, but because it then sets up our long-term strategy of helping you connect and manage your entire home digitally, all through our Hive hub and the new products we are developing for the smart home. Plus it fulfills our vision of helping build a sustainable business, reduce energy consumption and lower greenhouse gases!”
He was fully engaged! And the multiple benefits were very evident: high energy and job satisfaction for him, a satisfied customer, and a commitment on my part to seriously look into the Hive product for my home!
What are you focusing your employees on? Don’t forget your business strategy.
John R Childress
Senior Advisor on Corporate Culture, Leadership and Strategy Execution
Author of LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture and FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid
PS: John also writes thriller novels