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Employee Engagement Programs: What’s missing?

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 — February 22nd, 2019

Employee Engagement Programs: What’s missing?

Almost all companies have some form of an employee communications program. But what’re these programs missing? Hint: Engagement.

This may sound like the obvious answer, and in a way it is, but there’s also a bit of ambiguity that comes with the term “engagement.” I often find myself discussing with other communications professionals, what does engagement really mean?

Is it a number produced by a Gartner survey? Is it the number of people who attend a town hall? Or is it the number of views and likes received on a video? In truth, engagement is none of those things.

It is easy to conflate true employee engagement with video views, the quantity of comments on articles, clicks to web pages and other volume metrics. However, at my firm, Integral Communications Group, we’ve found that companies focused on developing, modeling, encouraging and celebrating employee behaviors ultimately achieve true engagement. Rather than content consumption alone, we encourage our clients to generate engagement by creating the space, experiences, and motivations for employees to internalize the spirit and culture of their company.

Now, what exactly does that mean? It means employees are making great use of content, there is an openness to change, they care when nobody is looking, and are willing to go the extra mile. This, to us, is true engagement. If employees feel as though they are one with the brand and can make an impact both within the company and externally, you will have captivated a powerful network of individuals.

Where employee engagement fails: Ineffective internal communications

So how do you generate true engagement? Well, for one, seek lots of employee input at the program design stage and then test and learn. Launching a program for employees that sounds like it’s going to be around forever is typically something I would advise my clients against. Reason being that if you launch a program initially with this idea and then do not follow through for any reason (too hard to execute, couldn’t create the content, funding evaporated, etc.) it can really deflate employee expectations. One way to ensure this doesn’t happen is to launch programs or content ideas (i.e. manager training, new hire orientation, newsletters, blog series, intranet articles) with a reasonable expiration date. This allows you to have a timeline in mind, maintain expectations, and there is always opportunity to extend if it is a huge success. For example, there’s nothing wrong with launching a new content series in your newsletter as a “three-part series” to indicate that you’re trying it out. If it goes well, extend it!

Another prime example of an employee engagement program that can really miss the mark on that engagement piece is recognition programs. Recognition programs are a prime opportunity to have employees connect with the organization’s values as well as create incentives to be brand ambassadors. Unfortunately, many companies do not field-test these programs with employees first.

For example, a large food and beverage corporation launched a recognition program that gave employees of at least 25 years of service at the company a reserved parking spot closer to the company’s entrance. Although the intention was to reward the people loyal to the organization, this created a woeful and seemingly-impossible goal for those employees just starting their career at the company. If the corporation would have field-tested with a diverse group of people prior to launching, they would have found a different behavior they could have rewarded so that anyone at any stage of their career can be recognized as well as feel connected to the brand’s values.

As I am sure many of you know, employee programs are a prime opportunity to create engagement among your workforce. They must be thoroughly thought-out and tested to benefit different individuals throughout the organization rather than target only partial demographics or sectors of the company. Don’t over plan, but definitely build in a diverse set of testers for every program’s pilot and true engagement can be yours.

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