As the economy begins to recover, companies are redoubling their efforts to engage their customers-to keep the ones they have and bring in new ones. To achieve these goals, however, employees first must be engaged-committed, enthusiastic, and motivated to provide the interactions and experiences that keep customers close. In fact, a 2009 Gallup study found that organizations that had employee engagement scores in the top quartile had 18 percent higher productivity and 16 percent higher profits.
Unfortunately, just as companies are driving to engage their customers, many have taken costcutting measures that have had a chilling effect on employee morale. It's not surprising that the number of "actively disengaged" workers has risen to as much as 24 percent in companies where layoffs have occurred, according to Watson Wyatt's Employee Engagement Index.
Despite the turmoil in the current environment, there are steps leaders can take to re-engage employees and engage customers in a way that will help them retain market share and grow business.
Leaders are the key to engaging employees to commit their full energy to create value and success. To understand what employees need from their leaders, Dr. Steve Buchholz, a Wilson Learning partner, asked more than 1,500 employees in a variety of organizations what would influence their level of engagement. The most frequent responses were:
• Working in an organization where there is a clear sense of opportunity-both for the organization and for me as an individual to engage in meaningful work.
• Being clear on my focus and what is expected of me.
• Feeling informed and included.
• Being involved with/cooperating with coworkers.
• Having a manager who takes a personal interest in me, and provides opportunities for me to develop new skills.
• Having a manager who provides a positive leadership example-someone I can trust.
These aspects of the day-to-day work experience are directly affected by the leader's style, decisions, and interactions with members of the work team. You cannot have engaged employees without engaged leaders who understand what it takes for employees to choose to be engaged.
Leaders also have a great deal of influence on an organization's culture, which likewise impacts both employee and customer engagement. Culture is defined by certain shared beliefs, practices, and behaviors common to the majority of employees. Leaders and employees alike share responsibility for cultivating the values and principles that shape the culture, but the leaders have a special role in supporting and reinforcing the kind of culture that enables employee engagement. Critical elements include:
• A Culture of Opportunity, where employees feel they are part of something important.
• A Culture of Personal Accountability, where employees are expected to give their best, and are held accountable for doing so.
• A Culture of Inclusion, where employees are well informed and involved, and have an opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings.
• A Culture of Community, where employees feel they have the support of their colleagues, and their focus is on mutual interest and shared responsibility.
• A Culture of Validation, where employees feel they matter because they have a valued place in the organization.
In difficult economic times, it is easy to overlook the link between employee and customer engagement. Yet understanding this linkage is vital to any effort to protect and expand your customer base. An effective strategy to achieve those aims must be based on strong, committed leadership and a vibrant culture of engagement.
Tom Roth is president of Global Solutions Group for Wilson Learning Worldwide (www.WilsonLearning-Americas.com). With more than 30 years' experience developing and implementing human performance improvement solutions, he assists executive leadership teams with issues related to employee engagement, sales force effectiveness, leadership development, strategy alignment, and business transformation.