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Employee Engagement

April 16, 2019

Join Steve Ellis, Vice President for TTEC Learning & Performance as he explores the topic of Employee Engagement. What is it? What should leaders be engaging their employees in? And does culture matter for improving employee engagement? Steve also touches on the importance of empowering employees to ensure positive customer experiences.

Episode Transcript:

Neil Russell-Smith: Welcome to the CX POD Europe from TTEC your customer experience podcast providing thought leadership and executive insight on customer issues. 
Welcome to episode 3 of CX Pod Europe. My name is Neil Russell-Smith. And today we're here to talk about employee engagement. Joining us today is Steve Ellis VP and Head of Facilitation for Learning and Performance. Welcome Steve. 

Steve Ellis: Thank you very much Neil nice to join. 

Neil: So, we'll jump straight in, big topic employee engagement. So, what is employee engagement?

Steve: It's a big topic, it's a big question as well. Look there's a number of perspectives you could address that question through. Personally, engagement for me is to what extent are your employees engaged with the company and engaged with its brands, engaged with its purpose what it's trying to achieve. How is it engaged or how are the employees engaged with what the business provides for its customers in terms of the value it provides, how engaged are the people with other people in the organisation. So, do they engage with colleagues and particularly to what extent are they engaged with leaders and what the leaders are trying to achieve. 

Then of course, there's to what extent am I actually engaged with the work I'm doing so, how do I think and feel about the tasks or activities that I have to undertake every day and I guess the background noise is really to what extent am I engaged with the culture of the organisation or indeed the current strategy that it's trying to execute.

I think most companies are pretty good at engaging its employees in economic goals, like sales or cost savings or profit which is important. It's very important for the company to survive and it's obviously very important for shareholders, but that's not engagement when it comes to appealing to the values and the motives of the employees and colleagues, I guess to answer the question in a sort of succinct way for me employee engagement is how do the employees think and feel about work before they go to work whilst at work and even after they finish work when they're socializing with friends and talking about how their day is gone. 

So for me, it's summarise work by you know, their thoughts and feelings about work. 

Neil: Okay that's interesting inside Steve, so I guess there's a lot of emotion involved as you touch on also culture, which we'll talk around in the in a coming sort of questions that are going your way. But in terms of the leaders that you mention, I mean, how should they be engaging their employees? You know, what should they actually be engaging them in?

Steve: For me I think there is increasingly blurred lines between work and life so I know I'd answer the question it almost in reverse. It's interesting how many how many employees are now engaging their employer in their lives. So, they're going to work and they're telling their employer about what's going on in their life. So, whether that's family agendas or health agendas or life agendas and they're wanting the employer to be engaged in their particular life. And I think the employers have a responsibility to look at that but also to do the same in reverse. So for me leaders should be engaging their teams with what's the vision of the organisation. What's the purpose? What are we trying to achieve beyond profit? What's the strategy and give them in the execution the plan of how we're going to deliver that particular vision, the operational side of things. 

But also, you touched on that word emotion. Also, some of the more emotive topics like corporate social responsibility or change or talent some transformation agendas, like the technology transformations or digitization transformations that organisations are going through. I just want to touch on the word engagement again, because I think that word can be a little a little misleading what I don't mean by engagement is the word involvement or participation or let's once we've decided what the vision and strategy is let's involve them by telling them what it is. What I actually mean is immersion. I mean involve them at the front end of strategy at the front end of strategy, at the front end of execution, at the front end of CSR, at the front end of digitisation. Let them lead it, let them own it, let them design it, let them initiate it, for me that is real engagement. What I don't mean is communicate it once it's already been decided. So all aspects of an organisation's life, whether that be its revenue, its profit, its social responsibility, its innovation, or its talent I think leaders can involve their employees.

Neil: Interesting. I guess that kind of lends itself to one of the stats that I've been kind of researching here. So according to Temkin Group employees that companies with top-rated customer experience are actually 61 percent more likely to be highly or moderately engaged than and those employees at low rated companies. So, I guess you know what can companies and leaders do to actually increase engagement? 

Steve: I think there's lots. I touched on in my last answer that blurred line between work and life but one of our clients has done a fabulous job in engagement and managing that interface between work and life. Not only are they fascinated in their employee's IQ, you know their capability their skills and their knowledge, but they've undertaken a whole cultural transformation program around that EQ. So that's just not just emotional intelligence for the sake of increasing sales, but also around their mindfulness, their mental health, their emotional quotient at work and outside of work, but more recently they've introduced WQ, a wellness quotient, where they're involved in their employee's health, so they have exercise classes, they have nutritionists, they run mindfulness programs. They are looking at their  I guess whole self if you like the IQ, EQ, and the WQ and I think if leaders have that mindset that they are engaging with their employees not just for the sake of performance, but for the sake of wellness, and emotional wellness, I think that sets them on off on a really good front. 

With regards to the Temkin Group and their research. I'm a big believer in the correlation between employee experience, employee engagement, way people think and feel about the work that they do and the impact that that has on customer experience, but for me, it really starts with "why?" So if you want to engage employee’s leaders need to articulate and involve their employees in understanding the "why" of whatever it is, they're trying to achieve. Engage them in the reason, a greater purpose for doing the work other than profit. For me profit is it's a bit like oxygen for humans, you know without it we die and without profit companies die, but that's not the reason we live we don't live for oxygen. We don't work for profit unless of course, you're a shareholder. So for most employees, they're not and therefore they are working for something else and it might be salary but they often want to feel emotionally engaged in the purpose of an organisation. So start with the big why, why are we doing what we're trying to do. 

Then I'd invite leaders to engage at an individual why, what's in it for the individual, what's in it for the employee to follow a course of action or pursue a set of tasks, engage them in that personal why really relies on the leader understanding the individual values, understanding the individual motives, understanding what they're trying to achieve personally for themselves their lives, their families Etc. 
So I think leaders need to start with the big organisational "why" and then they need to create a leveling of intimacy with their employees so that they can understand the personal "why." If they do that I think they have a better chance of engaging employees in the work that they want them to do in order to create the value that they want to create.

Then of course I think it's all about engaging the employees in being clear about the vision. The amount of times I go into organisations interview employees and I asked them to describe the vision or ask them to describe the strategy of the organisation and they feel so removed from that vision, so removed from that strategy that either they can't describe it or they can't describe it in a meaningful way that applies to their job. So I engage them in the "what" which is the vision, the goal, the mission, the outcome, but of course make sure that it's meaningful to the individual. How does that translate all the way across the organisation at all levels to a course of action and a meaningful course of action. 

Then of course if you've described the "why" and engaged them in the "why" and you've engaged them in the "what" then of course, it's all about engaging them in the "how" and the "how" often is the hardest bit because for most organisations the "how" usually relies on some degree of change. So how we're going to achieve our goals requires us to change our approach or change our behavior. So the "how" has to be inspiring has to be motivating has to be believable that this new course of action this new strategy is going to work better than the old course of action or the old strategy. So what can leaders do? I think they can be holistic and engage their employees both in work and in life. What can they do? I think they can definitely start with the "why" the organisational "why" the individual "why" then be explicit with the "what" and then be inspiring with the "how."

Neil: Yeah, it sounds very much like organisations need to build the right sort of culture. So I guess you know, when we touched on that earlier, it is pretty pivotal to the kind of things that you just described. So in terms of culture, I mean, you know, how important is that in improving that employee engagement?

Steve: I think culture is critical in terms of almost at a basal level. What's the background level of engagement or feeling that I have when I think about my organisation and its leaders and the colleagues that I work with, brands that that organisation represents, that background sort of basal feeling is really important. Then of course, there's spikes of activity or moments like organisational change or where the stress applied to the culture or where the stress applied to the organisation, maybe market pressure or competitive pressure and then of course the culture really reveals itself particularly through the behavior of leaders.
So yes, absolutely culture is critical if I if I think about what culture is, of course, it's best described as culture is the way we do things around here. It requires trust in each other and requires trust and colleagues, it requires trust in leaders. It requires typically to surround ourselves with people who believe what we believe. So when I trust my colleagues at TTEC it's because I know I'm surrounded by people who believe what I believe and therefore I can second guess, I can anticipate, I can trust the way that they might respond to market pressures, competitive pressures. I can trust when they asked me to do something. They're asking me to do it through the lens of a positive intention- the intention of customer experience or the intention of employee experience. So when I surround myself with those like-minded people with similar values and beliefs and share those similar values and beliefs. It's a lot easier to engage with an organisation, especially when it's then put under pressure because it needs to change. 

So I think it's truly difficult to engage with an organisation, it's brands, its products, its services, and colleagues. If you don't share the same values and beliefs, simply because either you or your colleagues won't feel the trust and then you we begin to question each other's motives. And all that's going to do is slow the whole organisation down as people begin to second-guess what it is that people are trying to ask them to do.
My own personal belief is that leaders must lead on culture. They must be the ongoing role models of the prescribed beliefs and values and importantly when the business is under stress, market pressure or danger. It's got to be them that step up, stand up for the team, stand up for the values, and inevitably show their true colours. 

When employees see leaders do that. Then they definitely become engaged with that organisation because they feel like that organisations got their back. It's going to help them going to support them, if they witness leaders under pressure suddenly turn their back on their employees and singularly turned towards a profit motive and that's their only intention then they don't believe that the organisations got their back. So why of course would they support the organisation? Why would they engage in the organisation? So my view would be protect the people and protect the culture and the engagement will follow.

So yeah, absolutely culture was important disregard the culture and the teams will disregard you and they'll have no reason to be engaged.

Neil: That's great. So I guess we're talking about empowerment aren't we and empowering those employees as you've talked about. So would you say that you're having empowered employees actually empowers positive customer experiences?

Steve: Absolutely. So there's a lot involved in that question. My simple answer is yes, if you empower your employees with a set of values a set of beliefs and they believe in the brand the purpose they believe in the strategy. They believe in the direction, they believe in the value that the organisation delivers for its customers, then they can feel empowered because they can increasingly act more independently. They can increasingly make independent and power decisions because they know that the criteria for that decision is well aligned to the organisation's values beliefs, purpose, strategy, Etc. It's only when you don't really know whether the decision you're about to make is congruent with that value that belief, that strategy, that purpose, that customer centricity, that you suddenly feel disempowered and you start being fearful of making decisions and when people feel fearful of making decisions, they tend not to make any decision at all and that shows up in either a decision not to work late, a decision not to deliver discretionary effort, and a decision not to serve a customer in a certain way and decision not to do something in order to protect themselves just in case they were wrong about that particular decision. 

So absolutely empowered employees deliver way better customer experiences and it's important that you empower the employees to not have empowered employees the most ridiculous extrapolation of that would be I need one manager, one leader per employee because the employee can't make any decisions and isn't empowered to do so and can't behave in accordance with the vision or strategy. So we need this monitoring strategy or this control strategy called either rules regulations or managers to supervise all of those decisions. So that's obviously inefficient and that itself doesn't deliver the best customer experiences. 

So yeah, there are many studies and examples of the correlation between empowered employees, employee experience, and employee engagement and customer experience and ultimately profitability. It seems to be very intuitive that there's a correlation between employees engagement and customer experience but that by the way, just to be very clear that goes beyond customer-facing roles. I think it's very easy to fall into the trap of saying, you know, those people that face off to a customer regularly how they think and feel about the work they do affects that interaction with their customer, But it shows up in every part of the organisation whether that's operation, supply chain, manufacture, distribution, HR, IT, finance, when teams are engaged in the business, the brand, the service, the purpose that they're trying to deliver to then discretionary effort increases quality quantity improves and the desire to help customers and suppliers increases. So this is not just an interface between, you know, frontline sales people and consumers or customers this concept of employee engagement and customer experience runs all the way through an organisation. 

Neil: Thanks Steve has been a great snapshot into employee engagement. So, if you had to summarise some of those key takeaways for our audience today, what would they be? 

Steve: Oh wow, key summary. Okay, so engagement is how people think and feel before, during. and after work and it's not just about whether they've completed tasks or whether they've generated profit or cost reductions or savings? It's how they feel about the person who sits next to them. It's how they feel about the brand. It's how they feel about the strategy to how they feel of that about the corporate vision or the corporate purpose. 

So leaders, my key summary would be leaders need to engage with their employees about more than things related to economic goals. So they need to engage with their employees about its brand about its purpose, about its value to society and that will make people feel connected to what that company is trying to contribute. Then of course, it's making sure that employees are engaged in the "why" of the organisation but also the "what" it's trying to deliver and "how" it's going to how it's going to get there and I just go back to something I said in answer to one of your questions, that engagement isn't let all "leaders decide the vision, let all the leaders decide the strategy, let all the leaders decide the CSR initiatives or the digitization initiatives and engagement is simply a communication strategy called will Cascade a newsletter and let them know or will indeed Cascade KPIs" engagement for me is about empowering them to actually be the designers the architects of the vision, architects of the strategy, architects of the initiatives and the Innovation rather than simply the receivers of it. If you engage them as leaders, then my belief is their commitment their level of engagement to execute on those visions and strategies are way higher and discretionary effort and fulfillment will follow from that. 

Neil: Thanks very much Steve. 

Steve: Thanks very much for having me.