Using Technology to Improve Employee Engagement
By Michelle Glover, COO, ROI Communication
Does this remind you of any of your employees? Even if they’re not actually asleep, do they sometimes seem to be sleepwalking through their days?
Or do they look more like this? Excited, happy, even having fun – engaged
No company is lucky enough to have a workforce that is 100 per cent engaged every minute of the day – every employee feels varying levels of engagement throughout their work life. In fact, at any given time, employees could feel any of three states of engagement:
- Engaged – The employee works with passion and feels a true connection to the company, driving innovation and moving the team forward.
- – The employee is “checked out,” putting in time but without passion or energy.
- Actively Disengaged – The employee is deeply dissatisfied, acting out his or her unhappiness and undermining the work of engaged co-workers.
In companies large and small, the most difficult employees to reach – and the ones most likely to become actively disengaged – are the unengaged.
Employees can be hard to reach for other reasons. They may work remotely or simply disconnect from work once they walk out the door. Others are focused entirely on interactions with customers and may have little time or opportunity to communicate with their colleagues or managers. For others, language or cultural barriers may make them reluctant to express themselves.
How Does Engagement Feel?
Here’s how a few of the internal communications professionals we interviewed described engagement:
- “My ideas are accepted.”
- “My work is recognised.”
- “I make a new contact.”
- “Associates comment on our stories.”
- “We deliver great results.”
- “I get to be creative.”
- “Knowledge and vision is shared.”
- “My boss trusts his team.”
- “The work is an intellectual challenge, not a time challenge.”
Engaged employees are more productive, easier to retain, and are more dedicated to innovation and collaboration. They put forth the extra effort to accomplish a task or make the customer happy. These employees are involved in fewer on-the-job accidents, and they can be powerful advocates – internally and externally – for the company.
Companies thrive when their employees care. The more engaged employees are, the more successful an organisation can be. Employees, too, want to feel proud of their company and feel that they’re making a difference.
Engagement = Authentic Connection + Meaningful Participation
Technology Can Help Re-engage
Employees feel engaged 1) when they have an authentic connection with co-workers and management and 2) when they can participate in, and contribute to, the company’s mission in meaningful ways. (Source: ROI Communication, 2013) The challenge for HR, internal communicators and training managers is to create authentic connections and meaningful participation for unengaged and hard-to- reach employees.
When used creatively and strategically, technology can help re-engage employees in a number of critical company activities, including:
- Strategy launch
- Policy rollout
- Sales communications
- Mergers and acquisitions
- Global business updates
- Business unit communications
- Company meetings
The most engaging technologies are rooted in social media and mobile applications, which have blurred the lines between internal and external communication. This makes many managers uncomfortable, but employees use Twitter, Facebook and YouTube every day, and there’s a role for these applications in the workplace. Companies that use these technologies in their corporate communication stand a better chance of engaging their employees.
These real-life examples illustrate the many ways technology can drive employee engagement while supporting corporate and communication goals.
Launching a Strategy – Make It a Game
Connecting employees with the corporate strategy can be difficult. One technology-enhanced technique for building enthusiasm around strategic initiatives is a digital “Journey Map.” A Journey Map is an interactive, visual illustration of a company’s mission, vision and values that is intended to elicit emotion and personal involvement in the company’s story. Games, quizzes and feedback tools make the Journey Map fun while testing users’ knowledge. An online scoreboard can inspire competition among organisations, and online chat can stimulate dialogue and further engagement.
A Journey Map is not a poster that gets pasted on the wall and forgotten. Rather, it is a living, breathing online document. Most importantly, it provides a game-like platform to engage employees in a conversation about the company’s strategy, increasing their understanding and commitment.
Rolling Out a Policy – Go Mobile, Make It Fun
Two companies came to a communications agency with the same challenge: to introduce new, enterprise-wide policies on compliance and ethics. Past efforts to communicate new policies via email and company meetings had been ineffective; employees had largely ignored the rollout because they were either buried in email or focused on customer-facing duties.
The agency worked with both clients to create a strategy that would touch even the most unengaged and hard-to-reach employees. First, each company invested in tablet computers for salespeople who weren’t bound to a desktop. Then, they developed highly visual and interactive programs accessible on tablets or desktops. The programs communicated compliance and ethics policy changes through interactive games, videos and learning tips – all tied to HR systems for completion tracking.
Communicating to Sales People – Let Them Customise
The communications department for a customer-facing sales team was frustrated. They had long relied on e-newsletters to communicate sales information. But sales reps complained that finding content and formatting the newsletters for customers was time-consuming, not to mention they didn’t even know if their customers were interested.
To solve this problem, the department worked with a communications agency and sales leaders to create Connect-2-Customers (C2C), a customisation tool that allowed salespeople to quickly create brand-compliant e-newsletters, share them with customers from their personal email accounts and track readership.
The sales team now has a drag-and-drop content organisation tool, complete with popularity filters based on recipient votes as well as sorting capability to let readers prioritise content. The tool eliminated complaints about difficult formatting, complicated templates and mobile compatibility. By designing a technology with the audience and strategy in mind, the department was able to reach a group of sales employees whose negative experiences with the previous communication system nearly pushed them into the ranks of the unengaged.
Merging Cultures – “Buddy Up” Remotely
When two large corporations merge, it’s a significant milestone. Handled well, it can lead to product and service synergies, greater profits for both organisations and a fruitful blend of company (and regional) cultures. However, cultural differences can lead to miscommunication or misunderstanding. Differing management styles, communication and problem-solving methods, as well as mismatched policies on benefits, bonuses, working conditions and other issues can frustrate and disengage previously engaged employees.
One global company in the midst of being acquired was struggling to adopt the acquiring company’s self-service IT, HR and other administrative services. Despite the availability of a comprehensive collection of self-service help menus, FAQs and tools to address common issues, acquired employees were used to picking up the phone and talking to someone to resolve their problems. That was going to be impractical in the newly-merged global corporation with twice as many employees.
So the companies engaged a communications agency to craft a strategy to help acquired employees adapt to the self-service world. They launched a “buddy program” to create new relationships between acquired employees and their colleagues in the acquiring company. In many instances, buddies were in different regions and communicated via email or video conferences, adding to cross-regional, cross-organisational communication and collaboration.
The agency also applied a number of technology-based solutions to keep employees informed and engaged during the merger. In addition, the agency made all electronic content locally relevant by translating welcome letters, country-specific pages and user toolkits.
These tools and processes led to better engagement in both organisations. The buddy program minimised cultural clashes by helping acquired employees feel supported and employees in the acquiring company become more empathetic. As a result, employees in both companies showed higher levels of satisfaction and commitment following the merger.
Bringing Worldwide Employees Together – Give Them a Voice
With half of its 13,000 employees working outside the U.S., a San Francisco Bay Area high-tech company was concerned about growing disconnect among members of its dispersed workforce. Employees in regional offices didn’t understand how their work contributed to the company’s overall success, and there was no effective channel for them to share their accomplishments within the context of the company’s newly launched vision of enabling commerce “Anytime. Anywhere. Any Way.”
To bring employees closer, the company developed a weekly video series showcasing employees around the world in action. Fostering a “global village” mindset, the videos gave a voice to global employees while communicating business updates. In the program’s infancy, the communications team created 100 per cent of the content from proactive outreach to business units. Now, employees voluntarily submit 75 per cent of the content for the series. With each episode averaging 5,000 – 6,000 views, the results have been overwhelmingly positive. Customer service representatives’ managers, who have only about 15 minutes a day to meet with colleagues, incorporated the videos into their regular meetings. Companywide, employee engagement scores jumped a record 5 points in one year. The series has generated mountains of positive feedback from all levels and regions of the company. This program engaged employees more effectively than traditional top-down messaging, helping make it a success across the organisation.
Unifying a Business Unit – “Friend a Colleague”
A large business unit in a global tech company was growing rapidly. The group developed software and services for a dynamic business environment dominated by new issues and technologies like cloud computing, big data, mobile devices and cyber-security. It wanted to create a comprehensive program to keep employees informed of the latest innovations occurring inside and outside the company.
With email inboxes already overflowing, the internal communications team opted for a tool nearly all of their employees used in their personal lives: Facebook.
After years of battling the distraction of Facebook during work hours, the internal communications team embraced it as an internal communications tool. They used public Facebook spaces to share milestones and accomplishments, announce idea campaigns, and collect employee comments and votes. Weekly posts designed to interest engineers and encourage innovation included program notices, links to articles about innovation, examples of cool technology, noteworthy quotes and puzzles. One of the most popular features, the puzzles ranged from solving everyday dilemmas to working out complex logic problems.
In just one week, more than 1,500 employees viewed the Facebook page – a level of engagement that surpassed even the most engaging emails. Within three months, “likes” rose from fewer than 10 to more than 500 − and continue to grow.
Lighten Up a Business Meetings – Let Employees Drive
The HR team at a major high-tech company was determined to liven up its twice-yearly company meetings, which were broadcast from company headquarters in Southern California to its 27,000 employees worldwide. One member wanted to organise a “flash mob,” the seemingly spontaneous group performance of songs and dances in public spaces that often wind up on YouTube.
They knew this would be a stretch, but the HR and communications teams were wise enough to step back and let her run with the idea. They knew she was enthusiastic enough to make it happen.
She decided to work with a colleague who was part of an after-hours, on campus Bollywood dance class. They recorded the dance and put the video on YouTube so people could rehearse the steps on their own time. Word-of-mouth invitations spread and soon 60 people were committed to learning the dance moves – and keeping the whole thing a secret.
The flash mob took the company meeting by storm, surprising everyone and making instant celebrities of the dancers, who shared a new-found bond. And the story didn’t end there. Company offices around the world were buzzing and the whole effort morphed into an online employee dance competition. Video submissions came from all over the world – particularly from R&D sites in India. The communications team assembled a highlights reel of all submissions to play at the next company meeting. Word even spread outside the company. An executive reported that while watching his child’s baseball game, another parent who had seen the video told him, “Wow, what a wonderful company you work for!”
Engaging Hard-to-Reach Employees Through Technology – The 10 Steps to Take
Few employees are truly hard to reach if technology is used well. Keep these steps in mind as you go forth and engage.
- Set your strategy first.
Don’t use technology for technology’s sake. Define your strategy with the problem or opportunity in mind, not the technology.
- Define your audience(s).
One technology solution doesn’t necessarily fit every audience. Clearly identify the target audience (all employees or a subset such as sales, engineers, etc.) and focus on engaging that audience.
- Understand your audience’s comfort level.
Examine how your audience uses technology in their personal lives. Don’t underestimate their ability and willingness to use it at work.
- Conduct a pilot.
Pick a small group of your hardest-to-reach and least-engaged employees to test your ideas.
- Let your employees lead.
Encourage your employees to contribute ideas and guide the program. Find ambassadors to help drive support among their peers.
- Get your leadership involved.
Enlist one or more influential leaders to support the program and rally others.
- Engage your IT department.
Don’t circumvent IT – you need their help. Involve them, understand their point of view and help them understand your goals.
- Understand your role as moderator/facilitator.
Step outside the traditional communicator role of pushing content. Shift your focus to fostering authentic connection and participation among employees.
- Be brave.
Take a risk. If it has not been done before, understand why and address any resistance in the implementation.
- Measure results.
Set up your program with defined metrics and a clear vision of success. Administer pre and post surveys and other methods to evaluate the results.
“Technology, like art, is a soaring exercise of the human imagination.”
– Daniel Bell, U.S. sociologist
“Technology is often used for the sake of technology. But to engage employees, technology must be used creatively and with strategic purpose.”
– Michelle Glover, COO, ROI Communication