Missing the target on employee engagement? It could be your AIM…

Red and White target with three arrow

Much of what is written about employee engagement centers on metrics such as retention rate, turnover, employee satisfaction, loyalty, productivity and the like. These are quantifiable, measurable, readily extrapolated and analyzed for trends. The nature of outcomes is that they are dependent upon drivers, or causal factors which, in turn, influence or shape the numbers.

When it comes to engaging your workforce, there are three drivers I believe are particularly important. Remember the acronym “AIM”. They are:

  • Attraction
  • Inspiration
  • Mobilization

First, it is important to understand that you can’t directly create retention. Prisons can do that. Your company can’t. So if you wish to reduce defection, you need to improve those aspects of your organization that will continually, consistently attract your employees. Many firms seek to attract new talent to their ranks, but fewer recognize the need to make that a dynamic facet of the workplace experience. An employee who is emotionally connected to the mission, vision, values that are demonstrated (not just published, but routinely evidenced by the acts of leadership) will be less likely to seek other, more potentially satisfying, alternative employment options.

Take a critical look at your workplace, from the viewpoint of the employees. Are they empowered to feel as if they are “the most valuable assets” of the company? Are their needs, desires and goals heard and respected up the organizational chain? Do they trust that leadership has their interests atop the strategic priorities? Is there opportunity for growth and development for all employees?

Next, consider how your organization inspires the associates and managers to deliver innovation, balanced with compliance and the need to perform the perfunctory aspects of their individual roles. It is estimated that 80% of the knowledge within your company is tacit, existing in the ranks of the employees but not formally harvested or broadly accessible. How do you inspire your employees to look beyond the existing paradigms, to chart improvements that leverage what they know, individually and collectively, to help shape the processes and protocols that define the broad limits of your growth? Some firms, such as Coca Cola, provide for a percentage of the work week where employees are encouraged to pursue ideas, in tandem with others across the company, which they believe will deliver a more positive future. The freedom and permission to think bigger than their day-to-day responsibilities is a source of inspiration to the employees.

Finally, the very essence of engagement as a measurable objective is to create, sustain and accelerate positive change…to lead the company and the market, rather than follow or try to catch up. If engagement is the antecedent, then mobilization most certainly is the consequent. Alignment around a consistent vision along with adoption of values across the organization, fueled by an inspired workforce and enlightened leadership, is what overcomes corporate inertia. In an ideal world, positive change begets positive change. In reality, positive change will only bring more positive change if the environment (culture, workplace factors, and leadership) and the broader market direction are evolving at compatible rates. That will be a subject of a future post.

In business as in life, you don’t get what you deserve. You get what you AIM for.

It’s a great day for an IPO!!


Admittedly, on any given day, I don’t pay a lot of attention to the stock market. That said, I noticed this morning that five companies, across a wide band of industries, chose today to launch their IPOs. There was a sixth one that pulled out at the eleventh hour, but we’ll get to them later. The five newly minted stocks belong to a drug maker (Versartis, VSAR), a  network software play (A10 Networks, ATEN) , another technology company (Amber Road, AMBR), a finance company (TPG Specialty Lending, TSLX, and an e-commerce platform provider (Borderfree, BRDR). Each leverages new technology, innovative thinking, creative applications, and a clear focus on the customer.

Not surprisingly, the investment community reacted overwhelmingly positive to the offerings of all five, sending their prices spiraling up, as subscribers exceeded shares available, and the laws of supply and demand took hold. It is on days like this that I am reminded why we are in business. The companies that demand more of themselves than their customers do, the ones that challenge their paradigms and get outside their comfort zone, and reinvest consistently, appropriately into resources, both technological and human, are the ones that will stick. They possess what it takes to achieve a solid, enduring relationship with their marketplace, and they stand create value, for their customers and their shareholders.

Having read the prospectuses for at least two of these companies, I was encouraged by what I saw. They have a clear, distinct and market-centric leadership vision… They know what they are in business to do, and they have carefully managed their funds to date to provide them with a runway to profitability… They have invested in things of substance, like innovation, people, and the community they live in.

I mentioned earlier that there was one company that decided, on the eve of its public offering, to pull out of the process. I had to wonder: Could it be that the very forces that propelled the other five companies to success, when inverted, became the detriments of this one, failed attempt? If innovation, creativity, market focus, and fiscal conservatism, are turned inside out, what do you have? The opposite of innovation is to be a commodity provider, lagging in thought leadership and execution. What is not creative is by definition stale. Firms that lack a tight focus on their marketplace will demonstrate that they are short on new ideas to be harnessed and adopted by their customers. And, as we have seen so many times, especially with the memories of the “dot com” bubble, financial shortcomings can lead to all sorts of maladies, including organizational death or corporate dismemberment.

The one company that could not launch today, a reseller of retail gift cards (Globoforce PLC) may be analogous to what it means to swim inside a riptide. There are very few ways to survive in a fast-moving current, especially when you lack the skills necessary to save yourself.

Buying a product at retail (in their case, a gift card or gift certificate), marking it up 30-50% from its face value, and selling to corporate customers for employee gifts, is notably short on the scale of innovation and creativity. Lacking any unique or patented technology that affords the buyer something that they can’t get from any number of alternative sources, is not exactly a recipe for success. Ask JCPenney or Kmart about that.

One would have to question where the market focus is here.  And, having read their prospectus, the financials of this company would leave one scratching his head as to why the savvy investor would willfully participate in the offering at all. With short-term obligations far in excess of liquid assets, the balance sheet is unattractive to the point of questioning why anyone would choose to have it published for scrutiny. Marketing will only go so far. At some point the numbers have to be there.

Instead of needlessly pondering the vagaries of one failed launch, I would far prefer to hoist up an Irish brew and toast the five wonderfully exciting and invigorating companies that set a new course for themselves today. Congratulations and a hearty “Cheers!”  to all.

Hugh MacLeod, whom you have seen me quote on many occasions, famously said, “The market for something to believe in is infinite”. I believe this is true on many levels, from the spiritual to the pragmatic, and particularly so in the investment community. It’s what has made the capitalist system work, and has elevated many great inventors and tinkerers to positions of national prominence. Here’s to those who toil, ceaselessly, to be the best there is!