In an economy marked by slow/no growth, and rising commodity prices boosting raw materials costs globally, many organizations have bought into the benefits of reducing unwanted churn and improving productivity by better connecting employees to the company. At best, these efforts are complex, calling into review many facets of the relationship that associates have with their employers. Elements that may be considered include trust, alignment, perceptions (real and imagined), expectations, satisfaction, compensation, growth potential, culture and values, to name just a few.
Linkages between employee loyalty and consumer preferences (as well as employee loyalty and channel partner effectiveness) have been drawn. Satisfied, productive and committed employees are increasingly sought after as a source of competitive, financial advantage. One essential book on the subject is titled, “Employees First, Customers Second” (Harvard Business Press, 2010) by Vineet Nayar. The author focuses on transparency, trust, and top-down accountability as key factors in transforming the organization and engaging the employees. By accessing, nurturing and rewarding employees for bringing forward innovative ways to add value to their customers, Nayar believes he has found a new source of competitive advantage, in shifting the center of strategic thinking from the executive suite to those closest to the needs and opportunities of the marketplace.
A brand-new paper published this week by McKinsey is titled, “Finding The Right Place To Start Change”. Similar in some regards to the prescriptive messages of Vineet Nayar and other thought leaders, the McKinsey piece espouses that the first step in driving engagement is to identify those in the organization that are most connected, and to leverage their support to build momentum across the company. If you have read more than one or two posts on Ideationz, you will recognize that a number of the foundational elements in both the book and the McKinsey article center on factors that we have promoted as essential to corporate health and longevity. Specifically:
- The need to align your employees (or channel partners or consumers) with the mission and the values of the organization as well as their role in propelling the vision forward,
- The tandem aspects of willingness (to change) as well as ability to see, plan and act differently, and,
- Identifying and tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) to mark progress in critical areas.
I have seen this play out in many global organizations, particularly those who seek to capitalize on talent and innovation in far-flung geographies worldwide. It’s hard enough to capture and operationalize new thinking within a single corporate entity or on a headquarters campus. It is another story altogether to build not just the technology, but the connectedness among associates in different geopolitical environments, cultures, and time zones. Technology helps, but it takes more than that.
Those who are successful have a distinct upper hand on those that cannot implement the “one company, one world” credo. You never know where the next great idea, product/service, technology or scientific breakthrough is going to come from. As such, the strategic need for inclusion and connectedness transcends an HR practice or policy. The value of engagement reaches across disciplines, and demands a complex plan for execution. The rudiments to getting started, however, need to be simple and consistent. Everything begins with a vision for the future. From the vision will emerge a mission, or a purpose for being, which complements the future vision. The core values set the tone for marking off what are acceptable boundaries for the firm. Goals cascade into objectives, and those who are responsible for driving results must build actionable plans that address the four cornerstones of engagement which are summarized above (alignment, willingness, ability, and measurement). These plans of action need to be designed with implementation in mind, and monitoring stations created to determine the operational success of the effort (i.e., is the plan being implemented across all key audiences, and where – if any – are the gaps), as well as the impact the initiative is having on behavioral outcomes. The impact may be cited in metrics such as enrollment, activity, milestones achieved, etc. The culmination of engagement efforts are the business results which are manifested (i.e., is the organization achieving the goals and objectives defined at the start of the process).
These are complex, big-picture aspects of a process that, if adhered to, will create forward motion while shedding light on those groups which lead/lag the middle of the organization. Those who are on the leading edge represent an emerging point of leverage, effectively opening up a broader base of engaged constituents to nurture and encourage.
More will come of this in future posts. For now, I would advocate that you examine how well aligned the executive team is, and to carefully consider the stated vision, mission, values, goals and objectives for the company as well as the plans that cascade from them. This will become your launching pad for everything which follows. From there, you can begin to assess how well you are meeting the needs of the four defined cornerstones, and then move deeper into determining where gaps or roadblocks may exist. Gaps are, on one level, simply unmet opportunities, often occurring as a result of misaligned expectations or processes. Roadblocks serve to define previously undiscovered synergies. The value which comes from beginning with a broad coalition of executive support, encompassing HR, operations, finance, administration, manufacturing, sales/marketing, r&d and technology represents the fuel that will get your efforts off the ground. And that is, after all, the most basic requirement of a successful launch isn’t it?