Earlier this year Engage CEO Phil Wedgwood released his book ‘Destination Engage’ – weaving the evolution of both engagement theory and practice with the company’s parallel development and his own breakneck ride through business life.,
Over the summer we’re serialising the book and showcasing some of the tech and the thinking that are shaping how organisations approach both internal and external engagement.
In part 6, we conclude our examination of the Five Pillars of Engagement, drawing on an earlier book of Phil’s, Engagement Essentials Explained, that looked to evidence the tangible impact of employee apps at work.
Previously we have talked Communications, Accessibility and Enablement - now it's the turn of Recognition and Feedback
Part 6: Pillars of wisdom
Now there was a moment when I thought about tackling this first. Why? Because very often when I sit down with HR heads, the second question I get after ‘Can it connect everyone to everything? is ‘Can we link to our rewards portal?’
Sometimes it seems like engagement is just a synonym for recognition. Get your employees signed up to some sort of promotional cum loyalty scheme and interacting with it on a regular basis and that’s it, engagement job done. But we know proper engagement is far more expansive and complex than that - that’s why we developed the framework in the first place. That said, reward and recognition is still fundamental - but it’s a part rather than the whole.
Moreover, a one-way, top-down rewarding of staff is a very narrow, limited interpretation. I’m sure recipients of gifts or discounted items enjoy getting them but they might view the process slightly cynically - accepting it as a typical corporate tactic. So they may quite willingly take - but not necessarily give back any more. However, because the scheme is being used and people say they like it - who wouldn’t? - then that’s okay, you can put a tick against the Engagement box and move on.
That was actually the thinking a client shared with me recently. And while they were happy for our Engage platform to link to their third-party benefits provider, that was a five second conversation. What they really wanted to talk about was how to recast recognition, take it from being a corporate ‘ploy’ to something of real business value.
Thus began a lengthy chat about democratising recognition and building social capital and cohesion through peer-based acknowledgement and rewards. Just think about it for a second - if you give someone a £30 gift voucher it generally has a limited 1-to-1 impact; whereas if that person is recognised and that recognition amplified through the business so that everyone knows, that person feels much more valued. It’s a great way to start and has no P&L impact either. A win-win surely?
I shared the story of another client who had been rather taken aback to learn that the most popular tool in the Engage platform three months on from go-live was the Thank You cards. People were actually remarking on how chuffed there were to get the nod, not from their bosses, but their friends. “You want to carry on doing your best for them,” was how one recipient put it.
Given that friendships at work are known to be one of the strongest factors for staff retention, you can see why colleague approval arguably has more value than corporate largesse. That’s also why we put a fair bit of store by encouraging social behaviours across the workforce.
The ‘comments, likes and shares’ style of community building that drives consumer apps such as Facebook easily translates into an app for the workplace - creating more opportunities for colleagues to connect and come together (on and offline).
We have another client who recently changed how they did their Long Service Awards, now choosing to make it a headline event via the app. Each award notice is receiving around 350 likes and 100 comments. Previously announcements barely made a ripple in the water. Harder to put a financial figure on for sure, but that said you just know in your gut it’s a good thing.
Stand up the recognition pillar in your business, put the tech in place so that everyone can benefit, not just the desked, and you’ve got the transactional effort/reward side of things covered out of the gate pretty much. But you can also start sowing that community seed - democratising awards, socialising achievement and celebrating each other. Yes, it’s hard to put a value on that but I sense that, done well, it could be priceless.
So here we are at pillar five, feedback. I have been asked whether there is any significance in the order of how we pitch our pillars, and there is. It basically reflects the hierarchy of needs, as told to us by clients.
The universal comms challenge invariably leads the way (remember our natural affinity is with distributed, non-desked organisations), closely followed by giving everyone access to everything they need, and then the ability to do things a bit smarter, faster, more efficiently.
That’s not to say we’re downplaying the importance of recognition and feedback - benefits, incentives, surveys, mood boards, suggestions and the like - but the reality often is that those two elements are already in play, via an existing point solution, and so there’s slightly less urgency. Just as long as we can integrate them or supersede them at an appropriate time, that’s fine.
With feedback though, there is another reason why we place it last. As much as it’s an engagement pillar, it is also a cornerstone, providing as it does that fundamental check on the efficacy of the other pillars. This is where you find out whether your new corporate comms effort, your new employee support programmes, your new self-service help tools have been a hit - or a miss. It’s about getting plugged in and attuned, about listening and acting, and keeping a constant finger on the pulse of the organisation.
Ditching the expensive, ponderous annual survey is undoubtedly a big draw for clients. They do get it, they do understand why a shift to ad hoc pulse surveys, regular polling, virtual town halls etc has to be the future. The internet and social media has given us a ‘now’ world, an ‘on demand’ environment and lightning quick news making and mood changing.
For companies looking to control the narrative, well, that genie is out of the bottle really - hard to control what is not visible to you, and those private WhatsApp groups or closed Facebook communities which are dissecting your corporate failings will go on unseen and unchallenged.
The one recourse is to focus on what you can control, which is the experience that gives rise to the narrative. But that in turn needs continuous checks and balances, and genuine opinion seeking and action taking to keep things on course, and to ensure adequate time for remediation if things go off track.
And how difficult is it now to ask people to give an immediate view through their smartphone? That said, the real challenge will always remain that of being willing and able to respond and react to what they say quickly - engagement covers the listening bit, but it’s down to executive culture and intent whether the acting bit follows. The prize should surely be enough of an incentive - if you improve the experience, the positive narrative will follow.
As I see it, feedback - the asking and listening process - is both the embodiment of engagement (if we’re asking, we’re interested, right?) but also the practical means to evaluate everything else you’re doing. It’s about giving everyone in the company a voice, the ability for peers to thank and recognise each other and for that to be socialised widely. Top down, bottom up, peer to peer, even external – feedback is a powerful engagement mechanism that makes a real difference,
It’s about staying alert, being agile, doing more of what’s working, changing tack if it’s not. As pillars go, it may be last - but most certainly not least.
Destination Engage is available from Amazon in both paperback and eBook formats.