In my previous blogs I’ve explored four of the five pillars of engagement, my pragmatic take on the framework that can be usefully used to guide organisations to engagement success.
We’ve looked at communication, accessibility, enablement and recognition and now we’re going to wrap up with feedback. Someone asked me the other day whether there was 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 sweetspot is heavily distributed 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 – 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 speed and immediacy, 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, monthly 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 that private WhatsApp group or closed Facebook community 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. Even better if you can take those conversations that are occurring external to the company and invite them back inside the corporate firewall – for both reputational and security reasons.
My colleague Rod Bulmer has long argued that if he’d had his time over with today’s technology he’d be asking colleagues much more frequently to give their views on products, mood, service, competition, to encourage far more open communication between peers and between exec teams and managers, managers and colleagues. He’d urge them to think in minutes, hours and days not months and years. 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 means to evaluate everything else you’re doing. It’s about staying attuned, 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.