Niall Ryan-Jones: Employee and Customer Engagement – two sides of the same coin.

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Niall Ryan-Jones is Head of Employee Experience at Harrods, who recently won awards as a top employer 2017 by both the Top Employers Institute and Glassdoor. Here Niall discusses engagement and its broader meanings.

The way we communicate, the content we share, the actions required and ultimately the level of engagement expected from employees has a lot to gain from the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) practices designed to drive customer engagement.

Introduction

The most joyful part of what I do is leading an agenda that is all about engaging employees, a field I have worked in for over 15 years. I work for an amazing brand name which naturally instils pride and a desire to “go the extra mile” in the pursuit of excellence – but my job has challenges like many others.

During my career I have seen the term “engagement” become a term of gravitas helped in no small way by the MacLeod report and research done by organisations such as Towers Watson all of which evidenced the positive correlation between higher levels of engagement and improved business performance.

Diluted and polluted

In my personal opinion, the use of the word “engagement” has become not just diluted to a broader meaning but also polluted with unsubstantiated facts and concepts. I recently read that the provision of milk, tea and coffee can drive higher engagement – really?

For a period of time the research I previously mentioned drove sharp focus on how HR practitioners talked about engagement and the rationale for investment in engagement related activities – it has become a linchpin of ROI on people investment. Like many other companies Harrods has diligently carried out employee surveys, taken part in case studies, presented at conferences and won numerous employer awards. However, questions remain – where is the hard evidence of engagement driving results and how do you replicate more of the same?

To be fully engaged.

For Harrods what drives full engagement or as we often refer to it, “bringing the whole self” into the workplace, is the combined strength of three relationships.
First, a deep affinity for the organisation you work for, often expressed by the strength of one’s pride.

Second, a mutually beneficial relationship where a manager demands the best of their team for the good of the organisation and in return demonstrates the value of their team members’ contribution through unsolicited gratitude.

Third, a job that offers fulfilment both professional and personal. The outcome of which is an experience of challenge, invigoration, personal pride, satisfaction to name but a few.

Engagement driving the results

Albeit we are biased, our business numbers do speak for themselves – although we can only share a snippet of the numbers. Our business is outperforming the market with double digit growth and has done so for much of the last 10 years. “Engagement” is a respectable 80%, labour turnover a healthy 22% considering we are a London based retailer, and pride in the brand 94% – the indications are we are doing something right.

Diversity a new challenge?

One of our most pressing challenges is the diversity of our workforce. Five generations, 36% below 35, from 100 nationalities, serving three hundred nationalities. And there is diversity in first languages, culture ………an endless list. Our employees are consuming information differently, what we have to say as an organisation has to cut through what is for many a noisy world. Not being able to reach out to our employees with the right information at the right time on the right channel with the right tone makes engagement somewhat trickier!

The following diagram is only a brief overview of the number of engagement touch points whereby an employee may be fully engaged (reward and growth) to somewhat passive (culture and practices). The employee lifecycle will provide levers of micro focus to understanding what will drive higher levels of engagement – not necessarily providing milk, tea and coffee!

Replicate more of the same – a new approach

Many businesses share one goal, to improve the bottom line. Hopefully, many of you are aware of customer relationship management (CRM), but, what if we draw on the practices and learning gained through a CRM approach, and applied a similar methodology to Employee Relationship Management (ERM). Like your customers, your employees are going to make or break your bottom line through the strength of their relationship with the brand, so investing in them is just as important as CRM.

Perhaps this seems like common sense, but when companies are focusing heavily on their customers, the employees who establish relationships with said customers are often overlooked, albeit there are progressive thinkers like Richard Branson who advocates a philosophy that “employees come first”.

We know that engaged employees deliver improved customer satisfaction. While many are busy researching the best CRM practices, I am making sure that ERM practices are on that list as well, and that the engagement efforts are contributing to strengthening the three most important relationships as mentioned previously; which in turn will strengthen relationships with customers.

The underlying lesson for us is knowing our employees as well as our customers. We aim to get a deeper understanding of our employees which will in turn allow us to engage with them more effectively.

Engagement to drive new outcomes

Looking through the ERM lens provides insight into our employees’ wants and needs – insight that could help make better, more strategic decisions about our employee lifecycle, the experience, who we are targeting and how we manage that. Taking this approach also helps employees draw what they need from the organisation to suit their needs in the here and now as well as longer term aspirations.

As a business we have moved on from the need to be convinced about the impact on performance, to focusing on how engagement activities can improve the employee experience, which in turn fosters the customer experience. Both of which will drive profitable growth and maintain and elevate our employer brand.

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