Sue Hedaux – New routes to colleague engagement

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Badge-EngagememtCreating a culture where colleagues are engaged and aligned with the corporate goals is really difficult. Let’s face it if it was easy everyone would have done it!

It is possible to create colleague engagement with the right policies and procedures and a recruitment approach that ensures everyone joining the business brings the desired attitudes and behaviours. However this is entry level stuff and produces engagement that can look good in the company report but doesn’t really translate into a passionate and committed work force.

Businesses that achieve true engagement go much further than a few policies and procedures and succeed in creating a culture within their business that is felt by every colleague and, importantly, by every customer too.

It is hard to create and maintain a culture that makes a difference for colleagues and customers yet businesses that succeed in doing so are often leaders in their business sector. Brands like Pret, Timpson, Apple and British Airways show how building engagement creates good customer experiences and a healthy profit.

I’d argue that the key to creating a truly great place to work with engaged colleagues is effective, engaging communication. For young, energetic start-ups it’s relatively easy to make sure everyone knows what is happening and feels close to the business. But how do you do that with tens of thousands of employees? Spread across hundreds of locations or even sole working and having little physical contact with an office

When I started as a retail manager about 30 years ago communication was simple. Once a week we got an envelope that contained everything we needed to know. We had communication updates and clear lists of operational tasks to complete. The business had clear processes to make sure all the messages we received were aligned with the company strategy and we understood where we fitted in making brand come alive for our customers. And if there was ever an urgent message we had a telephone cascade to pass messages along!

That method worked really well in the much slower paced business world of the 80s. Now businesses are always on and always communicating with their teams. But how effectively is all that communication getting through?

In offices the challenge is often finding news and what you really need to know on a dreaded intranet that holds everything but is not very engaging. And away from the office environment 83% of employees have no company email.

This means line managers still have a crucial role in engaging and motivating teams and helping them feel close to the business they work for. There are some great managers who are brilliant with their teams and unfortunately there aren’t enough of them to go round.

Communication is set to become ever more important. Millennials entering the work place are used to constant connection with their friends. They want over communication rather than the once a week summary memo I got at the start of my retail career. Research on attitudes of millennials shows they want to feel part of the organisation they work for and are the group that most want to understand the business goals and their role in delivering them.

Organisations are turning to technology so their CEO can directly communicate with all their people. A first start in this was the development of intranets with a comms hub. Despite my earlier comments there are some great intranets yet for many businesses the challenge is to get colleagues to log on. And in a world where ever increasing efficiency and productivity is expected it can be hard for businesses to find the time with every colleague for formal company communication.

In society in general communication is becoming increasingly informal. Retail colleagues routinely text each other. It’s so easy to set up a group and send a quick text message that is less intrusive than a phone call and guaranteed to get through. Informal groups are also used on social media sites like Facebook and the more business orientated Yammer. The challenge with these is there can be patchy uptake – one large business using Yammer has only about 20% of employees who engage with it. Social media groups often need effort to moderate content that is posted to ensure it stays true to company policies. At its worst a Facebook group becomes an extension of an exclusive clique in the tea room.

So is now the time for apps? They can harness the push notification benefits similar to receiving a text, they don’t need moderation and building in gamification is a great way to build engagement in a way that fits with the brand personality. The only barrier to date has been uptake of smart phones yet now 1 in 5 people have their phone within arm’s reach every moment of the day and smart phone penetration is 76% for adults.

The Restaurant Group is leading the use of app based communication. They are partnering with Nudge Rewards to send their colleagues push notifications, fun challenges and a route to share good ideas direct to an employee’s own phone.

Is it time you took a look at an app for engagement?

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