Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Why Brand Advocacy Is Closely Tied to Employee Engagement

Employee engagement is an objective of most businesses, but sadly, many lack the leadership capabilities and/or the human resources staff to implement strategies that result in long-term employee engagement. Recently, Mark Herbert and I discussed the importance of employee engagement and its impact on brand advocacy. Mark and I met back in 2011 as a result of our social media activities, and I was immediately impressed by Mark's insights gained by more than 30 years of experience as an HR executive, author, and management consultant in a variety of organizational settings ranging from entrepreneurial to Fortune 100. Currently, Mark is Principal for New Paradigms, a management consulting firm in Arizona that helps companies embrace change to engage their employees.

A company’s size shouldn't really affect how employee engagement is viewed, but the reality is, it does. For one-person operations, family businesses, and small businesses, employees wear multiple hats to keep the operation running. For large and multi-national businesses, there are policies and procedures to follow, legal and compliance regulations to adhere to, shareholder requirements to adhere to, and as a result, employee engagement is not the tip of the priority iceberg. But for mid-size businesses, the alignment of employee engagement and brand advocacy can make a significant impact on business success.

I credit Mark for one of my favorite leadership quotes that plays a large part in developing employee engagement: “Leadership is a gift, not a position. It doesn’t require you to be the smartest person in the room…It requires you to block and tackle for others.” Highlights from our discussion follow below. 

QUESTION: How do you define employee engagement?
MARK HERBERT: This is an excellent question as I think much of the debate around employee engagement stems from the fact we don’t have a common definition. In my opinion and approach, engagement is about alignment and commitment. An organization has a clearly articulated set of values and goals, and its talent management strategies (ranging from recruitment and selection to compensation and training) reinforce those values and goals.

QUESTION: What are some characteristics that identify businesses that don't understand employee engagement?
MARK HERBERT: When I see organizations that delegate responsibility for engagement to their human resources department or who rely exclusively on an annual or semi-annual survey to define or measure engagement, they don’t get it.
* When I hear organizations refer to their employees as “human capital,” they don’t get it.
* When I see HR professionals indicate that the most important role they play in their organization is compliance with State and Federal regulations, they don’t get it.
* When I see organizations that don’t invest in training and development and who define engagement through tenure rather than performance, they don’t get it.

QUESTION: What are some characteristics that identify businesses that completely understand the value of employee engagement?
MARK HERBERT: When I see organizations that talk about how they hire for aptitude and attitude and train for skill, they get it.
* When I hear C-level execs talk about the importance of their culture and how recruitment, selection, and development reinforce alignment with that philosophy, they get it.
* When I hear C-level execs express personal ownership and commitment to an engagement culture, they get it.
* When you hear from Virgin, Starbucks, or Zappos talking about employee engagement, it isn’t their personnel department reps being quoted in the media.

QUESTION: Which businesses have implemented effective employment engagement strategies? Please provide examples of how these businesses accomplished this.
MARK HERBERT: Google spent a lot of time and energy investigating the characteristics that are represented in their best managers and embedded them in their leadership training and assessment. Zappos and Amazon also maintain a strict adherence to their cultures. Both offer financial landing packages to employees who don’t feel like they can, or want to, continue to be engaged with the corporate goals and values. These organizations have an employment brand that is deeply woven into the fabric of their business, and a commitment to the brand isn’t optional for anyone employed there.

QUESTION: How do a corporate culture and the onboarding process intersect with employee engagement?
MARK HERBERT: They don’t intersect, they are totally intertwined.
Check out this survey of 20,000 employees in which they described the 7 stages of disengagement:
* Number 7 - they didn’t trust senior leadership
* Number 6 - they felt they didn’t have appropriate work/life balance
* Number 5 - they felt devalued and unrecognized
* Number 4 - they didn’t see a clear career path
* Number 3 - they didn’t receive meaningful feedback and coaching
* Number 2 - they didn’t feel like they were a good fit with the job or organization
* Number 1 - they didn’t feel the job met their understanding or expectations of what they signed on for
Look specifically at numbers 1 and 2. This is a huge fail and a huge opportunity. Employees are essentially internal customers/stakeholders. C-level execs/leadership teams have to deliver on the brand promise to them just as they deliver on the brand promise to external customers.

QUESTION: How can a leader inspire his/her employees to become brand ambassadors?
MARK HERBERT: If you properly develop and consistently execute on an employment brand that begins with hiring, and selection is reinforced by your other talent management systems, you will build your brand rather than trying to bolt it on. It is a process and a journey that you never "arrive" at – it must be continuously reinforced and refined. When you hire and manage whole people, they come to work every day aligned with your brand. This can be translated to mean that they are invested in the outcome of what your business does and what it stands for. In short, employees become brand advocates or brand ambassadors.

QUESTION: What is the number one impact of engaged employees?
MARK HERBERT: There are several:
* It could be the 20% per capita productivity advantage
* The 147% earnings per share advantage that highly engaged organizations enjoy
* The retention advantage (engaged employees are 60% more likely to remain) when voluntary turnover is up 45%, and cost per hire is up 15% year to year
* The idea that in 2012, Gallup indicated that the level of employee engagement might be the most accurate predictor of long-term organizational performance and sustainability available to both internal management and investors
* The US economy could recoup and redeploy the $550 billion annually that the Department of Labor estimates we lose to disengagement

How much time and effort does your business allocate in creating engaged employees and turning them into brand ambassadors? Please chime in.

Check out my review of Mark's book, Managing Whole People, on my blog:

Read more on Mark's Blog: 

Connect on Twitter:

Check out my "Employee Engagement" Board on Pinterest:

Image Credit: stockimages via

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

1 comment:

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