Creating a Consumer-Grade Experience for Employees
Want to attract and retain key employees? Make change relevant by understanding how they spend their time.
By Holly Miller and Jonathan Watters
From significant to seemingly mundane, we make consumer decisions every day. And regardless of what we purchase, we want -- rather, we expect -- to buy more than just the product itself. We're more likely to buy from and remain loyal to a brand when we feel engaged with the purchasing process from the point when we start to make our decision through the support we receive after becoming owners.
Smart marketers understand that much of their success goes beyond the initial appeal of products or brand, and is also contingent on how they engage customers immediately and over time. Now, smart employers are recognizing that many of the same strategies and tactics used by consumer brands can be applied to the employee experience and used to drive employee engagement and loyalty.
The way consumers communicate, make decisions and behave has changed dramatically in a very short time. We live at the intersection of information and access. We pull up high-speed Internet -- from computers or handheld mobile devices -- gather information, share opinions and network in a variety of virtual communities. When we use technology to make purchases, we feel more immediately informed and personally involved than in the past.
Ongoing advancements in online and mobile technology, as well as the recent social media boom, have enhanced the effect. A few years ago, a term like "nomophobia" (fear of being without mobile phone access) would have carried little meaning. But in fact, nearly half of the college students and young professionals -- the Millennial generation now in the workforce -- surveyed globally in the 2011 Cisco Connected World Technology Report said they would rather lose their wallet or purse than their smartphone or mobile device (more than 75 percent of them have more than one device). Even more compelling, one-third of study participants said they would rank things like social media freedom and flexible work policies on device use over salary when accepting a job offer. And more than half of college students surveyed globally said they would reject a job offer from a company that bans access to social media. We've come to rely on the Internet and technologies that stem from it in our everyday lives, and they continue to set new benchmarks in our expectations and resulting behavior.
Marketers have become wise to the change, expanding customer engagement tactics to include technologies that offer more ease and accessibility. Naturally, the growing population of tech-savvy employees are going to expect that same "consumer-grade experience" in their work environment. If that expectation isn't clear to you right now, you'll see it soon.
Tuning Your Engagement Strategy to Market
If you think of your employees as your first line of consumers, "spending" their time and energy delivering on your brand, it becomes clear that engaging them in their work is essential to your long-term success. Things like communicating a compelling employee value proposition, offering a market-competitive total rewards package and giving employees a periodic voice in shaping company decisions are valuable components of a successful employee engagement strategy. But as the consumer culture in which we all live continues to evolve, that may not be enough. Employees today want quick, convenient ways to share information. They want technological infrastructure and resources that streamline work processes, foster teamwork and provide opportunities for collaborative feedback. It doesn't matter what your competitors are offering their employees -- if you want to attract and retain your own, offer them valuable total rewards, but don't forget that they also appreciate a work environment and tools that mirror their daily experiences beyond work.
Towers Watson has identified three distinct tiers that show how employers are tailoring their employee-engagement tools to trends that match the consumer marketplace as well as how each approach ranks in terms of effectiveness.
1: Behind Trend
In the 2011 - 2012 Towers Watson Change and Communication ROI Study, we found that those companies most effective in managing change initiatives are seven times more likely to create a sense of co-ownership and corporate unity in the process of doing so. They introduce experiences, tools and technologies that give employees opportunities to share feedback and unearth challenges in helping shape the direction and implications of changes. Fundamentally, the same principle can be applied in guiding employees toward any desired outcome, whether related to an actual change initiative or simply as a means to foster employee engagement.
But don't assume that implementing some form of social media -- starting departmental Facebook pages, developing user-generated videos, posting Twitter feeds or even tracking quantitative data like pages visited or links clicked -- will bring employees a consumer-grade experience. First, social media has so oversaturated the consumer sphere that it's now considered commonplace. And while implementing a social media strategy can be an important part of an overall engagement strategy, employees won't consider it innovative. Finally, companies that adhere to this approach alone are missing the most crucial half of the equation -- measuring the strategy's effectiveness and making any immediate changes necessary.
2: In Line With Trend
The change and communication ROI study showed that measurement is among the biggest drivers of the overall success of a business initiative, and it cannot begin midway through the process. In any industry, region or economy around the world, research has proved measuring activities help organizations keep a pulse on success and adjust strategy as needed. However, less than 40 percent of companies surveyed rate themselves as effective in this area.
Measuring activities use balanced metrics to set clear, well-defined goals, track progress, allocate resources efficiently (on target, on time, within budget) and support continuous improvement long term. The best way to measure data is to first collect them using means that are relevant to your audience. While manager discussions, focus groups and employee forums have their appropriate time and place, think in particular about your incoming workforce on the near horizon: a generation of professionals that has grown up with online, instant accessibility as their sole standard for gathering information and communicating.
The technology exists today to involve employees and create a sense of corporate co-ownership through various types of online media while also collecting a highly sophisticated, distinct collection of data to provide practical value. Even better, the leading technologies offer companies the ability to gather and analyze open-ended responses. Unlike fixed multiple-choice surveys, these automated tools engage employees even more by allowing them to weigh in with more meaningful feedback in their own words and, in turn, allow employers to sift through a mountain of comments in a matter of minutes to find key themes, compare them to quantitative data and glean more accurate insight.
As marketplace trends go, organizations today are leveraging newer technologies (e.g., mobile apps) for employee engagement but also building in better ways to link quantitative data to more unstructured, qualitative data. New technologies will allow your employees to feel a more collective sense of ownership in the company while still funneling their responses and overall participation into accessible hard data you can use to make business decisions.
3: Leading the Trend
Organizations at the front of the pack are building on all of these approaches with more advanced mobile media and tools combined with robust, balanced measuring features. But topping it off is an understanding of the significance of two emerging players in employee engagement: game mechanics and microsegmentation.
Gaming the System
"What? Games for employees?" At first glance, the idea of integrating games into your engagement strategy might seem juvenile. Think again. According to the Entertainment Software Association, nearly 70 percent of American households play video games. The average gamer is 34 years old and has been playing for 12 years, and 40 percent of gamers are women. Clearly, the appeal of gaming is no longer limited by population, age or gender -- and not even by geography, since smartphones have enabled the rapid expansion of the pastime among the mainstream population that doesn't play computer games. Essentially, anyone can game -- anywhere, at any time -- including your employees. And yes, this is good news for employers everywhere.
Gaming provides arguably the most convenient, effective means of generating rapid employee feedback, analyzing data and tweaking engagement strategies. And having some fun at work shouldn't be seen as a bad thing, either. The widespread appeal and the convenience of mobile gaming offer a good platform to drive participation and create a friendly, competitive atmosphere. The result is boosted participation, more representative data for measurement and a heightened sense of employee unity. Electronic gaming also lets you develop engagement around virtually any strategic initiative you can dream up by allowing you to rapidly tie participant scores and choices to real-world behaviors (e.g., benefit choices or preferences). And while employee engagement strategies still must be multipronged, gaming is a great tool to consider.
Going Deep: Microsegmentation
Microsegmentation, which takes a deeper dive into traditional market segmentation, can be incorporated into the design of a variety of gaming formats or implemented alone. It peels back layers of customized data to more clearly define audience demographics and life stages -- all to provide greater insight into personal attitudes, beliefs and decision-making processes. The result is an enhanced picture of specific employee subgroups, their identities, and the most effective topics, methods and messages for engaging them.
These new technologies aren't useful unless they are aligned with the organization's business strategy because their purpose is generally to create a sense of community and drive behavior change. And since they also open the door for measurement on a groundbreaking scale, they are highly conducive to determining how to create sustainable employee engagement and organizational alignment.
In conclusion, the degree, depth and variety of consumer-grade tools you build into your employee-engagement strategy can take on many forms depending on your organization's needs, business goals, microsegmented audiences and available resources. Jumping toward any trend should be carefully weighed against these factors. But keep in mind how firmly the Internet has rooted itself in our culture, becoming the bedrock beneath everyday life and a major medium for innovative ways to engage people and communicate.
New technologies are there to help organizations drive change by making communication, learning opportunities and other change efforts more relevant to key communities. Companies with an ear to the ground will realize the implications and take the steps necessary for holding employee attention.
Holly Miller is a senior consultant and Jon Watters is a consultant in Towers Watson's communication and change management practice. Both are based in the firm's Denver office.