Tag Archives: engagement

The customer comes second – sort of.

Organizations often try to claim they’re “different” as a convenient excuse for dismissing new ways of doing things. It’s the old, familiar “That won’t work here because …” syndrome. True, every organization is distinct to some extent. Still, virtually all organizations have some basic things in common, and those commonalities make a compelling case for the importance of aligning employee engagement with marketing communication.

For starters, they all want to be successful.
No dispute there. They also all have customers. Call them consumers or taxpayers, students or patients, passengers or clients, patrons or donors … or whatever you want. In the end, their satisfaction largely dictates an organization’s destiny.

All organizations also have employees.Call them associates or co-workers or partners or colleagues … or whatever you want. In the end, their sense of trust and happiness in the workplace determines how they relate to customers – and how satisfied those customers will be.

Connect the dots, and the picture is clear.
Making employee well-being a top strategic priority is more than a nice thing to do. It’s just good business. That’s the central theme of a highly touted book that came out several years ago entitled The Customer Comes Second: Put Your People First and Watch ‘Em Kick Butt.

The principal author is Hal Rosenbluth, the fourth-generation head of Rosenbluth International, a family-owned corporate travel agency that grew in annual revenues from $20 million to more than $6 billion in a span of 25 years under his leadership. When he joined the business right out of college, he noticed that they put a lot of emphasis on making customers happy, but virtually none on the employees who served them. That didn’t make sense to Rosenbluth, and the disconnect showed on the unhappy faces and performance of disgruntled employees. So he set out to shift the company’s focus first and foremost on the attraction, retention and development of outstanding people.

Realizing that’s counterintuitive for many organizations, Rosenbluth explains, “Companies are only fooling themselves when they believe that ‘The Customer Comes First’ … Only when people know what it feels like to be first in someone else’s eyes can they sincerely share that feeling with others. We’re not saying choose your people over your customers. We’re saying focus on your people because of your customers. That way, everybody wins.” With industry-leading customer satisfaction rates of over 99%, how can you argue with him?

A Secret Weapon
Rosenbluth is also emphatic about employee development being a vital part of the success formula. While attracting good people, listening to their ideas and treating them respectfully are important, that’s only part of the equation. “Perpetual training is a secret weapon, because the growth of a company is really just the aggregate of the growth of its people.” What’s more, he says, “Broad-based programs that are philosophical in nature are as important as technical training.”

It all adds up to a simple yet significant phrase from the book, which serves as a poetic and memorable motto: “People who feel cared for will care more.”

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Cure for the common town hall meeting.

So here’s a curious question. If you don’t have a town, can you still have a town hall meeting? I mean, if it’s only a company and not a whole town, and if the top person at the head table is hired by a board instead of being elected by “citizens,” what’s the point?

Okay, so we all know what’s really going on. Somewhere along the production line, someone got the notion to call what usually amounts to a series of droning management speeches something warm and fuzzy like a “town hall meeting.” That way, the company and its executives would seem more real and more…well…transparent – sort of like the emperor’s new clothes.

Let’s Get Real
If you go back in time, you’ll find at least one striking difference between colonial days when town meetings were the real thing and the feeble attempts of companies today trying to duplicate the effect. When they opened the floor for discussion, it created true dialogue. Sure, employees are usually invited to ask questions at corporate town hall meetings, too. But few step up to the microphone to ask anything probing or provocative because they don’t feel comfortable talking in front of lots of people. What’s more, the responses are seldom substantive because it puts senior managers on the spot to come up with answers off-the-cuff.

Make it Meaningful
Once you get clear on that idea, here’s one way to make town hall meetings more energizing and meaningful for employees:

  1. Start with the goal to create substantive engagement, understanding that acceptance and behavior change occur more from conversations than presentations.
  2. Break everyone into groups of 8-10 people.
  3. Pose a question for small groups to discuss for 10-15 minutes, and ask them to come up with a list of responses; if you have multiple topics and limited time, assign different questions to different groups.
  4. Ask a spokesperson from each group to give a 90-second report on their top three ideas.
  5. Have the person facilitating the process give a brief response, acknowledging input from each group.
  6. If the group is too big for everyone to do a report, select a manageable number, and request that remaining groups submit their answers in writing for later review and response.

Reinforce with Follow-up
What matters most, though, is what happens next. Nothing worth talking about can be sustained from one quarterly meeting to another. Without a systematic follow-up processes to embed the conversations deeper, the impact will quickly fade.

At least two things should happen. First, all employees should receive a summary of the meeting with the input that the small groups gave to the core questions. Second, departments should continue discussions on topics from the meeting to ensure they are assessed and addressed at micro levels of the organization. Be sure to do it in group conversations, though, not by management edict. That way, employees will feel more like involved “citizens,” and not just an audience.

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Learn more about Landes & Associates and our unique approach to employee engagement.

An engaging recipe for planning

We’ve all heard the old adage that “crap” rolls downhill. Truth is, most things go that direction in some organizations – especially when it comes to developing corporate plans. You know the drill. Managers go away and huddle in their cozy planning cocoons. They ponder lofty notions like values, vision and mission. They create goals and objectives and strategies – maybe even some high-priority tactics. Then they pass it down like tablets from the mountaintop with the mandate to go forth and implement.

Cultivate an Appetite for Planning
Fortunately, managers increasingly are starting to “get it.” They’re realizing that when they “cook” the plans before employees have a chance to have a say in what should be on the “menu” and how the “meal” should be prepared, it’s likely to leave a bad “taste” in people’s mouths. Taking the culinary metaphor a bit further, put yourself in their position. If you only had one restaurant in town (your employer), and the only thing you could eat was what the chef (senior management) put in front of you, how satisfying would that be? More to the point, how “engaged” would you be in the whole dining experience, and what’s the likelihood you’d recommend the place to other customers?

Add Engagement to Taste
Of course, there’s also the bromide that warns of having too many cooks in the kitchen. So what’s the answer? How can you engage employees in organizational planning, and still maintain effective control of the process? Admittedly, the larger the organization, the bigger the challenge. The good news is you don’t have to involve everyone, and it doesn’t have to be a complicated undertaking. The methods depend somewhat on what kind of plan you’re creating, but here are some guidelines for getting employees engaged in virtually any type of planning:

1. Start by thinking of employees as participants to engage at the beginning of the process instead of workers to direct at the end.
2. Involve groups of representative employees that comprise all the “realities” of the overall organization.
3. Alternate small group discussions with large group review and evaluation.
4. Foster conversations and formative dialogue rather than “dueling monologues.”
5. Employ a broadly representative steering committee to consolidate central questions, concerns, obstacles and recommended action items that senior managers can use in the final planning work.

Finish with Aligned Execution
That’s just the first phase, though. Fact is, far more strategies suffer from poor execution than insular planning. After the plan is completed, it’s important to engage ALL employees in conversations about where the company is heading with the plan…how it’s going to reach its goals…what each person’s roles and responsibilities are…and how they can contribute. Bottom-line, if you want what’s being said and done outside the organization aligned with what’s being said and done inside, employees have to be engaged in planning from start to finish, not just carrying out orders at the end.

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Avoiding the persuasion trap.

Few communication goals are more alluring than trying to persuade (a.k.a seduce) people to embrace new ideas and behaviors. It’s one reason organizations continue communicating with employees as an audience to be directed with messages instead of a community to be engaged through conversation.

Not “Outside-In”
But it’s a trap. As with other forms of “seduction,” people usually see through it…and often resent it. That’s especially true if they get a whiff of being manipulated by the well-known “trust-me-this-is-going-to-be-good-for-you-even-if-it-doesn’t-look-like-it” sell-job. What’s more, even if they DON’T object to the message, that kind of “outside-in” approach to communication seldom creates a sustainable sense of responsibility and ownership among employees. Instead, it comes off like a pep rally that pumps people up just long enought to cheer for the next game.

Insights from two thought-provoking communication specialists illustrate the hazards of the persuasion trap – and how to avoid it.

Let Employees Persuade Themselves

In 7 Steps to Becoming Invaluable, an interactive development program, Dale Furtwengler identifies counterintuitive thinking as a key to effective leadership communication. One way to develop that capability is to avoid the “myth of persuasion.” He asserts that people rarely can be persuaded to believe or do anything they aren’t already inclined to believe and do. “The best we can do,” says Furtwengler, “is to shine the light on new information, allow others to process it, validate their conclusions with their own experiences and persuade themselves.”

Perhaps even more disconcerting for would-be persuaders, studies show that even if it appears people have been persuaded to change, they often haven’t – and their behavior will show it. As one old saying goes, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

“Normal” Communication Won’t Work

So does that mean we should stop trying to reach employees in an effort to foster change? Hardly. In his book, The Secret Language of Leadership, Stephen Denning offers an approach that, once again, is somewhat counterintuitive. He describes the “familiar trinity of steps” in communication as:

1) defining the problem,

2) analyzing the options and

3) recommending solutions.

It’s the “normal” way of communicating that’s been part of the Western intellectual tradition since the ancient Greeks. “But if you’re trying to get human beings to change what they are doing and act in some fundamentally new way with sustained energy and enthusiasm, it has two serious problems,” says Denning. “One, it doesn’t work. And two, it often makes the situation worse.”

Stories of Engagement
Denning provides another three-step model for engaging employees in change:

1) Get people’s attention – with captivating, authentic stories acknowledging current challenges and negative conditions

2) Stimulate desire for change – with positive stories of possibility and hope that move people to action

3) Reinforce the desire for change – with reasons told through neutral stories that explain what, when, how and why

Beware of changing the order, though. Interestingly, Denning’s experience shows if you move it around, it’s likely to backfire. So give it a go, and see how well you connect with people.

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