Employee engagement—chances are you’ve heard of it before. With today’s war for talent and an entire new generation of digital natives moving into the workplace, employee engagement is a serious concern on the corporate agenda of every major company. So then why does a recent Gallup poll find that only 13% of employees are engaged at work?
A strong corporate culture is more indispensable today than ever before. While definitions may vary, at its core, employee engagement is about attracting talent, fostering commitment, and ensuring retention of an increasingly valuable company asset: its people. And one of the secret ingredients for successful employee engagement may be where the execs least expect it: with the company’s brand.
CEOs have always known their brand is a driver of customer acquisition, loyalty, and business growth. Today, they’re also learning that the company’s brand can provide employees with a sense of purpose and identity and serve as a source of both inspiration and action.
Here are five simple ways business leaders can harness their company’s brand to further their employee engagement goals.
Aligning company goals with employees and being transparent about yearly plans is a mainstay of every leadership role. But by tapping the company’s brand, senior executives can take employee engagement to the next level and create branded assets that literally make the future tangible for staff.
For example: Create media for your brand published from the future. It could be as simple as a magazine with articles on innovations, customer wins, and company awards that might not necessarily be true yet, but are a glimpse into what you'd like the future to hold.
The glass manufacturer Corning Inc. launched a video series entitled "A Day Made of Glass" that gives employees a peek into a glass-savvy world. By making the company’s future tangible for employees, corporate leaders can engage and inspire employees, resulting in behaviors that align with the company’s goals.
When are employees more excited than on their first day? Companies should look at this as an opportunity to use their brand to build engagement and momentum.
For example, the Zappos brand doesn’t distinguish itself on shoes, bur rather on unparalleled customer service. From day one, the new employee experience reflects the special Zappos customer service experience. By rotating through departments the first few weeks, employees learn all the dimensions of superior customer service—from working in the customer service call center, to interacting with the brand’s website, to actually packing and shipping shoes in ways that make it easy for customers to choose what fits and return the rest. All the while, new Zappos employees learn that if the job doesn’t fit, the company will reward them monetarily for leaving.
The culture is kept strong by demonstrating a "no harm, no foul" attitude if things don’t fit—whether for a customer or an employee. And if you ask a Zappos employee what business they’re in, the answer isn’t shoes, it’s unparalleled customer service.
As boomers retire and increasing numbers of digital natives enter the workforce, the types of internal communications that effectively engage employees are shifting. More dynamic digital experiences will have a higher impact on employee engagement. These experiences facilitate a real-time, two-way conversation—whether internally between employees or with customers.
Gatorade and Wells Fargo are among a few of the companies that have launched social media "mission control centers." Now employees can respond to and interact with customers in real-time through a brand-led conversation. Not only is the social conversation alive internally and with customers, but employees are more engaged, keeping a real-time pulse on the customer and gleaning fresh insights for product and service innovations.
Employees who feel a personal connection to their work are more engaged. And Millennials are shifting the workforce landscape by asking a generational question: how does our company and my day-to-day job make a meaningful impact on the world? Ensuring your brand is infused with purpose and connecting it to employee programs can boost engagement and even evangelism.
The Toms Shoes brand has a simple idea at its core: for every pair of shoes purchased, Toms donates a pair to a child in need. It’s easy to imagine that most employees would naturally be motivated and inspired by this idea, but Toms takes it one step further by inviting employees to participate in shoe drops. Traveling to a community Toms serves, employees experience the conditions firsthand, personally meet the children and families, and donate the shoes.
Toms employees are not simply brand ambassadors, they are the brand in-action, making a difference, being changed by the experience, and returning to the office to evangelize the mission.
One through-line of these tips is helping employees move from saying to doing. While that’s certainly about enabling frontline employees to deliver on your brand promise, it’s also making sure leadership "walks the walk" through personal behavior and organizational deeds.
Southwest, an airline admired for its strong culture, engaged workforce, and challenger brand image has understood this from day one. Anyone who has been on a Southwest flight can attest to the smiles, spirit, and fun. This is because employees live the Southwest values: servant’s heart, warrior spirit, and fun-loving attitude.
But it’s not just up to individual employees. Every year, Southwest comes together as a company collective for what is essentially a massive rally and tailgate party. Employees barbecue, socialize, and celebrate the successes of the past year and look forward to the opportunities ahead.
This event not only embodies the value of a fun-loving spirit, it also demonstrates the organization’s commitment. Southwest’s values aren’t just posters on a wall or a performance metric for individual employees, but rather, they’re an organizational behavior that turns words into action.
By connecting two of your most valuable assets—your brand and your people—you can make meaningful progress toward your employee engagement goals. With these five guidelines, you’ll not only have a more engaged workforce, you can also boost recruitment, enhance internal and customer communications, foster innovation, and deliver a better customer experience.
Thom Wyatt is the global director of employee engagement at the strategic branding firm Siegel+Gale.