05/10/11

By Dr. David Kippen, CEO of Evviva Brands

Employee engagement starts with offering careers that “do what they say on the tin.” Re-engagement is different, and today, in the wake of the global financial crisis, HR leaders are focused on which re-engagement scheme to put into play. Fortunately, re-engagement doesn't have to be costly or offer new rewards. The key to re-engagement is simple: reframe your covenant, tell the truth, keep your word and manage your brand.

Re-engagement begins with understanding the root source of engagement: the promises employees believe the organisation has already made to them, both at the point of hire, and once they’ve settled in.

Initially, this is a “hiring covenant” far larger than the deal one negotiates with the organisation. It includes what one believes the organisation stands for as expressed by the master brand, the employer brand, and the organisation’s mission, vision, values. So whereas the hiring deal is agreed on both sides, the covenant includes intangibles that sit outside HRs’ control.

Our research suggests that the hiring decisions are driven by three universal beliefs:

Passion: my work area/specialty is a strategic focus of the company

Purpose: this company is the best aligned with my own goals

Impact: I will have the greatest opportunity for personal impact here

Salary and benefits, company reputation, the makeup of the team, career growth opportunities and training and development are also important. But passion, purpose and impact are differentiating factors, while these others are highly variable.

The new employee understands what they’ll do, why they’ll do it, who they’ll do it with, who they’re working for, and why the organisation’s work matters in the world, but these factors can change rapidly. This is why, over time, three additional factors join passion, purpose and impact as engagement drivers:

Autonomy: my freedom to operate without intrusive supervision

Authority: my right to make decisions necessary to get my job done

Accountability: an appropriate and fair assessment of my success

Together, these six principles comprise the employment covenant. Employees who feel tied to their organisation by passion, purpose and impact and tied to their jobs by the right balance of accountability, authority and autonomy demonstrate high levels of engagement and performance.

The past few years have tested these covenants at organisations of every size and raised the inevitable question, “what happens when these promises are broken?”

Organisations have asked employees to do more with less, and they have, but at a cost. Senior operations managers may view the changes they’ve overseen as necessary survival measures. But workers see the difference between the job they joined the organisation for and their current role, and, because this isn’t what they signed up for, they’re likely to feel let down, disappointed, tired, even angry.

When the organisation’s promises have been broken, it’s time to focus on re-engagement, which, at any company has the same four basic steps:

1. Listen at Every Level

Leaders must have dialogue with the organisation on fundamental questions underpinning the brand: “who we are,” “what we stand for,” “how we work,” “what we’re proud of.” The key to this is twofold. Listen to understand, but also, be seen to listen.

Leaders should focus on three areas:

1.How far are teams and individuals from engagement?
2.What are the key issues driving disengagement?
3.Which of these are connected to brand drivers?

2. Redesign the Employer Brand Experience

With the results in hand, HR, Operations and Brand leaders should develop an integrated approach to the employment experience. This is not about new collateral, it’s spelling out the details of a new covenant across Brand, HR and Operations jurisdictions.

This new covenant should describe what it means to work here. It is a re-frame of the initial promise set made to workers. Focus on the work experience itself.

Simple structure and language are essential. (It should fit on a large Post-it.)

Some elements will require re-affirmation. Others will describe a new reality. Clarify what’s gone away and won’t be back.

3. Cascade Communications

Communications should be handled close to the functional unit. Aim for a Board-level announcement of intent, a clear roadmap outlining when and where events will happen, and strong alignment of all people managers.

Sessions should be described as based upon the learnings we took from your feedback.

Leaders should share that the “old covenant” is void.
Managers must “own” the message and the promise. The program is not ready to launch until managers are ready to launch it.

Manager tool-kits and talking points should be developed and managers trained well in advance.

Cascading communications are effective if they cascade up to board level.

If communications will cascade in both directions leaders must be willing to listen to feedback, and to be held accountable for keeping their word.

4. Execute the Covenant

It is in the day-to-day experience of the new employer brand covenant that success lies, not in the launch campaign.

Leaders at every level must understand and focus on the brand as an experience the organisation delivers, not simply messaging on the walls and halls. The workforce will quickly dismiss any initiatives that look good in print but are absent in their day-to-day lives at work. For HR this may require time and effort invested to ensure that there is a strong sense of accountability for delivering an on-brand experience to their colleagues.

There is no set time to measure the success of re-engagement programs. Traction should however, be evident among top performers almost immediately (they are typically the most engaged already) and strong evidence should be visible among most employees within six months.

The re-engagement process is often long and it’s sometimes difficult to assess when resistance will finally fall. But by re-examining who we are and what we do we have the opportunity to re-align our workforce to today's organisational reality. When we do this, we provide workers a clear understanding of organisational values today.

Workers who may have lost their passion are able to re-commit, substantially increasing their enjoyment and productivity. The only promise new employees hold the organisation to is the one made upon their joining: that the company be “exactly what it says on the tin.” A promise the organisation can now make, and deliver.