The art and science of program implementation
Why good employee engagement programs sometimes deliver bad results
The benefits of employee engagement are undeniable. Elevated engagement positively impacts business metrics such as retention, safety, wellness, teamwork, quality, productivity, and profitability. Managers benefit because it provides them with a mechanism to positively influence employee satisfaction, happiness, workplace learning, collaboration, and, ultimately, output. Employees benefit from an engagement program because they feel appreciated and acknowledged.
Most companies are diligent about finding a "right fit" partner to provide employee engagement services. They vet the technologies to be used, carefully configure features, optimize the user interface, and attempt to strike the proper balance between universal incentives and personalized experiences for their workers.
So why do so many employee engagement programs struggle to elevate motivation and increase productivity?
The most common reason has to do with poor implementation versus program design or vendor fit. The same diligence devoted to planning, vendor selection, and configuration is required during implementation if all the goodness you hoped for is to be realized.
Here are a few implementation considerations to ensure the success of your employee engagement efforts:
Help everyone understand the purpose of your program
Ultimately, all programs seek to better involve employees in the mission of the business, to connect them with the values of the company, and, in various ways, increase motivation to perform with maximum effort. It's important to explain to all participants "why this program, why now, and what role do you expect each employee to play". Give them reasons to embrace the new program by identifying specific outcomes that will benefit them personally as well as their co-workers.
Communicate that your engagement program is not just an HR initiative
Too often employee engagement efforts are positioned as solely an HR initiative. Most programs heavily involve HR resources, but to increase adoption make effort a company-wide initiative, not just one department's responsibility. Leadership, supervisors and managers should position the effort as something that crosses all roles and functions. True engagement should be a widescale team effort involving every employee. As your workforce becomes energized and motivated, it will have a company-wide impact on productivity, often leading to a long-lasting cultural shift.
Highlight the personal benefit as well as the collective outcome
To increase adoption and encourage enthusiastic participation, your implementation process should help adopt a sense of personal responsibility. Position your program as both an individual and company-wide program. The more your workers feel that the experience is unique and has been tailored for them, the more their sense of participation accountability will increase. The feeling that "this program is mine" drives intrinsic accountability and significantly helps sustain your engagement efforts.
Involve employees at all levels as you near a final program design
Forming an advisory council made up of employees from all levels of your organization can go a long way to achieving company-wide acceptance. Giving a voice to all levels of the company is an empowering message to every employee. Often these decisions are made by one department or a small group of people. By soliciting input from a wider spectrum, you not only get fresh ideas regarding configuration, but you communicate a more inclusive perspective to everyone. Ultimately, these advisors will become adoption advocates because they are invested in achieving successful outcomes for "their" program. Letting more people "own" the program helps promote positivity as the program ramps up.
Prep the market–your workforce
Take a lesson from consumer marketers who announce products well in advance of release (Think Apple or Samsung). They have learned that to orchestrate a smash success launch people need to know what is coming. They need time to figure out how the new thing fits into their lives. These "must have" products are the result of months of advertising and promotion.
Most companies spend months configuring their employee engagement solution with little consideration to prepping the market—their workforce. In the months prior to launch, even before every detail is worked out, start talking about what is coming. Help people get excited about features you are confident will be in the final release. Some successful companies post countdowns or throw launch parties to generate excitement and promote adoption. It is important to have a strong launch. Think about running a pilot launch with a group of company influencers to generate buzz. If these talkers have a positive experience, they will help spread positivity when you have the company-wide launch. Work to fuel internal buzz if you want to build momentum rapidly.
Managers will make the difference
Don't underestimate the power of your managers. If they believe in your program, it's more likely to succeed. Make sure you give them a chance to work with the interface themselves prior to a full launch. Ask for their feedback and be prepared to make adjustments. Managers lead their teams to or away from your program. The more managers believe, the better received your program will be.
Create goals and incentives for implementation
Clear goals and success measures help motivate adoption. While the essence of your program will likely reward engagement in some fashion, start by rewarding basic participation. Create games, contests, or other fun motivators simply for logging in or activating the engagement interface. Friendly departmental activity competitions or benchmarking participation by role can encourage enthusiastic adoption. Make sure that these team or individual "scores" are public. No one wants to be left out or fall behind. Measuring success, from the very start, will lead to better program management down the road.
What's in it for me
Possibly the most important factor leading to the successful implementation and sustainable adoption of your employee engagement program is clearly communicating to each employee what is expected and how they will benefit. Engagement is challenging for companies because it requires hundreds or thousands of individuals to "say yes"–to choose to engage. Help them, one by one, to make that choice by demonstrating how they will benefit individually, alongside their co-workers.
Ultimately, engagement is personal. Help your employees understand the personal benefit of more active engagement and your entire company will win.