We had the pleasure of sitting down with Kimberly Abel-Lanier, an employee engagement thought-leader, writer, and speaker. As a judge for this year’s North American Employee Engagement Awards, Kim saw some of the best examples of employee engagement. In this interview, she shares her thoughts on what it takes to create a highly engaged culture and the companies that are getting it right.
Tell us a little bit about why you got involved with employee engagement.
Kim: I’ve been involved with employee engagement my whole career. I have a personal purpose and passion to make the world a better place to work. For individuals, being connected to the work you do is tremendously empowering.
Companies benefit from having connected and engaged employees – this translates into economic success, strong valuation for the business and a better overall customer experience. This is one of those very rare win, win, win situations.
What do you feel are the keys to developing highly functional teams?
Kim: In my experience, highly functional teams possess these 4 key differentiators:
- A Unifying Purpose. They’re connected to something bigger. We all want meaningful work. Millennials and Gen Z have been vocal about this topic, but it is not unique to that generation.
- Radical Alignment – there’s no such thing as over-communicating. There are so many distractions, but a highly functioning team will always come back to ground center on its purpose and priorities.
- Advance a Definition of Success. One reason sports are so popular is that there is an end and a winner, but in business that’s not always the case. People like to be part of momentum. Leaders need to define milestones and what success looks like.
- Outstanding People Practices. This includes understanding generational differences, establishing respect, and socially recognizing great work as it happens.
In what ways can engagement, communication and company culture impact an organization’s profitability?
Kim: The level of impact has a great deal to do with how mature they are in implementing levers and practices around engagement. There is a tremendous potential to impact retention. We’re all aware of the high costs to recruiting and training.
- Discretionary Effort – employees are constantly evaluating what they “have to” do with what they “want to” do. The more “want to” performance you can get, the faster the organization will advance.
- Customer Experience – customers will go back to places where they want to do business; where they connect to people who are like them or are looking to serve them.
- Employee Advocacy – companies are just starting to think strategically about the power of having employees promote their products or refer their friends to work there. I was a judge for the Global Employee Engagement Awards where I saw a good example of this: the #1 revenue driver for the Ford F150 truck was not dealers, but rather a “friends and family” program. Employees were proud to recommend innovation, driven by the new CEO’s holistic focus on people and investments in state of the art products.
What do you think are the top challenges leaders will be facing on in 2018 with regards to employee engagement?
Kim: One is addressing emergent and aggressive macro-economic trends – five generations in the workforce, hyper-globalization, virtual work environment. People are changing, technology is changing, the world is changing – it’s all happening so very fast!
What we need is a strategy for an improved, integrated digital employee experience across engagement and performance management. Right now, it is transactional and fragmented. Being fast and flexible will be very important.
AI (artificial intelligence) is allowing us to use and apply data in the workplace with employees and customers by providing a more personalized experience. Not all people are the same. We need to be able to manage the “team of one” through personalized content and learning, and then bring that to the team level.
We’re doing better at understanding the different engagement levers – listening, coaching, feedback, communication, growth, contribution awareness and well-being. Now it’s just bringing it together in a cohesive, personalized experience and using the data to be more predictive and drive better performance in the future.
What organizations do you admire for their employee engagement?
Kim: While there are many deserving companies, based on my personal experience, I really admire these 6 organizations…
- GameChanger 500 – this is not a single company, but a list of the top “for-benefit” companies. For benefit organizations are purpose driven and socially conscience profitable organizations. Those are companies that are typically recognized for their employee engagement, and I’m respectful of the rigor of their selection process across eleven symbols of success.
- Delta Airlines – they have 80,000 global people and all are aligned across four to five core metrics and have a program across the entire business to share rewards of hitting their goals. Even in bankruptcy they’ve invested in social and economic-based recognition. It goes back to the CEO who recognizes that if they put employees first, they will have customers for life. I’m deeply respectful of their culture. It is more than a marketing slogan – they are the real deal.
- Ford Motor Company – I picked them as an Employee Engagement Award winner. They wanted to pivot and change their culture – this is hard to do with a global organization of this size. The CEO did a desktop hijack – every time employees logged into their computer, they had to listen to personal message from CEO about culture and engagement. This company is making admirable strides in a very difficult, old, established environment.
- Caesars Entertainment – they do a lot in integrating guest satisfaction with employee engagement. They have impressive metrics that show progress by investing in a great guest experience and employee engagement. Their unique programs have won awards across multiple organizations.
- Roche Diagnostics – this Switzerland-based organization takes a multi-faceted approach to employee engagement from well-being to infusing respect and having cross functional teams. They do a lot to promote engagement and very much connect to creating higher quality lives in their people and the patients who use their drugs.
- Key Bank – this mid-sized, Midwest-based organization enjoys a lower than average turnover in part because they are very focused on driving engagement, recognition, and communication. They also take their financial well-being programs into the communities and ask their employees at the branch level to help their customers achieve financial well-being.
To learn more about Kim, visit her LinkedIn page here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kimjabel/
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