Employee Activation
How to Increase Employee Engagement: A Guide for Smart Companies

How to Increase Employee Engagement: A Guide for Smart Companies

October 16, 2019
10 min read

The opportunity to foster an engaged employee starts from the minute they arrive for their first day at work.

Let me walk you through a scenario.

Brenda arrives on time for her first day at The Company. Her immediate supervisor is not in the office yet. Her new coworkers are kind enough to help her get settled but she sits there for several hours, trying to figure out what her new role is about.

Her manager finally arrives and invites her to meet with him. They sit down and he says, “What questions do you have for me?”

Brenda stares at him. She doesn’t have enough information to know what questions to ask.

Not having a clear understanding of her role for the first six weeks at The Company, it doesn’t take long before Brenda is actively disengaged at work.

Seven months after her first day, Brenda leaves the company.

Scenarios like this are not uncommon in the workforce. They are, however, costly.

Click Boarding estimates that 69% of employees are more likely to stay with a company for three years if their onboarding experience was positive. Even more so, organizations with a standard onboarding process experience 50% greater new hire productivity.

The Society for Human Resource Management estimates that companies will spend the equivalent of six to nine months of an employee’s salary to find and train their replacement. If Brenda was earning $60,000 a year, it cost her company at least $30,000 to replace her.

Creating a standard onboarding process is just one way to create actively engaged employees. Here are some more criteria to keep in mind as you move forward.

Quick Takeaways:

  • Aligning employee goals with the organizations’ goals fosters ownership in employees.
  • Expressing gratitude for employee’s work increases confidence and motivation.
  • Skill development is crucial to preventing boredom in employees and reducing employee turnover.

Be Transparent and Provide Relevance

Imagine having no context for what you’ve been asked to do at work. How motivated would you be to complete the task and do it well?

My guess is your only motivation would be the paycheck you’re earning. And that may not even be enough.

By providing context as to how your employees day-to-day tasks and professional goals fit in with the larger picture, you foster a sense of ownership in your employee.

In 2017, McKinsey & Company remarked on companies shifting to link their organizational goals with key strategic objectives and translating them into team-performance goals. The shift resulted in employees who are ready to accept increased accountability as they see the impact of their performance.

Practice Being Human

Perhaps it’s a bit simplistic but a simple “Hello!” or “Have a good weekend!” goes a long way when it comes to cultivating engaged employees. This is also true for acknowledging good work and thanking them for it.

It’s crucial to a happy organization.

A study by Cicero Group reveals that 50% of employees say that being thanked by their manager not only improves their relationship but helps build trust with higher-ups. 75% say an award or verbal thank you increased their confidence.

Help Employees Develop Their Skills

A study by Udemy revealed the most common cause of boredom at work is due to the lack of opportunity to learn new skills. According to a Gallup poll, 69% of the workforce views development as an important part of their job.

Employers who offer development opportunities reap the rewards. Eighty percent of employees agree that learning new skills at work would make them more interested and engaged in their jobs.

In 2011, Silicon Valley engineering manager and author Michael Lopp wrote about how he identifies bored employees and how to mitigates the problem. He asks himself two questions as part of his “A Boredom Plan of Action”:

  1. Where is this employee going?
  2. What am I doing to help them get there?

By asking yourself those two questions, you reduce employee boredom, facilitate learning opportunities and foster a higher level of engagement.

Don’t Micromanage

This feels obvious but the negative impact of micromanagers on an organization is detrimental.

Robert Half’s Accountemps asked 450 employees about their experiences with micromanagement. Nearly 60% said they had worked for a micromanager at one point and of that group, 55% said it decreased their productivity. Sixty-eight percent said it dampened their morale.

Jennifer Chatman, a professor at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business suggests managers get feedback from their teams about what’s working and what’s not. Some other recommendations include setting priorities and taking them to your team, as well as be transparent.

Engaged Employees = Company Success

Whether you have been in Brenda’s shoes or have had a Brenda on your team, it’s a costly situation. Recently, I have been asked by a number companies to help activate their employees.

Because engaged employees, share their expertise (when properly activated) to create happy and loyal customers. And that is one of the main goals of marketing!

And that’s why I think marketing should own culture and employee engagement.

Companies with engaged employees outperform those without by up to 202 percent. This stat alone should be enough to gain buy-in for an employee activation program.

Even though you and I know your engaged, activated employees are worth their weight in gold, your organization’s budget decision makers and managers may need some convincing. After all, we are talking about one of the largest shifts to organizational culture in the 21st century. And, the next evolution in modern marketing.

You’ll need the support of upper management for your activation program. Not only to make sure resources are available but also to ensure everyone is on the same page. Employee activation involves more than a one-off initiative. It’s a different way of approaching the relationship between employees and managers, and employees and the brand they work for.

You’ll also need employee buy-in. Your company’s staff need to know how employee activation benefits them. The thing is, employee activation is a win-win for everyone. Not just because they get a career boost by working for a successful company, but also because becoming a part of the conversation is a way to build their own personal brand and to develop themselves as industry thought leaders.

Good Management Matters to Employees

What’s one of the most effective drivers of engagement and a cornerstone for any employee activation program?

Sound employee-manager relationships.

A survey of over 2,000 workers in the US found that:

  • 93 percent of employees say trust in their boss is a must for job satisfaction – and most say without job satisfaction, it’s pretty hard to put in a lot of effort at work
  • 80 percent say they feel they don’t even need their boss
  • On the other hand, with a good boss, over half say they would do without a 10 percent pay raise to stay with a manager they like

When there is a sense of trust and respect, employees are more likely to stay motivated and to give it their all on the job. This boosts productivity, but it also can translate into business growth.

Highly engaged employees are more likely to act as brand advocates. With a sense of trust and support at work, you’re going to see more of your experts sharing branded content, getting involved, and becoming a part of the conversation by creating thought leadership content for the brand.

This won’t just give a little juice to your brand’s marketing impact. Activating your internal experts has the power to transform it completely.

Your Customers (and Future Hires) Listen to Your Employees More Than You Think

Having happy, engaged employees does lead to happy, engaged customers. Customers are more responsive to content shared and created by your employees than the brand itself or by the CEO. Employee shared content is a version of word-of-mouth marketing – and 84 percent of consumers trust people they know, while only 15 percent trust brands.

Considering the fact that employees, on average, have 10 times more social media connections than the company they work for, simply getting your engaged employees to share brand content can blow the top off of your usual social media engagement numbers. Metrics aside, you’ll reach more potential customers, with each message driving more impact because of the greater trust consumers are going to have in the content shared by employees.

Your employees’ social posts can:

Employee activation is also a powerful tool for attracting top talent. Just look at the hyper-successful brands, like Apple, which features employee quotes and stories on their job website, and Zendesk, which shares videos of current employees to announce the positions they’re hiring for. What happens when employees become a part of the recruitment process is they invite talent into a community. It’s human, approachable, and really powerful.

Technology Makes Employee Activation Easier

Years ago, marketers believed the heightened personalization and worthwhile customer experience we can deliver today was impossible. But technology changed that. Marketing automation platforms and other AI-driven tools have made it possible to learn more about what customers want and to create a seamless experience across touchpoints.

Technology has evolved what we can do today with employee activation in the same way. Platforms to improve internal communication, to make it convenient for employees to share content, and custom-created tools have made activation doable – even at the enterprise level.

Take BMW for example. In order to empower their sales workforce with better knowledge about the brand’s vehicles and to connect a workforce 125,000 strong, they created the BMW Insiders Platform. It led to a 300 percent increase in branded content shared by employees, helping to boost BMW sales numbers to reach $1.2 billion in revenue.

“When our employees are engaged and clearly understand our business, it gives them the feeling that they’re part of something valuable.”

– Andrew Cutler, BMW’s Executive and Internal Communications Manager

Activation Has More Potential for Employees Than They Realize

But employee activation isn’t just about making employees feel like they are part of the brand. It’s about helping them develop professionally, and allowing their skills, passion, and expertise to shine out. At the root of employee activation is the understanding that what is good for the individual is good for the whole.

And the whole, as it thrives, is good for the individuals who are a part of it. To get buy-in from employees, let your staff know this isn’t just another initiative for the good of the company. It is an opportunity for them.

  • Employee activation benefits salespeople – 78 percent of salespeople who use social media outsell their peers
  • Having a platform to share their expertise is a great way for them to become thought leaders and giving their personal careers a competitive edge

Don’t forget to incentivize your employee advocates. They are stepping up to support your brand’s image and marketing efforts. Anything from a financial bonus when goals are met to recognition can encourage your employees to get excited about becoming a part of the brand – and industry – conversation.

Participation Marketing

Employee advocacy is still the biggest untapped marketing opportunity for brands today. Michael Brito calls it Participation Marketing — with the caveat that employees must be authentic and not robotic when engaging externally with customers, the media and influencers.

Truth is, employees are impactful, authentic and influential in the digital ecosystem especially in B2B environments – executives, subject matter experts and yes, the intern too. Why? Because there are trusted, credible and rarely have an agenda other than to share knowledge and talk about technology.

The tech sector’s B2B decision makers are the “most-marketed-to” group online today. They filter out sales calls and advertising and don’t read press releases. But they do pay attention to content shared by their peers and other IT leaders. This is where participation marketing can deliver the most value.

The Employee Participation Model

The 1:9:90 influence model is also applicable to employee advocacy today. It’s a helpful way to think about how employees can add value and participate in the digital ecosystem.

Influencers (the 1%): These are opinion leaders and content creators. They will move the market when they speak, write, tweet or publish content. They’re journalists, academics, and in many cases, influential employees that have significant following in social media.

Audience (the 9%): These are industry enthusiasts who share, comment and recommend products and services in the social ecosystem. They help spread the thought leadership of the influencers they follow. The majority of your employees fit into this category.

The Market (The 90%): The majority of those who use social media are lurkers, but they consume content daily. The bulk of the market and their purchase behavior will determine how believable your story has been. They rely heavily on word-of-mouth and Google everything before making any purchase decision.

Here’s an example of how this might play out: Let’s assume there is a data scientist who works for you company and has several patents, speaks at industry conferences and is often quoted in the media about AI and Machine Learning. Let’s say she writes a blog post about the future of artificial intelligence and its impact on automation. She posts it on her personal LinkedIn blog, Tweets about it and shares it on Facebook.

Her followers, which are other data scientists, engineers, developers and IT leaders read the post, comment on it, and provide their own unique perspective on the topic. Of course, they then re-share it with their own micro-communities.

The rest of the market, the 90 percent, will determine what’s believable from the 1 percent and 9 percent. They may refer to Google to get additional perspectives, ask their work colleagues and then share the blog post internally to their IT leaders.

The marketing team realizes how successful the blog has been and decides to repurpose it into a white paper or eBook. It’s gated on the web site, added to Slideshare and shared from company-branded social accounts in order to surround sound their prospects with the combination of branded and employee-driven content. Suddenly the potential for a slew of new leads is on the table.

Employee Advocacy = Business Value

An increase in friends, fans and followers are great metrics. And nothing beats a PowerPoint slide showcasing exponential increases in likes, comments, shares and clicks when presenting to your superiors. But, vanity metrics only take you so far. The harsh reality is that CMOs and other c-suite executives are holding their marketing and PR teams accountable for quantifying investments in social media programs.

You can deliver business impact by focusing on content developed by influential sources (like employees), and meeting IT decision makers at the right place in the sales journey. Here are some additional drivers that showcases employee advocacy and its impact to marketing.

  • Brand awareness: It’s a soft metric and vastly removed from sales, but necessary before any deal can be made. It’s also well understood. Employee-drive content living on social media is a cost-effective means to meet brand awareness objectives.
  • Customer education: If done right, a stellar employee advocacy program will yield maximum visibility in Google with trusted and accurate content, reaching customers that are searching for solutions or troubleshooting.
  • Word-of-mouth: More than 80 percent of Americans seek recommendations when making a purchase of any kind, IT decision makers included. It’s not difficult to measure volume, sentiment, traffic and referrals from these sources to capture and optimize their impact.
  • Search engine visibility: As stated, unique content posted to social channels can improve search rankings through keyword focus, links and engagement level. The B2B purchase process always begins with an unbranded keyword search – matching what your customers are searching is table stakes.
  • Social selling: A strategic employee program incorporating “social selling” requires sales teams to leverage personal social channels in an authentic way with content that delivers value. Couple great content with a clear call to action, trackable links and a streamlined landing page can be a powerful way to close a deal.

It’s clear that employee advocacy programs deliver value externally, through participation marketing. Internally, it fosters employee engagement which results in a motivated workforce that can truly deliver on the holy grail – digital transformation.

Getting Past the Assumptions

A vibrant employee activation program benefits employees, the business itself, and customers. But, ultimately, taking action and demonstrating results will convince even your organization’s greatest skeptics. Start small to get employee activation going in your company if you need to, keep getting the right messaging across, and help bring your organization into the future as a successful brand.

2 thoughts on “How to Increase Employee Engagement: A Guide for Smart Companies

  1. Roger Parker

    Engaging and very relevant post, back-ed up by compelling research. Conratulations, Michael.

  2. Michael Brenner

    Thanks Roger, I appreciate your support!

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Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula", and Founder of Marketing Insider Group. Recognized as a Top Content Marketing expert and Digital Marketing Leader, Michael leverages his experience from roles in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as his leadership in leading teams and driving growth for thriving startups. Today, Michael delivers empowering keynotes on marketing and leadership, and facilitates actionable workshops on content marketing strategy. Connect with Michael today.

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