Dec 19 2013, 8:24pm CST | by Forbes
Anybody who has been involved in drives to make employees more engaged might want to pause for thought. According to extensive analysis by the management consultancy Bain & Co, this activity has generally been a waste of time where it matters most – among employees dealing with members of the public.
The findings may well prompt a nod of recognition for any reader who has ever had a frustrating experience with a sales assistant in a store or during a telephone conversation with a customer service representative. But they should make the leader of any organization want to carry out a fundamental reappraisal of employee engagement efforts.
Essentially, the Bain analysis of data from more than 200,000 employees from around the world, shows that employment engagement levels drop as soon as they leave the “c-suite” of senior executives. They continue to fall between upper levels of management and lower levels of organizations, so that by the time front-line positions are reached they are exponentially lower. Rob Markey, global head of Bain’s customer marketing and strategy practice and author of the analysis, acknowledges that there has been data about the limitations of employee engagement programmes, but says he did not expect there to be such a gap between senior management and customer-facing employees.
The situation is serious because it is widely acknowledged that the enthusiasm of front-line staff is increasingly important to a company’s success. He says there is such a strong link between engagement and customer loyalty that he would have expected more companies to have “cracked the code” by now.
The good news is that because employee engagement levels are generally so low at the front line any company that tackles the issue seriously stands to enjoy a substantial competitive advantage. “It doesn’t really take that much to make a huge difference,” says Markey.
More worryingly for leaders and their organizations, it appears that traditional approaches will not produce the desired effect. “Most leaders think they have to react with more studies, more analysis, more initiatives,” adds Markey. But this desire to create mechanisms is misguided in its paternalism. The companies that he regards as leading the way in this area – such as the web-hosting business Rackspace and the software and business support provider Intuit – recognise that these things work better from the bottom up. “They have discovered that employees want to make a difference, want to feel autonomous, want to exercise their own judgement and want to feel ownership,” he explains.
In such a situation, the role of the leadership of the organization is not to give directions but to create the framework within which employees can operate. This way, those on the front line can identify and resolve issues for themselves, on the basis that serving the customer properly is good for the organization.
The more usual situation has the sales assistant or customer service representative operating within tight rules that prevent them from solving any problems. This feeling of powerlessness overrides any incentives the employer might have in place to encourage engagement and leads to stress and a general sense of frustration. “Work becomes drudgery when employees are separated from a higher purpose and are unable to see that they are making people’s lives better,” says Markey.
On the other hand, if employees – especially those in front-line roles dealing with either outside customers or other departments within the organization – are engaged and enthusiastic they enjoy work more. And that is good for the business. Having been drawn into what has been a study spanning several years through his work on customer loyalty, Markey is sure of the link between happy employees and happy customers. He says that the companies that tend to appear on lists of best places to work also score well on Bain’s Net Promoter rankings for customer loyalty. “It’s abundantly clear that if you want to earn the enthusiastic advocacy of customers employees have to be enthusiastic advocates,” he adds.
Source: Forbes Business
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