The Changing Face of Engagement

The Changing Face of Engagement

Statistics tell an important story: the more engaged a company is, the more positive contribution and commitment it receives from stakeholders – and vice versa. This energetic give and take is of interest to a growing number of senior leaders, as it has a direct impact on the bottom line.

According to Gallup, the US economy loses an estimated $370 billion annually due to “actively disengaged” employees. On the other hand, 59% of engaged employees say their job brings out their most creative ideas. Also according to Gallup, companies with superior customer engagement approaches outperform competitors by 26% in gross margin and 85% in sales growth. “Their customers buy more, spend more, return more often, and stay longer,” Gallup says. And as for engagement with partners, the supply chain and wider communities, the message seems just as clear.

“We learned early on in our corporate responsibility journey the dangers of not engaging, not listening,” says Nike on its corporate responsibility web site. “Today, we see engagement with multiple stakeholders as a key enabler of both risk mitigation and innovation.”

Given these realities, one has to wonder how well mainstream corporations are handling the challenges at hand. Stakeholder expectations have grown more discerning, leaders have set new standards, new technologies have exploded onto the scene, but have corporate engagement strategies kept pace? What’s in store for 2012? We decided to ask.

In a snapshot survey of 50 senior executives, we found that while 80% of respondents consider engagement “essential” to business performance, 71% acknowledge they do only a “fair” or “poor” job of engaging stakeholders around important issues like sustainability and corporate citizenship. Furthermore, 79% say they they could do a better job promoting peer-to-peer engagement, and 72% are dissatisfied with their current methods for capturing engagement ROI.

While there is clearly room for improvement strategy-wise, there is also an openness to digital platforms that promote sharing, collaboration and innovation. The majority of respondents told us they view social media and corporate intranets as “very” or “extremely relevant” to their 2012 engagement plans. Nearly half view crowdsourcing and mobile applications to be just as relevant, while over a third consider games, gamification and virtual town halls to be applicable methods.

Beyond how companies intend to reach out, executives also seem concerned with whom they are reaching. Employees are a continued focus for 2012, and for good reason. While 89% of respondents reveal that people working at their company are “moderately” to “severely” stressed, 69% indicate that creating a fun and innovative environment for employees to work will be a “medium” to “high priority” next year.

Perhaps we will see a spike in creative workplace tools that spark imagination and most of all, fun. According to several executives we interviewed, that’s a key point. “With a game we can solve multiple challenges at once,” said one respondent. “You can get people contributing, sharing with each other, competing and learning at the same time.” Another explains: “It’s the excitement you create with games and the chance to think about epic wins.”

Epic wins for 2012 may also reside in the realm of purpose. Several respondents indicated that indeed, the most effective engagement initiatives they’ve ever been a part of brought greater meaning and a deepened sense of personal contribution to those who participated. In a corporate setting, that could mean anything from a well-executed philanthropic campaign to a culture change effort or strategic repositioning. As one respondent told us: “Building a socially progressive brand within a traditionally non-progressive industry was wildly successful in inspiring customer loyalty and profitability. Employees were proud to be a part of something that went beyond simply providing a return to shareholders.”

To be sure, the path to engagement is one of constant change, innovation and discovery. We will be looking out for new trends, the epic wins, and reporting back.

 by Christine Arena and Judah Schiller

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