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Organizational Change
How to Pool Collective Leadership & Go Beyond Nudging, Gaming and Competing to Engage Employees

It's an incredible, mostly missed opportunity: 70 percent of U.S. workers are not engaged at work, and yet organizations with high employee engagement have 147 percent higher earnings per share. Not surprisingly, employee engagement was one of the major topics this week at SB '15 San Diego. Participants expressed great interest in learning strategies and practical ideas; among others, how to scale employee engagement, how to measure and monetize engagement, how to engage employees in a highly decentralized environment, and how to convince senior leadership that employee engagement is worth the investment.

Thus, how we position employee engagement matters. “When we do campaigns and use incentives to get employees to do something, we communicate that these are activities that they would not normally want to do on their own. Include an element of empowerment so that people feel like they are able to act on their volition and creativity,” Lertzman suggested. At Eastman, that means connecting employees with opportunities to make a difference and helping them merge their personal and professional passions. For Josh Henretig, Energy Senior Director of Environment & Cities at Microsoft, empowerment is essential because “our ability to scale [engagement] is through empowerment.”

However, Lertzman cautioned that empowerment means much more than connecting with employees on the aspirational level. It also requires connecting with people where their anxiety and ambivalences are: “Ambivalence is so critical because most of us are pulled in competing directions and that creates tensions,” she said. ”It is not about people not caring - it is about them being stuck and not knowing how to resolve those conflicts. You need to understand where those ambivalences are so that you can meet them and help resolve the dissonance that comes up. How can we see our work in engagement as supporting alignment, facilitating and fostering, not pushing or cheerleading, and think of engagement in an integrative, authentic, grounded way?”

In order to support both internal and external alignment, several companies, such as SAP and HP, have gone the extra mile and integrated employee engagement into the core of the company. “Employee engagement is one of our four global strategic directions. The Head of HR is also the CEO of SAP,” Odenwald said. SAP believes that a truly integrated strategy requires an understanding of the connections between social, environmental, and economic performance; employee engagement cannot therefore be peripheral to the business, but an integral part, and SAP has developed the metrics to prove it. “A 1 percent increase in employee engagement has an impact of 35-45 million euros on our operating profit, and a 1 percent increase in employee retention has an impact of 40-50 million euros,” Odenwald shared. The metrics in turn help reinforce the objective: “We started seeing interest from our investors in our sustainability efforts once we started monetizing employee retention and engagement,” he added.

Similarly, employee engagement around sustainability at HP emerged out of a business need. “We saw customer interest in the social and environmental aspects of our products and programs, and we used this as an opportunity to engage employees to better understand our customers and at the same time help the sales team to differentiate HP,” said Randi Braunwalder, HP Sustainability Programs Manager.

Could we be witnessing the beginnings of a next phase in employee engagement, one that is ingrained in the business model and that engages individuals not as employees, but as co-creators? Or as Henretig put it, how can we all think of our jobs as a sustainability job without the sustainability hat, and use our expertise to solve critical problems?


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