Our friends at Ian Martin Group, a creative and forward-thinking staffing company based in Toronto with offices across North America, have been engaged in a wholesale transformation over the past few years, and it has been encouraging to watch. It has been a coordinated effort around Purpose, Brand and Culture - and aside from those 3 areas of focus (which we think are most important), they are also bringing some of the 'big picture thought' into reality with a whole pile of imagination, excellence, and just plain creativity. They'd probably be the first to say it wasn't easy, but all that hard work is really starting to show some positive effects...
Which should not come as a surprise, really. Employees are the ones who make it all happen - the work of the company itself, the Purpose, the innovation, the Brand, etc. - it all rests on the people!
The truth is, no matter how compelling the Purpose is, or how Authentic its Brand, or even how great a company's leadership, employee engagement is the real engine for creating and sustaining lasting change in a company. It has to be - because no matter what we say about Purpose, what is it really? It's what the employees believe it to be - in other words, visions and mission statements may all be well and good, but the real Purpose of the company is found in what the employees collectively believe is its 'reason for being.'
Similarly, we are seeing more and more the effects of social media, which are pushing the Brand from the domain of 'internal control,' under the influence of marketers and advertisers, toward external control, judged by customers. That means Brand is more and more becoming, "the way employees act on behalf of the company in relation to its Purpose." Authenticity is key.
So, aside from recent evidence which points to the positive effects of employee engagement for the business (productivity, creativity, reduced turnover, etc.) - employee engagement is one the foundational elements of making organizational change happen, especially with respect to Purpose and Brand. But, because employees are people first and foremost, creating and navigating employee engagement is an inexact science - destined to be a rolling sea of failure and success. Some efforts will work, others won't. Efforts that will make a huge positive difference at one company will fall flat at another.
One helpful way to keep your ship afloat on these high seas is to reduce the size and increase the frequency of the efforts your company undertakes. Borrowing a concept from Eric Ries' The Lean Startup, engage in smaller efforts of "fast cycle learning" which will allow for quick decision-making to either "pivot or persevere" with that small experiment. Once a few successes come, more will likely follow close behind, leading to a sustained momentum of success.
Secondly, like most things, the attitude with which employee engagement efforts are conveyed and carried out will often be more important than the aptitude with which they are administered - character outweighs competence.
Ironically, in this new "age of engagement," we think it's the companies who choose to stay safe in the harbor that are at the highest risk of sinking... So get out there and ride the high seas of employee engagement!