The film director Ridley Scott describes his job as: “to engage you as much as I can, and as often as I can.” It’s an easier goal to achieve when you work in the movies, but the recipe doesn’t change that much whether you’re in Hollywood or a London blue chip. The point is; engagement is everything.
When talking about engagement, it can feel like quite a nebulous concept. Everyone appreciates it’s important, sure, but it doesn’t make it any easier to quantify. So first, here’s an outline of the reality of what engagement means to an organisation.
Studies ranging from the world of high academia, right through to simple employee research have all come to the same conclusion: an engaged workforce makes a huge difference. If productivity is considered key, engagement has been shown to generate a 43% increase, if the bottom line is the focus then engaged workforces generate two and half times the revenue of comparable, less engaged workforces. Even if your sole measure of employee value is retention, engagement has been shown in academic studies to significantly reduce an employee’s likelihood of leaving, or even thinking about leaving.
Then there’s the flip side of engagement. Workers in the top 1% of productivity add around £4,000 of profit on average, but a “toxic worker”, one who is severely unengaged and drags others down with them, can cost a company more than double that.
Having established that engagement is invaluable to an organisation’s success, how exactly does it come about?
There’s plenty of nuance with a subject like engagement, but that doesn’t stop it having some strong core principles. Just as Ridley Scott points out, engaging people should be a full time endeavour. It must be something that’s built into the living culture of the organisation, reinforced through a strong emphasis on collaborative processes, given space by the absence of an overly hierarchical structure and backed up by a clear sense of purpose.
All of these things are directly controlled by how and when a company communicates. For example, authoritative top-down communiqués impose a strong hierarchy and make it harder for individual employees to connect with the company vision. Quarterly announcements are often long, uninteresting and far too infrequent to feel like something that any individual can have an impact on. Instead, communication has to be two way, always on, and relevant to the goals, aspirations and objectives of each group of employees. Something which isn’t nearly as hard as it sounds.
Perfect company communication is impossible without the right tools. In fact it’s difficult to even try and take the right approach when employees aren’t able to openly exchange ideas and collaborate with ease.
Enterprise social networks – Yammer from Microsoft being the perfect example – provide exactly those tools, and make the whole process of engaging employees through proactive regular two-way conversation far more accessible. But that’s not to say that companies don’t still have to work hard to encourage the right behaviours.
As McKinsey points out, while collaboration through solutions like Yammer can drive productivity up by a quarter, there are behavioural metrics that are required to make that a reality, the simplest and most important of which is that employees need to be using it on a daily basis. But even with only a third of staff on board, the benefits start ramping up fast.
Getting employees to join in is relatively easy if getting involved has clear benefits to them. Yammer, used through Office 365 has efficiency benefits that leave older systems in its dust. A simple example is the ability to access and collectively edit live documents in the cloud while concurrently discussing their development with live collaborators on instant chat. It’s impossible to deny that this live, interactive form of work is more engaging than the isolated, stilted, email-attachment-driven workflows that still exist for so many companies.
The fear of change is inevitably still an important factor, but when it comes to systems like Yammer companies are able to gently encourage employees to open their eyes. By moving everyday processes, from diary cooperation to team planning, into the cloud, enterprise social networks become an inevitable core component of what it is to be at work.
The recipe isn’t so complicated: Define a clear purpose for internal communications and deliver it at every level at once, not top down or bottom up. Use Yammer to facilitate. Then enjoy the benefits, but whatever you do, don’t sit back and relax. Cultures are like relationships; they take constant nurturing. And looking after a relationship usually means being in regular contact with the other person, even if there are 10,000 of them.
To change communication, drive collaboration and unleash the benefits of those tandem pillars of success, the right communication tools can’t be a bolt-on or an optional extra, they have to be the core around which the day to day work-lives of employees are centred. Once that becomes the reality, there’s no going back.
By Baxter Willis, head of WM Reply's Engage team, specialists in using Yammer to help businesses engage with their most valuable asset: the workforce.