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Sep. 28, 2012
Volume 9, No. 9
 
In this issue...
 -  Enriching Employees Enriches the Bottom Line
 -  Igniting Champions
 -  Attracting and Retaining Winning Employees: How You Can Get and Keep the Best People for Your Team
 -  Cracking the Code of Silence on Meaningful Security Metrics
Enriching Employees Enriches the Bottom Line

By Dr. Jennifer Rosenzweig

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The Industrial Age has been credited for bringing new methods to businesses, increasing efficiency and productivity, which has resulted in a healthier bottom line. But the world has evolved since then, and we live in an economy that is more digital than industrial, requiring many new practices to achieve that same level of success. Among them is an evolution of how employees are viewed within the enterprise; they are no longer “factors of production,” like pieces of machinery. Rather, they are individuals with infinite capacity to solve problems, serve customers and create breakthrough ideas that push the organization into new opportunities.

The best companies, however, know that having innovative, committed employees doesn’t happen with the wave of a wand. It takes strong leadership and a culture that brings out the best in people while encouraging high levels of engagement. The Forum: Business Results Through People, affiliated with Northwestern University, has spent the last decade studying organizations that excel at engagement, and through their research, they’ve framed a description of these high-achieving cultures: it’s all about employee enrichment.

Employee enrichment is the practice of actively engaging employees in ways that develops who they are as people — and not just as employees. The intent is to encourage fuller, richer lives that lead to higher levels of contentment and meaning.

Impact on the Bottom Line
What does all this “soft stuff” have to do with bottom-line results?

Plenty.

One of the first links between employee engagement and customer spend emerged in the 1990s with Harvard Business Review’s “Service-Profit Chain.” This study demonstrated that customer loyalty came indirectly from employee engagement and satisfaction; that is, customers were loyal when they were satisfied, and this satisfaction came about through positive interactions with employees.

The Forum took it a step further when we examined employee engagement and customer satisfaction data with a focus on non-customer-facing employees. Again, findings demonstrated a correlation between employee engagement and customer loyalty and profitability.

Even as employee engagement practices have taken hold and the demands of working in a complex, global environment have grown, success in the marketplace has required an ever-increasing strategic sophistication in how employees are managed. Generating employee satisfaction through a rich benefits package and kind leaders is no longer sufficient. Employees are asked to give more with less, and often under great pressure. As a consequence, many are seeking work that does more than just pay the bills. They want substantial relationships with the people they work with, such as peers, leaders or customers. They want challenges with opportunities to learn and grow. And many want to know that their contribution is making a difference. An enriching workplace seeks to create a culture that encourages individuals to uniquely pursue their own view of challenging, fulfilling work, with leaders acting as catalysts and collaborators.

Developing the Right Culture
There are many paths to building an enriching culture, and chief among them is to think about the whole person in the workplace, and not just the aspects of employees as they relate to their job tasks. This is completely counterintuitive for bottom-line thinkers, and suggests that work will become a "country club" catering to slackers. But setting high expectations and expecting accountability and results 24/7—which is what business has evolved into—means that caring about what matters to each individual becomes a reasonable exchange.

Practically speaking, this might translate into flexible benefits packages, such as increasing tuition reimbursement benefits, conference attendance, and childcare or eldercare help that can be negotiated for those who need and want it. Flexible work schedules are for everyone, not just those with special circumstances. Technology is aggressively invested in, especially if it allows for greater flexibility and connectivity.

Even more interesting, linking job tasks to personal missions—especially related to environmental or social improvements—starts to create the sense of meaning that many employees are after. It’s much easier to give extra time and effort when you believe that what you do matters to more than just the company’s shareholders.
When it works, the evidence is compelling and can emerge from even the simplest circumstances. In The Forum’s most recent study, we analyzed a vast amount of data for an insurance company. This data included customer spend, customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction. There were a number of positive findings, but among them was a simple insight. When customers were about to see an increase in their premium, the company sent a computer generated letter informing them of this change. It was nicely written and efficient, and designed to promote positive regard. But some agents chose to forgo the letter, and instead contacted customers directly. The message didn’t change; just the way it was delivered.

An analysis of the data revealed that those agents who reached out and used this “bad news” as a way to build their relationships were rewarded; they had higher renewal rates than those customers who only received the form letter. (Read more in the white paper, “Technology and the Human Touch: Moderating the Negative Impact of Price Increases with Outbound Personal Communication,” available online at www.BusinessResultsThroughPeople.org.)

Creating a workplace that cares for employees sets the stage for this same relationship-building with customers. An enriching culture delivers a strong message, and as global competition increases, it will soon be a hallmark of the most competitive businesses in any industry.

About the Author
Dr. Jennifer Rosenzweig is research director for The Forum: Business Results Through People (http://www.BusinessResultsThroughPeople.org/), affiliated with Northwestern University. The Forum is an organization for thought leadership advocating the most effective way business leaders create and sustain organizational value is through partnership with people. Jennifer can be reached at Jennifer@businessresultsthroughpeople.org.


 

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