Engagement is growing up.

A decade after it began to become an important concept in HR, strategies and tactics designed to improve engagement are become more specific and more sophisticated.

We recently met with individuals from three SITE member companies for a perspective on how they’re applying new approaches as a way to make employee engagement more meaningful and measurable.


Engagement Beyond Sales People

Dan HendersonDan Henderson

Compensation and Business Enterprise Director at a leading U.S. insurance organization.

“We have a pretty textbook definition of engagement,” begins Dan. “How do you encourage people to put forth discretionary effort?”

While the definition of what engagement looks like may be textbook, his team’s approach certainly isn’t.

The company has run an incentive program for more than 50 years with a focus on engaging sales leaders across the organization. Two years ago, they decided to expand the definition to include not just the sales side, but just about everyone within the company. “Our CEO is forward thinking – and he asked us how we could get our other employees involved – from people managers to someone who makes $15 an hour sorting mail.”

There’s a growing trend to expand engagement-inducing incentives beyond the sales department, but it isn’t long before you start pursuing such a program that the first obstacle makes an appearance.

What metrics do you put in place?

With sales professionals, it’s an easy case of matching intended benchmarks to results. “A program for non-sales employees is harder to measure,” explains Dan, so we focused on what we wanted to drive for engagement.” The goal was to then turn those benchmarks into stories by inviting employees to participate in a peer-to-peer nomination process. In a unique twist, the nomination actually goes through a multi-step screening and revision process. “The person who is getting nominated gets to add their two cents and supporting documentation. We also ask the manager if they can provide a more well-rounded picture.” That manager component is critical. “The relationship with the manager is the #1 thing – after all, the biggest thing that drives employees away is that they leave their manager.”

Ensuring that employees were aware of the program and understood what good nominations looked like fell to a strong marketing communication plan that included a number of articles on the well-read employee Intranet, vocal support from executives and a Webcast that revealed and recognized the incentive trip winners.

Dan drew on insights from the leader of the existing sales program to “spoil and pamper 100 people in Miami Beach.” The response has been strong. “We’re only in year two and everything we’ve seen has been positive.” There has been a 40% increase in nominations and past recipients have been penning blog posts on their experiences.


Susan AdamsEngagement with the Right Tools

Susan Adams, CPIM, CEP

Senior Director of Engagement, Next Level Performance, a Dittman Company

“People will do their best work when they understand the organization’s values and goals and how they fit into them, when they are recognized for the work that they do, and when there are opportunities to develop and share in the success of the organization.”

To Susan, this is the gold standard of engagement, and the principles really haven’t changed much over the past decade.

What has changed is the toolset that can best address that gold standard. Today, there is far broader use of technology to drive engagement, a sophistication of measurement and reporting, and a reliance on senior leaders as active, visible participants for an engagement initiative.

In terms of technology, Susan describes it as a lynchpin – but not an exclusive lynchpin. “We recommend centering an engagement program on a robust online platform, but it is also essential not to rely solely on a virtual experience.” Technology can erase barriers like language and geography, creating a space that brings employees together “to see the latest achievements, receive and give recognition, and learn about new initiatives.” Peer-to-peer recognition establishes a culture of recognition, which surfaces opportunities and achievement across the organization. Meanwhile, technology is allowing recognition to become more pervasive.

However, technology is only part of the equation. Garnering visible support for the program from operational managers and senior leaders is critical for an engagement initiative to gain traction within the organization. “The most common challenge is ensuring that managers are on board and take ownership of the program,” says Susan. “Too often, managers let recognition slide when things get busy. But that’s just when it’s most important. For greatest impact, recognizing and rewarding in the moment must be a priority.”

Advanced analytics and reporting makes it possible to marry technology with senior leader support for rapid response. “It’s possible to quickly evaluate how and when managers are using recognition on their teams,” she explains. “That makes it possible to coach managers to be better at their roles.”

That shift towards day-do-day engagement – with the ability to course correct – is an increasingly important perspective. After all, engagement isn’t a one time, one year challenge. It’s a persistent part of people strategies and the long-term success of all organizations.


Cate BanfieldEngagement for Virtual Employees

Cate Banfield

Director, Event Solution Design & Strategy, BCD Meetings & Events

It’s one of the most common questions asked in the telecommuting economy – how do you keep a geographically diverse workforce engaged?

If you ask BCD Meetings & Events, the answer is diversify.

The company integrates a number of initiatives into daily routines to keep employees connected, focused and driving the business. “Our Meetings and Events team has about a thousand people in 40 countries – and 40% of us work virtually,” explains Cate Banfield, Director, Event Solution Design & Strategy for BCD Meetings & Events.

According to Cate, BCD Meetings and Events starts with a clear understanding of what engagement should accomplish. “It’s important to us to foster an emotional connection and commitment in our employees.” With the clear objective in mind, the organization draws on a variety of tools and technologies.

“We use Salesforce’s ‘Chatter’ social media platform to talk with each other, get inspired and work better together,” she explains. The team has created mini groups to discuss solutions and topics such as Risk Management. One of the most popular groups is “The GAB Society.” The acronym stands for “Give Me a Break,” and it’s a social environment where many start the day. “We just posted pictures of an offsite event we held in Chicago,” says Cate.

That offsite is another example of the way engagement works with colleagues spread around the world. Every year BCD brings employees together for training, facilitation and connection and this year the team got the chance to see MGM Chief Sales Officer Michael Dominguez speak.

Other engagement initiatives include a Seed Program to develop top talent, education sessions on emotional intelligence and global best practices, CSR that partners BCD with an education organization in Haiti, and a formal recognition program that connects employees to the organization’s values.

“Our approach is not one size fits all. We are a flat and nimble organization and, at the end of the day, we want to make sure people are feeling that they are making a difference.”