For years I’ve been challenged by CEOs about the cost of investing in employee engagement. Put bluntly, the costs associated with conducting an electronic survey to identify what irritates employees, or the investment required to bring together a group of employees for a team-building event that is expected to somehow improve how the team works together, are intangible and in most cases proven to add little to the bottom line. The ROI of employee engagement has never been fully proven to most of the CEOs I’ve met with.
Engaging employees is not a one-time event; it’s a way of doing business. Completing expensive electronic surveys does little more than provide a laundry list of issues and concerns that are often already known and recognized by leaders across the organization. Culture is not something you can convert, but rather something created based on interactions that exist between employees and leadership over a period of time.
This being said, what is the quantifiable benefit to engaging employees? Why should CEOs invest so much of their time and effort into creating a culture where people actually want to work for the organization, are passionate about its mission, and are committed to serving its customers? Well, the simple answer, as shared with me by nearly a dozen CEOs at some of the fastest growing organizations across North America, is because it supports business growth. Creating a culture that operates like a high-performing team is the single greatest component to growing revenue.
“Helping employees understand and connect their role with market value is only possible when there is clear transparency between what is happening outside the organization and how they impacted the organization as a whole.”
How is this possible?
There are four key areas that the CEOs I interviewed were focused on in order to support their growth objectives, all of which fall under what I call building the Customer-Employee Connection.
Every CEO was intent on ensuring that the value their organization offered to their customers and the broader marketplace was clear for every employee within the organization. Vision and Mission statements were not hanging on a neatly framed plaque in the main boardroom, but rather were living, breathing statements that were posted throughout the organization and applied in every imaginable situation, from meeting kickoffs to team celebrations. CEOs of these organizations took every opportunity to share, demonstrate, and help employees recognize that the vision and mission were at work.
Helping employees understand and connect their role with the value the organization was providing the market was the starting point, but in every organization these CEOs lead, this was only possible when there was clear transparency between what was happening outside of the organization’s four walls and how they impacted the organization as a whole. There are no secrets to these seemingly unstoppable organizations, but instead CEOs invested time in meeting with employees, collectively and individually, in order to share the challenges and opportunities the organization faced. They didn’t withhold information or attempt to sugarcoat perceivably bad news. They shared the good, the bad, and the ugly, but all with the intention and motivation to ensure everyone was clear on how the organization was doing in the face of their customers.
This transparency wasn’t possible without the CEOs placing significant organizational effort into creating strong value connections between employees and the customers. It was the responsibility of Executives, Managers, Supervisors, and Team Leaders to continuously help employees connect their role with that of an ecstatically happy customer. From reception, to production, to customer service and accounting, leaders are on a continuous mission to help employees connect their individual daily activities with that of ensuring customers are more than just satisfied – they are ecstatic.
The last common element that CEOs of these organizations shared was their overwhelming desire to open communication between the front lines of the organization and the executive lines. For organizations to recognize the value of building employee-customer connections, there must be a responsibility and the ability for employees to communicate openly with any leader across the organization. In doing so, employees are able to share front-line experiences, which in turn drive strategic decisions. The poor functionality of an ERP system affects customer service times. This needs to be understood by CEOs and Executives rather than sheltered by front-line leadership who may fear for their job if open feedback on such a large investment is shared. Open communication top-down and bottom-up is a key component for these Unstoppable organizations.
These ideas might not sound so complex, and in fact they aren’t. The last point I recognized when identifying with each of these CEOs was that it was simple solutions such as a monthly town hall meeting with all employees, or mandates for executives to spend a significant amount of their time on the front lines working side by side with employees, that lead to achieving success in these four areas.