Lessons Learned from Employee Engagement Success!

While most executives have bought into Employee Engagement at the conceptual level, not all executives are completely sold on the reality of it. In spite of the 2015 Conference Board study indicating Employee Engagement being a priority for corporations, employee engagement levels have not changed that much on average. Gallup has found that only about one-third of employees are engaged, and even worse, employee engagement has increased only 3% since 2012.

After all, the easy part is measuring Engagement. Changing to improve Employee Engagement is the hard part.

So, while there may not be a one-to-one match to your situation, learning that other companies have done the hard part and earned true ROI can encourage a reluctant executive to get on board. Here are three Employee Engagement success stories – and the lessons learned from each.

  1. Increase successful innovation. When Douglas Conant took over Campbell’s Soup, he inherited a tired, old brand. According to Forbes, “Sales for its largest product line, condensed soups, had declined amid intense competition, and the company was rumored to be near being taken over by one of the food industry’s best performers.” Conant set about implementing an Employee Engagement program to completely turn around the company – and its culture. By doing that, Campbell’s ramped up innovative new product introduction. And it paid off: “In an industry that is known more for stability than for growth, Campbell has organically increased its earnings (exclusive of acquisitions, divestitures and the like) by up to 4% a year over the last eight years, with earnings per share growing 5% to 10% a year. Those figures put it near the top of its industry. Investors in Campbell have done quite well too. The total return on Campbell stock, assuming reinvested dividends, is more than 30% over that period, during which the Standard & Poor’s 500 index has lost more than 10%.”
  2. Reward Increasing Responsibility/Invest in Professional Development. Johnsonville Foods formerly used an annual across-the-board raise for all employees, regardless of contribution. That system has been replaced with a pay-for-responsibility system to encourage productivity and professional development. As people take on new duties such as training, their compensation reflects the additional responsibility. Of course, to take on additional responsibility may require new skills, encouraging employees to learn new skills and to develop themselves to increase their value to the organization. Today, more than 65% of Johnsonville employees are involved in formal education. “Helping human beings fulfill their potential is a moral responsibility, but it’s also good business. Life is aspiration. Learning and striving people are happy people and good workers. They have initiative and imagination—and the companies they work for are rarely caught napping,” notes CEO Ralph Staye.
  3. Better Solutions. When Southwest Airlines wanted a bold and bright new uniform design to go with their new logo, they did not hire an outside company. Instead, they tapped internal talent. But not designers per se, rather they put out a company-wide call that all employees were welcome to apply. Thousands expressed interest, and 43 employees were selected to work on the project for 19 months, meeting once every two weeks to collaborate on the design. This resulted in a bolder and more fashion-forward uniform. But additionally, the new uniform is more functional, and machine washable – a big cost-saving benefit to all airline employees. Jaia Thomas, writing in Entrepreneur, cites additional benefits: “Incorporating employees into the creative decision-making process allows for a more authentic brand. The same result may not have been achieved if the uniforms were designed by an outside firm. Also, the process of bringing employees together from various departments, various cities, and various job functions allowed employees to interact and work together with fellow employees who otherwise may have never had an opportunity to do so, arguably contributing to a more cohesive workplace culture.”

Often, executive push-back to investing in employee engagement may be the additional cost of “yet another program.” Understanding that employee engagement does mean culture change, but also more innovation, better workplace solutions – and possible cost savings as well, is important for executives to truly buy-into employee engagement. Those companies that have reaped the greatest benefit from employee engagement are those who look at it as a big-picture change in “the way we do business”, and not just another HR or benefits program.