What to Look for in Tactical Solution-Providers
Branding and Brand Architecture
In the world of Enterprise Engagement, a brand is not just a logo or customer-facing story, it’s a 360-degree definition of the values and promises of an organization to all stakeholders. A small but growing number of branding consultants now incorporate this 360-degree view of the brand and include all stakeholders. These companies go beyond creating a graphic image to define the brand’s mission, values, personality, organizational culture and the behaviors/actions that support it. An important capability is the ability to employ a process that involves all interested stakeholders and builds a consensus-based rather than top-down solution. Some solution-providers provide survey methods as part of the process to break down barriers to alignment.
Fees: These companies generally charge for professional services, with the deliverable being a clear brand definition developed with the involvement of all interested parties.
Return-on-investment: A brand and culture definition consistent with the organization’s organizational strengths and history, as well as the needs of customers, employees and other stakeholders.
Program Process Design
A few engagement consultants focus specifically on the design of engagement, incentive, recognition, loyalty and other related types of strategies and tactics. Their capabilities can easily be evaluated by letting them conduct a discovery process. The questions they ask and preliminary observations provided will help you quickly determine the types of insights they can provide. They should be able to talk about a systematic approach and provide a clear return-on-investment model.
Fees: These companies usually charge advisory fees, fees for program management and oversight, and sometimes additional fees for achieving specific goals.
Return-on-investment: Achievement of the desired goals on the scorecard.
Leadership and Culture
A growing number of solution-providers focus specifically on leadership and culture. These firms usually provide speakers, management training and some include assessment and benchmarking or assessment tools to help address and enhance individual performance management by identifying problem managers. The key to achieving a clear return-on-investment from these services is to ensure they are linked specifically to your brand, mission, values, culture and objectives. The best services provide feedback software that enables your organization to pinpoint individual managers who need attention, with some even providing specific training solutions based on the problem.
Fees: These companies charge for their services on a project or hourly basis, as well as setup and per-seat charges if technology is involved.
Return-on-investment: High talent and net promoter scores.
Recruitment (Talent Branding)
Today’s most effective talent recruitment strategies are based on the “employee brand” established as part of the overall strategic engagement plan. The talent brand is the story your organizations tells prospective employees about the culture, values, rewards and benefits of being part of your organization, as well as information that can help candidates determine if they are the right fit. Some recruitment companies today deploy sophisticated third-party or proprietary testing methods to determine if there’s the right cultural fit between a candidate and your company.
Fees: In addition to receiving commissions for recruiting candidates, talent branding companies charge additional fees for assignments to help organizations crystallize a truthful story.
Return-on-investment: Better talent recruitment and higher retention.
Larger or fast-growing organizations can benefit from having a talent management strategy that identifies key skills and personal qualities necessary for each key role on the organizational chart and a succession plan for every key role, as well as a professional development effort within the overall organization to identify candidates for growth and a career development or laddering plan. The deliverable is a clear plan aligned with your brand, culture, values and objectives that is updated on a regular basis according to the size of the organization.
Fees: These companies almost always charge professional services fees.
Return-on-investment: Higher retention, productivity, quality and talent net-promoter scores.
Surveys, Assessment & Feedback
A growing number of technology firms provide employee engagement tools to gauge stakeholder engagement on a regular basis, assess individuals or group performance, attitudes, or actions, or offer platforms that enable stakeholders to provide instant feedback (anonymously, if the organization desires). The key to success with these tools is to make sure the overall survey, assessment and feedback plan is aligned with the strategic plan; that actionable information flows rapidly to the people who need it and can use it; that the process attempts to track the effectiveness of different engagement processes; and that the entire organization knows that the process is taken seriously by the CEO. The best platforms pinpoint management or engagement problem areas with a personalized strategy and tactics to address them.
Fees: Some of these companies charge professional services fees for creation and implementation of surveys and feedback platforms, as well as per-seat charges in some cases. Some also include front-line management and coaching solutions.
Return-on-investment: Critical, real-time and actionable information from all stakeholders can provide an early detection system for a wider problem, identify an opportunity that would have otherwise been overlooked, or pinpoint warning signals and apply solutions before the problem escalates.
Communications are at the heart of any enterprise approach to engagement, because they provide the platform for aligning the entire organization—customers, employees, distribution partners, vendors, communities, volunteers—anyone who can affect the outcome of your organization. Communications are the “home town” newspaper that binds a community by sharing its news and telling the stories of its people in a compelling way.
Content: Organizations can benefit by thinking of themselves as a media company with a strategic communications plan aligned with the overall brand, culture, strategy and objectives to make sure everyone has: 1) a sense of community around the same brand, values, and culture; 2) the information they need about management, markets, products, services and trends that can affect their ability to help external and internal customers; and 3) the specific ways each person can contribute to or benefit from the organizations, no matter what their relationship with the organization. Organizational communications should be led by people who think like journalists, not marketers, because the goal is to inform, not sell. The most effective communications platform is targeted to each audience—customers, employees, distribution partners, vendors, communities, shareholders, or other constituencies—but are built on the same foundation, either literally, from a technology standpoint in the form of an engagement portal, app or legacy Intranet, or in the sense that all communications are aligned so that everyone has similar expectations of the brand.
Media platforms: Having a strategic communications plan helps manage the dizzying array of communications options that can include branding, print, infographics and animation, digital, face-to-face (events), social media and video. The key is to leverage the appropriate platforms to support all your communications in an aligned, integrated fashion, using the “drip-marketing” approach advocated by marketing innovator Seth Godin. Rather than try to use every medium, analyze your audiences and the potential return-on-investment of your communications to establish the right mix. If your company doesn’t have the resources to produce this content in-house, there are many internal and external communications companies that can help develop your strategy and tactical plan. The key is to create an overall story and break it into digestible soundbites over the course of the year in an orchestrated fashion and in a systematic and measurable way.
Permission management: Consumers are increasingly concerned about their privacy and the number and nature of communications they receive and how they receive them. The larger the organization, the more it needs a professional permission-management strategy, not only to anticipate coming regulations but to also increase customer receptivity to communications.
Fees: These companies generally charge professional fees for content creation and production.
Return-on-investment: Higher probability of achieving specific goals; higher levels of stakeholder understanding of the brand, value and goals as measured through surveys or feedback.
Job Design/Workforce management
How to make jobs more interesting, meaningful and flexible is one of the most overlooked ways to not only engage people but to enhance productivity and quality. Job design can enhance engagement by making jobs more interesting and more enriching by enabling people to profit from job-sharing programs that lead to greater work-life flexibility. Outside experts can help analyze your organization’s task requirements through employee involvement, observational processes and skill assessments to determine the optimal way to minimize the sorts of rote and mechanical operations that contribute to disengagement, accidents and turnover. In so doing, they can often identify the best ways to create job-sharing opportunities to break up routines and enable people to cover for colleagues to reduce the impact of absences.
Fees: Job design consultants generally charge professional services fees.
Return-on-investment: Higher retention and talent net-promoter scores.
A huge and thriving industry of online and offline learning and gamification companies exist to help companies develop strategic and tactical learning programs to support either an overall Enterprise Engagement strategy or a more focused skills-oriented program. In either case, the key is to make sure that the learning strategy supports the overall brand, values and culture, and is integrated and aligned with other engagement strategies and tactics. Too often, organizations segregate learning from incentive, recognition, or other engagement strategies, missing an enormous opportunity to promote the key behaviors and actions necessary for internal and external customer satisfaction.
Fees: Learning companies charge fees for learning program development and for technology, oftentimes on a per-seat basis.
Return-on-investment: Higher levels of internal or external customer satisfaction as measured through engagement surveys, higher retention and net promoter scores.
Some estimates put annual spending on incentive programs using non-cash rewards for employees and salespeople at close to $50 billion, with much more spent on cash incentives that go untracked, and yet the latest surveys indicate that only about 25% of companies have a formal return-on-investment strategy for their programs. The most common errors are:
- Rewarding the top 20% of people who would have performed anyway
- Failing to move the middle-60%
- Failing to reward both results and the actions that lead to results to ensure that people are achieving their goals in an ethical or sustainable manner—i.e., in the customer’s best interest
- Failing to distinguish between compensation and recognition
- Fostering competition or lack of cooperation
- Failing to integrate the incentive program with the organization’s assessment, communications, learning, community and other platforms to engage people in an integrated way.
Fees: Many incentive companies charge small fees for technology, program design and project management to make their profits on markups on rewards. This approach has several drawbacks, including:
1) The recipients pay for the consulting and other services used to engage them and often knows they are getting a poor value for the points they have earned.
2) The purchasing department doesn’t understand why the cost of the products is so high and may discount the expertise provided by the solution-provider in program design and implementation.
3) Depending on the program structure, there will be breakage (unredeemed points), for which the client is often paying.
Recommendations: The most appropriate and transparent model involves professional service fees for program design; setup and per-seat charges for technology if involved; payment upon points issuance when people achieve the goals or perform the desired actions; and payment upon redemption for the awards with the appropriate markup for catalog curation and management, customer service, shipping, tracking and reporting.
Return-on-investment: Few if any engagement or other business tactics have a clearer ROI if properly implemented, using both action and results measures to track the correlation between what happens and what gets achieved.
Of all the areas of engagement undergoing the greatest disruption, the loyalty business is at the top of the list. The industry grew up out of a very transactional, rewards- and points-based approach that focused mostly on carrots. Today, organizations of all sizes have determined that loyalty goes beyond transactional added-value or discounts to include the entire customer experience and emotional connection to the brand, and so have begun to take a more 360-degree approach. This means developing strategies that not only reward people for loyalty but also help create an emotional connection by adding value through information, experiences, special privileges and customer councils, and in doing so achieve a greater, more measurable return-on-investment.
Fees: Loyalty companies charge professional service fees for program design and implementation, set up, per-seat or other fees for loyalty technology and fees for rewards, catalogs, redemption management, customer service and shipping.
Return-on-investment: Like incentive programs, loyalty is one of the most measurable of all engagement tactics, as the ability to measure revenue per employee, frequency of purchase and willingness to recommend are relatively easy to track.
Sweepstakes and contests remain a powerful way to generate attention with all audiences. To achieve the best results, their objectives, theme, message and reward selection are tightly aligned with the overall engagement plan, brand, culture, values and objectives. Note that promotions having to do with consumers often involve an understanding of how to leverage other marketing and social media strategies, as well as negotiate myriad state and some federal statutes depending on the industry, so it’s critical to work with an expert.
Fees: Sweepstakes, contest and related gamification companies charge for professional services and legal advisory fees, program set-up, prize selection and redemption fees.
Recommendations: If your promotion involves consumers or any critical audience, get expert advice, as what might seem simple and obvious about a promotion to the uninitiated can be a landmine leading to a social media firestorm or worse. The promotion agency’s website and history will provide an immediate indication of their depth of experience.
Return-on-investment: Properly designed sweepstakes or contests have very clear measures in terms of eyeballs and engagement that generally can easily be measured. However, if the underlying product or service offer lacks value, no promotion can generate a true return-on-investment.
Diversity and Community
Having a diverse, cohesive community provides a competitive edge because of the range of perspectives contributed when all stakeholders are engaged. Every human capital strategy should include in its employee, distribution partner and customer engagement plan a specific strategy or tactical plan for enhancing diversity. Organizations with an active communications strategy and platform support organizations of value to their customers and encourage employee clubs or communities uniting people of diverse interests. Every effort should be taken to encourage cooperation between these clubs on joint activities of mutual interest to promote cohesiveness across the organization. Everyone of every race, ethnicity, sex, or other orientation shares common values of humanity that can create a unifying theme and bring people together.
Fees: Consultants assisting with diversity and community services generally charge professional service fees.
Return-on-investment: Achievement of a representative cross section of communities combined with a high level of retention, net promoter and engagement survey scores.
Innovation, Collaboration & Empowerment
Organizations with a strategic and systematic approach to engaging all stakeholders know that crowd-sourcing ideas from all communities in a meaningful way is a powerful motivator and source of beneficial ideas or problem identifiers. The best ideas can come from customers, employees, distribution partners—anyone. On the other hand, many companies with innovation strategies overlook the importance of engaging the people involved, focusing more on process and technology than people. While there are a number of companies with sophisticated innovation consulting and technology services, the key is to have the commitment of the CEO and a team to make sure the human element is addressed and that all ideas get reviewed with proper communication, acted upon if appropriate, tracked for return-on-investment, rewarded and communicated. The community needs to know who contributed what and when, the benefit to the organization and how contributors were recognized. The best innovation strategies are built into a collaborative culture that encourages employees to work together in teams to come up with new ways to improve processes, outcomes and experiences.
Fees: Innovation companies usually charge professional service fees and often technology setup and per-seat charges.
Return-on-investment: Innovation is one of the most measurable of all engagement tactics; it is clearly tracked by the value of the ideas implemented.
Rewards and Recognition
In perhaps no area of engagement is more money spent based on the least amount of science. Although there are now dozens of useful studies on the best use of rewards and recognition, most companies fail to follow basic principles identified by years of research and supported by common sense.
Program design: The way a gift, incentive, or recognition program is designed is as important as the reward itself. Great care should be given to make sure that the right behaviors are encouraged and messages sent, and that there are no overlooked or unintended consequences.
The reward experience: It is equally important to distinguish between rewards/recognition and compensation and pricing, and to make sure that the selection of the product, the brand and the personalization and customization of the reward is appropriate and heartfelt, in such a way that it creates a buzz throughout the entire organization. The most effective programs use brands selectively as a medium to tell a story about the company’s values and understanding of the recipient.
Fees: Many rewards and recognition companies roll their catalog, technology and advisory fees into the reward markup; others might separate out fees for the catalog or advisory fees.
Return-on-investment: Generally, these organizations can be evaluated against the scorecard developed for the program in which they are used—i.e., to promote specific behaviors, actions, or results consistent with the brand, values and objectives.
Over the last few years, many organizations have stepped up their efforts to provide flexible working arrangements, perquisites, discounts on products, health club memberships and other benefits to attract talent. All these programs have sustainable value only if they’re part of a CEO-led strategic and systematic approach to engaging all stakeholders. Rarely do perquisites have sufficient value to offset the pernicious effects of indifferent CEOs or managers. Under the best of circumstances, benefits and perquisite programs are designed to align with the brand, culture, values and objectives so that they’re consistent with the overall organizational story, brand and culture.
Fees: Business models vary widely depending on the type of perquisite, with some employee discount programs having a very low cost based on the ability of the organization to generate aggregate buying volume.
Return-on-investment: Higher retention and net promoter scores.
This may be one of the more misunderstood elements of engagement. Analytics go beyond straightforward data analysis to detect leading indicators and prescriptive solutions based on those indicators. Modern analytics is not about looking backward but using regressive analysis and other techniques to predict the future and/or to run “what-if” scenarios based on actual behavioral data rather than simple surveys. This sounds pernicious, but used in the cause of helping create a better employee or customer experience, analytics provide a powerful tool. For instance, while most companies don’t follow these findings, analytics often indicate that the faster a company responds to an upset customer (i.e., the quicker that unhappy person finds a soothing human being), the better the outcome in terms of re-engagement and a greater willingness to recommend.
Fees: These companies charge professional service fees to provide the high-level brainpower and database analysis necessary to come up with actionable, data- and behavior-based recommendations or warnings, as well as recommendations on the most useful data available to achieve actionable results.
Return-on-investment: Recommendations for specific strategies or tactics that can lead to more predictable, positive results or anticipate problems.
Companies seeking to engage an enterprise of customers, employees, distribution partners, vendors and communities can use a wide variety of technology platforms, when the ideal state is to integrate and align engagement across the enterprise in the way achieved by CRM (customer relationship management) technology. The rise of an enterprise approach to engagement has spurned the development of a new category known as Enterprise Engagement Technology that seeks to integrate and align on one platform all the key audiences as well as the key areas of engagement, including assessment, communications, learning, community and diversity, innovation, rewards and recognition, etc. These technologies may or may not be linked to a specific reward system or designed to be linked to any reward solution desired. Some incentive, recognition and loyalty companies have their own proprietary platforms.
Fees: Generally, there are setup and customization charges, as well as per-seat fees and additional costs for rewards, catalog curation, redemption, shipping and customer service. Some companies will charge less for the technology if there is a reward program, and perhaps nothing for the technology if there is sufficient reward volume. Some companies will not let you use their technology unless there are rewards involved.
Return-on-investment: Enterprise engagement technology has the potential to be the equivalent of customer relationship management (CRM) for the enterprise that goes beyond tracking relationships to promoting and enabling all the behaviors and actions conducive to organizational success. The resulting measures will be higher revenue per customer and employee and higher talent and customer net promoter scores.