Leaders recognize that in today’s environment, strong employee engagement is a necessity. Organizations cannot compete for talent or market share without an engaged workforce. For many leaders, however, it's not clear what to actually do about engagement. This is a story about how one organization took steps to improve engagement. (Spoiler alert – with data, analysis and expert guidance from The BB&T Leadership Institute, the investment paid off .)
This organization is mainly a phone-based Customer Care Team (we’ll refer to them here as “CCT”). The team has around 900 employees, is part of a fortune-250 corporation and had up to eight locations in the Eastern U.S. The BB&T Leadership Institute conducted an engagement study in November of 2017. Although CCT’s engagement level was high by call center industry standards, it stood out as one of the lower-scoring areas of the corporation. CCT had just announced the upcoming closure of a location.
CCT embarked on several programs in 2018, including focusing on improving customer feedback and revamping some processes. Improving employee engagement was one of those programs.
The action plan
CCT’s leadership (a team of about eight) decided to invest in higher employee engagement. They decided higher engagement was not optional, and not just a “nice-to-have” if other priorities got done – it was an objective on equal footing with other business objectives.
To begin, leadership examined the results of their engagement study. The results indicated where each location’s engagement levels stood. The results also revealed which workplace conditions seemed to be having the biggest impact on engagement levels – the “top drivers” of engagement, specifically for CCT. This is important, because the set of top drivers are unique to every organization – they can even differ between teams in the same organization. For CCT’s leaders to plan actions that would have meaningful impact, they needed to know how to invest their resources.
The BB&T Leadership Institute helped CCT leadership get the most value from the study results. With expert analysis from The Leadership Institute consultant, CCT determined their top priorities for engagement actions. They also ensured their plans aligned with their 2018 strategic objectives (e.g., Could the engagement actions be blended with other corporate initiatives? Could efforts on other projects be leveraged for engagement actions?).
CCT developed 10 teams to address top engagement drivers. The teams focused on employees’ relationships with managers and employees’ feelings of autonomy, support and value. They also focused on basic job tools that enabled employees to succeed in their work. The Leadership Institute consultant brought research to the equation by describing how empirical evidence could inform how actions were implemented. Such insights from the literature helped avoid wasted efforts or unintended consequences.
Implementing the plan
To monitor their progress, CCT implemented a very short weekly survey, which opened a continuous dialogue with employees. The leadership team acted on what they heard, and communicated their actions to the workforce. This assured employees their voices were being heard and valued.
The leadership team met monthly to review employee feedback and track progress on the teams. CCT assigned team leaders, who were held accountable for each team's progress. CCT discussed the results of each week’s survey – the scores on ratings questions, as well as the content of open-ended feedback. CCT discussed how to act on employees’ thoughts and carried out changes (for example, leadership implemented standard daily team meetings to enhance employees’ clarity about organizational decisions and their connectedness with each other and their managers).
CCT leadership also implemented and publicized monthly videos from the top executive that featured organizational, team and employee accomplishments; discussed the rationale and implications of organizational decisions or changes; and shared news.
In short, CCT made a substantial investment in employee engagement. At every step of the way, they leveraged The BB&T Leadership Institute’s research, analysis and experience to maximize that investment.
After two months of planning and 10 months of implementing, it was time for CCT’s 2018 annual engagement study. The results indicated their engagement investment paid off (see Figure 1). Other business metrics also improved during 2018 (see Figure 2). Of course, the improvement in business metrics cannot be directly attributed to the lift in engagement; however, the pattern matches substantial research that shows connections between leadership actions, higher employee engagement and stronger business performance (Christian et al., 2011; Harter et al., 2002; Humphrey et al., 2007; Nahrang et al., 2010). Taken together, these findings support the idea that CCT’s rising employee engagement helped drive better business outcomes.
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