Brand Engagement

Reflections on the Engagement Field: An 8-Year Perspective

reflections

With an increasing number of business experts now saying that engagement has arrived as a formal field, and with more trade journals talking about the subject, a number of people have asked me what it feels like to have seen the emergence of such a potentially huge new field years before most. Yes, we did found the Enterprise Engagement Alliance in 2008 well before even the year 2012 when HR tech leader George LaRocque says that engagement first entered the business conversation.  (See Another HR Tech Leader Says Engagement Is Now—And Transformative.) 

The truth is, the EEA was by no means alone in identifying the logic of engagement, even as early as 2008. The EEA wouldn’t exist without the founding sponsors who had identified the same trend – we were just the first to give it a name with the goal of establishing engagement as a formal field. The definition and framework behind enterprise engagement came out of the work, in general chronological order, of W. Edwards Deming,  Tom Peters, Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, James Heskett, Thomas Jones, Gary Loveman, W. Earl Sasser Jr., Leonard Schlesinger, and Fred Reichheld, of Harvard University, Luton University in Great Britain, the American Productivity and Quality Center, the Forum for People Performance Management and Measurement at the Medill School of Communications at Northwestern University (and professors Don Schultz and Frank Mulhern), Gary Rhoads of Brigham Young University, the Incentive Research Foundation, Chester Elton, Bob Nelson, Dan Pink, David Zinger, Michael Crowley, the research and publications of Alex Edmans of the London Business School,  Gallup, Hay Group, The Conference Board, Kenexa, Sirota, McBassi, Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Towers Watson, David Macloud and Nita Clarke of EngageforSuccess.org in Great Britain, and, most recently, Zeynep Ton of M.I.T.  (Listen to podcast here.) I’m sure that I have left out many contributors to this movement (my apologies), and we cannot in this space name all of the companies that sponsored some of the research outlined above.

Again, only a few of these many contributors to the concept specifically used the term “engagement” or advocated for a formal field with a name based on an enterprise-wide approach to engagement, although Gallup and the professors at Harvard, Luton, Northwestern University, and London Business School cited above were among the first we know who identified the benefits of fostering the proactive involvement of everyone who touches the enterprise, including customers, distribution partners, sales and nonsales employees, vendors, communities and shareholders.

On the organizational leadership side, where it really counts, we have to recognize Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines, John Mackey of Whole Foods, Tony Hsieh of Zappos.com, Howard Schultz of Starbucks and Reed Hastings of Netflix among the evangelists, including many others who, without giving their efforts a formal name, firmly committed their organizations to achieving success through people – companies such as Chick Fil-A, Wegman’s, Container Store, Market Basket, Big Y Foods, Stew Leonards, some only known regionally. Ironically, based on the biographical account of John D. Rockefeller in Ron Chernow’s book Titan, even the great robber baron was to some extent an early practitioner, at least when it came to customer, employee and, most notably, community engagement. Arguably, no one person in business has given back more to this country than John D. Rockefeller in multiple domains, and none of the companies he directly managed ever suffered from labor troubles.

Our Role in the Engagement Movement

What has the EEA contributed to this effort over the last eight years?

  • We lobbied for the creation of a formal field based on this collective wisdom and advocated for giving it a name: Enterprise Engagement. All of these great thinkers and organizations didn’t necessarily share our conviction that the topic would become a formal field and maybe even, ironically, an industry – or at least they never agreed to work together under a common umbrella, so we made it our mission to help coalesce their concepts into a field.
  • Based on that collective wisdom, we advocated for engagement to be applied across the enterprise to break down the traditional silos between marketing, human resources, sales, operations, etc. so that everyone’s interests and efforts are aligned in a “virtuous circle” of customer, employee, vendor, community and shareholder prosperity.
  • We, with the help of many sponsors and contributors over the years, synthesized all of the research into a formal definition, framework and implementation process that would be open and free to all and subject to a continuous, crowd-sourced, continuous-improvement process. No one has to pay for the collective wisdom; no one can truly own universal wisdom.
  • We created a community around this new field based not only on social media but on our Engagement Strategies Media (ESM) information service at Enterpriseengagement.org to help solution providers and practitioners find credible, objective news, research, how-to information and solution providers.
  • We have developed a framework, learning program and other tools, not only to help every type of organization large and small profit from engagement, but also to equip solution providers seeking to understand how to adapt their services to the new requirements of engagement customers.

A Look Ahead

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So, what is our perspective on the evolution of this field in September 2015, based on our experience at the bleeding edge of this field? As HR tech analyst Bret Starr said in the recent ESM article, Human Capital Tech Expert Bret Starr: Engagement Has Arrived, we are almost there, but not quite yet. Examples:

  • The general media, while showing an increasing interest in the subject of people and capitalism, still hasn’t recognized the existence of the Enterprise Engagement field. This is curious, because the emergence of any new large field should be big news, even more so because the concept of Enterprise Engagement addresses the fundamental issue of income inequality by proving that organizations that take good care of their people generally outperform those that don’t.
  • CEOs, while now recognizing engagement as a critical issue, still aren’t generally aware yet of a formal roadmap to follow to translate the concept into a formal strategy with clear results.
  • Engagement remains siloed. While all research indicates that best results will come when engagement is aligned across the organization toward common goals, purpose and values, experts still talk of employee and customer engagement as separate fields when in fact they’re integral to one another.
  • Most field-level practitioners still don’t know what to make of engagement in a practical sense. While engagement has entered the conversation in an exciting way, the people who actually manage traditional engagement tactics – from recruitment, coaching, assessment, learning, communications, innovation, collaboration and analytics to branding, social media, promotions, loyalty programs, events and incentives – are still sorting out what a formal approach to engagement means to their programs in actual practice.
  • Engagement solution providers are just beginning to address the issue. The traditional coaching, assessment, recruitment, learning, communications, rewards & recognition, technology, and analytics companies that make up this new field still aren’t clear about how this affects their business and what they need to do to meet the new needs of companies seeking an integrated approach to engagement with a clearer return-on-investment.

On the flip side – and what is most gratifying – is that we’re beginning to see the ripples of success in advance of the flood tide predicted by HR experts LaRocque and Starr. As you can see by the performance of the 40 companies in the Engaged Company Stock Index, the success of such early solution provider pioneers as EGR International, and dozens of others, or from the content you will find on ESM at enterpriseengagement.org, there is now concrete evidence that companies are beginning to invest in and profit from engagement at both the strategic and the grass roots level.

HR tech guru Bret Starr predicts that the tide starts rushing in for engagement by the end of 2016. After eight years of feeling as if we were rolling a big stone up a hill in advance of it, with multiple false summits, we hope he is right. There are no champagne bottles popping at the EEA yet. And when they do, it will be with a toast to all of the people and organizations who made this critical new field possible.

 


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