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Employee engagement and customer loyalty: Paul Hebert Interview Part 2

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Employee engagement and customer loyalty: Paul Hebert Interview Part 2
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Thinking about how employee engagement might influence the growth of customer loyalty, I sought out an expert to share some wisdom on the fundamentals – just how employee engagement can be increased in practical ways.

I turned to Paul Hebert, a lead consultant with Symbolist and an expert in behavioral arts and employee engagement to learn more. You might want to read Part 1 of our interview posted earlier this week on LoyaltyTruth.com for additional context.

Bill: To back up just a bit and reconnect to Part 1 of our interview, can you give me your definition of an “engaged employee”?

Paul: There are a lot of definitions.  Some cite “discretionary” effort.  Some talk about emotional connections.  I think that part of the whole issue with engagement is that there isn’t a common definition that we all can agree on.

It’s kind of like “quality” – you know it when you see it.  That said, I do think we can say that engaged employees know what the overall mission of the organization is and proactively use their skills and talents to help fulfill that mission.  For each employee it will be different.  For each company it will be different.  I’m not trying to dodge the question but it is sort of “squishy.”

At the end of the day the goal for the company is to make sure their employees:

  1. know what the company mission is;
  2. know how each group and each employee can help fulfill that mission, and;
  3. can help each employee identify their specific skills and talents that can be brought to bear to help fulfill that mission

Bill: Does including employees in some aspect of a customer loyalty program work? Do employees value the “little things” earned through incentive programs, or do they just want a pay raise and benefits?

Paul: If pay and benefits are poor, employees will focus on the pay and benefits.  If a company can reach some level of parity for the job within their sector, this becomes less of an issue. One caveat to remember is that if you survey employees and ask what they want, they will always tell you “pay and benefits”.  That is just the human way.

People will always “say” we want the money, but the reality is that if we think we are treated fairly, then pay is less of a motivator and engagement tool than some of the things I’ve mentioned already.

Bill: So, it seems a company can’t get away from addressing the basics, aligning employee pay and benefit packages with the market, as a predecessor to building employee engagement. Given the challenges in today’s economy, is it practical to ask employees to play a role in building customer loyalty?

Paul: Linking employee and customer loyalty programs is a great idea. It shows a common view of what the company stands for and links internal and external behaviors to common goals. It is important to align both audiences to the ongoing “business of the business”.

Nothing is better than an aligned workforce.  The key is to provide the appropriate incentive for the appropriate behaviors, something like the Goldilocks principle.  Remember that too much incentive can create unintended consequences (think Wall Street) while too little incentive just gets ignored. It’s important to hit the right balance.

But like I said about knowing the mission and applying the individual employee skills and talents to the  mission – to me – understanding with the company’s goal is with the consumer is part of that mission and they have to be linked in order to get the most out of either initiative.

Bill: What other thoughts can you share to help companies increase their employee engagement levels?

Paul: One of the most important ways to build employee engagement is to train managers to be better managers.  Engagement is an issue of human connection, not simply a transactional issue.  If money was the only factor, we’d be shifting jobs every two weeks.

Companies spend way too much money on systems and gimmicks for engagement and not enough on training their managers to work with employees, provide opportunities for them to excel, and to recognize them when they do.

Bill: One last question. I hear different words being used these days to describe the people that work in our business. Do you prefer Employee or Associate, and why?

Paul: I don’t think it really matters. It’s a cultural thing for each company.  However, if you treat people like crap, calling them an Associate won’t change anything. If you treat them like human beings, calling them an employee won’t hurt.

It’s not the name – it is the behavior.  Most employees know they are employees regardless of how you classify them.  I’ve seen some companies call them partners, contributors, associates, team members, etc.  I think if you believe that the name influences how they feel you’re missing the point.

The real issue is how you treat people.  I would tell any client that asked me that question to spend more time with their employees listening and less time worrying about titles and terminology.

Bill: Brilliant, thanks for your time and wisdom Paul.


Editor’s note: If you’re looking for more of Paul’s wisdom about creating employee engagement and loyalty, you can reach him here:

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