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Monday, December 14, 2009

Employee Engagement – Build Momentum

This is the third in a series of posts on employee engagement. I previously addressed the issue of engaging employees through the first step of demonstrating strong leadership from the top. Step two is to help build momentum throughout the organization.

I am often asked how I get employees to participate in supporting sustainability and CR programs. For the most part I find that people want to take action. In fact, if anything there is pent up demand. I just need to give them ‘permission’ and some framework for what they want to do.

BT has Carbon Clubs as a way to bring colleagues together to discuss climate change issues. Once a part of the BT carbon club, employees are able to share knowledge and ideas with colleagues and take action together. Similar to our program, Walmart has Personal Sustainability Projects. These programs were developed by employees as an outlet for them to embrace sustainability. The characteristics of these and other frameworks are very similar;

  • Empower - enable cross functional teams to form
  • Seed ideas - provide forums and gathering points through social networking and recognize with publicity and awards.

A couple of characteristics that I would add to the two above include:

  • Be flexible with boundaries - for example support activities that might impact carbon footprint outside of work if that is what folks want to focus on. I was briefed a year or so ago on a great example of a grass roots carbon club initiative at our Adastral Park research center. The team arranged to borrow a fleet of electric bikes from a vendor, put a charging station on the campus and loaned the bikes out to employees to try out two weeks at a time. Interested employees could then make their own arrangements to buy a bike instead of driving if that worked for them.

  • Allow the trivial - Three years ago and new in the role, I discouraged people who wanted to replace the paper in the photocopier and eliminate Styrofoam cups. We run massive data centers. Styrofoam cups and the paper in the office copier are simply not material and divert attention from what is. I have changed my views on that approach. Most BT employees never see the inside of a data center, but they do see the cups in the canteen and paper in the copier. Our people build their trust in their employer’s position from what they see, possibly more than from what they are told in corporate communications. So supporting the visible is important, even if it is trivial. And then, when those people have an opportunity in their jobs to influence something material they will take the right actions.

Adding these characteristics to your framework will help your organization to build momentum and engage employees in the process.

My next post will focus on the third step of employee engagement: harnessing the momentum.

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