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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Employee Engagement – Harness Momentum

This is one of a series of posts on employee engagement.

I see employee engagement as having two roles; as an end in itself and as a mechanism to achieve change.

As an end in itself, employee engagement serves to improve morale and enhance retention and recruitment. In that respect, the first role can be accomplished through leadership from the top and building momentum, both of which I’ve addressed in earlier posts from this series. But for the second role, as a vehicle to achieve change in support of the organizations overall CR objectives we need to harness that momentum.

Whereas building momentum calls for flexibility across business boundaries and what I termed ‘allowing the trivial’, harnessing momentum is the time to leverage this energy without losing it.

So, how do you harness momentum? I have used three interrelated approaches outlined below to help achieve this:

  • How the Individual Fits - Help the individual understand how their contribution fits into the whole. Look for ways to draw a quantified linkage between action as an individual and the objectives of the organization. In an ideal world our people will know what activities have to occur, and by when, to meet corporate responsibility targets, so they can put their actions in context.
  • Materiality – action on trivial impacts help build momentum. It is not necessary to stop those activities, but when harnessing the momentum it is the time to help people understand where the material business impacts are and how they can influence those impacts.
  • Functional Application – challenge the business units in the company to examine how they can impact the organization’s sustainability objectives within their core business activities and use the feedback from that to breakdown the objectives into functionally appropriate targets and objectives.

Earlier this week I attended an office party in our New York office catered wonderfully by one of our CSR partners, Project Renewal. I was humbled when two graduates of Project Renewal’s Culinary Arts Training Program told me what a great boost it was to their confidence to be invited in to speak to and work with us. But what great boost our own people get from organizing and participating in these programs. Joe Murphy, a colleague who volunteers with Project Renewal told me that every time he volunteers “I feel better than the person who gets the free meal.”

As corporate responsibility practitioners we must make sure that we harness this momentum to enable real change in underlying problems and not allow it to be a pressure release valve that enables us to allow the underlying problems to perpetuate.


  1. Yes, there's great value for individuals in volunteering of this kind - there's an intersection of two worlds that builds mutual understanding. I'm not sure how it's a "pressure release valve" since I would have thought employees that volunteer do so from a set of personal values and compassion rather than an avoidance of underlying problems in the workplace. As a fundraiser, I have seen that individuals who volunteer are also more likely to give to charitable causes - reinforcing the concept of puting values into action.
    Fenella Thornton
    Development Director, Project Renewal

  2. Fenella, thanks for the response and thanks again for all the wonderful work you do at Project Renewal.

    I wasn't intending to refer to underlying problems in the workplace. Rather, I was referring to a long standing concern of mine that we ensure that our good deeds, whether environmental or social in nature, don't serve to ease our consience such that we allow the underlying problem to perpetuate. Instead our good deeds should raise our awareness so that we put our personal values into action to tackle and solve the bigger issues. (At least that was what I was trying to say !) In that context I am encouraged by your observation that individuals who volunteer are more likely to give. Happy Holidays to everyone at Project Renewal.