Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Skies Are Friendlier When People Are Engaged

I read a good article the other day by Mila D'Antonio called The Strategy That Fuels Customer Engagement. The article outlined so clearly how a good company can stumble and recover with a laser-like focus on the five key areas of any business: Strategy, Leadership, Culture and Employee and Customer Engagement. And, what JetBlue discovered along the way has added to its understanding of the direct and quantifiable impact of these elements on business results.

When a company blunders, as JetBlue did on Valentine's Day 2007 at JFK Airport in New York, when thousands of passengers were stranded for hours aboard planes, one course of action that has become popular is to not respond to the incident at all or respond only if pressed and, if at all possible, pass the blame to someone else. Instead, JetBlue took responsibility and created its Passenger Bills of Rights. Its founder and CEO paid the ultimate price with his job. But, dig a little deeper, as the article outlined, and you'll discover that JetBlue took a systematic view of the problems and, rather than engage in a short-term PR exercise, overhauled the way employees and customers viewed the company, for the long-term.

JetBlue's strategy is to differentiate itself through a customer-and employee-centric culture. Leadership would not tolerate any declines in employee or customer perceptions of the airline as a good place to work or a good flying experience. The changes started with a plan for improving employee engagement results as the thinking was, if the company improved those metrics, customers would receive great experiences (what we call the Spillover Effect).

What the JetBlue executives learned was:

  • Engagement is highly correlated with the liklihood that an employee would recommend JetBlue as a good place to work.

  • JetBlue's revenues are closely tied to engagement so small improvements in key driver metrics generate big results.

  • Key drivers of crewmember engagement are pride/personal commitment, brand, crew leaders, executive leadership, team/people and work environment.

  • These six dimensions of engagement are now mapped to revenue growth and shareholder value.

  • Listening to employees in terms of what they like about JetBlue and their jobs has resulted in many cost-saving ideas and efficiencies.

  • Data gathering is only part of the story. Real insight comes from taking the right qualitative and quantitative approach, including linking behaviors and outcomes to hard results like shareholder value and growth targets.

  • Designing an engaged company is not an event or a rah-rah program but a systematic approach to questioning the status quo, learning and adapting in order to execute a successful strategy.

Leaders make mistakes; it's how you recover from them that people remember. The core elements of the business are interdependent and should be viewed that way because they impact your results in a big way.

What drives engagement at JetBlue isn't necessarily what drives engagement in your organization. What are your engagement drivers?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What is This Engagement Thing?

For about a year, I've been receiving Google Alerts with tags that contain the word 'engagement'. Sometimes the articles or blogs have useful information; sometimes they are just sales pitches.

Nevertheless, the concept of engagement in the workplace is fascinating because, for me, it's a "Duh" kind of idea. Isn't it common sense that when people are engaged in what they do, they perform better; they are more attached to the organization and they contribute at a higher level than less engaged people? Ah, but common sense isn't common practice.

We are complex creatures, we humans. We tend to be engaged by an idea or a cause that is meaningful, maybe bigger than ourselves and which enriches our lives. Unfortuately, in a lot of workplaces, work has been reduced to activities and tasks. Senior mangement may not even be recognized (see Undercover Boss) or is the sender of an occasional email. Financial performance is not shared or discussed widely and the company's Mission is engraved on a plaque in the lobby. Maybe it's time to connect the dots and see that for an employee to be engaged, the organization must be engaging. It's easier to see how the concept works in a model:

Vision and Mission: They are foundational elements of an engaged company. People know what you stand for and why you exist. Decisions are based on these elements and behaviors are driven by them.

Strategy: Engagement starts here. People see the "big picture" and hear about organizational strategy because it's part of everyday activity. They are part of something bigger than the jobs they are paid for and can see how their work fits in.

Leadership: Listens actively and communicates frequently. Leaders are trustworthy and believe evangelically about the potential of the company, the people who work there and the customers they serve.

Culture: The way things really get done in an organization; the stories and the rituals; the practices and the collective tone. If Strategy is the Head of the organizational body, Culture should be the Heart. Culture can deliver or derail any leader's strategy if it isn't designed to support it. Cultivating an engaging environment is a key priority.

Employees: The lifeblood, the true asset of every company. Most of us WANT to be engaged but our companies often don't give us sufficient reason. I agree with Dan Pink in his new book, Drive. People are motivated by Purpose, Autonomy and Mastery, assuming basic needs are met (Thank you, Abraham Maslow).

Customers: The reason we get up every day and go to work, remember? As Peter Drucker said so often, management is about knowing what your Purpose is, who your customers are and how you're going to make a profit. Designing an engaging customer experience is an Outside-In job.

So, engagement is not a slogan, a program or a one-time initiative. Connecting the organizational dots is what engagement is all about. What do you think?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Reviving Our Resourcefulness

In a presentation I wrote late last year, I suggested that 2009 was the year of resilience. Companies that weathered the economic storm were flexible, prepared and displayed a spirit that carried them and their employees and customers over the waves that were crashing around them. Maybe we were battered but we were standing.

For 2010, I suggest that we and our businesses build on our resilience and harness our resourcefulness to be successful. In my blog a couple of weeks ago, I predicted that companies would be Bold or Bewildered this year. Bold companies will be resourceful. Americans and the businesses we've built have demonstrated for the past 234 years that we can be inventive and practical; optimistic and realistic. In 2009, we made do with less and hoped for the best. In 2010, we need to make better with the same and achieve greater results.

In a new book called Identity Economics, economists George Akerlof and Rachel Kranton suggest that an economy works well when people personally identify with it, so that their self-esteem is tied up with its activities. The military has known this and employed it with its mission-critical message. Few soldiers enlist for the pay, so why are they willing to sacrifice their lives? It's because they believe in the cause, in themselves and in one another.

While few jobs can match the cause of defending one's country, it's not a stretch to suggest that our businesses cannot be resourceful with a disinterested and insecure workforce. It's time to restore that faith in what we all are capable of doing in our organizations. Here are a few thoughts:

  • Have a Mission that clearly articulates your Purpose. Leaders have to carry that banner wherever they are. They talk about it. They write about it. They act on it. Do it often enough and employees will believe it, your customers will feel it and your competition will worry about it.
  • High Aspirations, Modest Resources: A phrase coined by Sir Richard Branson when asked how Virgin Airways took on British Airways and won the transatlantic air war. Keeping vision and strategy clearly in mind; conveying their importance and making decisions based on both creates an authenticity that people recognize and like. Branson said that his winning secret was creating a "we're all in this together" mindset by involving everyone who worked for him and their customers in the process of defining a fun, cost-effective and different flying experience.
  • Make Better With the Same: Notice I didn't say do more with less. What have you got in your company that hasn't been used, deployed, exploited or improved in a long time? Employees' ideas? Loyal customers? Old procedures? Half-used technology? This is the time to harness the brainpower you have, the revenue you've acquired, the technology you've bought and the processes you've grown and take a critical look at how you can get more out of what you have.

What are your companies doing to make 2010 better than 2009? Are you hunkering down or rediscovering how resourceful you are?