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Former Member
In our parent’s generation, employees were lifers and the loyalty between workers and companies was often unbreakable; a life-long relationship that spanned decades. Today, loyalty in the workplace is bordering on extinction. Millennials want options, companies are battling for talent, and some workers are changing jobs more often than they upgrade their cellphones, averaging 12 job changes during their careers.

During the dot-com era, the tech industry thought it had the solution: wow employees with free lunches, amazing benefits, and daily happy hours. But just as the world evolves, so do employee expectations. In 2017, employees want something more meaningful. They want to be engaged with authentic leadership and open, transparent communication.

Companies with leaders who can drive strong employee engagement see improved retention and real business results. Depending on the size of your company, a one percent increase in employee engagement could add tens of millions of dollars to the bottom line. And though the overwhelming majority of execs know the importance of engagement, only half know how to address it. Here are three actions a few well-known organizations have taken to move the needle through strong, impactful leadership.

Listen intently, speak authentically.

Richard Branson, CEO of the Virgin Group, has more than 400 successful companies under the Virgin name, and he still finds time for the employees. Branson told he does a “walkabout” and talks to his employees, takes notes on what they share with him, and acts on their feedback. He knows the real truth about what’s happening in his companies comes two, three, or four layers down in the organization. And the only way to get there is to talk with those on the front lines.

But being a great listener makes only half the leader if you’re not a great communicator. His recent heartfelt goodbye letter to Virgin America employees regarding the airline’s sale to Alaska Airlines, offered a raw, authentic depth of transparency most executives shy from.

Branson’s candor -- his frank, unfiltered perspective on why the airline was sold – throws corporate speak out the window.

His secret is that he doesn’t have one. He’s a down-to-earth person who’d rather be in the trenches with employees, than locked in an ivory tower. That’s something employees value, and that’s how you drive deeper engagement.

Give employees reasons and motivation to be brand ambassadors.

There is no greater level of engagement than having employees who are proud to speak on behalf of the company. When it comes to brand influence, employees are the most credible spokespeople for their company. Southwest Airlines exemplifies how employees can play a pivotal role in success, and their leaders are living the employee-first business philosophy: people before profit.

Employees appear in commercials, speak at conferences, and write blogs on the company’s website, including one published recently from a 35-year veteran employee on his favorite company memory. It garnered more than 70,000 views and stands as a testament to Southwest’s fun company culture that employees value and leaders encourage.

Remember Branson’s advice to act on employee ideas? Southwest’s “10 minute idea” and uniform redesign process exemplify employee engagement at its best: Turn an employee idea into business action.

Let full transparency guide the way.

Taking action on an important company initiative is one thing. Knowing it will make you vulnerable to criticism is another. There is a laundry list of examples of CEOs, who fearing to be exposed in a challenging situation, choose to shade the truth and blur the lines. They throw a dark cloth over transparency, turn their heads, close their eyes, cover their ears, and hope the grenade of outcry never ignites.

According to Glassdoor, nine out of ten folks in the job market say it’s important to work for a company that is transparent. No surprise here. Companies and their leaders who value truly transparent employee communications know actions speak louder than words.

Last summer, SAP put itself in a somewhat vulnerable position when it launched a pay equity analysis of all employees in the United States. The results showed 99 percent of employees were paid equally and the company made upward adjustments to the remaining one percent in order to bring true pay equality across the country.

Regardless of the results, the company had to be prepared to share the outcome. Not because it was legally obligated, but because it was the right thing to do. Transparency builds trust, reinforces credibility, and creates deeper engagement with employees.

Strong employee engagement only blossoms in a company with leaders who value the importance of respect and authenticity. Having the best products and a solid go-to-market strategy only gets you so far. Without engaged employees, companies flounder, not flourish. A leader’s greatest asset is their people. That’s no cliché. It’s reality. And the deeper you engage them, the sooner you’ll reap the rewards.
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