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News Analysis: What to Look for in an Engagement Agency or Consultant

By Bruce Bolger, Founder of the Enterprise Engagement Alliance at TheEEA.org, and Allan Schweyer, EEA Director of Curriculum and Certification 

Sponsored by: 

With the field of engagement catching on, many traditional incentive, marketing, promotion and management consulting firms now claim that their products and services are engaging, or that they provide engagement services. But what does that mean, exactly? What questions can you ask of solution providers to specifically determine what types of engagement solutions they provide? This understanding is particularly important in a new field in which salespeople can make just about any type of promise to make a sale, even when their company doesn’t necessarily possess the expertise to deliver. 
 
This article is designed to help organizations identify solution providers who can help them profit from a formal approach to engagement, either as a strategic consultant and implementation partner, or as a tactical solution provider. It includes a capabilities checklist you can use to compare suppliers.  
Over the last decade, human resources, sales and marketing consultants and other solution providers increasingly have used the term “engagement” as a buzzword to describe one of the benefits of their services or products. Today, the concept of engagement has evolved into a formal process that achieves key strategic and tactical organizational objectives through people by addressing all the key levers of engagement in an integrated way – starting with the organization’s brand proposition to its entire community, along with its leadership, recruitment and coaching practices, assessment systems, communications, learning, innovation, rewards and recognition, analytics and more.
 
The push to a more formal approach to engagement is coming from multiple fronts:

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What’s New About Enterprise Engagement?

Enterprise Engagement is a new field based on fostering the proactive involvement of those people who can achieve the desired results, be they customers, distribution partners, employees, vendors, communities, shareholders, or other stakeholders. To achieve results requires not only people motivated to achieve them, but also the right people with the knowledge and information, as well as the ability to innovate, collaborate and do what’s necessary to achieve results in a sustainable way.
 
It involves a formal approach: Whether seeking to create a 360-degree brand proposition that unites the entire organization, or to promote more tactical goals (such as increased customer loyalty or referrals, sales, distribution partner support, employee service, quality, productivity, wellness, or community involvement), Enterprise Engagement uses a process that identifies the key steps necessary to accomplish the required goals. Different companies might have a different approach to developing an engagement plan, but they all must in the end address not only the drivers of engagement, but the information, skills and tools people need to perform.
 
It’s about alignment versus silos: Organizations traditionally address engagement in silos – employees are a human resources issue; customers are a sales and marketing issue; etc. Considerable research (see Human Sigma, Harvard Business Review, by Marcus Buckingham, Curt Coffman, et al) has found that customers are much more likely to have a “wow” experience with organizations whose employees are highly engaged. 
 
Integration of engagement levers: Organizations can benefit by breaking down silos that define the way they engage people as well. There is often little connection between the leadership recruitment, coaching, or employee engagement survey process and other tactics such as communications, learning, innovation, rewards and recognition, analytics and feedback. The most effective organizations foster a cross-functional approach to gain the most impact from their investments in each area to drive the appropriate behaviors and actions (see the tables below).

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What Is an Engagement Agency or Consultant?

When new fields emerge, there are no inherent specialists. The first engagement solution providers came from traditional companies involved with various areas of engagement, including human resources consulting and marketing companies, promotion, incentive and recognition firms. Traditionally, human resources consultants have focused on engagement surveys, management recruitment and coaching, while marketing firms have focused on social media, events, promotions, incentives, loyalty programs, sweepstakes and contests. 
 
In the same way that the marketing world went from being highly fragmented and segmented in the 1980s to having a high level of integration today, more solution providers are putting together different types of services to provide clients with a complete engagement solution. A full-service engagement solution provider, no matter what it calls itself, must be able to help organizations develop a fully integrated plan, help manage its implementation and bring in outside expertise if needed, as would an advertising agency or traditional management consulting firm. 
 
A recent report by human capital mergers and acquisition specialist Harbor View Associates predicted that many traditional solution providers will either sell, shut down, or adapt to the new world in which organizations seek to better integrate and align their engagement efforts.

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Categories of Solution Providers

The Enterprise Engagement agency or consultant must have a clear understanding of all audiences, not just employees or customers. To connect actions with results often involves the interaction of different audiences in ways that can have a clear impact on the outcome, requiring people with high-level Enterprise Engagement expertise in strategic program design. 
 
Full-service agency or consultant: To date, there are only a few verifiable full-service engagement solution providers who can approach each client with a blank slate and create solutions based solely on client objectives, gap analysis and return on investment. Most in the end sell pieces and parts: an executive leadership and assessment program, engagement surveys, technology, communications, learning, collaboration and innovation, rewards and recognition, etc. Because today’s organizations require someone who can help integrate these tools, early market leaders have identified the need, and have developed their resources and marketing accordingly, to provide more of a blank slate solution. As with advertising or any marketing field, it’s impossible for any single organization to provide expertise in all the areas of engagement. A full-service agency or consultant should be expected to bring in multiple third-party solutions specifically suited to an organization’s needs, size and budget.
 
Tactical solution providers: There exist potentially about 10,000 service providers in various areas of engagement, including executive training and coaching, recruitment, engagement surveys, internal communications, learning, collaboration and innovation, loyalty, rewards and recognition and related technologies, all selling silo-based solutions in ways that fail to leverage the benefits of greater integration. These companies don’t have to become full-service solution providers, nor should they try to masquerade as such, but they will add greater value to clients by identifying how they can work with other engagement solutions within the organization to achieve a better result. 
 
Some organizations may choose to manage their engagement programs in-house, others will seek outside assistance, just as has occurred in marketing and other fields. The key is to understand where a solution provider fits in the value chain. 

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A Capabilities Checklist

While an organization can benefit by having a single full-service agency or consultant manage its engagement efforts if it doesn’t have the internal resources to do so on its own, it may still need specialists in different areas. The agency or consultant will have the knowledge, processes, expertise and manpower to manage the following elements. The tactical solution provider will provide a depth of expertise in its specialty, with an understanding of how it can leverage what is being done in other tactical areas of engagement. 
 
Audience Expertise 

Audience Capability Yes/No
Customers The ability to manage customer loyalty and communications programs to build meaningful relationships with customers  
Employees Solutions that address all the engagement drivers and levers below so that employees have the tools and inspiration they need to succeed  
Distribution Partners A process for building better relationships with distribution partners by addressing all the key levers of engagement required to gain their trust and commitment  
Vendors A formal strategy for ensuring that vendors have all the ongoing information they need to meet and anticipate the organization’s needs   
Communities  An understanding of the factors that affect the community surrounding or otherwise related to an organization so that its participants are committed to its wellbeing.   


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Tactical Expertise
Almost no traditional marketing agency or management consulting firm performs all tasks in-house, but organizations can benefit by having a single team that’s accountable for the design and implementation of the strategy. In many cases, effective engagement programs involve better utilization and integration of current resources, rather than creating new budgets, so for a business plan to be managed through to successful outcome requires someone accountable for executing the game plan and monitoring it at every step. This individual or organization needs to continually communicate with many different vendors and even get them together in web meetings or in person from time to time to ensure constructive interaction. 

Tactic Description  Yes/No
Enterprise Branding Does your solution provider have a firm understanding of the concept of a centralized, 360-degree brand proposition that aligns the interest of your entire organization? Does this company have experts who can help facilitate development of an enterprise brand?  
Engagement Business Plan Design The ability to create a formal plan with return-on-investment (ROI) to achieve a strategic branding or more tactical goals related to increasing customer loyalty and referrals; distributor commitment; employee quality, productivity, safety, wellness, etc.; and vendor and community support.   
Assessment and Feedback Does the solution provider understand the role of assessment and engagement surveys to identify key opportunities and gaps and identify problem management areas?   
Leadership Coaching Is there a formal solution or approach to providing leadership coaching to make sure each manager’s actions support organizational goals and values? How is employee engagement and assessment being utilized to coach individual managers?  
Communications Does the vendor have a full understanding of how to build a community of customers, distribution partners, employees, vendors and other stakeholders to regularly inform everyone inside and outside of the organization about the latest news, how-to, or other helpful information relevant to the relationships? Can the vendor manage this process or help your organization manage it better?  
Learning Ability to identify the best way to train/approach the audience with the specific information they need to perform, whether using already existing platforms or creating a new solution to meet a specific need. How can communications be used to leverage learning, and vice-versa?  
Social Media/Collaboration A keen understanding of the role of community and how to build community and collaboration, not only through social media but via events and working groups, etc.  
Innovation The ability to identify and manage strategies that continually engage key audiences to contribute specific ideas for new products, services, or solutions in a way that promises task value and continuous improvement.  
Incentive Programs An understanding of the key components necessary for the success of any incentive program, including elements of program design to ensure that people do what’s necessary for sustainable success.  
Recognition A knowledge of the elements necessary to recognize critical, positive behaviors that support organizational goals and values.   
Rewards Use of the latest research to ensure that reward programs achieve maximum emotional and communication impact within the community and with significant others.  
Analytics and Return on Investment  A method for collecting and aggregating as much data as possible from interaction to correlate engagement and performance, identify strengths and weaknesses, refine strategies and measure the financial return-on-investment of engagement expenditures.  

 

This article is sponsored by: 

EGR International
A full service engagement agency providing solutions to some of the world’s leading brands.
Contact:
Robert Legge
Director of Channel Marketing
rlegge@egrinternational.com
212-884-1854

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EGR International Inc.

Marriott Bloomington-Normal

McBassi

Canon