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Chili's, Cisco Top Employee Awards

The need to connect customer and employee engagement was a key theme at the recent Employee Engagement Awards in Chicago. 
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By Ira Ozer 

Chili’s Grill and Bar received top honors for the Enterprise Organization of the Year and Cisco for Employer Brand at the North American Employee Engagement Conference’s Employee Engagement Awards, held June 7 in Chicago. The awards, sponsored by Maritz and other companies, honor organizations and corporate practitioners in 16 categories across the entire spectrum of employee engagement and feature top speakers from present nominees and past winners who present case studies about their organizations’ employee engagement strategies and results. The complete list of 2018 winners:
Enterprise Organization of the Year – Chili’s Grill and Bar 
Employer Brand – Cisco
Professionals of the Year Award – Lauren Willis, American Advisors Group, and Chris Snow, Caesars Entertainment
Reward and Recognition Award – Events DC
Internal Communications Award – Broadsoft
Government Agency of Year – State of Washington
Vendor of the Year – Fuel 50 
Best Use of Technology – Epam systems
Employee Culture and Purpose Award – Northwell Health
Wellbeing – Baylor Scott & White Health
SMB Organization of the Year – Empire Today
Customer Engagement Award – Oxford Properties
CSR Award – Tata Consultancy Services
Innovation in Employee Engagement – Leo Burnett Group
Unsung Hero Award – Sonofi Pasteur – Sanjay Acharya
The Employee Engagement Organization of the Year – Events DC
The Employee Engagement Awards are produced by Matt Manners, with sponsorship from Maritz and other engagement solution companies in the U.S., U.K. and Australia, with more markets to come, according to Manners. He says he founded the awards to showcase the importance of employee engagement and the connection it has on happiness at work, advocacy, retention and financial performance. In his introduction, Manners mentioned a U.K. study which showed that low level employees are more stressed than senior executives because they don’t feel in control of their jobs, and this stress and related fear saps engagement and productivity.

The Importance of Relevance to Customers and Employees 

In accepting his company’s award, Chris Ebbler, former Director of Workplace and current Vice President of Marketing at Chili’s, explained that companies need to understand the relevance they have to their employees and customers. He says that in the new world of “Marketing 3.0” and the rise of what he calls “purpose-driven social brands,” 81% of customers and employees want to do business with brands that practice Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). He emphasized that it’s important to allow people to bring their personal lives into work and not to hide their lifestyle. For example, he said that tattoos in the workplace used to be a big issue, but are now commonly accepted with so many Millennial employees and customers. 
Ebbler noted that many companies are in industries in turmoil due to the disruption of continuous innovation, including Chili’s and other “fast casual” restaurants, a category that has experienced headwinds for several years. To keep people engaged, it’s important to interact with them every day with energy, meaning and relevance, he said. When Chili’s had a big data breach and crisis of trust, they realized they had gotten very corporate and commoditized over the years, and now with 100,000 employees and 1 million guests each day they needed to get back to their roots to find their identity. Chili’s was founded in Dallas in 1975 during socially turbulent times as a casual, authentic restaurant and realized that personal experiences are more important than things. With this awareness, they started the Best You Education Advantage program for employee development, with apprenticeships, mentoring and the ability to earn a GED or Bachelor’s degree fully paid for by the company.

Temkin: Engaged Employees Engage Customers 

Aimee Lucas, VP & Customer Experience Transformist at Temkin, a top 10 public accounting and consulting firm in the U.S., explained that employees who interact with customers are two times more likely to be engaged, and it is critical to focus on the customer experience (CX).  
She told a story about a large shoe retailer that had a misguided policy of keeping only one shoe in the box and then having the employees find the other one. The idea came from a loss prevention initiative to save the shoes from being shoplifted, but didn’t take in to account the customer experience effect. 
According to the 2018 CX management survey, 54% of companies have the goal of being their industry leader in customer experience, and to achieve it, Lucas said, companies must engage their entire organization. She mentioned that a U.S. Employee Engagement Benchmark study showed that engaged employees are five times more likely to do something good for the company and that good CX translates into 3.5 times more sales. Engaged customers try new products and services and advocate for the brand and “unengaged employees don’t create engaged customers.” To create a customer-centric culture, management must have a clear mission and vision that all employees can understand, believe in and be committed to and act by focusing on the customer experience.

Cisco Lets Employees Tell Their Stories 

Carmen Collins, Talent Brand Leader at Cisco, honored as the Employer Brand winner, explained that the company’s mission is to make personal connections with its employees, who are encouraged to tell their stories using social media, because this, the company believes, is the best way to let people how great it is to work there. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer Survey, people trust their networks and employee voices 16% more than the CEO of a company. Collins emphasized that it’s important to treat each of Cisco’s 70,000 employees as individuals and to embrace diversity, which is supported by its motto “Be You. With Us. We are Cisco” and hashtag #LoveWhereYouWork. Collins’ team follows employee social media tags, responds and creates stories, then blogs about them under Life at Cisco. Employees often forward these stories to their networks and then more employees publish blog posts in a continuous cycle of listening, understanding and advocacy.  
Darren Levine, Director of Innovation and Research at the Regional Municipality of Durham, Ontario, as part of a Behavioral Science panel with Jeff Kreisler, Editor of People Science, Charlotte Blank, Chief Behavioral Officer at Maritz CX and Ashley Williams, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School (HBS), explained that employee engagement isn’t limited to the corporate world, but affects government organizations as well.  
Levine and his team wanted to engage employees and improve innovation, so they joined an experiment conducted in conjunction with Maritz and HBS to create a culture of innovation. In one experiment, they allowed participating employees to invest two hours per week in innovative activities at their iLabs vs. a control group and found that even with this small allocation of time, people felt calmer and brought more value to their organization. The panelists emphasized that it’s important to test programs before rolling them out and concluded that academic and government collaborations are important, and that creating a culture of innovation unlocks creativity, safety and brings out the best of all employees.  
Tim Craine, a General Manager at Caterpillar, leads the company’s Solutions Division, which consults with clients about how to develop cultures of employee engagement focused on safety. This division was developed from an internal awareness initiative at Caterpillar conducted in 2011 in which employees said that Cat valued production over safety, and found that supervisor leadership was lacking, safety activities were just “pencil-whipping,’ safety was solely the job of the safety department and that 52% of employees overlooked risks to get a job done. To create a safety-based culture of engagement, Craine said:
1. There must be a commitment from the C-Suite to have a safe culture.
2. Employees must be asked and encouraged to participate.
3. Employees must be recognized about what’s being done right, not just looking for mistakes.
4. Employee innovation builds engagement and ownership.
5. There must be authentic involvement of managers.
With an effective safety engagement program in place, Caterpillar experienced 80,000 fewer injuries between 2003 and 2017. 
Jamal Madni, Enterprise Technology Chief Strategist at Boeing, with 150,000 employees in 182 countries, explained that although the company’s business is excellent now (they are building a space launch system rocket to Mars, among other initiatives), the company cannot take its eye off the ball on employee engagement. In contrast, in 2016, with defense spending at a 40-year low, the suspension of Export-Import Bank, cost increases, employee attrition and eroding morale, Madni said the company was measuring for mediocrity and not excellence. 
He explained that employee engagement needs to be enduring and not just practiced in good times. To accomplish this, leaders must be transparent and innovation must be encouraged. Consequently, Boeing created a DaVinci Summit for career renaissance and innovation and an Open Space Forum innovation program, which allows employees to participate in projects they’re interested in working on, providing “the energy of a big coffee break” with agendas created in real-time.

Strategy Before Technology

Steve Smith, President of the Starr Conspiracy, explained that engagement technology can change the workplace, but companies must understand what works at their own company, not just follow a best practice, like “what Google is doing.” He quoted Jim Collins in Good to Great, noting that “when used right, technology is an accelerator, but first you need strategy.”  
Smith explained the evolution of human resources technology as he sees it. Talent Tech 1.0 was created in the 1990s and it moved human resources forms and functions online, but was built around archaic work processes from the 1950s, with individual human resources functions integrated with others to become platforms, such as Taleo and Successfactors. Talent 2.0, he said, was built for employees to maximize their value in the workplace, with better employee experience and the breakdown of hierarchy, with platforms like Achievers, Globoforce, Glint, Limeade, Virgin Pulse, etc., but he feels this hasn’t moved the needle much on engagement.  
Talent 3.0 is emerging with more overlap and integration of technologies that are built around getting work done collaboratively, recognizing that Gen Z is different than Millennials in their intuitive use of technology, and companies like Oracle, Slack, Google, etc. are leading the way.  

Stress Leads to Disengagement…and More Stress 

Henry Albrecht, CEO of Limeade, one of the leading employee engagement technology and research companies, explained that employee well-being is critical and that it drives engagement and vice-versa. Workplace stress costs companies up to $190 billion annually, he said, and is a primary cause of burnout. Burnout is a harmful “organizational virus” that targets the most committed employees who have “cared so deeply for so long without a break from stress and have become depleted and cynical,” Albrecht explained, adding that this cynicism causes disengagement and spreads to other employees. Disengaged employees are those “past the point of caring or who have never cared at all (this is just a job).”
Jason Lauritson, an Employee Engagement expert and one of the judges for this year’s awards, shared these themes and trends, based on 2018 applications:  
1. Surveys are still an effective engagement tool, when used properly.
2. Employee Net Promoter (eNPS) is being used more regularly as a proxy for employee engagement. This asks: “On a scale of 0-10, how likely is it that you would you recommend this company as a place to work?” Lauritson suggests that it’s more helpful to add this question in engagement surveys, along with others that ask why they gave a particular score.
3. Recognition programs are a major emphasis in most companies, including traditional service awards, peer-to-peer and values alignment programs, which support company values.
4. Employee “activation” strategies are being used to ensure that the voice of the employee is regularly heard and involve employees in the values and culture creation process by creating ambassadors, champions and committees.
5. Organizations are creating and funding programs aimed at helping employees get better connected with one another, such as encouraging them to go to lunch together and creating events and celebrations. Socialization and connection are powerful ways to retain employees and combat disengagement.
6. Community volunteerism is frequently used; cultural clarity is articulated (who are we?); inclusion and belonging (be yourself here at work); flexibility (remote and different work arrangements). 
For more information on the North American Employee Engagement Conference, go to

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