Engagement Programs: Getting Manager Buy-in



For a successful employee engagement program, you’ve got to get manager buy-in. In this webinar, Skyler and Erica discuss pitfalls to avoid and the 6 steps you need to get manager buy-in for your employee engagement programs. Watch the recorded webinar above, or check out the time-stamped transcript below.

00:08 Skyler: Welcome to Engagement Programs, how to see success by getting managers bought in. Like you heard, I’m Skyler, and I’ve got Erica with us today. I am lucky because I get to spend years researching this stuff, like we said, to use that research into our own product, but I also get to talk to our customers to see what’s working, but I love days like today where I get to sit with Erica, Kazoo is about six times bigger today than when I started, and so Erica not only sits on the knowledge that we have, and we take to the industry, but gets to use it first hand with us. So any time I get a chance to catch up with her, just her insights with our programs personally, as well as the things that she studies outside of Kazoo and her involvement in our Leadership Institute. I think it’s fascinating. So I’m kinda geeking out myself. Erica, thank you so much for joining me today.

01:02 Erica: Yeah, thank you. I’m looking forward to speaking with everyone today.

01:05 Skyler: Yeah. And on that note, we… Just a quick sort of preview what we’ll get into, engagement programs mean so much, but we have it right there on the title, so we want to zero in on what we mean by that a little bit. As well as, again, this notion of a tension maybe between HR and managers. We kept the title of this one pretty simple deliberately, because we think this is something that maybe caught a lot of your attention, I know a lot of… I know we’ve sort of dealt with, our customers sort of deal with all the time, so pretty straight forward, but we wanna really get in depth on that and sort of dig into it today. And finally, we wanna hopefully give you some actionable advice, some great things to think about, walk away with after today on getting that buy-in and seeing success with these programs. And then time permitting, hopefully hop into a little bit of Q&A. So that said, let’s do it.

01:57 Erica: Great.

01:57 Skyler: And talk about defining the programs.

02:01 Erica: Yeah, thanks again, Skyler. And I have to admit, when I first saw the word engagement for this webinar, my first question is, how are we defining this? Or what are we actually talking about? And it’s because one of the things that I have noticed, is that the word engagement has been used really liberally in our industry, and I can’t tell you the amount of times I have been talking with my HR peers, and they mentioned that they are struggling with engagement. And when I ask, how are you defining that? Or what is the purpose of the program? I often don’t get an answer or a confused look. And so moving on to the next slide, there we go. We’ve all heard that employee engagement has emerged as a critical driver of business success in today’s competitive marketplace, and that high levels of engagement promote retention of talent, foster customer loyalty, and improve organizational performance and stakeholder value. So we all want engaged employees, but we sometimes fail to clearly define why and how we are going to do that.

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03:04 Skyler: Yeah, I think we’ve used this slide a couple of times, internally, I’m just looking at it now, but it’s true, we have really good intentions with these programs, it just feels like… Thankfully, and I think this is a shift within the last five years or so, it feels like it’s sort of table stakes that we should be doing something when it comes to engagement. Like you can see on the screen, the research proves it out, you can go to any source, you want… If you have positive employee engagement, you’re seeing great effects on all these words we have on the screen, but sort of like where you’re getting at, how exactly is it affecting these things, there’s a lot of noise out there, especially if we… Here, I’ll shift to the next slide here…

03:46 Erica: Yeah, yeah, and to go to your point, when we hear about engagement programs, we typically hear a mix of the items that are listed on these slides. So things like feedback, staff events, rewards, wellness programs, etcetera, the range of these is quite large, which makes it confusing to know what actually moves the needle in terms of engagement. For our purposes today, we are defining engagement programs as programs that enhance the level of an employee’s commitment and connection to an organization. You will often hear job satisfaction and job engagement interchangeably. And while they are connected, they are not synonymous. So just to give a little insight into that, satisfaction involves personal happiness with one’s job. While engagement indicates an employee’s sense of connection and commitment to advancing organizational goals. So while job satisfaction actually appears to be at an all-time high, the same research from SHRM indicates that employees are only moderately engaged.

04:48 Skyler: Yeah, I love that distinction. Satisfaction, personal engagement, ’cause when we talk to companies, because those two things haven’t been as clearly sort of separated or defined within organizations, we leave the situations where there’s a lot of these things going on in this screen, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people in the audience are doing some if not, all of these, right. And that’s part of the problem, is that we’re doing all of this, often in one-offs, and solutions are presenting themselves as affecting engagement as well, but it’s not clear what or how exactly are we doing that. If you’ll see online… Hey, use a survey program, if you’re talking to your employees, you’re creating engagement. If you update your benefits and perks, if you have an L&D program, are you doing things like happy hour and events? Like those are one-off things that aren’t necessarily working together, and it’s also not necessarily clear from the conversations I’m having with people, how those are having an effect on engagement, right. It sort of muddies the waters on how we define these things, how we think about them. So we just wanted to frame that a little bit up top today.

06:00 Erica: Right, and that’s a great transition into what we’re actually gonna be focusing on today. Because there is so much out there and it is a little bit confusing, we’re really gonna focus on some of the areas that we hear from our peers and our clients the most. And those three things are some common red flags we see with engagement program, the manager versus HR tension, and then finally increasing manager buy-in. We’ll start first with the red flags, and we’re gonna look at these because it really is crucial to spot these red flags early. I think we can all agree that the dream is to have an engagement program go off without a hitch, honestly, that rarely happens, as I’m sure you all know. So we really think it’s important to watch for red flags so you can adapt quickly and resolve them, because letting them go unchecked pretty much spells doom for engagement programs.

06:57 Skyler: Yeah. While we’ve got them on the the screen, just a quick note to people listening, think about either engagement programs we’ve done in the past, or things that you’re thinking about doing right now and sort of let these words be kind of a gut check for you. As Erica describes these, to what extent, if at all, do you think they’re happening for you?

Cultivate employee engagement; don’t force it

07:17 Erica: Yeah. And I’m sure many of you are pretty familiar with this first red flag, and your CEO comes up to you and says, “We need to get engagement up and here’s how to do it” and I do have to pause and applaud the CEO that they are invested in engagement, but we have to be a little bit cautious with this one, because forced engagement programs don’t typically work. So we often get the question, “Okay, if forced engagement doesn’t work, then what does?” and we like to call it cultivated engagement. And this means thoughtful evaluation of what’s in place, alignment to the organizational culture, and clear purpose, and that those few things will correct that idea or perception of “forced engagement.”

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08:04 Skyler: Yeah. Those quotes there, sort of doing a lot of work, just to be clear. Sometimes people who really weren’t even aware that this was going on, this is not necessarily sort of an edict from the top down, but if you catch yourself seeing participation lag in some of these programs and you’re routinely sending that sort of gentle nudge even in a newsletter and other form of communication. “Don’t forget we have this program”. “Don’t forget to log your recognitions”. You didn’t even notice sort of the general nudges. That’s exactly what you mean by this first red flag. If that’s happened to happen routinely, you’re not seeing the adoption that you should be, sort of a red flag about your current engagement program.

If adoption of your employee engagement program is inconsistent, find out why

08:50 Erica: Yeah, right. And the next red flag we’re gonna look at is inconsistent adoption and we see this all the time, one department or one group are champions of a program, while others don’t participate at all. And to a certain extent, this is natural that you will tend to see some differences in engagement across departments. But if there is a big discrepancy, go straight to the source. So we recommend talking to the managers and employees about why they aren’t adopting it, are there barriers, is the leader not advocating for the program and asking some questions to understand better why they aren’t using it. A lot of times it’s not they just don’t wanna use it, it’s that there are other issues in the way of them being able to utilize the program.

09:37 Erica: So these aren’t one size fits all, but you definitely wanna look at given some slight differences, how can we increase adoption across the organization. And then our final red flag is probably the most obvious, but we put it up here. Is if there’s just a lack of results, and this may be why many of you are actually on the webinar today. You just aren’t seeing the needle move the way that you wanted it to. And there may be a few reasons for this. So back to an earlier point, was the goal of the program clearly defined in a way that it can be measured? Was the purpose communicated? Are managers bought in? So definitely, we get to see this come up from time to time, is that the program goes off and it feels like it’s going off without a hitch, but then there just really isn’t results to show if it’s working or not. So those are really the three big red flags that we tend to hear about quite often.

Monitor your employee engagement program and analyze the results

10:32 Skyler: Yeah. And just to note on the last one. If that is the reason you’re here today because you’re actively monitoring that, that’s great. It really means that you’re seeking solutions for how to affect that. But you’d be surprised how many times we talk to companies and they invested in these programs because of some early warning signs they saw, results of some surveys or some different metrics. And six months, a year later and we’re sort of catching them off guard when we’re asking, “Hey, you did this because of your eNPS scores or something related to your employer brand. How is that doing now?” It wasn’t like an ongoing baseline for them to be checking against. So just a quick reminder that, are you seeing your results in the reason you invest in these in the first place. So seeing those three red flags, maybe some of those resonate with you, but we’d love to do throw in a quick poll, what’s the biggest red flag?

11:26 Skyler: The ones we just talked about that maybe you’re seeing in your own engagement programs. We’re gonna put those answer choices up. And the three we talked about, again, were sort of forced engagement, inconsistent use across the organization of the program, or just a lack of results over time. I’d love to see what people are seeing when it comes to this inconsistent use.

11:53 Erica: How?

11:53 Skyler: Yeah, really jumped out there. Shout out to the handful of… With none of those problems. Way to go. I’d love to talk to you afterwards. Maybe I’ll be on the next webinar with you.


12:09 Erica: Clearly, there’s a favorite here is the inconsistent use across the organization, which isn’t surprising, but it is interesting to see the percentage higher than the other two. That’s fascinating.

12:22 Skyler: Yeah. Regardless of which one you chose, I would say definitely pay attention down the steps here because some of the exact steps and action items we’re gonna get into. We’ll deal with all of these and give you some things to think about to sort of maybe tweak your approach or maybe take a whole new approach.

12:41 Erica: Yeah, yeah. And that’s a great point Skyler. We really do try to build this as a tool kit that you can use for any of these problems or for other HR initiatives. So hopefully what… As we go through these, you’ll see that.

12:55 Skyler: Great. So we’re gonna hop back in. And now talk about… We mentioned close to the top, this HR versus manager tension.

13:07 Erica: Yeah, and this was actually one of the things that I was really excited to talk about today. And one of our biggest focus, obviously was the title of the webinar is really looking at… We’re calling it the tension between managers and HR, but it’s really looking at how do we get better alignment, which would be for the more positive spin on it. And it’s something that I have seen throughout my career as one of the most persistent and pervasive issue, is that managers and HR are not aligned. And that that does lead to some of those issues that we saw earlier or some of those red flags. And we see that this tension really does play out in many ways, and particularly for buy-in for engagement programs.

13:50 Skyler: Yes, and this is something I’m kind of passionate about right now, having gone to a few conferences lately, really digging through some of the research and a number of organizations pointing out the manager’s role in all this. I think one stat I keep seeing over and over is, when HR professionals are surveyed, there’s about 52% of them site manager buy-in as the biggest barrier to strengthening culture overall. You might have seen me reference that in the write-up for this webinar. I think that sort of puts a big underline under the tension here. This conversation goes in a number of ways, I talked to a lot of frustrated HR managers who… Just are at the end of their rope and don’t know how to keep the conversation going, a lot of blame being heaped on the managers themselves, and some people just say, “Well, can’t help it, there’s just bad managers out there,” and I don’t know that’s the full story, given the research we’re seeing and some of the takes that we can bring to this both either as a manager of people or an HR professional.

15:00 Skyler: Again, we just wanna underline that tension here, and it’s not sort of at all or nothing, or it’s not a helpless situation, let’s talk it out today. And in doing that, there’s two sides of the argument. And I’m sure this one sounds familiar, I can’t see in the audience, but when I’ve had these conversations with other people, I can sort of see you nodding to yourself, we did so much work, we got buy-in and we invested in this, we launched it, and then when the results don’t come back that we want, we try to just again, sort of maybe point right at managers. These things are just… Would work if our managers and senior leadership just use them more… Just bought them more. That’s the only thing holding us back. Maybe that’s a familiar argument to you… I don’t know if you’ve ever said that one out loud?

Getting managers bought into employee engagement programs

15:49 Erica: Yes, I certainly think it is, like I said, it’s one of the things that I’ve seen quite often is, there just becomes a sort of a wall in between HR and managers. And if you flip to the next slide, honestly, from the HR perspective, you’re not wrong. Managers have huge influence on engagement buy-in and just in general, HR initiatives. And the stat from Gallup did kind of shock me, even though I think intuitively, I could have told you this, but managers can cause engagement scores to vary by up to 70%, so this really means that the majority of your success for your engagement programs rely on your managers. And then it’s not… When you look at some of the other stats that are out there, it’s not really a surprise because employees are just quite simply more engaged at work when their managers are more engaged with them. We have this idea of, we know the managers are impactful, they have a huge impact on how the programs are adopted.

16:51 Erica: And employees really do relate a lot of their engagement to their managers. So from the statement of if the managers would get a little more involved, it is somewhat true, but then I think to Skyler’s point, it’s, “Okay, how do we start working through that?”

17:06 Skyler: Yeah, these stats, I bring them up in conversations all the time, you may have heard me talk about them in past webinars, but I wish they had… More common knowledge about them. The Gallup ones are fairly recent, but they really do point out that… It wouldn’t just be a nice to have if managers were involved and participating, that when managers and leadership do get involved, this is the kind of impact they can have on the program. And that’s a great way to frame the conversation and allow it to not get so heated or defensive to just bring some data to it. And this one from ADP, shout out to HCI, I was recently at their employee engagement conference in Denver, and a representative from ADP was on stage, this is fresh off the press then, but their research was showing that these frequent engagements, not going from annual to semi-annual, not even going from, semi-annual to quarterly.

18:03 Skyler: When you have really frequent check-ins, possibly even something like five minutes a day. “Hey, what are you doing today? Anything I can help with?” Measuring that kind of level of check-in and that level of frequency to them from what they’re finding… Is one of the biggest levers on overall engagement. They looked at all sorts of things that are involved in engagement programs and some fresh research there that kinda points out how effective just frequent check-ins can be. I love that stat, and it again, illustrates how the actions of managers really do play a part here.

18:43 Erica: Yeah, that’s great. And then when we look at the other side, and then I have to say, I don’t think I would be a proper HR person if I didn’t provide an objective balanced perspective. So we gotta look in at managers perspectives here. We know that manager buy-in is critical, to your engagement program. So the question is, “Why the heck are they not helping us implement them?”

Get support systems in place for managers to set them up for success

19:03 Erica: Well, here’s what we and I’m sure you too hear from managers is, “I just don’t have the time,” or, “I’m not even sure how to do these things.” I think we can fundamentally sort of agree that most managers really do wanna do well, and they wanna be good managers, but they just sometimes feel that they don’t have either the time or the tools to engage with their teams. And a lot of times they aren’t wrong. So I would encourage you to do an audit of the support systems in place for managers, and if the appropriate support systems are not in place, focus on those first before implementing engagement programs. And I say this because some of the fundamental basics for manager support is not in place. It’s a little bit like building on top of quicksand. The more you build, it’s just gonna kind of keep collapsing. So I would say that that is something that’s really important to go back and look at and say, is it… Sometimes it can be a hard look at yourself as an HR person, how am I setting them up for success? And then after that, implementing the engagement programs or building on top of that foundation.

20:05 Skyler: Yeah. I really hope this doesn’t feel like a straw man. This is really feedback pulled from tons of conversations we’ve had, as well as, when you start dig in some of these recent research reports. But we do wanna point it out because it’s so easy to see those stats on the previous slide and be like, “See, I told you so,” and sort of carry that around. But again, what we wanna try to combat is just the notion that some of this is just… We can’t help it. We shrug our shoulders and say, “Well, there’s just bad managers out there, nothing I can do.” We wanna bring a little bit of light and a little bit of empathy to the manager’s side as well because if we can understand sort of both sides, that’s where the advice and some of the actions items that are gonna come out today, will really help you out.

20:50 Skyler: And maybe if it isn’t this line that you see at the bottom, we do manager trainings or we try to help organizations. Maybe if you’re hearing things like, “It takes too long for me to do the continuous performance management system as opposed to my annual review, I’m just too busy for that stuff.” Or if there’s an element of employee recognition, “It feels awkward for me to type out recognition, both for me typing it and for the person receiving it. I just sort of speaks to the training behind the program, and I don’t wanna use these engagement programs or recognition rewards or performance management programs ’cause, what if it feels like I’m playing favorites if I send that to someone or do it with one person and not with others on the team?” These are all really common pushbacks you hear when doing these kinds of trainings that, again, speak to Erica’s bigger point of them maybe not feeling equipped or not feeling like they don’t have the time or training, which are all solvable problems.

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Three simple ways to get managers bought into your employee engagement program

21:45 Erica: Yeah. And I think that takes us to sort of our next section, which is, so where do we even start? And with this, we really recommend three simple things to get started. And the first, is to again, do an assessment with your managers to see if they feel equipped and supported, to sort of our previous notes before, is that, we really need to make sure that they are set up for success and are able to help kind of carry the torch of some of these programs. And then second, we recommend building a business case, and when I say building a business case, I mean building a business case with your managers. So most of you have probably they already built a business case, embedded this with exec teams, but I think we forget that they may not know what this program is or what its intentions are, so help them understand the goal and impact of the program.

22:36 Erica: And then the third item here might seem a little out of place, so this is something that’s somewhat intentional, and Skyler will talk about that here in a second, but many times engagement programs aren’t successful, not because they aren’t good programs, but because quite honestly, it’s a change. And as many of us know, most humans are generally resistant to change. So if you think about getting buy-in through the lens of change management, you might be more successful in getting that support from your managers. The lens of change management is really where we’re gonna spend the rest of the time in the webinar because we think that this is where you can really help move the needle and getting that manager buy-in.

23:17 Skyler: Yeah. A couple of quick notes hearing you talk to that. One is that, serving your manager’s aspect. It’s really simple, but you’d be surprised at how effective it can be at pointing these programs in the right direction. One anecdote I love to talk about is that, a financial group that was working with us, and they had sort of the same problem, it’s like, they’re sort of shrugging their shoulders and saying, “This stuff should be working, so is it because we have bad managers or are people just not involved?” And so they did a baseline survey before they invested in it, to just ask straight up, “Do you feel equipped to… ” And it was some of the aspects of the program, like to recognize my direct reports or to effectively evaluate their performance. And just asking that question, they got a response sort of in the low 40s that people felt like they were actually equipped. So that easily helps justify rolling out a program or maybe investing in some technology.

24:14 Skyler: And then year over year, that number jumped to just under 90% of managers saying that they now felt equipped to do that. So again, survey your managers. It’s that easy and it can help give you that… Confirm some of your suspicions about what might be going on. And the last thing, yeah, I totally lit up Erica, when you first started talking about this because change in management, at least in my mind, has often negative connotation. You’re sort of shielding the organization from some bad news or some massive change, and you’re trying to guard against uncertainty or things that might lead to people being actively disengaged, right? But taking a change management approach to something that has such positive intent with organization, I sort of slapped my forehead and I said, “Yeah, of course.” If we had some of the same rule book for that, for this, it makes total sense because at the end of the day, we’re often trying to change the culture of the organization overall, right? We’re trying to go create a culture of recognition or create a culture of continuous performance management, for instance, in the case of a lot of our customers, so why not pull some of the plays out of your change management playbook in order to set it up for success, right?

Leading change management with managers

25:30 Erica: Yeah, great. And when we go to the next slide, we’ll see actually some eight steps for leading change with managers. And I’d like to start off by saying that I adapted this from the change management model that John Kotter created, which is called, Eight Accelerators of Change. And the nice thing about this is, as I mentioned a little bit before, is it’s pretty agnostic, this can be used for a ton of different types of initiatives, so even if you’re thinking about a different rollout for a different type of program, this could help you, so I do encourage you to take it and use it however it’s most useful for you.

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26:05 Erica: And if you wanna read more about it, there is a great article on Harvard Business Review that summarizes this, and it’s called Accelerate. So, I just wanted to give the proper call out to John Kotter for his eight steps of change. And you can see here the eight steps are creating a sense of urgency, building a guiding coalition, forming a strategic vision, enlisting a volunteer army, enabling action by removing barriers, institute change, generate short-term wins, and sustain momentum. So what we’ll do next, is kind of go through each one and how you can use it to help get buy-in from your managers along the way.

26:48 Skyler: Yeah, again, as we search on these steps, take note on not only what the step is, but possibly think through some ways real quick of how you are or aren’t doing this currently, when it comes to engagement programs or programs that you’re about to roll out. And, again, hopefully they’ll lead you to some actionable advice that you can use starting today. Alright, let’s jump into step one.

Getting manager buy-in step #1: Create a sense of urgency

27:12 Erica: Great. So the first step is creating a sense of urgency, and I really see this as one of the biggest mistakes with our HR peers and ourselves make, and it’s often seen… So engagement programs are often seen as maybe a nice-to-have or an add-on, when in reality, engagement does have a significant impact on what gets done within the business. We saw the numbers before, so we know that it’s important. And if there’s no sense of urgency, I would argue, personally, that it’s probably not that important then. So I would encourage you to think about, What is the urgency here? Why are we doing this? And I do wanna note, there is a little bit of a difference between, or I should say, maybe a big difference between chaotic urgency and thoughtful urgency. And those are two slightly different things, and I do wanna call that out because I think sometimes when we hear urgency, we think of hurried. And it’s more of a thoughtful urgency.

28:13 Skyler: Yeah, I don’t know if there’s any more to elaborate on there, but I love that notion of chaotic versus thoughtful, and you’ve got me sort of searching my life for what sort of chaotic urgency is present elsewhere, but yeah, you can see how bringing that to the rollout or messaging of this maybe doesn’t resonate the same way, especially with managers or employees, as opposed to the thoughtful urgency. Like, “Here are the reasons we’re doing this.” It could be we heard your feedback. It could be because this touches on, like you said, something integral to the business. Again, that easy way to turn it from something that sounds like a nice to-have into something that has a thoughtful urgency behind it.

28:57 Erica: Yeah, yeah, and it’s actually internally sort of one of our values is, be quick but don’t hurry, and that’s what I think of when I see this is move quick, but don’t move so quick that you trip over yourself. So that’s kind of what that distinction is for the chaotic versus thoughtful.

29:12 Skyler: Nice. Yeah. Okay.

Getting manager buy-in step #2: Build a guiding coalition

29:15 Erica: And the next step, building the guiding coalition, so this is just this really critical step in the process here, and it’s where you can get significant buy-in from your managers. I would almost argue this step, in terms of manager buy-in, is probably the most important. And it’s having them participate in creating the engagement programs. So make your managers a guiding coalition, and not only will that allow them to give input and also that increases their commitment, but it helps expose potential issues before implementing any engagement program. So it’s having some structure and then putting it to them, what would make you buy into this? How do you see this being rolled out? And getting their thoughts on it. So it’s not necessarily that you have to take every piece of their feedback, but they have the chance to voice it, and you probably will learn something in that process as well.

30:08 Skyler: Yeah, the big takeaway for me here, talking to you, was how early it is in the process. And that’s maybe something that’s being missed by a lot of organizations. Rather than messaging to managers being sort of a last step to control the message if something goes out, look at how early we are potentially getting them involved here and having great conversations about potential pushbacks or their involvement or their thoughts on what the goals are for this thing. Getting that loaded upfront, allows you to have those conversations now, but also like you said, it is a really organic way to lead to buy-in from managers as opposed to, “Hey, this just launches next Tuesday, here’s what you need to know.” And you’ve sort of bypassed any potential conversations they might have or pushbacks they might have. Skipping that step early, I think leaves that manager’s frustrations like, “Oh great, here’s another thing that I have to do, and I’m just sort of cramming it into my week days before it launches.” Or something, right? So the timing here was big for me.

Getting manager buy-in step #3: Create the full strategic vision

31:10 Erica: Yeah, yeah, that’s a great call out. And then the next step is to, once you have your guiding coalition, is to create the full strategic vision. Now, I’m saying full with the little asterisk here, because hopefully you already have some vision and then it’s been refined in this stuff. So you have an idea, you get some input, and then you sort of refine that vision. I would question here to not be too tactical. What you really wanna do as a strategic vision is help build urgency and relevancy. You don’t want it to seem like it’s a to-do list or tactical list. So this is the high level. This is the vision, this is what we’re trying to accomplish, and then you have your own sort of tactical plan, but this kind of gets everybody together and helps managers see why they’re doing it and support the program moving forward.

32:07 Skyler: Yeah, and Erica, not to put you on the spot here, but having seen you in action, I now know that like, this is maybe a step in some of the materials that I saw, but just to ask straight up, what sort of is the deliverable here sometimes? Like is it, is there something for you personally to help guide your rollout in communications, or is this sort of like a summary slide when presenting this to leadership upfront, or is this… You know, some other sort of deliverable that you share elsewhere within the organization when you’re building the vision?

32:36 Erica: Yeah, I think that’s a great question. This can be as simple as two to three sentences of what the program is, and what the vision of it and the purpose of the program. So, in terms of your audience, I think that’s a great distinction of is it for managers? Is it for me? Is it for executives? Honestly, it should be the same. Now, the vision should be the same. And then there may just be a call out with managers of, “Hey, we’re doing this program to increase retention. And for managers, that means X for you,” you know? So I think that there can be some slight customization based on the audience but really, the vision is the vision. So it’s a few sentences, here’s what we’re trying to do. And it should be, you know, somewhat a little inspirational, and a little urgent of this is why we need to do it.

33:21 Skyler: Exactly. Yeah, that last point, if nothing else, even if it’s something that’s only for you, if nothing else, you’ve equipped yourself to have a great answer for why no matter where that comes from in the organization, if you’re taking this step. I love that.

33:38 Erica: Yeah. Great. And the next step may seem a bit confusing, because you might be asking yourself, wait a second, we already built a guiding coalition, what’s a volunteer army? Well, this is going to be typically one layer below managers or just non-managers. So ideally, if we have our guiding coalition of the managers, they may get another group of people that can really help spread the word to their peers.

34:01 Erica: So if you think about it from an employee perspective, I’m at the, you know, coffee machine, I’m hearing my teammate talk about it, then I go to the team meeting and my manager’s talking about it, it really just helps solidify the program, and that they’re hearing it from different angles as well. I will say one thing just to be thoughtful of is selecting the volunteer army somewhat carefully. You want to make sure these are people that are going to be champions, and really advocate for the program.

34:30 Erica: But it does typically work. And I know, Skyler, you were involved in our Kazoo core values process. And we did have a guiding coalition and a volunteer army. And it worked out really well because, by the time we launched it, everybody was like, “Oh, yeah, we kind of heard about this. It’s great. We’re good to go.” So it does work. But you just want to make sure you have another layer of support, that are non-managers that can help push us along.

34:55 Skyler: Yeah, I love that. Like you said, I sort of have first-hand experience with this one, I had no idea that was sort of going on, you know, maybe it just felt natural for you to tap me on the shoulder because we talk about this stuff all the time, core values are pretty sort of sacred to me. And I know the value and the impact that they can have on organizations. So it made sense when I was sort of tapped to be one of these people.

35:17 Skyler: But just again, from a first-hand perspective, for those listening, when you sort of brought me in on this and sort of, you know, we talked through the messaging around it and some of the value yeah, I suddenly became that person that where if I heard about this program being launched around the company at the water cooler sitting down at lunch, you know, I just sort of naturally had some great talking points that I totally believed in. I had that kind of clarity. And so it wasn’t all up to like Erica and the leadership team, you know, to hope that the message lands, right, you had people sprinkled throughout the organization that were also able to tell the same story. And I think that really helped us get ourselves a new and updated core values project off the ground.

Getting manager buy-in step #4: Remove barriers

36:01 Erica: Yeah. Awesome. And the next step is about removing barriers. And this is something we talked a little bit about before. But hopefully, from your guiding coalition, you were aware of some of the barriers. You might have addressed them then there might be some more that pop up. But you want to make sure there are no more barriers that you’re aware of. Now, I would argue, there’s always going to be some barrier, but the ones that you can at least solve for, you know, get those out of the way so that then action is very easy. You know, think about things as simple as are we launching this on a holiday week? Or is there another large project in the company that’s happening? And you know, I think about that, too. Sometimes I’ll kind of vet things out and somebody will say, “Oh, no, no, we’re doing a huge website project,” or we’re doing this, things that you might not be aware of. You just want to get as much information as possible so that it is as easy to adopt and buy into as it can be.

36:57 Skyler: Yeah, hopefully, this one makes… It’s kind of common sense. But it is a great check. If you’re kind of using these steps to make sure you’re doing everything you can, we talked to organizations where this happens all the time. They’re so excited about this and at the end of the year, the holiday party or the big sort of holiday get together and recognition event seems like the perfect time to launch something like this and sort of you know, say it on stage and celebrate.

37:24 Skyler: But right after that, everyone’s gone for two weeks. And then everyone comes back at the beginning of the next year like, “Oh, yeah, that thing that we launched,” and it’s… You know, the sort of momentum has already gone or people can’t really remember what we talked about. Yeah, just being a little bit thoughtful about the timing or like you said, other initiatives going on that might be distracting or pulling, especially managers in other directions. A great sort of check for yourself to a little bit of thought up front, maybe leads to big success down the road.

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37:54 Erica: And the next step is actually the change itself. If you were to look at the list up until now, this is usually where people start from. Now, when you see it, you’re like, “Oh, wait a second. Okay. Yeah, there’s a ton of steps before we actually roll out the change. We see a lot of times, people will just roll it out and then adapt as they go. And now, you can maybe see from those steps why that might not be quite as impactful, but you do want to implement the change. You want to meet employees where they are, hopefully, you know about this, and you know, of all of this sort of back, behind the scenes context that you’ve gotten from your volunteer army, your guiding coalition, you have your vision. At this point, you should be ready to roll it out with confidence.

38:38 Skyler: Yeah, if you don’t have your sort of go to launch messaging communications plan. Again, another one of these great steps that a little bit of thought here, hopefully sets you up for success. That’s my check when we talk to admins of our platforms. Is an email enough? Have we met people where they are, or are we setting ourselves up to have something just get lost in the inbox, or sort of forgotten? Or suddenly, we’re three weeks into the program and people are like, “Wait, what was this?” Did we go to where people are naturally interacting with company news all the time and have a little bit of a strategy for rolling this out there, a little bit of a strategy for messaging it the right way in all those places.

Getting manager buy-in step #5: Generate short-term movement

39:24 Erica: Great. And the next step is generating short-term movement. Now, I say this as a caveat, because long-term success is always the goal. We wanna have long-term success, but part of getting to that long-term success is building the bridge of short-term wins for the program, whatever that program is. Companies use all different kinds of communication channels… Slack, email, all-hands meetings, internet, HR software, you name it… Be sure to highlight these small wins. It not only shows progress, but it also keeps this program on people’s minds. They see it, “Oh yeah, that’s this program.” It just helps it stay relevant and also that there has been progress with the program. And be sure to connect with managers that are advocating this with their teams. Highlight them, recognize them as well. Sometimes we do forget to recognize the managers that are trying and really working hard to make sure these programs are successful, so keep that in mind as well, is that the managers need a little shout out sometimes, too.

40:26 Skyler: Yeah. And I think that seems like a subtle point, but it’s missed so many times, and when we’ve sort of reverse engineered some of our best case studies or our customers that we work with that are a great example for how anyone in the industry can do it, this step right here is almost always present and it’s really, it’s something as simple as, again, think of those sort of forced reminders that we were talking about at the top of the webinar. If you find yourself constantly reminding people to use these things, what if you replaced one of those nudges with shining the spotlight on, “Hey, here’s a great example of how someone used the program,” and entering that in the internal newsletter or sort of pinned in an intranet or something like that. If you’re constantly giving those shout-outs or recognizing the behaviors that you wanna see, ’cause that’s an example for other managers. It creates a great positive reminder instead of a forced reminder that’s passive aggressive at best. And again, propping up these short-term wins almost always at the center of successful programs.

41:35 Erica: Yeah, so, and that’s a great point that it does become a learned behavior and sort of a cultural norm, so as these highlights and recognition goes out there, people learn continually about the program and that it is… We really are valuing this and we’re investing in it and we wanna highlight this, so I think that’s great.

Getting manager buy-in step #6: Sustain momentum

41:56 Erica: And then the next step is sustaining momentum, and I will say, it’s sort of easy to stop at step seven. [chuckle] You’ve gotten some wins, you’re feeling good about the program, it’s going pretty well. You wanna make sure that you do sustain that momentum. Continue to refine and refresh your program, whatever the timeline is. Some of these might be shorter timelines, so just you can adapt it to whatever makes sense for you, but you wanna check in, you wanna evaluate, keep it updated. You don’t wanna necessarily keep the same thing over and over again, so just continuing to refine it, and I would argue, you can just go right back to your guiding coalition. Maybe you do a six month check-in, go back to your guiding coalition: “How are things going? Do we need to tweak anything?” And then popping back up to sustaining momentum will really give you a nice life cycle of these programs.

42:48 Skyler: Yup, often forgot step, but over time, this is the one that can really set the chart out into the right in terms of uses. We have so much, you see that great positive momentum coming out of it, and then weeks or months later, usage falls off. It’s usually because of this. If nothing else, if you can set a mental check for yourself today to set up these sort of check-ins on your calendar, like look at metrics or look at areas you can spruce things up, or to gather feedback about the program. Shout out to our customer success team. There’s a lot in our platform that allows people to have very specific, very customized rewards, recognition and experiences, or a very specific way that they handle continuous performance management with their employees.

43:37 Skyler: It’s great to get that set up, but we’re actively encouraging and sort of involved in the process of, “Okay, it’s been a quarter, it’s been six months. We took a guess at some of these custom set-ups thinking that they were gonna resonate with employees, what is? Let’s double down on the things that are working, let’s maybe tweak the stuff that isn’t.” And just that little step, it might be a 30-minute check in, it might be an hour once every three months, helps these programs stay fresh and really hit the things that actually motivate employees to keep using these programs and sustain success.

44:15 Skyler: All right. That was all eight. There was a lot of numbers there. Hopefully, you wrote down some things that you can use. I told Erica when we got through all eight, I would take a stab at a sort of a recap of the steps. We’re potentially rolling out a new engagement program, or we’re overhauling it in the near future. Some checks for myself. Am I creating a sense of urgency, not chaotic urgency, but soft urgency. And then right now, early in the phase, am I building that guiding coalition? Am I getting managers involved now, hearing them out and building their feedback into this roll out? Am I forming a strategic vision, not only for myself, to answer the why behind this, but as a sort of quick two or three sentences, that I can present to leadership or anyone asking about this program in terms of why we’re doing it? Am I enlisting my volunteer army? Again, not just leadership, not just managers, but, those culture magnets maybe at the company that are often involved in these programs, or rooting for their success. Am I enlisting them early and getting them involved in their feedback and the messaging and talking points for this?

45:24 Skyler: Am I being a little bit thoughtful in removing barriers, be it the timing and the schedule of when this is rolling out or are there things going on across departments in the organization that I’m just not launching a program in the middle of? Finally, am I being a little bit thoughtful about how we institute the change here? How we roll it out? Am I going beyond just an email that might get lost in the inbox? And am I propping up those short-term wins or generating short-term wins? Possibly by propping out or recognizing the people who are using it successfully in the short term? And finally, am I making sure that I don’t just… So I didn’t forget it. Right? Those ongoing check-ins to sustain the momentum and keep this program a success.

46:06 Skyler: I’m thinking about it this way, again, think about it, we’ve dealt with a lot of those push-backs that we talked about at the top. We’ve gotten managers involved early and often, to make this something that is effective for them, that they can use for their teams, and then hopefully, that everyone can see the greater good that will come out of this. Much different than just the end of year, “Hey, we’re launching a program. Here it is, deal with it.” I’m not saying that’s how it goes, but you can see how drastic of a difference is, of maybe a classic roll-out of a new tool or program versus framing it in this light of change management procedure. We see it work all the time, and again, I’ve seen Erica do this firsthand here with great results, so it’s awesome to share how it works. I thought that was great. How did I do, Erica, with that recap?

47:02 Erica: You did great. You did great, Skyler.

47:04 Skyler: Alright, well you can have me start rolling these out if you want.


47:08 Erica: I’d be happy to bring you in to help roll out some of these.

47:12 Skyler: Even with the steps that we have on the screen now that you just heard, and maybe some of the research that we talked about up top. We wanted to put a bow on this with one more quick poll question, maybe some of this was common sense, maybe this was new today, but given some of this info, we are coming up on Q4. Sometimes this is a great time that companies are thinking about instituting these kinds of changes. Do you plan to maybe update your engagement program? And I’ll just get some thoughts for people sticking with us. We’ll see what everyone’s saying.

47:53 Skyler: Oh, great. You’re all looking at this. Okay. And again, shout out to the, “No, we’re good. If nothing else, follow up with me afterwards, ’cause we’d love to talk about your success stories as well. Thanks so much, and that takes us pretty close to stop. We wanted to save a little bit of time for Q and A, so Holly, I don’t know if we’ve got any questions coming in.

Audience Q&A

48:20 Holly: Hey, Skyler, yeah, we sure do. And so, let’s start off pretty early in the presentation. I know that you guys were talking about how the term engagement has been used, maybe even too widely. A question from Beth asks you to please restate the definition that Kazoo uses for employee engagement.

48:40 Erica: Sure. We define engagement as programs or initiatives that enhance the level of an employee’s commitment and connection to the organization and the goals of the organization. For us, it’s really about commitment and connection.

48:58 Skyler: Yup.

49:01 Holly: Alright, cool. Thanks for repeating that. Maybe a little tougher question now comes from Frederick. What would you say is the best way to go if the institution’s leadership is not supportive of the change, but only accept it just to look good to stakeholders?

49:19 Erica: We hear this a lot. What I’m hearing is it’s a check the box sort of exercise. I think, in my opinion, I go back to some of that data and some of those statistics, is that, I think if leaders understood how much some of these programs can influence stakeholder and organizational value, they might have a little bit of a different lens on it. I think a lot of times when we hear this, the managers are, the leaders, I’ll say, are pretty blunt in that they think it’s “too soft” or it’s just an add-on, or, “Hey, other companies… We saw this on a website somewhere, we need to do it.” I would really go back to some of those really impactful statistics that show that these engagement programs really do affect the business, not just the HR side of things. They affect how we are actually producing, how efficient we are, and how people are using their time and contributing back to the organization, so I would really try to make a strong business case for getting them a little bit more invested in it, once they see how it can actually impact the business, overall. Not just the HR function or the experience portion for the employees.

50:37 Skyler: Yeah. I would just add, we’ve talked to so many organizations about this, and it’s really easy to try to frame it real black and white as, “Oh, leadership doesn’t understand.” Or, to paint a picture where they just don’t care. And what I’d argue is, it’s not that they don’t care, when we talk about them thinking it’s too soft of a program or something. It’s often hard to paint a picture that matches it to their motivations for the organization.

51:12 Skyler: One anecdote I have, I’m not gonna name any names, but the head of the organization knew they worked in an industry that has a particularly high turnover, so just saying, “We have high turnover” doesn’t create a huge sense of urgency. It’s sort of a known quantity here. But what was keeping that particular executive up was that a number of highly talented, bad cultural losses happened across the organization. It wasn’t necessarily that turnover was a certain percentage. It was that they had lost a handful of people real integral to the organization, like high talent employees. And so, when we pointed that out and then paired that with some of these statistics, some of these things related to engagement that could have been caught early and could have affected those situations, suddenly, that really helped motivate and align the goals of these engagement programs with those really high level problems that were keeping that leader up. So when we talk about building the business case, it’s that kind of thoughtfulness, of applying the things that engagement can affect. You saw some stats for them today, with what you know to be those really high level motivations with leadership.

52:29 Holly: Alright. Good answer, guys, there. Thanks so much. Let’s see, next question that we have comes from Tony. Assuming alignment across and commitment for managers, what’s an organic method for initiating a cultivated engagement?

52:46 Erica: Yeah. I think, and I spoke a little bit about how we view cultivated engagement, but it sounds a little bit like an oxymoron, but it’s building the structure to be organic. It is getting that buy-in, I think the word alignment was mentioned, getting the alignment. Once you have the alignment and the buy-in across, it should be pretty organic if there has been a good business case and that sense of urgency is there. I would say when we think about cultivated engagement, it’s all of that behind-the-scenes work that you’re doing to then make sure that it feels a little bit more and is a little bit more organic for buy-in and adoption.

53:31 Skyler: And I’d like to add here, I’m super biased, but this is one of the… I don’t think I would do what I do if I didn’t truly believe in this. There’s so many of those employees at our organizations that are either really committed or really aligned, or hopefully both, but it’s really hard for them to show that or to really see an impact with their actions from it. It kinda goes to what we were talking about in the middle. Is that particular employee, at the time that they’re committed or aligned or both, are they equipped to show that across the organization, to express it?” And these aren’t… The technologies like Kazoo that we work for aren’t necessarily a magic pill that they can turn on and change the culture overnight, but what it really is doing is enabling employees who have that commitment and were in alignment and being able to express that socially across the organization. Equip them to do it quickly, easily, and in a way that they see the connection and the impact from it. That’s something that technology can help with. And if it’s doing it often and effectively, it’s pouring gasoline on your efforts to kickstart these engagement programs.

54:42 Erica: Yeah, and one more note… That’s such a great call-out, Skyler. And I think one more note on that is having those different sort of mechanisms, as Skyler was talking about, for engagement is really important. It’s knowing that not everybody is gonna engage in one way. Do you have different ways for people to express that commitment and connection? And I think that’s what you’re saying, Skyler, and I think that’s super critical.

55:05 Skyler: Yeah.

55:07 Holly: Alright. Thanks again, guys. I think we might have time for one, possibly two, more questions. This one might take up the full time, we’ll just have to see. This question comes from Casey. What if you have no volunteers for change management? Do you assign or omit these?

55:26 Erica: Oh, that’s a tough one. Yeah. People might have different opinions on this. I think people a lot of times choose not to volunteer because they don’t believe in it, or because there’s a barrier. I would even dig in a little bit more. If you have maybe a smaller organization and you are asking for some volunteers, are looking for some volunteers, and nobody really raises their hand, I would ask them questions like, “Hey, I noticed that you weren’t able to volunteer for this. Is it a time thing? Is it because of the program?” And you might get some really interesting feedback, and then you can kind of tweak. I would say if you’re a super small organization, you might not need a volunteer army, if it’s pretty small. That might just be a judgment call.

56:15 Erica: But if you’re large enough to have one and you’re not getting volunteers, I would almost take that as feedback, “Is there something wrong with this program?” Because if you don’t have any volunteers, I’m gonna guess you probably aren’t gonna have very high adoption, because that means people are already initially disengaged. Either there might be an issue with the program or there might be a barrier like time, bandwidth, those sorts of things. I would dig in a little deeper, see if there’s any interesting nuggets you can get out of that, and then take that back and assess if you need to tweak the program or if you need to help remove some barriers.

56:51 Skyler: And in the short-term, just to add to that, I would also maybe vary up your approach. If you’re just putting out a volunteer sheet or volunteering openly in the company’s Slack or something like that, sometimes it’s just susceptible to the bystander effect. Maybe people are interested, but they just assume somebody else will volunteer. When someone comes directly to me and says, “Hey, I noticed you participating in this, this and this meeting, I think you’d be a great candidate to maybe help us roll out this program.” With that approach, one-to-one with me, I was much more motivated to maybe come out of my comfort zone a little bit and help with this particular program. But maybe that’s… Again, how many of us have just put out that blank volunteer sheet and not enough people signed up? Another thing where just a few minutes spent on a one-to-one interaction and getting to some of the why behind your ask, maybe it might turn up a few more volunteers.

57:44 Erica: Right, right. It makes it more of a compliment than a to-do list, to your point, Skyler, of, “Hey, I’d love to participate. Here’s what this is,” as opposed to just a blanket ask.

57:58 Skyler: Yup.

58:00 Holly: Alright, guys, thanks so much. We are at the end of our hour announced. We’ll start to go ahead and wrap up. Folks, if we did not get to your questions, they will be passed on to Skyler and Erica so they can make sure that those questions are answered. Today’s webcast has been approved for HRCI and SHRM credit, you can find those credit codes. Give us about 24 hours and then head on over to your MyHCI profile. One more big thank you to everyone at Kazoo. We appreciate you for being here. We hope everyone has a great day.

Improving employee engagement with technology

We hope this webinar helped you understand how to get managers bought into your employee engagement program. And if you need a little more help, well, that’s where we come in.

At Kazoo, we’re passionate about bringing together all the tools you need to make work work better for everyone. That’s why the Kazoo Employee Experience Platform brings goals, performance management, recognition, rewards, surveys, and more into one simple, easy-to-use platform.

If you’re ready to align, connect, and engage your workplace, check out our Kazoo overview. Or, schedule a personalized demo today.

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