Engagement envy

A colleague shared a great chart with me yesterday. It’s nice when people do that: collaborate. Sharing helpful material is the mark of an organisation with an engaged culture. In a business like ours (built upon IP) it signals intellectual maturity. People confident enough in their own talents not to need to hoard. They willingly subvert the interests of their own ego to the betterment of the organisation. Any MD would be proud of them. So of course I am: well done Mike!KFC_Logo

By happy coincidence, this chart is about levels of employee engagement. Ten years ago no Managing Director in Africa would have lost sleep over such a thing. The default rebuke would have been: “Employee engagement? Boniface, do you know how many people out there would like to have your job?”

But time moves on, in Africa as much as anywhere else. Today’s modern MD actively considers the reactions of her employees. And our markets are littered with the memories of those who did not. Like the East African electricity company that spent millions on its new brand identity, and launched it not to the roll of drums but to a deafening blackout. All because its leadership had won a scrap over collective bargaining and then walked away from the table smugly rubbing its hands.  Kapow! Employee power meant ‘hakuna’ power!

So, back to the chart. I can’t show it so you’ll have to imagine it. It takes Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and explains its 5 levels in terms of employee behaviour. Maslow by the way was an American psychologist whose work in the 1960’s helps us to understand how people move from satisfying basic needs to self actualization (making the most of their life opportunities). Google Abraham Maslow to read more.

So, not surprisingly, employees at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid and in Survival mode are describe as Disengaged. Clock-watching ‘jobsworths’ who only turn up for the pay cheque and who would leave in the blink of an eye. My recent experience in employee engagement research projects suggests that these people may represent between 30% and 40% of any organisation in East Africa, however well run. Scary stuff.

Halfway up Maslow’s pyramid we find the mindset known as Belonging. As employees, these people are classified as Almost Engaged. They are comfortable working for you, but they wouldn’t actively promote you. In fairness to them they see no personal career development with you, so they’ll leave if a genuine alternative comes along. In many ways, as a leader I think I’d prefer to deal with the Disengaged. At least you know where you are with them.

Up at the top of the pyramid, which Maslow described as Self Actualising we have our Highly Engaged Employees. People who are flying high and enjoying it so much that they’re prepared to look around and help others. (That’s you, Mike!). Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a high proportion of these people in your workforce? It would, but statistically less than 15% of employees make it to here.

Anyhow, like all good chats this one got me thinking about the reality out there in the world of business. About the organisations I know where I feel high levels of staff engagement. It’s not a long list; but I am adding to it from time to time. This week I added employees of Kentucky Fried Chicken in Nairobi. I’m an occasional customer for their lowest priced combo called Streetwise One. It does what it says on the menu, and frankly it can be a lifesaver in the middle of a busy day. I buy it from the Drive-thru and my family laughingly calls it ‘Dad’s Pitstop’.

But here’s the thing. It is served by people who make me feel that they genuinely want me to enjoy my delicious meal. Even though I couldn’t be spending less if I tried. They smile, they give me the time of day, and they do their job quickly and happily. Now to me that’s employee engagement.

 

 

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