We at the Engagement Zone sat down with #Engagement101 fellow Kimberly Abel-Lanier – VP & GM for CultureNext. Kimberly is a business and thought leader, providing unique insight into the field of employee engagement. With over 20 years of experience in workplace recognition and performance, Abel-Lanier has worked with and co-founded numerous companies centred on delivering performance technology. 

EZ: What does employee engagement mean to you? 

KIM: In the simplest terms, culture can be defined as “the way things work around here”; whereas engagement is how “people feel about how things work around here”.  From there, influencing “how people feel about how things work around here” becomes a matter of behavioral economics or rational/emotional elements of feeling connected to an organization’s purpose, ensuring contributions are acknowledged,  supporting wellbeing and personal growth, as well as work design, social systems and advocacy.

EZ: What are your three tips for companies looking to drive engagement in their organizations? 

KIM: 1. Complete an assessment and understand the potential for improving engagement in their organization

2. Have a short and long term strategy in place to affect engagement

3. Develop, manage and measure a portfolio of programs to support the strategy.

EZ: What do you feel are the biggest pitfalls that companies should look to avoid when executing their engagement strategy?

The biggest pitfall is quick-design-to-implementation of engagement measurement and programs without having a strategy.  Seems like a simple idea, but you would be surprised at how many organizations don’t have a strategy.

EZ: Why do employees fail to buy in when companies try to ramp up engagement?  

Employees may fail to “buy in” when there is a trust issue in leadership or if it feels like the “flavor of the day”.

EZ: What skills are most useful for everyone to have when trying to move towards a culture of engagement?  

Active listing and observation.

EZ: You’re a judge for the Employee Engagement Awards. What will you be looking for in the entries? 

There are five key elements you look for in a best practice entry:

(1) companies that have gone through the process to assess their organization, (2) implement a well-designed program(s), support those programs with (3) communications, (4) learning and (5) measurement.

EZ: What’s the best EE idea you’ve seen a company roll out/attempt and wish you’d had that idea yourself? 

When Ford Motor Company wanted to transform its’ culture (and employee engagement), the CEO supported a daily “desktop hijack” where every employee saw a video of him speaking to program or aspect of engagement for 5 minutes when they first logged into their system.  It was a brilliant idea to communicate key engagement concepts – and the organization’s commitment – to all employees around the world.

EZ: What’s the worst and glad that you didn’t? 

I’m not sure if this would be considered an engagement program, but one company decided to standardize email signatures for everyone in the organization.  The challenge is, it pulled information from the HR system which was rarely accurate.  So people had to use their formal (vs. preferred) names, not be associated with their division, have social media links that were not personal, etc.  A signature is a very personal thing and it’s a turn off for corporate to try and control or standardize it – especially when it is wrong.

EZ: If you could only roll out only one program, which of the following would you choose and why?

Wellbeing, Leadership Development or Recognition.  All three are incredibly important to engagement.  If it could only be one program, it would be recognition – it’s the most powerful driver of engagement across the entire business.  When there is a culture of recognition, employees are 5 times more likely to feel valued, 6 times more likely to endorse their company as a great place to work and 7 times more likely to stay with the company.  A recognition program touches everyone positively.

EZ: Which person (dead or alive) would you love to be able to come in and speak to your workforce/colleagues?  

There are many that come to mind, but one that sticks out is Malcolm Gladwell – he has such a unique, fresh way of looking at situations, problems and challenges.

EZ: Favorite song to crank up after a tough day at work? 

Any song from Enya.

EZ: Best place in the world you have visited? 

The Mosul River Valley in Germany.

EZ: The place in the world you’d most like to visit? 

Machu Picchu.

EZ: Thank you, Kim!


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