From the mid 1980s to early 2000s, my world was about creating and delivering training to customer-facing professionals from high-tech blue-chip companies. For those 12 years, I witnessed firsthand a wide variety of work cultures and attitudes about individual, team, and company performance. Even though the training was in the realms of skills, knowledge, and processes, in the end, it wasn't as much about learning software or tools as it was about learning how to create strong personal as well as company-to-company relationships.
Since diving into the venture-backed start-up world as CEO of Get Satisfaction, I've had to shake myself out of some of my preconceived notions about people, performance, and the role both play in hyper-business growth.
As Deloitte's John Hagel wrote in Forbes recently:
The biggest challenge for businesses today is learning to think about their employees the way they think about their customers. How do you engage them? How do you measure the return? And on the topic of innovation, how do you apply leading practices from the cutting edge of consumer engagement that centers on human experience?
Treat your employees the way you treat your customers? Engage them just like you would your top clients? Well, that's a topic I know a little something about.
Bring Your Whole Self to Work
If you want to truly engage your employees, the No. 1 thing to remember is that personal needs trump professional aspirations—every time. People wake up as human beings, not as employees of Get Satisfaction, or of any other company. And even as many of their waking hours are spent at work, the social Web and fancy smart phones keep employees connected to their personal goals, problems, and needs 24 hours a day. Yes, they are always on—toggling back and forth through multiple activity streams in multiple corners of their screen.
It's true: lots individuals start their day by signaling to their tribe (friends, fans, and followers) that they are awake, listening, noticing, expressing and sharing too via Foursquare, Facebook, or Twitter (myself included). That's especially true in the start-up world. And, yes, some of that curiosity is work-related, but I would suggest most of it is not. The key is to understand that this connection to the interpersonal sphere of the whole person is a good thing. It's good for you, good for your employees, and good for your business too.
When your employees are tapped into these personal channels—checking in with their friends, family, fans, and other followers—their creativity and curiosity flows. This sense of self is core to who they are, both personally and professionally, and that means it should be taken into account when thinking about work roles and engagement.
A whole person does the job, not just half. When you see your employees as whole people, they feel appreciated and supported. They're filled with more potential motivation to excel rather than just doing the basics of what's expected. Personal experiences lend perspective that encourages extraordinary contribution. I've seen first-hand how this extra "head room" helps employees perform at levels beyond what anyone thought was possible.
Get to Work by Playing
Here's an example:
Last week, the Get Satisfaction team played Wheel of Fortune at a company-wide kick off meeting, all of the answers related to company values. Instead of a lecture, on corporate values and their tenets, three contestants spun the wheel, guessed consonants and bought vowels. In place of a sterile slide show for each value we had the puzzle projected on the wall, an audience cheering them on and sound effects when contestants hit Bankrupt or guessed wrong. By engaging employees in play we made learning the corporate values fun, entertaining, memorable and, most importantly, human. That's good, because they are human beings before they are Get Satisfaction workers.
Games in the workplace aren't new; remember icebreakers? Team-building games? Trust falls? Play at work is about finding the strengths and vulnerabilities of each "player," balancing them into compliments to create teams that succeed personally and professionally.For employees, that means a role that places value upon a whole range of skill sets that extend far beyond a job description (more skills = higher value). Let's go over that again: simply by letting your employees be themselves, you increase the value of their contribution to your business. You aren't just hiring a "skill set." You're hiring a whole person. That's the return to the business—creating lasting value with fully engaged employees bring their whole human selves to the office every day.
I've learned a lot at Get Satisfaction about engagement. All people (employees and customers) want, expect to be engaged (at many levels). If you're not making the effort to truly connect, they will find someone (or something) who will and does. Let's hope it's not your competitor.